Sunday, December 29, 2013

READER SURVEY of sidisanneh.blogspot.com

TO OUR READERS

We'd like to take a few minutes of your pressure time to complete this short three-question survey designed to let us know how we are doing, and how to serve you better in the coming year.

We wish you a Prosperous New Year

Find the survey below at the link.

We thank you in advance



https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/M97235X

Saturday, December 28, 2013

2013 Year End Report of the sidisanneh.blogspot.com

25,000 pageviews and counting. Gambians continue to read us more and more - a very encouraging development. Keep it up Gambia. Equally encouraging is the inroads we continue to make in far-flung Finnish/Swedish Åland Islands. We continue to field questions from journalists abroad about Gambia and what's going on there. Recent blogs on Taiwan and the Syrian doctors have generated significant amount of interest from journalists abroad.

On Taiwan and the severance of diplomatic relations, both local and international journalists are digging further into some of the issues raised. We have also provided them with additional details and views from our vantage point. Regarding Syria, many eyebrows were raised,. So we were not the only one flabbergasted. We promise to continue following this story which has captured the curiosity of many among our readers. 

We started publishing on 26th August 2013. At the end of the year, we have published 85 blog posts in 126 days for an average of 4.7 blogs every week. While we will not resolve in 2014 to maintain this blistering pace, we will try to bring you analyses of issues and events to help readers understand them better.

On a lighter note, the most popular story of the year was the photo editorial of Jammeh's BMW X6 limousines which over-took "A rattled dictator" about Jammeh's humiliating treatment at the hands of a handful of Gambian dissidents during the UN General Assembly. Interestingly, the limousine 'story' was one I spent the least time (exactly 15 minutes). It is, therefore, tempting to just spent few minutes each day posting pictures of Jammeh's mansions and elegant Rolls Royce automobiles which would only go to defeating the purpose of the blog in the first place i.e. to provide analyses of developments in Gambia, the region and Africa. 

Finally, we close the year by saying A BIG THANK YOU to our readers in the U.S., Gambia, U,K. Sweden, Germany, France, Taiwan, Ethiopia, Tunisia Senegal, Beijing and around the world. We hope you will continue to visit us in even larger numbers in 2014 and beyond. We must also thank our friends, yes, at the Daily Observer. Anytime we draw a blank, DO always comes through for us by providing a topic, be it some budget shenanigans from the Finance Minister or a display of total ignorance of monetary policy by the Secretary General at Jammeh's office or DO's own sycophantic display of editorial malfeasance. We thank them all the same. 

Final finally, we wish you all good health and a prosperous New Year.

THANK YOU ALL 

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Gambian experiment gone disastrously wrong

They were ill-educated, lacked experience, poor and full of envy. They despised those who lived on Pipe Line and drove their children to school either in their private cars on in government vehicles.  So when they illegally seized power, they quickly move to rectify what they considered to be societal wrongs.  They rounded up every senior-level to mid-level civil servants, paraded them in trucks around town like prisoners of war who have just been defeated in battle, and are being transported across town to prisoners of war camps.  Common criminals, under the government they just deposed, were treated like royalty when compared to their own treatment of public servants of the First Republic.   This was how Gambians were introduced to their first military governing council after nearly 30 years of democratic governance.  As if their demonstration of cruelty towards their fellow Gambians was not enough warning of things to come, the Chairman's late uncle promised those who were 'enjoying' will now experience the better taste of chloroguine.  They did deliver on their promise and many more.  

The 4-man Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council (AFRPC) was headed by one Lt. Yahya A.J.J.Jammeh by virtue of his age.  He was 29 years old, a high school product, unmarried and thus never managed a household budget.  Suddenly, he found himself managing an entire country with a million and ahalf souls.  Two of the three Council members were no better qualified than the Chairman, either educationally or managerially.  The third had university education but nothing else.  Because he was younger than Lt. Jammeh,  he was also disqualified from chairing the Council.  

