Monday, September 30, 2013

Some aspects of the World Bank and The Gambia

Bretton Woods Institutions borrowed their name from the town of Bretton Woods, New Hampshire where the conference leading to the founding of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) was held in 1944.

The IBRD is the formal name of what is commonly called The World Bank which is different from The World Bank Group comprising of these specialized agencies: International Development Association (IDA), International Finance Corporation (IFC), Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) and International Center for Settlement of Investment Dispute (ICSID). All of these institutions represent the financial arm of the United Nations system created to bring financial stability to the World's financial system.

For our purposes, however, we will limit the focus on the International Development Association or IDA which is the soft-loan or concessionary window of the World Bank relevant to the discussion.  In The Gambia, as in most countries, what we refer to as the World Bank is actually the IDA.  The IBRD is the World Bank.  IDA offers loans, otherwise referred to as credits, to members on terms so low that it is usually referred to as 'free money'  The rates charged are appropriately referred to 'service charge' and not interest on loan. By contrast, the World Bank or IBRD issues loans as a higher interest rate - but still subsidized - for middle and higher income countries.   The Gambia is not eligible for IDRB loans and so are all sub-Saharan African countries with the exception of a few high GDP countries like South Africa, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea.

Last week, it was reported that The Board of Directors of the World Bank (read IDA Board) approved a $5 million grant to support The Gambia's public sector financial management's ability to gather statistical data, and upgrades it national energy policy.  This announcement prompted questions as to why if The Gambia is doing so poorly in managing its economy as claimed by me and others why is the World Bank continuing to extend assistance to The Gambia.  They, therefore, deducted or reasoned that if financial support is still forthcoming then The Gambia and Jammeh's regime is doing fine on the economic management front.  Not necessarily, and I will explain why.

The World Bank and the International Development Association essentially and for all practical purposes operate like regular commercial banks with a couple of significant differences (i) you can bank with your local commercial bank and not be a shareholder, and with the World Bank and IDA you must be a shareholder to bank with them and (ii) IDA is not profit-driven but economic development-driven.  The Gambia is a shareholder, however small the shareholding. Gambia is a member of a constituency that has a representative on its Board of Directors on a rotational basis.  America is the single biggest shareholder and thus has a bigger say and influence on the Boards that govern these institutions.  The IBRD operates profitably and subsidies the IDA which, in turn, is not set up to generate profit but to help countries like The Gambia move up the economic development ladder from low to middle income.  The idea being the more developed its economy, the better a provider it will be to its citizenry, and a better bank customer Gambia especially when it becomes IBRD eligible when Gambia will have to pay interest on its loans. 

Unlike the IBRD, the IDA was not meant to be a profit generating organization ( but not a revenue loser either).  Its resources are contributed entirely by developed world, with the US, Japan and Western Europe contributing the lion's share during Replenishments which occur every three years or so.  Like every bank, your loan repayment record or creditworthiness is your passport to access to more loans.  Therefore, as long as The Gambia meets it loan obligations, it can count on fiancial support - either credit/loan or grant - from the IDA and other donors. Even when The Gambia is in default, as member and shareholder, it cannot be denied financial support to help it back to being a member in good standing.  The particular World Bank story that triggered the discussion was not a credit ( loan ) but an outright grant which means it will not be repaid.  But look at what the grant is for; to help the public sector management arm of government improve its data collection capabilities, and also to help government updates its energy policy.  If you will recall,  the regime came under heavy criticism from the sister organization of the Bank, the IMF, for the continued weakness in its data collection abilities.  The grant, even it was not in direct response to the Fund's recent observation, its approval will certainly help address this critical issue facing the public sector.

The IDA, as well as the AfDB, has emergency assistance grant funds earmarked for not only natural disasters like drought, floods, insect invasions etc. but also for countries that have defaulted and are in arrears on their loans/credits.  Even at the height of the Liberian and Sierra Leone civil wars, these external agencies continued to help the local population using unorthodox methods of getting assistance to where it is most needed.  I am citing these instances only to illustrate that financial assistance can take place in the absence of poor governance conditions and in most austere and hostile environments.  And the receipt of grants, and even loans and/or credits is not necessarily a true barometer of the human rights record and/or the economic management performance of a shareholder - the main reason I am an avoid critic of both the Fund and the Bank for not realigning these factors to reflect more closely to what obtains on the ground, especially in the areas of democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

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Sunday, September 29, 2013

The week that was in review

While the entire week belonged to Professor Yaya Jammeh, Mrs. Zeinab Suma Jammeh, and the Gambian delegation to the UN General Assembly, the events were driven entirely by a handful of Gambian dissidents and exiles. Kudos to all of them.

When the official mouthpiece of the dictatorship, The Daily Observer, ran a cover story that can only be described as provocative, announcing the arrival of Jammeh and The Gambian delegation at JFK to attend the United Nations General Assembly meeting, it was acting on instructions of Jammeh specifically to provoke and taunt his opponent.  The front page story also included Jammeh's New York address and detailed scheduled of his meetings while in New York.  The editors wished they never did because no sooner than the online edition was published than the Gambian dissident community realigned their protest schedule in response to being dared to challenge the authority of Jammeh.   The rest, as they say, is history.

The DUGA-DC Group led by Coach Pa Samba Jow, immediately headed for the Ritz-Carlton in New York from their Washington DC-base with his team of dissident protesters to join forces with the New York and Rhode Island dissident communities led by Saihou Mballow, and the guy who turned out to be a better boxer than his Senegalese namesake was a wrestler, Falai Baldeh.  Fatou Sagnia, as part of the New York crew, was awesome in verbalising her contempt for Jammeh and his regime.  The Atlanta crew, led by Dr. Amadou Scattred Janneh and assisted by Banka Manneh, also took off and headed North.  The Raleigh folks led by Alkali Conteh were also determined not to miss out on what turned out to be the biggest scheduling and security blunder in Jammeh's 19-year rule - an error in judgement, and an exercise in arrogance that proved to be the turning point in the two-decade old struggle with a tyrannical regime.

The ensuing protests in front of Jammeh's hotel prevented him from attending any of his official engagements, except his scheduled speech which he delivered on Friday, looking more like an Alcatraz escapee than a Professor.  Zeinab will never forget the day she was bundled up and smuggled through the back window for dinner outside the hotel without Yaya.  She will have to do her shopping at some other time.

Jammeh's fear permeated some members of his delegation who, in trying to act otherwise, engaged themselves in spitting matches with protesters that ended in physical altercations.  His security detail, including some members of the notorious NIA, couldn't comprehend why the U.S Secret Service and/or the New York Police Department officers did not shoot the protesters or, at least, haul them off to jail.  They were reminded that this is America where the freedom of speech, assembly and association is respected. The guys from the Home of Bamba Dinka didn't want to entertain any of that from the Americans.  Where they, the NIA come from, that's bad law.

While those in Banjul were cheering for Falai Baldeh, affectionately dubbed 'Uncle Falai", Pa Samba Jow, Alkali Conteh, Amadou Scattred Janneh and others, they were also praying that Jammeh stays in America as the official guests of Uncle Sam.  They were concerned that once he escapes and returns to Banjul, he was going to unleash his frustrations on the local population with vengeance.  My advise to Yaya is he better not because Gambians will not take it lying down any more while warning the regime that the safety and welfare of the families of Omar Bah and Nanama Keita or other families in similar conditions is the responsibility of Yaya Jammeh who must ensure that his killers and torturers are on short leash.

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Saturday, September 28, 2013

Yaya Jammeh issues threats to families of protesters

Death threats have started being made against the families of, at least, two of the Gambian dissidents who participated in a protest against the Gambian dictator this week in New York City.  Both victims are also journalists in exile in the United States.

Omar Bah, a former Daily Observer journalist and now a resident of Rhode Island and Editor of American Street News (ASN), and Nanama Keita, a former Sports journalist, also at the Daily Observer who now resides in New York, both reported threats by members of the Jammeh delegation to their families in Banjul.   Mr. Bah was threatened through a Facebook postings from none other than a sitting member of the National Assembly. These direct threats against the parents of the editor of ASN by Assembly member for Lower Saloum, Pa Malick Ceesay, was made in territorial United States using a computer terminal, presumably from the New York area before they were disgracefully shown the door before the end of their planned stay in the U.S.

Nanama Keita, a former Daily Observer sports journalist who escaped to the United States after he was falsely accuse by the regime for being an informer of a dissident online newspaper has also revealed that his family in The Gambia is being threatened.  According to Mr. Keita, he reached his family in The Gambia, most of whom were in tears as he was informed of the threats from members of the Jammeh delegation who have returned to Banjul this morning after escaping from their Ritz-Carlton bunker in the dead of night.  Their humiliating defeat at the hands of a handful of dissidents including the two journalists whose families are now being threatened.

