Saturday, November 30, 2013

Another state-sponsored murder

The frequency with which senior Gambia government officials, including state security agents, are being killed in what the dictatorship always claim as 'vehicular accidents' has reached an alarming rate, giving us reason to pause and ask when will it all end.

The first staged "accident" occurred at the early stages of the military coup with the death of Mr. Koro Ceesay who was the civilian Finance Minister in the midst of a military junta that was struggling to transform themselves into a civilian outfit while battling for legitimacy in the face of a hostile international community.  Like the members of the military ruling council, the Finance Minister was young with limited experience in government.  However, armed with a far superior educational background, he quickly established himself as an influential member of a junta that was increasingly viewing the Minister as overly ambitious.  Since this was Gambia's first experience with military rule, everyone had a learning curve of sorts to deal with, some individuals' curves were steeper than others.

Something happened prior to or during his travels to Abuja, then to Lagos to meet with the Nigerian Petroleum Minister and his return to Banjul's Yundum Airport.  He was last seen alive at the same Airport on 22nd May 1996 a couple of days after his return from his Nigerian trip where he attended the African Development Bank Group's Board of Governors Meetings Annual Meetings.  The subject of Koro Ceesay's meeting with the Nigerian Petroleum Minister in Lagos is a matter of speculation to this day to the very few privy of this information.  What is known is that he was accompanied to Lagos from Abuja by a senior Gambian official.  

After seeing Jammeh off at the airport in the evening of the 22nd May 1966, it was alleged that driving home, Minister Ceesay was lured by other members of the junta to a residential dwelling where he was clubbed to death with a baseball bat, his lifeless body placed in his car before torching it.  His burnt car was found in a deserted rural road with his charred remains inside.  Those who visited the scene where the purported accident took place were able to notice immediately that it was a staged scene even without the benefit of forensic autopsy.  Gambia, under the current regime, is where autopsies in cases involving the security forces are not allowed.  The state determines when one is needed, and in what form and its extent.  The junta has traded their uniforms for civilian clothes but they have not traded their violent ways. To this date, the families, friends and colleagues of the Minister have not been provided with a satisfactory explanation of the cause of death of a promising young man.  

Numerous, mysterious, and often unexplained deaths, have taken place since the military seized power in July of 1994.  Included among these were the executions of the former Director General of the notorious National Intelligence Agency, Mr. Daba Marena, Lieutenant Alieu Ceesay, Warrant Officer Alpha Bah, Sergeant Manlafi Corr and Lieutenant Ebou Lowe who the regime claimed to have escaped while being transported to an up-country prison while shackled, cuffed with armed guards galore. When the regime left the populace wondering who concocted such an implausible story, they explained that the truck was involved in an accident, and so while the guards and driver were busy tending to the accident victims their prisoners fled with their shackles, cuffs and all.  Not a single of the men was captured.  In the end, the regime knew that their story did not fly even with the most politically disengaged Gambians.

Captain Ello Jallow was, unfortunately, one more in a long line of victims of this brutal regime.  The army captain was the personal body guard of Mrs. Yaya Jammeh.  They had just returned from one of their frequent trips to America when he was accosted in a back road, his car ran off the road, he was dragged from his his car, assaulted, his neck broken, his pockets emptied of money and valuables, including his watch and his body left in the car as another car accident victim.   Again, no autopsy was performed on the body which was rushed under armed guard to the victims village for burial. The security accompanying the body stood by, as if to be certain that the body was buried, and not subject to further inspection by the family for tell-tail signs.  

The latest victim of staged accidental death is that of the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Lands, Malamin Jatta, which occurred as recent as 29 November, 2013.  He was on an official trip up-country when he was provided with a new driver and a new security detail, both of whom he did not know or had ever seen before.  It is not yet clear whether he objected to the switcheroo run on him by a deceitful group of individuals in the regime.  Senior officials, especially Heads of Ministries and Departments are allocated cars with designated drivers.  In the event of any change in the status quo, the choice of drivers and assigned security details are normally left at the discretion of the official.  But in this curious case, the Permanent Secretary was left with no option but to either drive hundreds of miles under treacherous road conditions with total strangers or refuse to make the trip.  He chose the former which proved fatal because just by Jammeh's home village junction of Kanilai, the car the officer was travelling was reportedly involved in an accident that killed him.  The driver and the security both survived as it is invariably the case.  It is being reported that the Permanent Secretary had intimate knowledge of some of the controversial land deals involving the Gambian dictator.  As word got out that the Permanent Secretary was driven to his death by total strangers, and before he was buried, the security agents sprang into action and started arresting and questioning the victims family members.  This is a typical intimidatory technique employed to force family members to clam up or face torture and subsequent imprisonment.

When will all the madness end?  It will end only when the regime ceases to exist.  If anything, the killing spree will increase, rather than decrease, as the end of the dying regime gets closer.  Dictatorships sometimes end as chaotically as they began. Mussolini, Hitler, Saddam Hussein just to name a few examples away from the continent of Africa that is synonymous with dictatorships.  Gambians must brace themselves for things to come. There will be more imprisonments, more disappearances, more staged murders and other forms of repression against a defenseless population before the regime collapses under its own weight, accelerated by economic decline and increased diplomatic isolation.  There are already signs that the economy is on a steady decline as external aid declines, and businesses and investors flee to friendlier destinations like Senegal and countries in the region.      

Thursday, November 28, 2013

China will not rush to recognize Gambia

If the Gambian leader thought severing diplomatic relations with Taipei will send Beijing scurrying to fill the diplomatic void, he seemed to have overplayed his hand. The break-up has huge fiscal implications for Gambia's 2014 Budget which is why I think Jammeh would probably like to have this one back despite the initial rebuff of Ambassador Shih's mission to Banjul last week to try to get Jammeh to reconsider his decision.  Here's why.

The decision by Jammeh obviously took no account of the cross-straits politics that had changed appreciably with the election of Ma Ying-jeou, President of the ROC in May 2008.  Ma's "flexible diplomacy" policy encourages cross-straits trade in exchange for 'diplomatic space' for Taiwan.  The new policy tries to put aside the diplomatic tit-for-tat that had been the norm where Taiwan and Beijing competed fiercely, even for the limited diplomatic space Taiwan had to operate.

The ruling Kuomintang Party's (KMT) flexible diplomacy policy compares starkly and favorably with Taipei's major trading partners like the United States, Japan and the European Union than the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) whose policies towards China are more confrontational.  The KMT's approach is to engage China while DPP's approach is more confrontational, and strives for independence from China.  It appears that China would prefer to engage Taiwan, diplomatically, by maintaining the current atmosphere than to upset the current arrangement.  The benefit-cost analysis outcome favors Taipei over Banjul until, as this blog suggested earlier, that Jammeh can sell China the idea that The Gambia is awash with crude oil.

Taiwan's trading partners see the positive aspect of the new "flexible diplomacy" policy of the KTM which has brought stability, until the break-up with Banjul, in the diplomatic tussle between the cross-strait rivals. An American Think Tank has conducted a study that strongly recommends that the United States use its diplomatic muscle to change the rules of some international organization that will allow for more participation of Taiwan in the international stage.  There are active promoters of this approach to creating increased diplomatic space for Taiwan, and Mo's policy of 'flexible diplomacy' with China has made this new diplomatic push possible.  Unfortunately, the shifting diplomatic landscape and the changing cross-straits politics did not enter Jammeh's calculus.