Gambia in July 1994 was stable politically after a brush with an attempted coup that lasted a week with many Gambians and Senegalese killed and infrastructure and property destroyed.   The economy had reasonably stabilized after the 1981 coup attempt, and growth and development being realized but not before a painful structural adjustment program.  The agriculture sector was on a rebound after a decade of drought that plagued the Sahel region.  Groundnut production was up and government was purchasing in excess of a 100,000 tons in the 5-6 preceding years before Jammeh and his army buddies came into the scene.  And as the saying goes, it has been all down hill.

The Gambian population was highly reluctant to allow the army to settle, as if they knew that once they settle, just like every other military regime, they will not leave.  During the Consultative period of the Transition to civilian rule, indeed the population expressly said they wanted the 'boys' to return to barracks, and that there should be fixed term for future presidents.  Jammeh had decided by then that he was going nowhere.  They conspired against the wishes of ordinary Gambians and did the opposite.  The traded their uniforms for civilian clothes in the form of the traditional white flowing grand boubou which became the signature/symbol of Yaya Jammeh.  By the time he transformed himself into a civilian leader, he had learned nothing in managing a country but everything in pilfering the coffers of government and contracting dubious loans in the name of the Gambian people.  Jammeh and his minions have brought the level of corruption to such a height that I continue to wonder why donors such as the World Bank continue to disburse with minimal or zero sanctions against these cowboys when most of the economic performance measures continue to show signs of mismanagement, corruption and incompetence.

The brunt of the blame still rests with us Gambians.  We allowed the regime not only to continue to mismanage the economy but turned a blind eye, and refusing to protest when our human rights are being violated on a constant basis.  Because the regime went unchallenged, what was a repressive state has morphed into a full-blown police state in the mold of North Korea.  People were and are still being killed, maimed, made to disappear and imprisoned by simply uttering a factual statement about how lousy Gambia's president is and how hes the laughing stock of the world. 

The numbers will bear us out on the claim that the government of Yaya Jammeh is both corrupt, repressive and highly incompetent.  When he seized power, Gambia was purchasing between 100,000 and 150,000 tons of groundnut, the number one foreign exchange earner.  Now, Jammeh is struggling to purchase 30,000 tons. Investment in agriculture that employs 70% of the 1.5 million Gambians has been declining since 1994, and a disproportionate share of the budget goes to the Office of the President than to agriculture.  Jammeh's budget is three times bigger than what he spends in agriculture despite the official mantra "grow what you eat and eat what you grow".  If you cannot grow because you lack the agricultural inputs such as quality seed, fertilizer and extension services, you will obviously find it difficult to eat which is where Gambians, especially the rural population, find themselves.  Of course, these bad policies and misplaced priorities tend to reverberate across the entire economy.   Despite what the government says, all indications are agriculture will perform poorly again this year because the farmers were poorly served by an increasingly dysfunctional system where the civil service is staffed by highly inexperienced and demoralized, terrorized is perhaps a more appropriate description because when they leave their homes in the morning, they may not return in the evening.  The dreaded NIA - National Intelligence Agency -  may have picked them for some trumped-up charges.  Remember, Gambia is a police state. 

If agriculture under-performs, be rest assured that it will drag the other sectors along with it.  If foreign exchange earnings are low, it put pressure on prices because most items are imported.  Government exacerbates the problem by continue spending like a drunken sailor - no offence sailors.   Government borrowing has grown to such a level that 25% of all the revenues collected goes to serving the interest on our loans.  The borrowing that government does locally to finance Jammeh's frivolous projects, crowds out the private sector, meaning that government is borrowing the money that would have otherwise gone to the private businessmen and women in the form of loans to finance the growth and expansion of their respective businesses. With less money to lend, banks charge higher than normal interest which the businesses will eventually pass on to consumers in the form of higher prices.  As I was writing this piece, my attention was drawn to a report from Brazil announcing that The Gambia has the dubious honor of being at the top of the list of 90 countries with the highest interest rate increase in 2013.  Brazil came in second.  Gambia raised its basic rate by 6 percentage points, ending the year with an 18% annual rate.   