The Jammeh regime is violent and has demonstrated time and time again that it will not hesitate to use violence to keep the population in check.  Now that the underbelly of Yaya Jammeh and his regime has been exposed by these determined Gambian dissidents, he will try to use violence and torture against innocent Gambians whose only crime is their relations to these true Gambian patriots who took to the streets of New York and the grounds of the United Nations to draw international attention to the dictatorship of Yaya Jammeh.  Jammeh's main worry now is that he's been exposed as a coward which is contrary to a carefully crafted person that portrays him as brave and unwavery.  It turns out he's afraid of the sight of a handful of protesters with cardboard signs.

On this note, I am sharing this blog as I share most of my blogs with the United States State Department, through the US Embassy in Banjul, and the European Union Delegation for the record.  The contents of the blog will also be shared with ECOWAS, African Union, Amnesty International and other rights groups in the U.S. and Europe.

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Jammeh must resign or be removed

The humiliating treatment Yaya Jammeh received at the hands of a handful of Gambian dissidents while attending this year's UN General Assembly meetings, coupled with his poor human rights record and the unprecedented level of corruption in high places, demand that Jammeh resigns from office or be removed.  He has lost legitimacy and the moral authority to occupy the highest office in the land. The New York protests were the culmination of a string events leading to a climax that has reverberated across The Gambia, as I write.  Jammeh's humiliation at the hands of a handful of determined dissidents is the subject of discussion in many parts of the country.  The many Gambians who have been brutalized and terrorized into submission by a brutal dictatorship must be very happy and proud of those Gambians in New York willing to stand up to the bully and the coward that is Yaya Jammeh.

His New York treatment is the tipping point.   Jammeh has committed offences that warrant his impeachment but because, like the other branches of Government, the Legislature is under the direct control of Jammeh he will not be impeached by the National Assembly.   Jammeh controls the majority party, and the nomination process that selects candidates for election to the once august body.  Members of the Assembly are, therefore, answerable to the dictator and not the constituents that elect them.  Members are expelled from the party for infractions deemed detrimental to the party.  The party leader, Jammeh, has also been given the extraordinary power to expel members  from the People's House by the stroke of the pen, nullifying the will of an entire constituency.  His dictatorial powers have been extended to the National Assembly, as well as the Judiciary.  Therefore, he has absolute power of Gambians.

This blog has written extensively on the hugely destructive economic policies of the Jammeh regime.  The mismanagement of the economy that was once among the best managed in Africa is a matter of public record, and extensively reported on by respected institutions and aid agencies like the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the European Union.  The poor human rights record is also well documented by both international and regional bodies ranging from the Annual U.S. State Department Human Rights Report, Amnesty International and the economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).  Since Jammeh seized power in 1994, there are more poor Gambians today than 19 years ago.

Jammeh's victims of his incompetent and corrupt management style have extended beyond the general population and local communities, particularly the rural communities, to include the business community as well.  As the leading player and most active in the private sector, Jammeh has managed to dominate the private sector to such an extent that real and perceived competitors are punished either through the tax code or the use of brute force. His business interests ranges from manufacturing to transportation and retail trade, transcending all critical sectors of the economy, include strategic sectors like ITC sub-sector.  His interference in the markets, especially in the foreign exchange market, has been so blatantly displayed through the issuance of administrative fiats from the Office of the President that it resulted in a strongly-worded cautionary note from the International Monetary Fund urging Jammeh to refrain from such future interferences.  Jammeh has little or no time to govern because of the time devoted to running his personal affairs.

As I write this piece, I am being informed that Jammeh was shown of GRTS television arriving at Yundum Airport.  The mood was somber and the crowd unimpressive.  I think that this is the turning point in a very long and sad history that has seen many Gambians killed, maimed, tortured, imprisoned and exiled.  The Gambian people have shown Jammeh and his regime that it is time for them to go, to allow for a peaceful transition to civilian rule.  (There's nothing civilian about the Jammeh regime.)  He has lost the moral authority to continue to rule The Gambia.  Jammeh must go.

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Friday, September 27, 2013

A rattled dictator

Jammeh looked haggard, perplexed and unusually subdued as he took to the UN General Assembly podium today to deliver a speech that was as disorganized as he was, and characteristically disjointed, rambling and completely out of touch with the real problems facing ordinary Gambians.  The pressing issues facing the continent was also completely ignored or glossed over by the dictator.

The credit for Jammeh's poor performance and confused appearance must go to a determined number of Gambian dissidents and activists from across America who gave Jammeh a taste of his own medicine.  It was also a lesson in American democracy which guarantees the right to free speech and assembly that obviously left members of Jammeh's security detail in a state of shock as to why the secret service did not simply shoot these dissidents pestering the life of Professor Nassirudeen Jammeh or simply put them behind bars.

When Jammeh finally made a break for the exists under escort to the U.N Building to deliver his speech, it was not surprising that his central themes were gays and lesbians and Taiwan.  Bashing gays and lesbians on the world stage instead of focusing the world's attention on his government's plan to alleviate the deplorable human condition that exist in his country or how he intends to improve the management of an economy that is spiralling out of control threatening the livelihood of 2 million Gambians.  The only consolation is that Gambians, with the exception of the paid Banjul and Kombo Mullahs, have come to realize that bashing gays and threatening to chop off their heads is a diversionary tactic designed to deflect attention from the rampant corruption and economic mismanagement that come to symbolize his regime, and the heinous human rights abuses conducted by rogue elements within his security apparatus. .

It didn't take long into his speech before he immersed himself into another favorite topic of his - Taiwan. The shamefully disproportionate attention paid to the renegade government of Taiwan by Yaya Jammeh is a constant source of embarrassment to proud Gambians, some of whom are in his delegation or at the Gambia's Representation Office in New York.  Gambians are too proud to sell their sovereignty for cash as Jammeh has.  It is a deeply resented policy within certain quarters of his regime.  China is the legitimate government of the Chinese people.  It is time America call Taiwan to stop its suitcase-full-of-dollar diplomacy that goes to prop up these tinfoil dictators of the Jammeh ilk who prey on their people.  As long as Taiwan fills Jammeh's pockets with money, the human rights abuses of Gambians will go unabated.

After all is said and done, the 2013 U.N. General Assembly meeting will be forever remembered as the week when Jammeh was finally unmasked for the coward he is, and being held prisoner in his hotel for 48 hours.  When he finally made a break for the exits, it was not a clean a break either.  He was aided by the U.S. Secret Service and the NYPD, stuffed at a back of a compact car without his samurai sword which he was obviously forced to part with.  That in itself is a defeat.

Gambian Dissidents 1  Jammeh 0

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Bullies are cowards and Jammeh's no exception

The embarrassing display of cowardice by the Gambian dictator in New York City in the past several days by succumming to the will of a small but determined group of Gambian dissidents is further proof that human rights abusers of the ilk of Yaya Jammeh are generally cowards who prey on the weak and defenceless civilian population.

To be holed up in his luxurious hotel room with his entourage for over a day when his counterparts and hotel mates from Nigeria and South Africa were out and about taking care of their citizens' business at the United Nations is further evidence of Jammeh's irresponsibility and contempt for The Gambia and the Gambian people.

For someone who claims to be the leader of all Gambians, and yet afraid to confront protesters turned tormentors out of frustration because of Jammeh's refusal to meet them face-to-face, reveals the character of the former army lieutenant.  He spends millions of dollars of Gambian taxpayers money to attend the U.N. General Assembly with his wife and hangers-on in tow only to be a willing captive of a handful of Gambian dissidents - dissidents who have been victims of his vicious and corrupt regime.

Jammeh's decision to attend the General Assembly was as much an act of defiance as it was a public display of contempt for the Gambian people.  It was a public statement that dares Gambians, especially the security forces, to act inappropriately while he was away.  Instead, the protesters in front of his hotel dared him to step out to face the music by answering the chants of oppression and human rights abuses that characterized  his 19-year rule. He blinked, and in the process exposes his underbelly for the rest of the world to see, particularly the security establishment he left behind in Banjul.

What happened at the Ritz-Carlton in New York City is significant in that it draws international attention to the plight of Gambians at the most inopportune moment for Jammeh.  Most importantly however, his cowardly behavior took place in full view of two of his most powerful colleagues in Africa - President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria and Jacob Zuma of South Africa.  Indeed, according to reports, the South African President nodded in acknowledgement ( and, perhaps, tacit approval ) of the Gambian protesters. Members of Zuma's delegation reportedly took pictures of the protesters and their protests signs.  There is little doubt that the two African Presidents will chat about the incident, especially since there is no love lost between the two and Jammeh, especially President Jonathan.