Jammeh's character and personality are also becoming increasingly important factors in the conduct of future diplomacy, especially following his abrupt decisions to withdraw from the Commonwealth without a referendum or Parliamentary approval and the Taiwan fiasco.  And as more details emerge from hearings in the Taiwanese Legislature.  For instance, from the prepared statement for the Foreign Minister to the Foreign and National Defense Committee of the Legislature, we now know that Jammeh did set a deadline for Taiwanese to meet his financial demands which has been reported to be $ 10 million in cash.

We also know from the Minister's report that Jammeh claimed that the money was for "national security" purposes.  When Taiwan failed to meet his deadline, he "became discontented with Taipei."  Jammeh never provided details about his request for extra aid.  The report to the Legislative Committee by the Foreign Minister attributed the break-up to the "idiosyncrasy and misunderstandings about the Republic of China (ROC) in the process of seeking financial aid."

To help us understand what was going on, we will attempt to re-construct the timeline.  According to initial statements of the Taiwanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Jammeh made the demand in January 2013 in the sum of $ 10 million to be delivered in cash and without a receipt so that the transaction cannot be traced to him.  We are just now learning that he did give Taiwan a deadline.  What is not evident is when the deadline or ultimatum was given to the Taiwanese.  Was it before he delivered his 68th Session of the United Nations General Assembly on 27th September 2013 or immediately after when he, again, called upon the United Nations to reassess its policy towards the Republic of China (Taiwan).  He expressed his concern that "23 million hard-working, peace-loving people of that great country continued to be ignored."

Jammeh proceeded in the same speech to describe the Taiwan government as a "democratically-elected government...the only legitimate government that defends the interest of the people of Taiwan.  With all these great human and democratic values and attributes of Taiwan, Jammeh wondered why Taiwan was "not a member to the vital organs of this global body to contribute their share in search for (global) solutions to...problems."  He delivered his UN speech on 27th September 2013.  He withdrew Gambia's membership to the Commonwealth on 2nd October or 3 days after he returned from his UN trip.  He severed ties with Taiwan 15th November 2013 or 54 days after speaking glowingly of Taiwan before the world which speaks volumes of the character of the man.  Was the Commonwealth withdrawal a warning shot to Taiwan that Jammeh meant business in carrying out his threat, assuming that Jammeh did, indeed, issue an ultimatum to Taiwan.  We will continue to follow the story  

Beijing is also following events as they unfold, especially from the Taipei end. Banjul, as always, will stay mute or spew disinformation and twisted logic to keep Gambians in the dark and to deceive its diplomatic partners.  Ask Taiwan about Jammeh's deceitfulness.  This is the nature of the idiosyncratic Gambian leader whose mental state is increasingly becoming a matter for concern.  As we've said before, we will still maintain that China will continue to stay on the sidelines as the diplomatic kerfuffle plays out.    薩內 甘比亞       

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Justice Emmanuel Nkea will also be held responsible

Amadou Sanneh (no relation) is the National Treasurer of the leading opposition party in The Gambia.  He's an accountant by training and had once served as Gambia's Accountant General.  For those who know him, and like many of the leaders the United Democratic Party (UDP), he was never in politics until recently.  And like the rest of the party leadership, Amadou was driven into politics because of a vicious dictatorship that has held Gambians in bondage for 19 years while a group of malfeasance ran the economy into the ground, who proceeded to threaten anyone who dare speak, with torture, death, forced exile or disappearance.

Amadou Sanneh is a successful businessman, a family man and a deeply religious human being.  He was arrested on the 25th September 2013 by agents of the notorious National Intelligence Agency (NIA), and charged, together with three others ( one of whom turned state witness), with sedition.  He had written a letter supporting the asylum application of a UDP supporter, one Malang Fatty whom Amadou had claimed in the letter to have received death threats from the state's security agents - a routine practice - and that the UDP membership is routinely persecuted - a fact.  Malang Fatty's brother was arrested for asking Amadou Sanneh to write the letter, together with the Commissioner of Oath, Bakary Baldeh, for certifying the letter as a statement of fact.

Since their arrest, and until their first court appearance a month later, Amadou and the others have been in state custody, held incommunicado with no access to their lawyers.  For an entire month, and while in custody, these men were tortured constantly with the obvious intent of extracting "confession" before a national television audience.  In the words of Amnesty International's The Gambia researcher, "in the Gambia, criticizing the government often carries an enormous cost.  Forcing political opponents to "confess" to crimes on national TV seems to be the latest callous strategy by the authorities to prevent anyone from criticizing them."

The YouTube video evidence that Amadou Sanneh was a victim of torture at the hands of the NIA that led him to the "confession" of a seditious act can be found here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VxI4vLZu9Qc&sns=em.  His tormentors on the video are supposedly "television journalists and cameramen", employed by the state-controlled television station.  These so-called "journalists" are equally culpable.  Any evidence extracted through torture is inadmissible in a court of law.

Amadou Sanneh, Malang Fatty and Sambou Fatty were formally arraigned and charged with conspiracy to commit an act with seditious intent, sedition, possession of seditious material and false swearing.  Despite that these are bailable offenses, Amadou has been denied bail thrice by the Special Criminal Court presided by justice Emmanuel Nkea, a Cameroonian-born and South African-trained judge.  He is one of the mercenary judges contracted by the Gambian dictator to enforcing the official government policy of suppressing the will of the Gambian people through the judiciary.

Justice Emmaunel Nkea has been the subject of this blog found here http://sidisanneh.blogspot.com/2013/10/justice-emmanuel-nkea-is-eye-of-storm.html where he was described as " a political wheeler-dealer" and the "go to" judge in the repressive regime of Jammeh to put away the regimes political enemies, real and perceived.  The judge looks ready to strike again on behalf of the Gambian dictatorship and against the law he swore to uphold.  

By denying Amadou Sanneh bail for an offence that is bailable, this judge is acting callously, and at the direction of Yaya Jammeh, and thus putting the life of the defendant in danger.  Amadou is suffering from high blood pressure and he's a diabetic who was denied access to his medications for a month, and while he was being tortured.  Justice Emmanuel Nkea is very well aware of the medical condition of the accused and yet he's been denied bail for the third time.

The accused is a respected member of the business community, and as a consultant he is managing numerous contracts on behalf of his clients.  He has contractual obligations to fulfill and payroll to meet.  Therefore, the livelihood of many Gambian families depend on the success of his business to jump bail.  In short,  Amadou is not a flight risk, and thus, should be allowed to go home and be with his family, seek medical treatment and run his business while he the trial is on.  All these arguments were argued before the judge who elected to take orders from the Gambian dictator rather than follow the dictates of the law.

The Gambian judiciary has unfortunately become an integral part of the state's repressive machinery, using mercenary judges like Emmanuel Nkea, in the most sinister manner to help perpetuate a very corrupt and incompetent regime.  Judge Emmanuel Nkea will not be absolve of responsibility should the physical integrity of any of the accused is affected in any adverse manner.  Meanwhile, our international campaign against mercenary judges collaborating with the Gambian dictator continues.    

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Why would Beijing bother

The unfolding drama following the break-up of diplomatic relations between Taiwan and The Gambia is unraveling the inner workings of the personal diplomacy conducted by the Gambian leader which should serve as notice to Beijing.

As the next diplomatic destination of the Gambian dictator, the People's Republic of China is certainly keenly following revelations concerning the manner in which Jammeh conducts foreign policy.  It is a style that is personal with Gambia's national interest taking a back seat.  Gambians have learned in two short weeks as events continue to unfold that Jammeh's relations with Taiwan was more for his personal enrichment than for the mutual benefits of the two countries.  The demands for personal favors from Taiwan at the expense of Gambia's national interest  was not only unprecedented but disgraceful.  Jammeh makes Gambians look cheap and self-centered, and the story only gets worse as Taiwanese politicians start asking questions.