On the revenue side, government relies heavily on taxes, and because it has been both fiscally and monetarily irresponsible, Gambians are one of the highest taxed humans on earth.  A Gambian vacationing in the Gambia opened up our conversation this way "Uncle Sidi, life is tough in this country."   In Yaya Jammeh's Gambia this sentence alone is sufficient to land him in prison.  He buttress his claim with actual prices of food stuff - a bag of rice costs  D1,400 per bag, what used to be the cheapest fish called "bonga" that used to be given free at fish landing sights when you buy the choice fish, one bonga now costs D50.  Fish is not available in Bakau because the fishermen would rather sell their entire catch to the Senegalese trawlers out at sea because of the tax they levy on their catch.  The vacationing Gambian went to the Serrekunda market and market-women narrated stories about how the police will confiscate their wares for non-payment of tax, taking the confiscatory take regime of this regime to its literal conclusion, I guess.  Women who sell roast peanuts (groundnuts) and the local 'akara' do so now indoors to avoid the marauding security-cum-tax agents.  This is how bad things have become. 

The Finance Minister had promised again during the presentation of the 2014 budget to the National Assembly that the regime will hold its domestic borrowing to a level that correspond to 2.5% of GDP.   His predecessor made a similar promise last year, and the year before that, and the one before that.   I don't take them seriously.  I wonder when the IMF, World Bank, AfDB and other donors will stop taking them seriously too.  At least, the European Union has finally seen the light, and has started demanding answers to difficult question to a regime that is both clueless and ruthless.  Just look at them.    

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Why are Syrian doctors in Gambia and not in Syria

Gambians woke up last week to yet another surprise by the Gambian dictator when he paraded before national television a team of Syrian medical doctors who, they were told, were in The Gambia to help with their services, primarily in the main referral hospital in the capital city of Banjul and other health facilities.

We can only speculate as to the size of the team to because seven new Mitsubishi 4-wheel Pajeros were handed to the Syrian team leader as gift "to each team member' from the benevolent dictator, and not from the Gambian taxpayer.

Jammeh being the devious character he is, adeptly navigated around the need to specify whether the doctors were in The Gambia as part of the official Syrian government aid program.  In fact, the genesis of this apparent benevolence was oddly omitted from the introduction of the team of doctors by both the dictator and his Vice President which, under normal circumstances, should be the pride of any donor to be identified with this great humanitarian gesture. The fact that neither the Syrian government nor any humanitarian agency was identified or associated with the team was the first red flag.

The second red flag came the moment this group of young doctors were identified as Syrians who will be spending months, if not years, in The Gambia and not in their home country of Syria where an intense civil war is raging on and has now entered its 1,000 days and counting.  The country's turmoil started with a protest against the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime in March of 2011.  A threshold was reached a year and a half ago when the International Red Cross formally reclassified the fighting a civil war. The death toll continued to climb as fighting raged on, and hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees flee to seek sanctuary in camps and neighboring countries.

The Syria civil war is no small potato.  Over 100,000 have been killed to date.  The U.N. believes the figure to be higher because many deaths go unreported.  2.3 million Syrian refugees have been registered, and ten of thousands more awaiting registration with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.  75% of the refugees are women and children while another quarter are boys under the age of 18.  Another 4 million Syrians have been estimated to have been internally displaced while aid agencies continue to revise their estimates upward.

The third red flag came on Christmas eve which drove me to the keyboard to try establish the rationale for the presence of a Syrian medical team in The Gambia at a time when their own country is in flames and in the midst of human carnage televised daily across the world.   In neighboring Guinea-Bissau, the Justice department ordered the arrest of the country's Interior Minister, Antonio suca Ntchama, accused of authorizing the illegal transportation and entry into Bissau from Lisbon on the 10 December this year of several Syrian illegal immigrants.