At home, the incident will reverberate is some quarters of the security establishment.  Whether it will lead to a preemptive action remains to be seen.  To see the guy who only a couple of weeks ago was seen touring flood-stricken Banjul, and the Kombos in army fatigues and taunting his enemies, in such a predicament further exposes the myth that is Yaya Jammeh.  If he can be holed up for over 24 hours as a result of the actions of a handful of Gambians, it sends a message that is contrary to the persona of invincibility he has cultivated so successfully for nearly two decades. The members of his entourage whose role it is to get their boss out of the pickle should he land in one instead made matters worse by exposing their ignorance of America's strong democratic tradition by engaging in a shouting match with the protesters, and objecting to being photographed.  When the tables are turned, the proven serial torturers and murderers of ordinary and defenceless Gambians cry foul.  They remind me of the guy who killed his parents and then turned around looking for sympathy for being an orphan.

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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Why we are where we are

The United Democratic Party under the leadership of Ousainou Darboe since it was formed in 1996 has been the leading vote getter in all of the four presidential elections.  To make this claim without showing incontrovertible proof at this point will deviate from the central theme of this piece.  But there are many Gambians and outside groups who are convinced that all three presidential elections were rigged by Jammeh and his APRC cronies and enforcers, and the real winner was Ousainou Darboe.  ECOWAS refused to endorse the results of the Presidential elections of 2011 because they were deemed not to be free and fair. However, until there's strong evidence that can stand the legal test, I will temper my provocative statement with a qualifier to say that the UDP has been the leading vote getter of all the opposition parties including the most recent presidential elections in 2011.

In 1996,  UDP received nearly 150,000 votes or 36% of total votes cast, compared to NRP's 22,000 or 6% and PDOIS's 11,000 votes or 3%.  The APRC won with 220,000 or 56% of the votes.   The 2001 results followed a similar pattern with the vote distribution among the opposition showing little change with UDP winning 33%, down from the previous election by 3 percentage points.  APRC also experienced a decline in percentage points.  the main beneficiary of the percentage decline experienced by both APRC and UDP was the NRP which improved from its 1996 performance by 2 percentage points to 8%.  PDOIS's percentage share remained the same.

In 2006, UDP in alliance with NRP and GPDP share fell to 27% as compared to 6% for PDOIS.  Of course, APRC won with 67% of the total votes.   The 2011 election results were an outlier because the PARC share of the votes suddenly increased  from 67% in 2006 to 72% despite an increasingly unpopular regime which explains why, in part, why ECOWAS refused to endorse the results.  In that year, the UPD, in alliance with GMC, PPP and NCP secured 17% of the total votes cast and the United Front composed of PDOIS, PPP, NDAM and led by hamat bah won 11% of the votes.

From these numbers alone, it is safe to claim that the UDP is the leading opposition party in The Gambia by far.  How can such a superior position be so whittled, and so trivialized by both Jammeh and the other political parties that it is common place to speak of the UDP in the same breath as other lesser opposition parties. Numerically, UDP is superior to all of the opposition yet they are all usually spoken of as equals. This, however,  is politics and not some family naming ceremony were the crazy uncle who seem to always speak in tongues is treated as a normal family member elevated to the position of respectability simply because he's family. Politics is not a family affair. Politics is numbers, and that's what matters ultimately.  It is through numbers that one derive he or her power and mandate.  If I sound Machiavellian it is because politics is Machiavellian by definition,

UDP's influence, measured in terms of its ability to control the direction and content of the political conversation, is not commensurate with its numbers.  If UDP were a Senegalese party or a party in any other normal African country, it would have automatically assumed the mantle of leader of the opposition in any run-off elections with the incumbent President.  UDP is not Senegalese and Gambia is not a normal country, and thus we find ourselves in a political merry-go-round that has become a fixture in the presidential election cycle.  And so, every election cycle, we resume the same political ritual of assembling the political parties to force them to unite, and each time it ends up in miserable failure.   It has become a kabuki theatre that threatens to carve a deep and permanent cleavage between the opposition parties.  Some have already agreed that the permanent cleavage has already occurred and it it time that all parties involved come to the realization and accept it as the new norm.

It is hard to imagine PDOIS ceding any leadership role, ever, to the UDP and vise versa.   Conversely, NRP may cede leadership again but not until the present leader, assuming he will continue to lead the party, extracts concessions that will make the God Father blush.  The PPP, on the other hand, can play a meaningful and influential role only if a comprehensive rehabilitation and revitalization of the party takes place. There is no reason why it cannot come roaring back.  These are political facts that may be inconvenient to ponder over, and thus are often ignored or suppressed (consciously or subconsciously), not only by political leaders but by their most vocal supporters.   They are all in denial and, and therefore, will excoriate anyone who dares remind them of the inconvenient truths.  Even if for some miraculous intervention there is a unified opposition leader with all of the opposition parties on board, the candidate will be undermined by one or more within the coalition.  This is the nature of the beast, the current Gambian politics which has undergone significant transformation under Jammeh, however temporary the transformation might turn out to be.

It is time to stop papering over these deep and intractable differences in political ideology and governing concepts, and accept them as given.  I realize that politicians, being the political animals ( normal and not pejorative usage ) they are, may not want to express these differences in such stark and unequivocal terms but it is imperative that the new norm is integrated into their political calculus which will lead inevitably to handling future coalition talks differently.  The current method has not worked in the past, and there is no reason to believe that it will work next time around.  Political ideology, governance concepts and shared values do matter.  Any future opposition alliances will necessarily be built around these and similar factors that are as important as the political personalities involved.

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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

"I propose Ousainou Darboe", says Dr. Sedat Jobe

Dr. M.L.S.Jobe's proposal to have the leader of the United Democratic Party, Ousainou Darboe, lead a unified opposition by virtue of being the biggest vote getter in previous presidential elections of any of Gambian's opposition parties, will undoubtedly obscure the underlying, and most important message embedded in his proposal.  But before I get into that, allow me to say this - the proposal, as Sedat Jobe painstakingly reminded listeners at every opportunity, is just that, a proposal. If there are any more proposals out there, he'd like to have it brought forward.  It is, therefore, not sufficient to simply oppose the idea.  You are encouraged to suggest an alternative candidate.  Under his plan, Ousainou Darboe can also opt out in favor of another candidate but an alternative candidate must enjoy his support. In this scenario, the veto rests with Ousainou Darboe and his United Democratic Party. 

Even with the caveat provided by Sedat Jobe, the focus will probably be on the candidate and associated personalities, and not what I consider to be the underlying and more important message of his online radio interview.  While describing Raleigh as a brilliant idea, he concurrently lamented that the leaders who attended the meeting, including himself,  missed the opportunity to use the occasion to elect a leader of a unified opposition.  Instead, they opted to mandate the organizers of Raleigh to create a super Steering Committee to pursue a very broad agenda for democratic change in The Gambia, including but not limited to "the crafting and representation of the Agenda for change," serve as link between the various groups, organizations and international agencies engaged in the promotion of good governance, and to mobilize resources.  In retrospect, he believes the Steering Committee's approach is the wrong way to go although it was not quite clear to me the reason or reasons for saying so.   

The selection of a unified leader of the opposition is imperative, and a development that will be welcomed by Senegal and many international and regional organizations.  The reasoning is that it is easier to deal with a single leader with a mandate of all the opposition parties and their respective supporters than to deal with a proliferation of parties, individuates and organizations all claiming legitimacy.  

This blog is not an attempt at expressing a point of view that supports or opposes the proposal.  It is, however, an attempt an understanding the proposal by examining it in its totality, including its component parts.  The fact that the proposal was outlined in a radio interview, its verbal nature is a limiting factor in writing this piece.  The topic is important enough to risk misrepresentation or omission of important facts. In either case, I will take full responsibility.  So here we go: 

What we know is that the selection of Ousainou Darboe as leader of a unified opposition as proposed by Dr. Sedat Jobe renders the Steering Committee redundant.  Other than that, nothing else seems clear to me. For instance, does the leader of the unified opposition mean that he becomes the candidate of all the opposition parties who sign up for Dr. Jobe's proposal regardless of whether Jammeh runs in 2016 or not? If he runs and wins will he serve only a term as transitional leader or can he run to succeed himself for a second term?   What happens if Jammeh's current term is truncated , for whatever reason, what happens then? These are just few of the questions that need to be responded to. 