Initially, it was thought Jammeh owed Taiwan $ 10 million.  Now the figure is placed at $ 20 million by Legislator Tsai Huang-liang of the Democratic Progressive Party of Taiwan who estimated that over the years, the total outstanding loans owed Taiwan by its former allies amounted to roughly half a billion dollars. Legislator Tsai is insisting that the government should go after the defaulters to recover the outstanding amounts to avoid sending the wrong message that diplomatic allies can contract loans and then walk off the relationship without paying.

Following the diplomatic rupture, former Ambassador Shih was dispatched to Banjul to see if he could talk Jammeh into reconsidering his decision to sever relations.  He refused to meet the Shih delegation but delegated his Vice President who informs the delegation that the decision was final because when Jammeh's demands for a $ 10 million in a one-time payment, he expected Taiwan to comply because "we are brothers."  In turning down the $ 10 million demand, the Vice President intimated to the delegation that Jammeh deducted from the refusal that "Taiwan was no longer in need of Gambia's support."  In short, the personal enrichment of Jammeh is the quid pro quo for Gambia's diplomatic relations and support in international fora.

Jammeh's personal style of conducting foreign policy will not fit well with the Chinese foreign aid model. There will be more demands for accountability than what we have seen in the Taiwanese model.  The Chinese will not rush into establishing diplomatic relations with The Gambia, especially as embarrassing demands of Jammeh on Taiwan continue to be unearth by Taiwan authorities and the local media.  The Chinese will move faster only if Jammeh, the snake oil salesman he is, can sell the same story he's sold Gambians for over a decade that The Gambia is floating on crude oil.        


Monday, November 25, 2013

AMRC has outlived its purpose, it's a corruption den, and should be closed

The Assets Management and Recovery Corporation (AMRC) was established by an Act of Parliament in 1992 with a clear and simple mandate, to manage the assets and liabilities of the defunct Gambia Commercial and Development Bank (GCDB).

Two years into its existence, the 1994 coup took place and the mandate of the AMRC was extended to include newly confiscated properties of members of the Jawara regime.  But not all fell under the purview of the corporation.  In fact, many of these properties fell into the hands of members of the junta and their families, friends and supporters.  The rest, mostly less attractive, were handed over to AMRC to be managed.  many quickly fell into disrepair and dilapidation. Assets quickly turned into liabilities because the corporation was not designed to be a long-term proposition but a short-term fix to address the assets and liabilities of the GCDB.

We are being told that 72% of the entire GCDB portfolio valued at D 240 million ( about $ 8 million) has been recovered with an outstanding balance of D 94 million (about $3 million).  There has been zero collection for years, and the corporation, according to its own reporting, has ceased to collect "as large parts of these debts are unsecured and/or lack documentation since the debtors are either non-traceable or no longer in position to pay..."  Most, if not all of the collection activities of the corporation has been on commercial loans.  There has been little recovery of development loans, mainly agricultural machinery, because they were all unsecured.  The other category of GCDB liabilities were under managed fund category which were government guaranteed loans to Area Councils.  Most of these loan remain outstanding because most of these Area Councils are bankrupt, and have been so for a very long time.  They rely on government subvention to provide the minimum of services despite the local rates and levies collected from residents.

Instead of winding down the operations of AMRC, the regime decided instead to expand its mandate indefinitely "to venture into sectors such as agriculture, property rental and sales of forfeited property as competitive prices" as if they have learned nothing from the GCDB experience were almost all of the loans extended for development purposes ( agriculture ) turned out to be unrecoverable.  Adding sales of forfeited properties to the corporation's mandate only fuel the property confiscation binge the regime is on.  The continued existence of the AMRC perpetuates a cycle of corruption in the properties market, distorting it in the process.

The corporation has been operating deficits, at least since 2011 and the decline persists.  For instance, the turnover of the corporation in 2011 was D 19.4 million, down to D 9.7 million in 2012 - a year described by management as turbulent times but yet promised as they did the previous years, that the "corporation will grow from year to year." The corporation rental income has suffered a precipitous decline over the years because most of its rental properties, according to their own reports, "are vacant due to bad state of repairs" and all efforts are being made to repair them so that they can be put back in the market.  The idea of AMRC had never been to play the role of a landlord.  It was to manage the liabilities and assets of the defunct GCDB and close shop after the main objectives have been achieved.


  

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Will Trust Bank underwrite Jammeh's $10 million Taiwan loan?

Taiwan Ministry of Foreign Affairs official responded to media reports by suggesting that, in the past, government extended loans to its diplomatic allies through state-controlled local commercial banks.

The Ministry further revealed that in contracting these types of loans, a clause was inserted in the loan agreements that gave local banks the right to bring up lawsuits against the borrower in the event of a default. Loans contracted this way, that is, through local commercial banks, are treated by the government as ordinary or regular business loans.

Following the severance of diplomatic ties with Banjul, the government of Taiwan revealed that The Gambia had such similar loan contracted through Taiwan's Export-Import Bank in the amount of US $10 million. This loan should not to be confused with a similar amount demanded of the Taiwanese in cash by Jammeh that was subsequently turned down in January this year because it was against Taiwan's foreign aid policy to dish out unreceipted cash loans

Trust Bank Ltd. is the only known local bank that is government-controlled.  Social Security and Housing Finance Corporation and the Gambia Ports Authority are two government entities that constitute the single biggest shareholding voting block or 42.46%.  The next single biggest shareholder is Databank Securities with 22.12%.  The balance of the voting power is shared among groups of investors, both publicly and privately shares, who are friendly to and stalwarts of, the ruling APRC of Yaya Jammeh.

If Trust Bank is effectively the guarantor of the loan, will it underwrite it or pursue the regime of Yaya Jammeh in court with the view to ensuring that it fulfills its financial obligation to its former friend and diplomatic ally?  It is unimaginable, in my estimation, that Trust Bank will take the lawsuit route given the nature of the Jammeh regime, and its symbiotic relationship with Trust Bank.  So the most likely scenario is for Trust Bank to underwrite the loan to keep the Jammeh regime happy rather than risk default and its attendant consequences.  Meanwhile, we will still want to know the authority for the loan, legislative or otherwise, and its proper accounting.  We hope this is not too much to ask of our friends in Banjul.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Taipei's messy gunboat diplomacy

There is growing demand from Taiwanese politicians for their government to take full account of all of the outstanding loans owed by former allies with the view to reclaiming them.

There appears to be growing frustration in Taipei over outstanding debts owed by former diplomatic allies. Gambia has now joined the ranks. Despite successful court battles and law suites victories against Taiwan's against them, some of whom have refused to repay their loans, there is still over $150 million outstanding loans that are still being subsidized by Taiwanese taxpayers.  How long Taiwan will be saddled with these loans that taxpayers must continue to subsidized before additional legal measures are taken - if additional legal recourse is available to government - is anybody's guess.

While Taiwan is still recovering from a diplomatic thunderbolt that struck last week from the direction of Banjul, there's obvious self-assessment and diagnostics being carried out to establish what actually happened, and why neither the Foreign Affairs Ministry, including the Foreign Affairs Establishment, nor the Taiwan Embassy staff in Banjul saw it coming.   Like in any messy marriage breakup, there's always enough blame to go around with the unavoidable finger-pointing, and the 18-year Taiwan - Gambia relationship is no exception.  Recriminations have started emerging from sources that do not wish to be identified revealing additional loans that The Gambia may have contracted with the Ex-Im Bank of Taiwan totaling $ 20 million. What the amount was for is not yet clear but it must have been for the procurement of goods and services originating from Taiwan.