I say all this to say what - to say that a written proposal is necessary at this point.  A very short document that clearly and concisely articulates the main features of the proposal, including the various scenarios taking into account all the eventualities expected in a society in transition.  An issue of such magnitude and importance demands that a written proposal be submitted to all parties concerned, assuming that this is the way the rest of the political leaders at Raleigh want adopt, or at least consider.  The radio announcement, though useful and informative, is only a necessary first step in a long process of consultations.  Dr. Jobe should be commended for the initiative which, I hope, is seen in the same spirit as it was proposed - a spirit of optimism and oneness in the midst of a turbulent period in Gambia's history. 

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Sunday, September 22, 2013

UDP and PPP must now look inward

In anticipation of the inevitable, there has been a flurry of political activity from London to Raleigh to Stockholm and beyond, by men and women of good will but with mixed agendas which can be characterized as a melange of individual and national ambitions.  By national, I mean non-individual or -personal agenda. As the inevitability of a regime change becomes more visible in the rear view mirror, and the possibility of replacing Jammeh becomes less of a pipe dream and more of real possibility, it energizes the activists to ratchet up their agitation, and the pundits to pontificate all the more with varying degree of success.

The press has been proactive, and has also been the main driving force behind the new energy behind what is now commonly referred to "The Struggle."  With time, and as the cheerleading role of these journalists becomes more pronounced, their role has been transformed, and deliberately so, to being active players in 'The Struggle." Whether this is the proper role of a journalist in a developing country like The Gambia is worth debating. But for our purposes, we will take it as reality.  There is little doubt that some, if not most, of the online journalists see the opportunity to play a more prominent role, not necessarily a journalistic one, in a new political dispensation than they did in either the Jawara or the Jammeh regimes.  Given the possibility of charting a new professional life in a new Gambia, these journalists are ready to shed their traditional role of impartiality for partisanship.  In doing so they voluntarily abandon the vital and noble role of being the interpreters of events, and the channels through which information flows.

Fortunately, the role of the political parties has not been burred.  Their problem is structural in nature than their terms of reference or role expected of them in Gambian society.  It was in pursuit of their constituents' mandate that UDP, PPP and NRP leadership led them and/or their representatives to London, Raleigh and Stockholm.   The opposition leadership or their representatives were reportedly present at all three venues representing the interest of both their respective constituents 'on the ground', and their diaspora supporters. We must note that the official reports of these conclaves are presumably still in the stages of preparation or awaiting official public release, and given the historic nature of these consultative meetings and the context it provides as backdrop to a post-Jammeh renaissance, their release in the public domain is important - if not for politics, for history.

Raleigh demonstrated, immediately, the problem the Gambian politicians face in managing expectations from their respective diaspora supporters, a good number of whom have been absent from The Gambia for two decades or more.  In addition to the central issue of opposition party unity against the dictatorship in Banjul, the party leaders soon realized that in order to achieve  a coalition of opposition parties, there must first be internal re-alignment and consolidation of their respective parties, especially as it relates to the UDP and the PPP.  Both of these political parties, in my view, must deal with a common problem posed by the 1996 Constitution declaring both the Leader of the UDP and the Interim Party Leader of the PPP ineligible to stand as presidential candidate.  Do they select a new leader now that will undoubtedly be a transformational move that is likely to galvanize supporters or do they maintain the present status quo by staying put and run the risk of losing support of the younger voter looking for new faces.  What if, for whatever reason, the age-limit for presidential candidates is no longer applicable in time for the next presidials?  You see the dilemma the leaders face.  In addition to the leadership issue, the PPP is faced with an additional problem that must be resolved before committing the party to a long-term agreement that has implications far beyond the next Presidential elections.  There is need to revitalize the party after 19-years of relative dormancy.  The current Interim Leader must be credited with keeping what is left of the PPP.  It is now time to rehabilitate the party that led Gambia to Independence and provided Gambians with one of the most democratic environment, and economic progress in Africa for thirty years.

Whereas the online press has done an excellent job of advocating for change, it has done a poor job of diagnosing the incredibly difficult job the opposition is faced.   These challenges are in terms of the deficient intra-party structures that must be re-aligned to address both the constitutional restrictions posed by the 1996 Constitution.  The PPP must inevitably, and as a matter of great importance, re-activate the old membership, recruit new ones as part of its rehabilitation and revitalization exercise.  Because the press has become an active partisan, instead of simply disseminating news, its interest seems to be more directed singly at regime change, and not the prerequisites leading to that change in anticipation of a new role for them in a post-Jammeh Gambia.  The press, in my view, can still maintain its interest in a new role that it envisages for itself, and still delve into the harder part of their job of reporting and discussing the nuts-and-bolts of political transition, and the transformational requirements of all the opposition parties.  I am of the view that without the internal re-alignment necessary for both parties to respond to the internal demands of their respective electoral base within territorial Gambia, it will be extremely difficult to force a united front.  NADD doesn't seem to ring a bell still.  After all, the political parties are still Gambia-based and still very sensitive to local demands as they should be.  Otherwise, they will be operating outside the norm of what political parties are expected operate.  Until Gambians abroad are allowed to vote in Gambian elections, the current dynamics should be expected to remain unchanged.  That's how politics works.

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Saturday, September 21, 2013

The week in review

Economic news dominated this week's developments in The Gambia. The International Monetary Fund's Consultative Mission Report on the state of Gambia's economy opened the week with a press release, as it is customary, summarizing the findings of the Fund's mission detailed report.

The findings of the Fund made depressing reading.  It was more of a series of warnings to Yaya Jammeh, and his economic management team on how not to manage an economy, especially one as fragile as Gambia's.  Specific warnings were issued to the Office of The President to refrain form delving into monetary policy matters generally, and in the management of the foreign exchange market specifically.  This warning was necessary because of the president's recent foray into the markets by fixing forex rates, and issuing instructions to the Central Bank in clear contravention of Gambian law.  Monetary policy is the purview of the Central Bank and not the Office of The President.  The interference resulted in disruptions which, in turn, allow market uncertainty to set in, which encourages capital flight and dampens remittances from abroad.

But if you are the official mouth piece of the government, The Daily Observer (DO), the editors saw an economy on a rebound with a projected increase in GDP.   While this is true, DO omitted the other half of the story which qualified the projected growth that is threatened by persistent weaknesses in the balance of payments, leading to depreciation pressures on the Gambian dalasi. The Fund also noted, most recent and worrying problem of "inconsistent economic policies which have intensified these pressures."

This week also saw the convening of the National Assembly's Committees on Public Accounts and Public Enterprises (PAC - PEC) in preparation for the new Session of Parliament.  The gathering was addressed by the newly appointed Secretary General (SG) and Head of the Civil Service who also doubles as Minister of Presidential Affairs which is oxymoronic.  The civil service is apolitical.  It is there to serve the government of the day.  Therefore, the SG should not hold a substantive political position in the cabinet.  The position is of a ministerial rank but not a ministerial rank.  Anyway, the gathering was presumably to prepare the work schedule of the two parliamentary committees but the opening remarks by the Secretary General was more about what Yaya Jammeh expects from the audit arm of the National Assembly.

A huge Supplementary Budget is expected in the next few weeks despite persistent warnings of the IMF and other donor agencies against large fiscal deficits - financed mostly through domestic borrowing - adding to the country's debt burden.  Interest on debt consumes 22.5% of government revenue in 2012.  The government appears to be trying to avoid a repeat of last year's Supplementary Budget request which raised eyebrows in Washington as well as other donor capitals when a total of D 400 million in additional funding was requested, representing 25% of the total 2012 budget.  The budget deficit will continue to rise if the National Assembly continues to act as a rubber stamp of the Executive.

This week was not all economic management issues however. There was the 3-day visit of Ms. Sue Ford Patrick to Banjul.  She has since traveled to Casamance.  Ms. Patrick is the new American Adviser to the U.S. Ambassador for Senegal on the Casamance civil war which has been described as the longest running civil strife in Africa.  The 30-year old low-intensity war has been prolonged because of neglect of successive Senegalese governments but also because of meddling from Banjul.  The lack of local coverage of her visit is an indication of the apprehension of the Jammeh regime in having the Americans take a more proactive role in the conflict because it dilutes Jammeh's influence in a peace process that he had fought so hard to be recognized as an indispensable player, as the indisputable sponsor of the Salif Sadio faction of the MFDC.

Finally, a story to watch in the coming weeks is the members of African Union threat to withdraw en masse their membership to the International Criminal Court as a result of the Kenyan Vice President Ruto's case scheduled to take place next week at The Hague.  The Kenyan President Kenyatta was also indicted by the ICC.  The Kenyan Parliament has voted this week to withdraw membership at the ICC, and the Cote d'Ivoire cabinet has decided not to transfer Mrs. Simone Gbagbo, former First lady, to The Hague.  She will be tried locally by an Ivorian court.

As a result of these developments, the Gambian Chief Prosecutor of the ICC will be faced with her biggest challenge since her celebrated election by consensus last December in which the AU played a pivotal role. Meanwhile, the AU has announced that an extraordinary meeting will be convened in October to carry out their threat to withdraw their individual memberships to the ICC. There are serious doubts however that the two-third vote threshold can be achieved  for the threat to be a reality.  

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Friday, September 20, 2013

Mrs. Simone Gbagbo will not go to the ICC



Cote d'Ivoire government has decided today not to transfer former First Lady, Simone Gbagbo to The Hague to face charges of crime against humanity.   She will instead be tried in domestic courts. Her husband, former President of Cote d'Ivoire, on the other hand is currently in the custody of the ICC awaiting similar charges.

This is the second blow in a span of two weeks that the ICC have sustained at the hands of African governments.  The first was dealt by the Kenyan government when it decided on September 6th that President Kenyatta and his Vice President Koto will not be travelling to The Hague, as previously agreed, to face charges of crime against humanity.

In an earlier editorial piece I wrote for The Gambia Echo, which you can find here http://thegambiaechos.com/index.php/permalink/3922.html I suggested that the criticism of the Chief Prosecutor of the ICC by the African Union " in her handling of the Kenya case in accordance with the Rome Statute, the AU is undermining the work of the very candidate they ( the membership ) fought so hard to get elected...to the position."

The decision by Cote d'Ivoire to try the former First Lady locally is understandable given that Mr Laurent Gbagbo is already at The Huge.  To transfer his wife too would be seen by many, including supporters as an overkill and further evidence that the Ouattara government is out to exact revenge when it should be reconciling the various political faction within the country to stabilize the security situation to allow for national reconciliation to facilitate economic growth and development.  After all, it is not all cases are suited for The Hague.  Local courts with the capacity and that can guarantee a fair trail should be an acceptable alternative for some cases.   According to government issued statement the " good reputation of the Ivorian courts has been restored and...can conduct a fair trial that will guarantee the rights of the defence."  The reaction of the ICC to this latest setback is not yet known.  I suspect it will be one of disappointment.


Get your act together, Mr. Secretary General

The new Secretary General and Minister of Presidential Affairs was out at the Kunta Kinteh Hotel in Albreda this week with National Assembly members of the Public Accounts (PAC) and Public Enterprise Committees (PEC).  The occasion was the opening of the annual jamboree of the PEC and PAC billed as the pre-session retreat in readiness for the opening of the new Session of Parliament.

This year's parliamentary session is of particular interest because the Supplementary Budget of 2013 that is expected to be submitted by the Minister of Finance given the rising criticism of the huge deficit that government continues to rack up despite warnings from the IMF and development partners.  Last year over D 400 million was requested three-months before the end of the financial year to finance the deficit, with 25% of this amount going to the Office of The President for such things as maintenance of the presidential plane and other dubious expenditures. 

Although we are not privy to the ensuing discussions at the conclave, what is safe to say is that in addition to discussing public account issues - the primary focus of these two committees - the message that the Secretary General brought from Jammeh to members was what to expect in the Supplementary Budget 2013. Jammeh expects that the additional monies he will be requesting should be approved without drama and publicity at a time when the country is experiencing its worst economic crisis in memory.  The exercise was handled poorly last year which brought into the limelight the presidential aircrafts that Gambian taxpayers are asked to pay for their operation and maintenance when they couldn't remember buying an aircraft or air crafts for Yaya Jammeh.  Who owns these aircrafts is still a relevant question taxpayers are asking, and which the government has refused to answer.  

The Secretary General opened his statement with a fallacy, that members of the National Assembly represent an arm of government that ensues peace, social justice and development.  He went on to selectively quote Dobbs by saying that the role of the national Assembly "dovetails well with the common dictum that the life of a man would be short, brutish and dangerous in the absence of the rule of law..." The full quote is less appealing but more apt, which described a state of war prior to a government structure in which life would be "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short."  This depiction is closer to what obtains in Jammeh's Gambia than the one that the Secretary General was attempting to paint with a truncated version of Dobbs. 

Equally delusional and down-right laughable is his claim that under Jammeh the conducive environment has been created for the three branches of government to operate as intended by the Constitution.  In making such a spurious claim, the Secretary General is refusing to concede what has been universally accepted as truism - that Gambia is a dictatorship, and under such dispensation the three branches of government are meshed into one entity under the thumb of one man.  Legislative scrutiny is therefore not tolerated, and any legislator that votes against Jammeh will be expelled from his Party and the National Assembly.  To remind those currently serving who runs the show, Jammeh has expelled several sitting members of parliament in the past, and has expelled another one as recently as last month.  Therefore, any claim that deviates from these realities, especially from the Secretary General, deserves a public rebuke from Gambians.  

The governance environment in the Gambia is in such a deplorable state that the Secretary General is better off taking the advise of Mario Cuomo, former Governor of New York, that "you campaign in poetry but govern in prose."  In short, stop the rhetoric, and start governing responsibly.  Gambians are looking for a government that attracts investments (both foreign and domestic); that provides jobs; that provides basic services; that supports agricultural production; and that guarantees the fundamental rights and liberties of the individual.  Spewing irrelevant words that do not amount to much in the eyes of the ordinary citizenry is not only pointless but adds to the narrative that the Secretary General is inexperienced, insensitive and out of his depth. 



Thursday, September 19, 2013

Nothing is looking good for Jammeh

The slide towards total and absolute diplomatic isolation and economic decline of the Jammeh regime continues.  First, the British Home Office issued a travel advisory for The Gambia, specifically targeted at British tourists planning on visiting The Gambia this season, warning about continued deterioration of security environment characterized by frequent arrests of ordinary citizens. Second, the United States Embassy in Banjul issued a press release announcing the conclusion of a three-day visit to Banjul of Ms. Sue Ford Patrick, the new Casamance Adviser resident in Dakar - a visit that signals the end of the free hand Jammeh seemed to have had in Africa's longest running regional conflict.  Third, the IMF's consultation mission report is essentially saying that Gambia's economy will get worse before it gets better.  The British advisory can only accelerate the downward spiral of a weak economy caused, in part, by self-inflicting wounds by Jammeh who insists on acting as Gambia's Central Bank.

The British travel advisory could not come at a worse time.  It's timing is reminiscent of the one issued immediately after the coup in July 1994.  It can be argued that the timing of the current one has the potential of being more devastating because it is coming at the heels of what is about the weakest the economy has ever been since Independence.  The slight recovery of the tourism sector, the second most important contributor to GDP after agriculture, that was registered last year may be reversed in 2013-14 season because of the advisory causing more suffering to ordinary Gambians who rely on the sector for their livelihood.  The regime is not helping its own cause when it continues to deploy security personnel at numerous check points all across the country, giving the environment the semblance of military occupation. Bodies of victims of violence being washed ashore on beaches frequented by tourists - like the one reported in today's newspaper, The Point - only goes to reinforce claims that Jammeh's Gambia is unsafe, not only for tourists but for local folks.

The regime is not faring any better on the diplomatic front either, both regionally and internationally.  At the regional level, ECOWAS has all but stop actively engaging the regime in Banjul, after the regional body declared the last presidential elections not to be free and fair.  Bilateral diplomatic engagements have also been deliberately kept at a minimal by Jammeh's neighbors because of his reputation as a regional drug baron and an arms trafficker at a time when the United States anti-drug and counterterror activities in the region have significantly increased.  The Casamance conflict was the last of the diplomatic playing field left open for Jammeh to claim relevancy.  It seems that even this option is now being denied the protector of Salif Sadio by the Americans.  Ms. Patrick, the newly-installed Casamance Adviser embedded in the U.S. Embassy in Dakar, will, henceforth ensure minimal interference from Banjul.  Arms trafficking will be checked, and the economic exploitation of the southern Casamance's forest cover reduced significantly.

To cap it all, the economy which has been the primary driver of all the other activities has shown weakness that has worried even the most optimistic IMF officials.  The value of the dalasi continues to decline because of the continued interference by Jammeh, threatening the flexible exchange rate mechanism that has been in effect for nearly three decades.  There is evidence that capital flight is taking place to neighboring countries and remittances from abroad are expected to fall.  And when the British advisory is added to the mix, there will be more rough times ahead for a regime already under pressure from within, and isolated diplomatically from without.    