Is it possible that all or a portion of the $ 20 million from the Ex-Im Bank of R.O.C. went towards the procurement of the three boats "donated" to the Gambian Navy by the government of Taiwan to replace the previous four vessels delivered in 2009?  If these were outright gifts, then what was the loan spent on.  As a Gambian eloquently put it on my Facebook page, "I hope someday soon, Taiwan would come out, not in a retaliatory fashion, but in the name of accountability, to tell us some of the things they have done for/with the regime in Banjul."  He continued " that shouldn't be seen as breach of any (diplomatic) confidentiality but instead being accountable to the Gambian people who are going to bear the brunt of the loan repayment..."

It should be noted that Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou agreed to the deal to replace the four 50 ton Dvora class (known in Taiwan  as Hai Ou or Seagull) during his April 2012 visit to Banjul.  One of these 50 ton vessels reportedly "suffered serious damage" suspected to have been linked to the 2005 massacre of 50 African nationals, including 44 Ghanaians.   According to diplomat.com, the group of African nationals was reportedly picked up by the Gambian naval vessels in international waters, transported to Gambia and hacked up by "security forces, axes, machetes and other weapons.  A Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative report linked Jammeh to these heinous crimes.  Jammeh withdrew Gambia's membership from the Commonwealth last month, and abruptly severed diplomatic ties with Taiwan last week.  It could all be attributed to coincidence, and it may not all be.  Time will tell.

Meanwhile, it is hoped that in due course the Taiwan government will shed light on these loans particularly as reports start to emerge suggesting that some of these marine assets have found their way into Moroccan waters where they are being operated privately - assets meant for the Gambia and the Gambian Navy to ensure, in the words of the Gambian Vice President in receiving these vessels, "that our territorial waters are well protected, together with our marine resources, and address banditry at seas as well as deter or punish the criminals", as quoted by the local newspaper, The Point.

Unlike the $ 10 million in cash that Yaya Jammeh demanded from the Taiwan with the specific request that a receipt was not needed which was refused, the Ex-Im Bank of R.O.C. was receipted and goods and services invoiced, and thus should be easily identified.  We hope the government of Taiwan will make this information public so that the matter can be pursued.  The Gambian people deserve to know what is being contracted in their name by a regime that has now been shown to be corrupt, and therefore undeserving to be shielded from public scrutiny.     薩內 甘比亞           

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Gambia's economy continues to be mismanaged

Roger Nord, Deputy Director, African Department of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) visited Banjul, and after a closed door meeting with Mrs. Isatou Njie-Saidy, Vice President of The Gambia told reporters that she assured him that "her government is committed to ensuring the economic growth (registered), is sustained, inclusive and creates jobs."

The Fund representative suggested to reporters that the message he received from the Vice President although "clear" but he implied that the regime's were neither convincing nor reassuring. After all, the same reassurances have been given by the same regime to the same donors in the past by the Jammeh regime only to fail in following through with their promises. 

Mr Nord's response to Gambia's Vice President is that whereas a message was clear, there seem to be no sign that the Gambian authorities are committed to neither their word nor to implementing mutually agreed policies between the Fund and Government.  Combing through Fund Mission Reports dating to 2000 to date, the same warnings seemed to have been standard issues to a regime that promises a great deal about a deficit that keeps rising uncontrollably, not to speak of a domestic debt that now stands at an unsustainable level of 33% of GDP.

The Gambia spends about 25% of all domestic revenue collected annually on servicing the interest on its external debt.  Internally, government is crowding out the private sector by running high domestic debt thus limiting access to credit the banking system.  Limited access to credit, coupled with a hostile environment have resulted in businesses fleeing The Gambia for neighboring countries like Senegal.  The Fund has documented on numerous occasions the regime's insatiable thirst for domestic borrowing, and it is yet unsuccessful in curbing the domestic borrowing spree.

Consequent to the exponential growth in domestic debt, the job-creating capacity of a shrinking private sector has been contracting over the years adding to the chronic unemployment problem which has become structural in nature, pointing to the need to review the role of the Central Bank with the view to reinforcing its statutory role of managing or checking inflation and adopting monetary policies that encourage employment.

In the closed door meeting with Gambia's Vice President, the IMF representative seemed to  have politely reminded her that to achieve sustainable economic growth that is both inclusive and creates jobs, the regime must first stabilize the economy, keep inflation low, stabilize the foreign exchange markets by allowing the floating exchange rate mechanism without interference from the Presidency, and to control the fiscal deficit. Perhaps with the exception of the foreign exchange issue which is a recent  phenomenon, all the prescriptions enumerated by the Fund representative have been standard advise which have gone unheeded for years by a regime that continues to display monetary and fiscal imprudence.

As regards the stability of the foreign exchange market, the regime destabilized it this summer with the unilateral decision of Yaya Jammeh to directly intervene in the market by pegging his own rates against the U.S dollar and other currencies in direct contravention of the Central Bank Act.   Monetary policy is the exclusive preserve of the Central Bank.  The interference in the foreign exchange market by the Presidency has resulted in an unstable and distorted forex market that will take years to correct itself.  The floating exchange rate mechanism that has been in place since January 1986 and served the economy well was interrupted by a dictator with little regard for fiscal and monetary order.

The IMF official did not only warn the government of the challenges facing the country but advised strongly that government spending must be tailored to fit "available resources."  The inability of the Jammeh regime to pursue fiscal and monetary prudent policies is just one more reminder that the international community is dealing with a highly indiscipline and unpredictable regime that must be reined-in, one way or the other.

The IMF official was understandably skeptical of the assurances of the Vice President Isatou Njie-Saidy who on her 5th official visit to Taipei last month looked Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou straight in the eye and assured him that the Taipei-Banjul diplomatic relations was as solid as a rock.  We all know how that turned out.  

   

Monday, November 18, 2013

Students in Taiwan are victims of Jammeh's greed

Sources in Banjul said that the Taiwanese Minister of Education, Chiang Wei-ling has informed the Gambian authorities that the 276 Gambian students in Taiwan have gained temporary reprieve until the end of the current term which ends in January 2014 when all of them must return home.

These students are the innocent victims of a corrupt regime that made no attempt to protect them from becoming collateral damage resulting from the fall out of the dictator's decision.  The trauma that these students are going through at the moment could have been avoided by a competent and caring government by simply taking preemptive measures.  The students learned about their dilemma the same time as the rest of the world except Yaya Jammeh and a couple of his advisers.

Of the 276 students currently studying in Taiwan, 175 of them are on Taiwanese government scholarship which is part of the development aid of the government of Taiwan to The Gambia.  The other 101 students are considered to be on private scholarship which, in the opaque language of Yaya Jammeh, means that they are being financed directly from the dictator's picket which, for all intents and purposes, is an extension of the national treasury. Therefore in the eyes of Gambians, the entire 276 are being financed by Taiwan from proceeds of the financial aid package provided to the Gambia in the name of the entire Gambian population.

Criticism has been leveled against the scholarship selection process, including how representative is the group currently in Taiwan, but that is less important now given the problems they face.  We must focus all attention on trying to relief the students' distress brought about by a corrupt government that places higher premium on the personal welfare of one individual than a group of 276 Gambian students in Taiwan.