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The IMF, the deficit and the National Assembly

Gambia's large fiscal deficits that have been plaguing the economy for over a decade did not occur in a vacuum and neither were they accumulated without the endorsement of the National Assembly.   Therefore, members of the Assembly have helped create the mess, they can help clean up the mess by simply voting down the next Supplementary Budget request which is expected to be submitted by the Ministry of Finance in the next fortnight or so.  This is, of course, and as the saying goes, easier said than done.

The fiscal deficit is financed primarily by domestic borrowing.  The borrowing is done by government from the Central Bank to finance its projects, and pay for other government activities.  Domestic borrowing has exploded under this regime, especially since 2000/2001 starting with the then presidential elections.

Last year, a total supplementary budget request by the Finance Ministry amounted to D471 million which was submitted to the National Assembly and approved near unanimous vote.  D102 million of this amount or approximately 25% of the additional monies requested went to the President's Office, of which D43 million was supposedly for the maintenance of "state aircraft."  Why should we be paying for the operation and maintenance of an aircraft or a fleet of aircrafts where official records do not exist showing that they were purchased by the Government of The Gambia.  If we do not own the aircrafts why are we being asked to pay for their operations and maintenance?

I am using this case to illustrate how the budgetary process is being used increasingly by Yaya Jammeh to conceal dubious expenditures now that Allah's Bank has been placed under receivership.  The Office of the President is not an operational agency, and therefore cannot justifiably have a budget that twice the size of the Ministry of Agriculture or the combined budgets of the Judiciary and the National Assembly.  This is exemplifies the Imperial Presidency of Yaya Jammeh where the rest of us are being asked to go eat cake.

My difference with the International Monetary Fund is how to go about getting the deficits under control. Granted, the Fund has over a number of years warned about the problem, about how it slows down economic growth and development, and consistently urged government to reduce the overspending.  Instead, these deficits have been going up and spiraling out of control.  Jammeh is undisciplined and so is his government and therefore cannot restore fiscal sanity without the application of external pressures.

This brings me to the National Assembly which has been an integral part of the deficit problem because all expenditures must be approved by the parliamentary body which has not been spared of the dictatorial tendencies of the regime.  Their role as representatives of the people has been compromised through the application of governing party's rules.  The APRC selects them to stand as candidates.  They can be expelled not only from the party but from the National Assembly as well if they should fall out of party line.  The party is Jammeh.

The Fund, acting in concert with donor agencies, must start addressing these blatant forms of intimidation by the dictatorship that amounts to usurpation of the power of the electorate to elect their members of parliament who should be answerable to them, and not to a political party or an individual.  Donor support and encouragement of the Assembly Members is necessary to allow them to 'break away' from the grip of Yaya Jammeh.  It is only then that National Assembly can begin to act independently, including saying 'no' to the next supplementary budget request that is due before them shortly.

This approach, of course, raises a series of questions of external interference into the political process and the like.  But one could argue that such interferences already exist anyway, and as long as an independent National Assembly contributes to good governance, and good governance is a necessary ingredient in economic progress, it is worth trying this approach.  The leverage exists within the donor community, and it should be used.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

The IMF gives Gambia a failing grade

The Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF or Fund) gives The Gambia a failing grade in the management of its economy following a recently concluded consultations between Fund staff and the government of Yaya Jammeh.

In a press release dated September 13, 2013 issued by the Executive Board, the economy, in the eyes of the Fund, is recovering from the 2011 drought which led to a large drop in crop production, and corresponding decline in GDP in the same year.  The release continues to raise concern about the persistent decline in the balance of payments leading to the depreciation of the dalasi.   The Fund cannot help but cite recent developments in the foreign exchange markets, characterized by frequent and incoherent press releases emanating from State House fixing forex rates, a function which, by law, is the exclusive purview of the Central Bank of the Gambia.  Therefore, Jammeh's recent actions in this area are illegal.

The fiscal indiscipline of the Jammeh regime continues to be one of the major problems facing Gambia's economy.  Yaya Jammeh is the economy's worst enemy by engaging in imprudent fiscal policies, adding to the problems associated with heavy debt burden. Interest on debt stands at 22.5% of government revenue and rising.  In other words, for every D100 revenue collected by government through taxes and other revenue sources, D22.50 is spent on nothing but the interest on the debt that government, leaving government D77.50 ( with zero payment on the principal ) to spend on vital services like medications, fixing roads, emergency assistance to flood victims, and salaries for civil servants.  The Fund had previously warned government of the dangers of leaving the domestic debt left unchecked which now stands at approximately 33% of GDP.  Despite previous promises made by the regime to reduce the fiscal deficit, the problem persists with no sign of abating.

The foreign exchange mess caused by Jammeh's insistence on meddling in Central Bank functions is of concern to the IMF not only because of the market disruptions it has caused, but also because it encourages capital flight and dampened remittances from abroad.  The ensuing chaos following directives from State House to fix the rates is evidenced by the closure of numerous forex bureaux, and the use of murky and inconsistent rules governing their re-opening. Anecdotal evidence supports the fear that capital flight is taking place, especially to neighboring countries with friendlier private sector environment.  As regards remittances from abroad, several diasporan Gambians have decided to hold on to their monthly or quarterly remittances, however temporarily, until there is discernable evidence of the restoration of some form of sanity at State House.  Until this happens, I believe that remittances from abroad will decline which is more bad news for a very bad government.

The IMF Directors lamented at the poor economic data generated by government without which policymaking will be difficult.  This problem has been cited before, and will continue to be permanent fixture in the periodic reporting of the Fund because as long as the Jammeh regime stays in power, the more the figures will continue to be fudged, cooked and massaged to conceal the hard truths of a failed government. The Central Bank Research Department used to be the pride of the government under Jawara. Unfortunately, the same is not true today because of political interference which is why I expect the problem to persist because this government sees everything through the political prism.  To Jammeh, everything is political including data collection for research and policy-formulation purposes.

As regards the International Monetary Fund, I believe it has been massaging the monetary and overall economic problems facing the Gambia rather than confronting them head on.  Meanwhile, the regime continues to flout important policy measures with impunity - policies that have, in the past, served The Gambia well.  I have in mind, particularly, the flexible exchange rate regime which has been in place since 1985-86, a policy that complimented the Economic Recovery Program (ERP).  The ERP came at tremendous cost and sacrifice to ordinary Gambians.  Civil servants were retrenched, investors with dalasi-denominated assets lost value, farmers lost their farm input subsidies, cost recoveries instituted and on, all in the name of prudent fiscal and monetary policies.   Jammeh is setting the economic management clock back three decades while, in my view, the Fund watches from the sidelines.  More proactive measures, including severe sanctions, are necessary from the Fund and the donor community.  It is time to borrow a leaf from the playbook of the European Union.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

President Obama has been petitioned on behalf of Kasim Kanji

A White House petition has been lodged on behalf of Kasim Kanji on the website of the President of the United States.  We are demanding justice for Kasim and sanctions against the government of Yaya Jammeh. We are encouraging residents of the United States to sign it at the link provided below.

A petition must get 150 signatures in order to be publicly searchable on WhiteHouse.gov.  Please help us reach this important threshold in the shortest possible time.  If we can reach the 150-signature threshold, it will ensure maximum exposure of the cause of a young man who should not have died so tragically in the hands of some cowardly group of renegades soldiers.

Again, DO IT FOR KASIM and the hundreds of thousand of other Kasims in The Gambia.

Please sign the petition here:   https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/demand-gambian-dictator-yahya-jammeh-bring-justice-killers-young-kasim-kanji-security-forces/b13Yq5B9

Thank you

Do it for Kasim

Kasim Kanji died at the hands of Jammeh's rag-tag but brutal security apparatus. The young hotel worker underwent severe torture sessions before his neck was broken, and his lifeless body returned to where he was initially picked up.  From this point on, it was the job of the Abuko police to complete the sinister job of concealing what happened, fabricating stories and terrorizing any one who dared to report what they saw. Unconfirmed reports say the parents and other family members have since been picked up by the police for speaking about the death of their son.

Gambians must resist being intimidated.  We are not naive or callous enough to pretend that there are no risks and/or severe consequences associated with speaking out.  There are;  but speak, we must.  Indeed, if it weren't for, at least, one eyewitness, and the brave uncle of Kasim who contacted the online papers, the story would never have been told.  The world would not have known, and Kasim's life would have been one more on a long list of disappearances, unexplained deaths - all of which had gone unpunished.

There were many more gruesome incidences like the one Kasim encountered last Saturday that had gone unreported because of fear of reprisals from the security forces.  Potential eyewitnesses have been traumatized in the past for stepping forward.  They are afraid to come forward.   Even if they do want to come forward, where will they report these acts of terror against a civilian population - the internet-based online papers.  We encourage potential witnesses to go to them with what you know about this case or any other similar case involving human rights abuses of Gambians.

The petition drive on behalf of Kasim Kanji is progressing well.  Thanks to the publicity given to it by the online press and others.  Inquiries from the international press is beginning to trickle in.  Amnesty International and other human rights organizations, I understand, are already asking for details of the case. www.change.org will be sending periodic updates to the American Embassy and the European Delegation Offices in Banjul of our campaign to end terror against the Gambian population and impunity from punishment of those responsible for these hinous acts.

Given the brutal nature of the Yaya Jammeh regime, we do understand the reluctance on the part of the citizens to speak to this particular gruesome act, and to others.  But without the public's help, the terror against the Gambian population will continue, and the problem that is the regime of Yaya Jammeh will prevail.  19 years of this nightmare is enough.

We are, therefore, appealing and encouraging Gambians who have information leading to the identity or identities of the police officers and members of security forces who were responsible for the murder of Kasim Kanji to come forward.  We want to prevent another Kasim Kanji from being murdered in the name of the personal security and safety of one man - Yaya Jammeh.   Do it for Kasim.

Please continue to encourage friends and colleagues to sign the petition at :
http://www.change.org/petitions/president-yahya-jammeh-president-of-the-republic-of-the-gambia-bring-to-justice-the-killers-of-kasim-kanji-of-lamin-village?share_id=IfSltoUiJt&utm_campaign=share_button_action_box&utm_medium=facebook&utm_source=share_petition

Thank you.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Kasim Kanji was killed by an out-of-control security forces

A wikipedia definition of a police state is one"in which a government exercises rigid and repressive controls over the social, economic, and political life of the population."  The entry further elaborated that in a police state "there is usually little or no distinction between the law and the exercise of political power of the executive."

By this definition, The Gambia does not only qualify as a police state, it is a full-fledged police state that rivals the likes of North Korea and the old Soviet Union and East Germany.  The most ardent supporters of Yaya Jammeh can no longer claim that "the boys are trying" or argue that the Gambian human condition has not deteriorated beyond levels of acceptability.  In the past, The Gambian dissident community has been accused of exaggerating the human rights condition and economic development issues with spirited denials from supporters of Jammeh.  Most of those voices have now been silenced not by dissidents but by the very action of the government they supported, and some still continue to support.   The remaining Jammeh supporters have now accepted the reality that they are in a quandary.  The revolution they embraced thinking that life will be better under a new management has turned out to be a nightmare for many of them.  It turns out that Kasim's own brother is a member of Jammeh's security apparatus.  Baba Kanji is a member of the Gambia Armed Forces.  This information was revealed by a member of the family during a radio interview.      

Young Gambians have paid a particularly heavy price for a demographic group that has consistently supported the regime - a misplaced support, in my view, because unemployment in general and youth unemployment in particular has worsened under the current regime, with little or no job opportunities for the young.  Consequently, increasing numbers have taken to drugs with is now readily available given that The Gambia is now a drug transit point of the Latin American drug cartel.  Over a dozen school children were mowed down with AK-47s in April 2001 for holding a peaceful demonstration.  Their protest was to show support for two of their colleagues, one of whom was tortured and killed and the other was raped - all by the same forces that have now killed Kasim Kanji. 

I have argued in the petition I filed with change.org that the targeting of children by the Jammeh security forces is a deliberately designed form of intimidation employed to serve notice to parents and elders that they should control the young - a group that has historically played a galvanizing role that challenges the power of the state.  The murder of Kasim Kanji is a reminder to parents that the state will not hesitate to use excessive force to keep order.

That said, it is also evident that the state security apparatus has grown so powerful that it appears that even the dictator can no longer control it.  This is not surprising because the security set-up is designed in specialised cells, each under a separate command and control.  The structure appears to be decentralized and highly compartmentalized.  And it is common knowledge that these units are staffed by Casamance rebels who do not speak a word of English but discernibly fluent in Jola. Previously, these fighters made a conscious effort to conceal their national identities, but I am told that this is no longer the case.  It is now common to hear them issue instructions in French or in Jola to fellow security agents.  Troubling developments indeed.  

To sign the petition demanding justice for Kasim Kanji, please click the link, and after signing, encourage others to sign. : http://www.change.org/petitions/president-yahya-jammeh-president-of-the-republic-of-the-gambia-bring-to-justice-the-killers-of-kasim-kanji-of-lamin-village#

Encourage others to sign the petition.  Thank you. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Bring the killers of Kasim Kanyi to justice

The brutal regime of Jammeh of has struck once more.  This time a young man by the name of Kasim Kanyi of Lamin  village.  He was reportedly riding his bicycle on the side road towards Abuko from his hometown of Lamin and along the path of Jammeh's motorcade.

Young Kasim was reportedly stopped by a policeman and asked if he was aware that the presidential convoy was to use the road to which he responded in the negative.  Suddenly, according to eyewitnesses, a truck-load of military personnel stopped and uniformed security asked the policeman why the kid was on the presidential route, ostensibly obstructing the convoy. Without further exchange or a simple order to move off the road ( young Kasim was already riding his bike on one of the dirt tracks) the soldiers loaded young Kasim on their truck and whisked him off to an unknown location where he was reportedly beaten, his neck broken and severe lacerations to the head.  These are all signs of torture and trauma.

Kasim's lifeless body was returned to the proximity of Abuko police stateion where his body was dumped. However, another account of the story is that his body was taken inside the Abuko police station. Regardless of which account is accurate, what is indisputable is that another young innocent life has been brutally and senselessly taken by Jammeh's security who prey on the civilian population, particularly the young.  The brutal torture and subsequent death of Ebrima Barry in 2001 at the hands of members of Jammeh's security forces eventually led to the student demonstrations which culminated to the massacre of more than a dozen defenseless school children.

The family of Kasim kanji refused to sign a declarative statement prepared by the Abuko police in an obvious move to absolve themselves of responsibility for this heinous act against a defenseless kid riding his bicycle on public roads.   These cowardly acts by an equally cowardly personal security detail of Yaya Jammeh are ever so frequent that one is led to believe that they are a form of repression designed to preempt any spontaneous demonstration of public anger and rejection of a failing regime - a regime that is on its last leg after 19 years of failed policies by an incompetent bunch of illiterates and people of doubtful nationalities.

The family of Kasim Kanyi must be applauded for refusing to sign the government document that would have absolved any and all those purportedly involved in the crime.  The family is equally right in demanding a thorough investigation of the crime and punish those responsible, a highly unlikely outcome, given the impunity and irresponsibility with which Jammeh has been governing The Gambia since illegally seizing power almost two decades ago.

Gambians must stand up and demand justice for Kasim Kanji.   This blog has opened up a petition drive on www.change.org designed to draw the world's attention to yet another act of cowardise and brutality against the civilian population who are now being effectively held captive by a regime that is obviously on its last leg.

Please log in to sign the petition:  http://www.change.org/petitions/president-yahya-jammeh-president-of-the-republic-of-the-gambia-bring-to-justice-the-killers-of-kasim-kanji-of-lamin-village# 

I have also requested www.change.org to post the petition on my Facebook page and twitter account.  The petition is also directly linked to the State House in Banjul, the U.S. Embassy and the European Union Delegation Offices on Kairaba Avenue and Atlantic Road, Fajara, respectively.

Thank you.

Monday, September 9, 2013

A 19-year average public expenditure shows Jammeh spent less on education than Jawara



Education, until recently, has been called the great equalizer in America.  The stunning income gap between the super rich and the rest, some of whom i.e. the super rich, do not possess university degree and increasing numbers inherit their wealth, is beginning to change the perceptions of many that education is not after all the great equalizer it once was. Despite the shift in perception, public education continues to be mandatory and free at the elementary, primary and secondary levels in the U.S.  There are, of course, tuition-paying private schools that compete with public schools.  Education is universally considered the best pathway to success, provided there is guaranteed access for all.  Therefore, it is a highly politically sensitive sector.  It is also a subject that is often demagogued by politicians.  Gambian politicians are no exception, including Jammeh.

When the AFPRC seized power illegally, they set out to correct what they considered, then, to be a rigged education system that favored the rich, the privileged, children of Ministers and senior civil servants. To leave little doubt in the minds of Gambians as to those Jammeh was intending on targeting, they specified his targets as kids whose parents could afford living on Pipeline, Cape Point and Fajara.  The revolution they stumbled into was going to reverse the trend by spending more on public education, build more schools to bring education to the doorsteps of every Gambian child - a laudable objective, indeed, of the revolution.  He was also going to make sure that they poor kids are awarded scholarships too.  Well, he got most of them to Taiwan to study petroleum engineering and IT whether they have the competence and qualification or not.