The temporary reprieve given to the students by the government of Taiwan on humanitarian grounds is welcomed.  It allows students to complete the current term.  Under the reprieve, even the students in the senior class would not have fulfilled their degree requirements and must go home without being graduated. This batch of students, we hope, will be allowed to complete the full academic year to allow them to receive their degrees.

We would like to appeal to the Taiwanese authorities on behalf of the students for the extension of its reprieve on humanitarian grounds to allow all the current Gambian student population to stay and complete their respective course work to graduation, provided they meet the required academic standards.  To maintain the scholarship program will go a long way in alleviating the trauma that these students are going through. for being abandoned by their government.  The government of Taiwan, we hope, will make every effort to shield the students and well as the Gambian people from any negative consequences of the actions of Yaya Jammeh.  

A responsible government that puts the welfare of its citizenry ahead of the desires of its leaders would have taken measures to minimize the trauma that these students are likely to experience for years to come even if they are allowed to stay.  Instead, the Jammeh regime decided to abandon 276 of them in Taiwan while the dictator and his cronies pursue their individual interests elsewhere.  The youth, especially students, are the staunchest supporters of the Jammeh regime, and yet they have often been the victims of the dictatorship.

Yaya Jammeh demanded more that $ 10 million in cash from Taiwan in January

The revelation by the Taiwanese Foreign Minister that Yaya Jammeh demanded more than $10 million in cash from the Taiwanese government is only the tip of the revelation iceberg.  When every thing is said and done, we will come to realize that the Taiwan - Gambia diplomatic relations was a marriage of convenience between a country that was and still is yearning for international recognition, and a military-cum-civilian regime that was desperately in search of legitimacy and financial aid to stay afloat, in the midst of international condemnation following a military seizure of power in 1994.

The diplomatic break-up announced officially in Banjul last Friday took every body by surprise - everybody but Jammeh and a couple of his drinking buddies.  His Ambassador to Taipei was unaware, and so was his Foreign Minister and the entire cabinet. The Taiwan dossier is a closely held secret in The Gambia which is and personally managed by Yaya Jammeh.  The idea to established diplomatic relations came from a couple of civilians, one of whom was a journalist, who suggested it to the Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council (AFPRC).  The Chairman of the AFPRC was convinced of a financial windfall of not only his cash-strapped government but to individual members of the ruling council, all of whom have never seen a $100 bill prior to seizing power.

The prospects of receiving financial aid package from Taiwan in the midst of an international sanctions against the military regime while enriching themselves, all at once, was an irresistible proposition.  Diplomatic relations were established in 1995 and the marriage was immediately consummated with a $ 35 million financial aid package.  How that money was spent, and who got what, is still being debated within Gambian circles.  It is hoped that the Taiwanese will assist those interested in, and similar cases involving the use of financial aid to The Gambia meant to improve the lives of ordinary Gambians.

Taiwan's Minister of Foreign Affairs, in responding to a legislator's questions, confirmed that Jammeh "made a financial request" in January.  During the exchange at the meeting of the legislature's Foreign Affairs and National Defense Committee, the minister did not deny the lawmaker's assertion that "the request was for more than US $10 million in cash".  This specific request was made by Jammeh in January for non-project related matters which was the basis for Taiwan's refusal to grant the request.  It is hoped that the authorities will catalogue the number of times similar requests (if any) for cash were made by the Gambian leader.  Since it is against official foreign aid policy to grant such requests, we are assuming that even if cash requests were made by Jammeh, they were all denied.  Of equal importance to Gambians is whether other senior Gambian officials, acting in the name of the Gambian people, have made similar cash demands from the Taiwanese government.  Gambians deserve answers from Taiwan even as Jammeh has decided to part company.

The fact that Yaya Jammeh made cash demands to Taiwan is a shameful act, and we are glad that his request was turned down by Taiwan.  To make cash requests in my name, and in the name of every Gambian is criminal.  The revelations coming from Taipei also serve as notice to mainland China, that establishing diplomatic relations with The Gambia under the present regime is a treacherous venture fraught with risks.  It is, therefore, absolutely necessary to ensure that mitigating measures are taken before consummating the marriage between Banjul and Beijing.  The interest of ordinary Gambians, in whose name these illegal and personal cash demands are made by Jammeh, must be protected against a very corrupt regime.
     

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Banjul - Taipei diplomatic rupture

In characteristic Yaya Jammeh style, Gambians were informed of the government's decision to severe diplomatic relations with the Republic of China in Taiwan (ROC), the official name of Taiwan, in a brief statement from the Office of the President.  Until today, Taiwan has been, undoubtedly, the most important diplomatic partner of Yaya Jammeh, not necessarily of The Gambia, and necessarily so because it was a dollar diplomatic relationship.

Economic and financial aid was extended in 1995 to a military regime that was fighting for its political survival in exchange for the recognition of Taiwan as the legitimate representative of the Chinese people.  Initially, the financial aid was generalized to help the Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council (AFPRC) but the aid soon took a personal coloration that went straight into the hands of Yaya Jammeh for distribution as he saw fit. For instance, shortly after recognition of Taiwan, the AFPRC received $35 million in financial assistance, part of which went directly into the pockets of Jammeh, Council members and a couple of civilians who facilitated the diplomatic switch of allegiance from the People Republic of China to Taiwan.

Prior to the Sino-America rapprochement in 1973, ideology was a prime motivator for maintaining relations with Taiwan as they distinguish themselves as democratic and anti-communist.  It was this ideological motivation that drove the Jawara regime, that pride itself as democratic and anti-communist,  to initially recognized Taiwan before switching to the People's Republic of China.  The end of the Cold War saw the end of the ideology as the selling point for recognition in exchange for economic and financial motivation.   Trading recognition for cash became very attractive for small and poor countries in Africa and the island countries in the Caribbean and Oceania. It may be pure coincidence but it is worth noting that most of these Island states with diplomatic ties to Taiwan like Nauru, st. Lucia, Grenada, St. Kitts and Nevis and St. Vincent and the Grenadines are all members of the Commonwealth.  Most of these countries shared the same United Nations office complex in New York paid for by the Commonwealth from where The Gambia was served notice to vacate following its decision to withdraw its membership from the organization.

Just as the reasons for withdrawal from the Commonwealth was unclear, Gambia's decision to severe diplomatic ties with Taiwan is equally unclear, but certainly not new or unusual.  For instance, since originally forging diplomatic ties Taiwan in 1962, Senegal and Central African Republic have switched five times between Taiwan and China, initially driven by ideology but later by economic and financial. Ten countries, including African countries like Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad, Gambia, Lesotho and Liberia have switched more than once.

Taiwan's foreign aid budget in 2009 was estimated at nearly $500 million.  Because the Taiwanese aid package to the Gambia and its' administration is not transparent, it is difficult to estimate its size. The public is provided with a monthly dose of check presentations by the Taiwanese Ambassador to The Gambia for education, agriculture and a varieties of other sectors. These checks end up in special below-the-line accounts.  It is not unusual for some of them to be cashed and carded off towards the State House.  Taiwan has helped trained numerous Gambians in many fields, particularly in ITC and petroleum engineering.

The personalization of Taiwan financial aid package is perhaps the main reason for the break in diplomatic relations.  Jammeh became the face of everything Taiwan. The checks are presented to him or his Vice President at State House.  The huge scholarship program with directly under Jammeh's control.  He is the one who selects the recipients, often without regard to qualification and/or aptitude or competence.  It is ironic that one of the reasons advanced for seizing power was that the former regime awarded scholarship to children of the 'elite' and ruling party supporters, yet Jammeh personally selects scholarship recipients from a pool of supporters of his political party and from members of his Jola tribe.