The revolution then embarked immediately on a massive school construction program.  The construction binge was part of their infrastructure program that put as much money in the pockets of the construction engineers cum supporters of the revolution as in the buildings themselves.   These fly-by-night operators quickly realized that morphing into a building contractor mode was the quickest way to riches.  They landed themselves huge contracts in exchange for political support. These construction and business moguls were to ensure that the urban and peri-urban areas supported the revolution.

The 'brick-and-mortar' program of the APRC as a means of improving the education sector did achieve two things which are important in improving the overall learning environment.  It obviously provided a building and a roof over the heads of children which is certainly better than kids sitting on the ground, under a tree. It also provided more access, thus more children could enrol in school.  But education goes beyond access and school buildings.  Expenditure on the 'software' aspect of primary and secondary education is more important.

The view that continuous teacher training, re-training, certification are more important than the buildings is not a minority view of a ferocious opponent of the dictatorship in Banjul.   It is a universally held view that quality teachers who are highly trained and motivated, adequate supplies, text book, exercise books, chalk, blackboard etc.contribute more to quality education than buildings.  This is more so in developing economies like ours.  The construction binge of the AFPRC came at a huge cost, and at the expense of quality education.

Poor primary and secondary leaving exam results under the A(F)PRC regime is living testimony to the policy deviation from the PPP's 15-Year Education Policy 1988-2003 that emphasised increased expenditure in those things that matter most. Access have increased, especially for girls, but quality has dramatically gone done.  The internal efficiency measures introduced in the budget process to help improve the overall performance of the sector were also quickly abandoned by a regime that was looking for public acceptance by going for highly visible projects that did little to improve the quality of education our children where receiving.

With all the noise of the A(F)PRC propaganda machine generated from 1994, one would have thought that, at least, Yaya Jammeh would be spending more on education than the PPP.  Well, think again.  On a 19-year average, for every Gambian child in school, the PPP government spent an average of D3,200 per child.  For the same 19-year average, the figure for Yaya Jammeh stands at D2,500 per Gambian child, and a sizeable portion of this amount went into the pockets of contractors who built those schools at the height of the AFPRC euphoria.  Jawara, on the other hand, spent D700 more per child than Jammeh during the 19-year period most of which went to teacher training, material resources and textbooks.  Quality, in effect, went up compared to the low quality that exists today in our schools.

As in other sectors, the A(F)PRC propaganda machine misled many in the education sector.  But the fault lies with us, Gambians.   We were either too lazy to delve into the figures or so terrified of and by the dictatorship that we were afraid to challenge their false claims.  The PPP must now toute these figures as evidence that the A(F)PRC is worst than the PPP government not only in education but in just about every other aspect of Gambian life.  In fact, the two should never be mentioned in the same breath.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Banjul is dead, Long Live the Port City of Banjul

The sight of only little kids coming out to greet Yaya Jammeh as he pretends to be touring the devastation that is the city of Banjul is further reminder that the dictator has lost all credibility, and with it, support of the people of Banjul and the Gambian people as well.  One look at the state of Banjul should prove the devastation of its infrastructure, and with it the city's moral and spiritual fabric.  Although the people of Banjul have finally started blaming Jammeh for their predicament, the slide into the current deplorable state started well before Jammeh seized power.

Unlike the Jawara who attempted to address the urban decay with roads and sewerage projects, Jammeh in fact accelerated the deterioration by focusing an inordinate attention and state resources to the far-flung village hamlet of Kanilai, his home town.  Capital cities generally contribute significantly not only to national incomes, but to the political, social, cultural life of countries.  Kanilai does just the opposite.  It drains resources away from the national treasury, and into wasteful and idle endeavors like the "Futamgpang" and women wrestling matches which, some have argued, have contributed to the promiscuous behavior of our young men and women folk.  Kanilai is not all play.  It has a good and well-maintained access road leading to the village.  Its infrastructure is far superior to Banjul's.

Banjul is a dead city.  Like the city of Detroit, once the pride of America and the home of Ford, General Motors and Chrysler, Banjul has been abandoned by the very people who once profited from its strategic location as the seat of government and the hub of commerce.  The decline of Detroit was slow and painful but avoidable.  And so is the decline of Banjul.  Some urban planners suggest that the decline of the Motor City started in 1967 with the worst race riot in U.S. history which saw 42 people killed, mainly African-Americans by National Guard troops.  This led to White flight to the neighboring suburbs thus depriving the city of tax base necessary to provide services and the maintenance of the city's infrastructure.  The decline in the share the world market which started with the competition from Japanese autos led to the bankruptcy of GM and Chrysler.  The financial melt-down provided the coup de grace until the Obama administration stepped in to save two of the Big Three.  .

If a similar inflection point in Banjul's good fortunes is to be suggested, I'd venture to say it is the advent of Gambian tourism of the mid-60s which quickly accelerated in the 70's and 80's.  What was once the outback of the Kombos soon was dotted with tourist hotels and other amenities, including access roads, never seen before were springing up everywhere from Cape Point to Kotu and beyond.  City dwellers who did not venture much outside the city limits, except for an occasional Sunday trip, were now venturing out to enjoy the night life that the tourism paradise around the Cape Point, Fajara and Kotu corridor had on offer.  Night club operators in Banjul moved to the Kombos to cater for the tourists.  Other businesses along Wellington Street followed suit.  Then you have Pipeline, a once residential street soon turned into the business center of the Kombos.  Fuelling all of this was the land use policies of the Jawara era which is a separate subject of interest.

Banjulians abandoned the city in droves for the Kombos.  In heading for the hills ( some have argued that the legendary Banjul mosquitoes contributed to the exodus ), they deprived the city of much needed revenue.  Instead of an expanding tax base, Banjul city administration was also collecting less in rates, some of the money found their way into the notoriously corrupt rate collectors.  For the first time in the city's history, entire compounds, some even of historic significant ( especially those along Clarkson Street ) were being abandoned as well. These newly-transformed 'Kombongkas', including yours truly, did not only deprived the city much needed revenue, they also posed another problem for not only the city but for central government as well.  They clung on to their "kerr chosan" even when offered compensation to make way for the Port Expansion Project.  They eventually succumed but not before the right of eminent domain was likely to be applied by the State which would have abrogated their right to negotiate for a fair market price.  

Jammeh's contribution to the acceleration of Banjul's decline is what Daniel Patrick Moynihan would refer to as "benign neglect".   Banjulians supported the coup and Jammeh.  In return, he engaged the Banjulians in frequent 'celebrations' at the July 22nd Square and beach parties and barbeques in the beach front of the State House.  The support for Jammeh was founded on the basis that the Jawara regime neglected the city in spite of the numerous externally funded projects with 10% contribution from government.  There were more urban development-related projects under Jawara than under the current regime.  The drawback to the efforts were that some of these projects were poorly designed as well as poorly implemented.  The SOGEA sewage project comes to mind.  Some of the current pollution problems relating to the raw sewage that has been found in the flood waters in Banjul is partly attributable to this project because a good number of the toilets in compounds were not connected to the system for various reasons, but primarily financial and technical ones.

The devastation did not start with the floods.  It only aggravated it and spot-lighted the plight of those trapped inside what can only be described as a hell-hole.  Bond Road, the ring road connecting Half-Die to the main road out of Banjul is impassable.  The Pumping Station or "Pa Bokis" that pumps the water to keep Banjulians from drawing in flood waters has been out of commission for years.  The gutters along Albion Place that empties into the Box Bar stream are caked because of solid waste, and as a resident of the city told me the other day is that the cutters are so caked in the dry season that you can skate on them.  Now, I am told there is/are crocodile(s) inhabiting those gutters suggesting, in a horrifying way, that the drainage system has completely broken down.  Banjulians will not have to contend not only with the legendary Banjul mosquito but they are like likely to be eaten by crocodiles right in the middle of the capital city.

Drastic decline requires equally drastic measures.  Whereas the problems of the two cities i.e. Detroit and Banjul share some similarities, the solution that I am suggesting for Banjul is different.  I will not suggest that Banjul be under an Emergency Manager or receivership which I oppose in the case of Detroit.  Instead, I am suggesting that Banjul be transformed into a Port City which would require that almost the entire city be leveled.  Of course, it doesn't mean that bulldozers descend on the city tomorrow and start levelling everything in site.  The feasibility of it should be carefully studied.  It may turn out that a better option is to have half of the city, say up to Allen Street, be converted into an industrial complex relating to port operations and other industrial activities.  A site for a new political capital would have to be considered as well.  Which ever option is finally opted for will take massive investment which I envisage will come from private capital.  However, you cannot attract private capital with a corrupt and incompetent government.