Personal demands of Yaya Jammeh on his Taiwanese friends have been unrealistic, be it financial or otherwise.  He was not held in high esteem by some officials in both Taiwanese Foreign Ministry and at the Embassy in Banjul.   Taiwanese in both Taipei and Banjul have used words like officials as "greedy, selfish and self-centered" to describe Jammeh because of the manner in which he spends financial aid and other demands he makes that were considered unreasonable.  Until the rest of the facts that led to this abrupt rupture are known, it is safe to say that the cost-benefit analysis of the symbiotic relationship brought about because of the checkbook diplomacy has finally caught of with the parties.  It has proven to be an expensive proposition from the point of view of Taiwan given the continued diplomatic isolation of The Gambia which is frustrating to Taipei because they see the withdrawal of membership from the Commonwealth as self-inflicting.  After all, what use is one diplomatically isolated country to another equally diplomatically isolated country.

Jammeh will now be looking towards China, if he's not ready started, to replace Taiwan.  China will certainly welcome The Gambia into the China fold but not under the same type of arrangement that Jammeh has enjoyed for 18 years with Taiwan.  China's Africa policy, like its investment strategy has evolved over the years. Faced with a rapidly growing economy with a rapidly growing population, China has to feed its hungry factories to maintain the pace of economic growth and development.  It sees Africa's natural resource potential as an integral part of its economic development strategy.  Although it has huge investments in countries like Angola, Guinea and the DRC, China has elected to work closely with regional organizations, including the African Union.

Gambia obviously lacks the natural resource endowment of a DRC to enjoy the huge investments from China.  It is, however, possible for the country to benefit from regional power projects or road transport projects linking major commercial ports and points within the ECOWAS region with Chinese investment funds.  Any diplomatic relationship that will eventually be struck between China and The Gambia will not be as cozy as the one between Jammeh and Taiwan. Until then, we will try and piece together what really happened and why that led to this abrupt separation between two former close friends and allies.  In doing so we must not rule our domestic Taiwanese politics which has seen a former president sent to prison for the misuse of presidential fund, or slush fund, used for pursuing Taiwan's diplomacy abroad.  

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Why the opposition should welcome criticism

Criticism usually comes in two forms, the helpful and the unhelpful.  We like to think of ourselves as belonging to the category of critics that serve the helpful kind of criticism, not driven by malice or a personal political agenda as some folks are quick to accuse critics of, but guided by the desire to assess the style and not the substance of current and existing leadership.  To delve into the substance will inevitably lead us to consider factors such as personal attributes, and other human qualities that determine 'good' leadership.  In short, we are more interested in the instrumental aspect of leadership rather than the moral aspect because we are limited by time and space.  We expect that future political leaders will have to pass a much more stringent test if they are to enjoy the support of a large portion of Gambian society, especially after what Gambians have experienced and continue to endure under the poor leadership of Jammeh.

We have taken the leadership stock as is, and suggest ways to effectively deal with a dictatorial and repressive regime.  We are not alone in adopting this approach which is borne out of necessity.   Recognizing Gambia's immediate political problem is to rid Gambia of the dictatorship in the short-term, there appears to be little time to groom the up and coming emerging leadership to fill the vacuum created by the deliberate policy of the military regime that sent many politicians into involuntary exile and/or premature retirement.   The current leadership deficit is a long-term problem that must be addressed separately but concurrently so that hopefully a younger and more dynamic crop of leaders will emerge in time to replace the present leaders.

Criticism of the helpful kind (or constructive criticism) is always preferred because it is generally not personal in nature, and it is always accompanied by prescribed solutions, some form of a road map or a set of guidelines to achieving better results.  Success resulting from these prescriptions are measured in votes that translate into election victories, that lead to political power which, in turn, makes it possible for the leadership to provide a better governance environment without which peace, stability, democracy, prosperity and the rule of law will be elusive, and to achieve sustained growth and development, the quality of political leadership must improve as well.   We cannot achieve this level of development without critically evaluating the performance of politicians who are the leaders and drivers of the process.  They are the ones who signed up for being politicians, therefore they must not only step up to the plate but they must take the heat that comes with the territory.  Fortunately, with the exception of the very few, most of the leadership have been less sensitive to criticism. The most vehement reaction to criticism comes from the political operative class and the rank and file which stifles debate.    

There is general consensus that the Jammeh regime is bad for The Gambia.  He has failed to lead the country through the democracy path which has hindered progress in all other spheres of life, and must, therefore, be replaced.  The debate now centers on the form that political change will take, and under whose leadership the transformation should take place.  There is not much consensus on the next steps - post-Jammeh - not because for lack of solutions but because of the inappropriate framing of the question in a way that will allow us to look at all other possible outcomes.

Let us look as some of the scenarios we are faced with.  If Jammeh is removed involuntarily, the political vacuum will be filled by either by another military officer or a civilian transitional leader.  If it is a military leader, he will either come from the officer corp or the rank and file.  From what we know of the current security set up, and the level of discontentment within the military, the chances are the leadership will come from the rank and file which will only spell disaster.  We don't need to be reminded of the Jammeh-led Armed Forces provisional Ruling Council (AFPRC).  Conversely, if the leadership is drawn from civic society, the leadership will, necessarily, not belong to any political party. If, however, the change is through another coup d'etat, history dictates that Gambia will undergo yet another nightmarish transition from military to civilian because putschists will not voluntarily hand over to civilian rule; not immediate, at least. The transitional leadership under the military scenario has not received much attention and yet it is a likely outcome.

The debate has largely centered on the election scenario where the opposition contests the next elections under a unified leadership.  This has been the operational model since the 2001 presidential elections and it has failed at each attempt.  Consequently, this has led some to suggest that the biggest vote getter in all of the presidential elections should automatically lead a unified opposition against the current regime.  Without reigniting the debate about the Raleigh Process, the acceptance of the biggest vote getter as the automatic leader of a unified opposition should have been the central theme at Raleigh to get the conferees to endorse the UDP, and its current leader to lead or to select a leader (because of the constitutional constraints) from within or without the party structure.

The need to settle the unified opposition leadership question is paramount because the Jammeh regime must fulfill all of the conditions necessary for the opposition to participate in the next elections, barring which the opposition will not take part in any elections.  The Chairmanship of the Independent Electoral Commission must be removed because he's serving unconstitutionally.  Other electoral laws, rules and procedures need to be revamped.  In short, the playing field must be leveled including unlimited access to state media, bar the security forces and civil servants from taking part in political activity.  A unified opposition must take place now or else the political parties will fail again in the current cycle because the problems to be addressed are too numerous, and difficult to negotiate with a hostile regime.  Even pointing out these obvious non-brainers draws the wrath of political party operatives and supporters instead of welcoming them.  Well, we the critics are willing to take the risk of being disparaged, even unfairly,  if it will advance the cause of effective political leadership.        

     

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Jammeh fatigue grips Gambia

Gambians seem to have had enough of the excesses and unreasonable demands of their president, and including but not limited to his failed promises to make life better for Gambians in general and his supporters in particular.  The ultimate response which took them 19 years of misrule has been passive resistance, a phenomenon that used to be referred to as "foot dragging" in 1994-96 by the Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council (AFPRC), regarded by the then Ruling Council as a crime that sent many a civil servant and cabinet ministers to the unemployment lines or to the notorious Mile II prisons.

In the early stages of the transition from civilian to military rule when the regime has not firmly imposed itself on the population as all military regimes do, any semblance of delay in implementing a decision of the military or the directive of its Chairman was immediately characterized as foot-dragging leading to immediate dismissal and/or detention.  Given that it was Gambia's first experience with a military regime, other than a brief brush with a failed attempt in 1981, the brash military style was seen then by many as a means of stabilizing a regime that was unsure of its ability to hold on to power.

What was thought of as a transitory means of maintaining power became institutionalized.  The civilian population shaped into a highly regimented, regularly receiving orders from the military council through the state-controlled media as to their next assignment.  The population was organized into the supporters of the military regime, especially the youth who were promised more schools,  more scholarships, jobs and economic development in exchange for their political support. These kids became part of the regimes rent-a-crowd brigade who ran behind Jammeh's motorcade chanting slogans in support of the military regime, and voicing opposition to the deposed civilian regime - a regime now viewed and remembered in nostalgic terms after 19-years of political and economic regression under a dictatorship that has failed even its staunchest supporters in many respects.

The kids who ran behind the Jammeh motorcade are now grown men with families of their own only to discover nothing has changed.  In fact, it has grown worse.  They are discovering, however late, that jobs are as elusive today as they were in 1994 despite promises of an impending oil boom that will not only transform Gambia into a Singapore of Africa, but will create jobs for every Gambian who wants one.  The resultant effect of these broken promises is less youth participation in regime-supported activities.  In the old days they would have been guilty of 'foot-dragging,'  Because of reduced level of youth participation, civil servants have been slated to fill in gap by being urged via threatening official memo to either attend APRC party functions or face dismissal.  This is how bad things have become.

The youth were not the only group that fell victim of a military regime that promised much and delivered little. Banjulians who have always played a critical role in the political life of the Greater Banjul area, and of the country as a whole, did not only see their political stock devalued by the Jammeh regime but they were deliberately transformed from a respected group of political operatives and king makers of sorts into a support group, cheer leading for the AFPRC/APRC regimes.  Jammeh gave them the new title " Banjul Elders".

The group cheerleads and act as validators of every political action and decisions of the dictatorship.  These range from tacit support of the abduction and torture of Muslim clerics by not speaking out in opposition to providing religious justification for the execution of nine death row inmates.  Some of those executed have not exhausted all the legal remedies guaranteed under the 1996 Constitution, including one prisoner who should not have been executed because his death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment when the death penalty was abolished by the Jawara government.  These elders are regularly paraded before national television to display their blind support of an increasingly unpopular regime.  Stripped of their political influence and economic power, these elders are viewed with suspicion by the dictatorship because of their previous support of, and prominence in the Jawara government. Their only function and usefulness to the regime is to act as validators of an increasingly violent and corrupt regime.

The rural community represented by the farming community has not been spared by Jammeh.  Upon seizing power, the regime went straight for the jugular by dismembering the farmer-owned and civil servant-operated Gambia Co-operative Union (GCU) that served as the apex of 82 cooperative societies spread across the country to buy groundnuts on behalf of the now defunct GPMB.  These cooperative societies belonged to farmers who did not only sell their groundnuts to the societies but these societies also acted as credit societies that extended loans to farmers to see them through the planting season.  These societies also acted as channels for the provision of farm inputs like fertilizers to farmers.  Under Jammeh, and despite his promise to make agriculture his government's top priority, he has presided over the decline of the most important sector in the economy.  The groundnut marketing mechanism that was dismantled by his regime has never been replaced with a comparable or better system since resulting in marketing realities that only made farmers worse off than ever before.  

Despite the disbanding of the GCU, and the obvious lack of extension and marketing support, the farming communities continue to lend political support to a regime that pays lip service to agriculture.  As a result, under the dictatorship of Jammeh, the incidence of rural poverty has risen to alarming rates when the same period saw a drastic decline in groundnut production.  The discontentment of the farming community was on full display during this year's annual tour of the rural areas by Jammeh when many refuse to show up at his meetings.  He was visibly disappointed at the low turnout in many of these meetings signalling an end of an era when farmers tried very hard to conceal their disdain at an increasingly repressive and intrusive regime.


It is true that the deplorable and frequent human rights violations of the regime has played a key role in the new perception of the regime by the citizenry.   Of equal importance is the poor management of the economy by an increasingly incompetent regime.  Gambians are worse off today than they were in 1994.  Both rural and urban poverty are higher now than when the military seized power.  Shortages of basic foodstuffs and local inflation are taking their toll on a population that were, and are still being promised, better lives for themselves and their children by a regime that seem to be more interested in the welfare of the inner cabal of a regime than in the welfare of all Gambians regardless of political or tribal affiliation.

Faced with crumbling urban infrastructure especially in the Greater Banjul area, both business and residential communities have suffered from intermittent electricity supply, taxi operators as well as private car owners have been hampered by high fuel prices resulting in huge transportation fares increases among many other problems facing Gambians, including supporters of the regime who are now openly calling for a change in the modus operandi of the Jammeh regime or risk losing their support.  In fact, the threat is not an empty one. The youths of Banjul voted in an Independent candidate as their Mayor and several Independent rural Counsellors have also been successfully competed and won against candidates of the ruling party in the Area (rural) Council elections this year.

The governing style of Jammeh has also come under sharpe international focus following the recent New York protests and his withdrawal of Gambia's membership in the Commonwealth.  These two events left many Gambians wondering whether the dictator should continue to lead the country into further isolation from the international community.  His suitability as a leader became an immediate cause for concern to both his opponents as well as his supporters.

The bad press Gambia has received off late as a result of Jammeh's shenanigans both at home and abroad has been a contributing factor.  His unpopularity is undoubtedly on the rise, and it is being displayed in the variety of ways including a decreasing numbers of Gambians responding to his invitation to greet foreign dignitaries and to attending party-sponsored events.  The numbers keep dwindling.  Only time will tell whether he can survive such open hostility from a once friendly crowd of supporters who now feel lied to and then abandoned by a group of army soldiers who promised to make life better for the approximately 2 million Gambians only to succeed in making it worse.          

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Goodluck Jonathan's visit to The Gambia

The Nigerian leader's visit to Banjul is coming at a time when his Gambian counterpart is in need of tough talk from one of the most powerful countries in Africa, and the most important country in the ECOWAS region.

The recent spat of incomprehensible moves by Jammeh following his return from the recent United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York have caused disruptions in both the bilateral cooperation programs with Nigeria and with the Commonwealth Secretariat.

Bilateral cooperation Agreements with other Commonwealth countries, particularly with India may have been affected as well following Jammeh's abrupt withdrawal from the organization.  The ensuing turbulence from all of this has disrupted the lives of many Gambian students and civil servants who suddenly find their Commonwealth scholarships and training withdrawn and travel plans cancelled.  

As a leading member of the Commonwealth, Nigeria is acting in the spirit of good neighborliness as regional emissary to Banjul with the hope of talking sense to a senseless dictator who lacks the maturity expected of someone who has been in power for almost two decades.  President Jonathan will attempt to convince Jammeh to return to the fold and in a undramatic fashion, and soon, because his withdrawal harms Gambia both economically and diplomatically.  The withdrawal certainly affects a large number of Gambians who benefit from economic and technical cooperation programs which is heavily tilted towards human resource development.

Closer to home, Jammeh is regarded as a disruptive force within the ECOWAS region that impedes the debate and eventual implementation of the organizations's economic integration and regional security programs which cannot succeed without a stable and secure environment.  Member states are increasingly growing impatient with the idiosyncratic Gambian dictator who is constantly causing disruptions on the international scene that directly impact the entire ECOWAS integration and regional security programs, including the all-important the Maritime Safety and Security Program.  Jammeh is in conflict with the European Union which has led to limited sanctions against his government.

The EU is a leading trade partner that is currently in the midst of negotiations with Member States of ECOWAS for a new Economic Partnership Agreement that is yet to be concluded.  Jammeh's belligerent behavior and anti-Western rhetoric is certainly of no help to any successful bilateral cooperation with the United States as suggested by his recent refusal to sign one such agreement.  All of these trade negotiations are coming in the midst of ECOWAS's attempt to implement its trade harmonization program which requires the participation of the entire membership for it to be successful.

On the domestic front, the Nigerian leader will follow the footsteps of the Speaker of the ECOWAS Parliament by reminding Jammeh of the harsh and draconian laws and the need to improve on the human rights conditions of all Gambians.  It is hoped that he will also meet with leaders of the opposition to discuss with them the way forward, particularly the conditions that must be fulfilled by the Jammeh regime before they will participate in any future elections.  Discussions should also center specifically around the release of political prisoners including the United Democratic Party's national Treasurer, Amadou Sanneh and the two Gambian-Americans who went missing during a visit to their home country several months ago.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Why the JWI campaign was personal

It is now official.  The lobbying contract between the K-Street firm of Jefferson Waterman International (JWI) and The Government of The Gambia has been terminated.  In its filings with the Justice Department to report on its lobbying activities, as required by law, it shows that the contract has been terminated  effective October 2013.*  It is unclear if the termination was mutual because it was to run for another three years at a total cost of $4 million.  The President of JWI is retired Ambassador Jackson McDonald who served as U.S Ambassador to The Gambia from 2001 to 2004.   Let us be clear, the contract was fro JWI to spruce up the image of a dictator whose human right record was appalling where democracy flourished under a democratically-elected government until replaced by military coup d'etat when extrajudicial executions, disappearances, torture, rigged elections and false imprisonment became the norm of a once democratic country with a liberal economic policies.    

I met retired Ambassador Jackson McDonald in 2001 while we were both living and working in Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire.  He was serving as Deputy Chief of Mission at the United State Embassy as I was serving as Executive Director at the African Development Bank.   He had just been nominated by George W. Bush to be the next American Ambassador to The Gambia.   To help prepare for his new role, and also to help in prepare for his Senate confirmation hearing, someone proposed that he reach out to me for a briefing.  He called, introduced himself and I immediate complied.  He invited me to a dinner an the Nuit de Saigon, a trendy Vietnamese restaurant in Deux Plateaux.

It didn't take him long into the dinner that he knew my position regarding the Jammeh regime.  I was not only highly critical of his overall handling of the economy, but I was particularly appalled at his human rights record.  I think he was taken aback not because of my strong criticism of the Jammeh regime but because I was able to reconcile my positions with the fact that I represented the interest of The Gambia, among four other countries, on the Boards of Director of the Bank.  My response was that my views about the government may be critical of the regime - views that I have expressed on the Board of Directors on a couple of occasions, but they were not inconsistent with my role as a Member of the Boards.  As long as The Gambia was servicing its loans, and abiding by the fundamental rules governing membership, it can continue to draw against its rights to access financing.  I implored him to press Jammeh to improve the human rights record and to allow for a more open election process, among a list of other issues.   I left the dinner thinking that the newly nominated Ambassador was going to make human rights his top priority which he promised.   

Ambassador McDonald left soon thereafter for Washington to prepare for his confirmation hearing and subsequent posting to Banjul.  We kept in touch and exchange emails.  When things started really deteriorating, the communications slowed and eventually stopped.  I have been in the business long enough to know that the personal views of a representative (be it a Board Member of a development finance agency or Ambassador) must be balanced against current policy, as in my case at the Bank, and national interest as in the case of Ambassador McDonald.  But is so happens that the promotion of human rights and a free and fair elections were always a top priority for the U.S. government, and yet during Jackson's tenure human right conditions deteriorated dramatically and political intimidation reached new heights.  Remember the 2001 presidential election campaign?  Granted Ambassador McDonald assumed office in October, few weeks before the 2001 elections but was present when electoral fraud was documented to be rampant, opposition party leaders and supporters were intimidated, beaten and jailed.  The Ambassador, in my view, did not come to the aid of Gambians whose rights were constantly being trampled on my a dictatorial regime. This is view held by many including those not holding strong political views but were keen followers of Gambian politics.    

On the economic management front, I had always felt that Jammeh was interfering too with the economy.  In October 2001, the BBC described the Gambian economy as "still work in progress, with much of the government's efforts spend on reducing poverty."  By now, Jammeh has established the reputation of being undisciplined which has exasperated donors to the point of almost discouraged the IMF to extending further loan facility.  This was the period that the effects of the seizing of the ALIMENTA facilities at the Denton Bridge were beginning to be felt across the economy with limited processing facility for the groundnut harvest.  Alimenta had won arbitration and Gambia was to pay $11.2 million to the grain giant for loss of earnings and investment - a payout that caused Gambia to miss IMF performance criteria that year.

These were developments that occurred under the watch of Ambassador McDonald which, in my view, were not handled with the proactive zeal that I expected of him.  At least, I expected that much from my friend.  It would seem that he had an excuse for every excess of Jammeh.  His relationship has become very cozy for the liking of many, including opposition leaders who felt that the Ambassador was more interested in protecting Jammeh than the opposition leaders by not speaking out more forcefully against the dictator.  To eliminate any doubt in the minds of Gambians that the outgoing Ambassador with a friend of the dictator, the Military Health Center at the Bakau Depot carries the name The Jackson McDonald Military Health Center as a passing gift.  No other American Ambassador has ever received such honor from Jammeh who built a reputation of being anti-American, anti-UK and anti-West.

It is this cozy relationship between the two men that got me going, so to speak, once I learned of the contract between Jefferson Waterman International where Ambassador McDonald is President and Yaya Jammeh.  Prior to good public with my petition against the contract with change.org, I had made several attempts to reach out to him to see if the matter can be worked out privately.  That was my prefered choice.  But when he ignored my emails and phone calls to his office and website, I decided to go public. Along the way, I join DUGA-DC in a protest in front of the JWI offices last year.  I am now happy that the entire episode is over.  This chapter is closed.   The lessons that should be drawn is that lobbying firms will be risking their reputations if they continue to ignore calls to refrain from dealing with dictators like Jammeh who has very bad international press.  Firms will be entering into such contracts at their our peril.  Entering into business deals, especially lobbying contracts to spruce up their tattered images is high profit margin but with very high risks.

Let me go on record to say that Ambassador Jackson McDonald is a good man.  He made a bad business judgment in this case by trying to cash in on a relationship with a character whose international reputation is nothing to write home about.  I am certain that after Ambassador Jackson's experience with Jammeh, his firm will stay away from dictators who prey on their citizens by denying them the very basic of human rights and freedoms that we all enjoy in America and Europe.

Africa is the new business frontier with high economic growth.  In fact, of the ten fastest growing economies in the world, eight of them can be found in Africa.  Therefore, business opportunities are increasing and are presenting themselves in many sectors which present choices that never existed before.  Therefore, there is no need to do business with unsavory characters, not only in Africa but in the United States as well.  One simple rule that I tell my business associates and partners to apply in selecting where and with whom to do business in Africa :  if it bad for America, it is bad for Africa too.   Unfortunately, Ambassador McDonald did not apply this rule when he entered into a contract with one of Africa's dwindling pool of dictators.

*Corrigendum :  The termination was October 6th 2013 and not June 2013 as reported in an earleir version of this blog. My apologies