According to the Commission of Inquiry, their entry into Guinea-Bissau was illegally sanctioned by the Interior Minister.   There's a stand-off presently because the Minister's lawyer has refused to surrender his client to the authorities, threatening to sink Guinea-Bissau further into political instability.  It is generally believed that there must be reasonable evidence before the Commission to order the Minister's arrest, even at the risk of plunging Guinea-Bissau into further chaos.

It appears that since the nabbing of the former Guinea-Bissau Navy Chief Rear Admiral Jose Americo Bubo Na Tchuto in high seas on drug trafficking charges by the U.S. National Drug Administration, authorities in Guinea-Bissau have become more vigilant.  Is it human or drug trafficking related or is it terrorism-related?  Why did the Minister give clearance for the Syrians, whose presence in Guinea-Bissau is considered a security threat, to board the flight from Portugal?  There are many unanswered questions but, at least, the Guinea-Bissau authorities are asking the right ones, and holding someone accountable.

Hezbollah, the powerful Lebanese Shiite movement, is fighting in the Syrian civil war on the side of the Assad regime.  Chemical weapons have been found to have been used.  Both sides have accused the other of being the culprit.  Business associates of Jammeh have been traced to Hezbollah by the U.S. Treasury Department, one of whom have since been expelled from The Gambia only to be "pardoned" by the dictator, less than six months into the expulsion.  It is not clear if he has taken the offer or he intends to.  Despite bad reports about Jammeh's tendencies to associate with unsavory characters with dubious background, he continues to dig himself deeper into the international controversies that borders on criminality.

Muhammed Bazzi, is a Lebanese businessman, The Gambia's Honorary Consul to Lebanon, and a close associate of Jammeh.  He led the team to State House to introduce the medical team to members of his cabinet.  It was at at the meeting that it was revealed to the surprise of everyone in the room that two more functions have been added to multiple duties.  He has been appointed Gambia's "External Minister of Health" and "Recruiter" of the health sector - two titles that have left Gambians wondering when will all the madness end.

Given the gruesome statistics coming out of the raging civil war where Syrians are being killed in unacceptably high numbers and millions of Syrian refugees, it makes little sense that the country can spare a single doctor when even Syria's arch rival, Israel, is pitching in to help within Syria's borders with humanitarian aid.  The team of Syrian doctors (assuming that they are who they claim to be) should be in Damascus helping their own people in their hour of need and not in Banjul.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Government should free jailed opposition members

Gambian Government Should Free Jailed
Opposition Members

December 20, 2013

Amadou Sanneh, Malang Fatty and Alhagie Sambou Fatty—all members of the opposition United Democratic Party (UDP)—were arrested in September 2013 by the Gambian government. They have been held incommunicado and without legal representation, amid allegations of torture. They were convicted of sedition and will serve up to five years in prison. Freedom House calls on the government of Gambia to unconditionally release them and end its brutal crackdown on political opponents and freedom of expression advocates.

Malang Fatty attempted to flee the country in September 2013 but was arrested at the Amdallai Border Post. He was in possession of a letter of support written byS
anneh, the UDP’s National Treasurer. Sanneh was arrested the following week for colluding with Fatty, whose brother, Alhagie Sambou Fatty, was also arrested.

The Gambia has a long history of intolerance and authoritarian rule. The Gambian government must uphold its international human rights obligations, and the international community should condemn in the strongest possible terms the ongoing prosecution of political opponents and pro-democracy activists.

The Gambia is rated “Not Free” in Freedom of the World 2013 and “Not Free” in Freedom of the Press 2013.


Learn more:

http://www.freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2013/gambia

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Wowo and Nkea : Two very rotten judges

Former Chief Justice of The Gambia Supreme Court, Joseph Wowo, has accused Special Criminal Court Justice Emmanuel Nkea of bribery and corruption.  The accusation was made in Justice Nkea's own court where the former Chief Justice is facing multiple charges of abuse of office and providing false information to a public officer.

According to Chief Justice Wowo, Justice Nkea took a D30,000 bribe in exchange for a favorable ruling in the case involving one Mr. Mbake.  Prior to making this accusation, Wowo had tried to have the presiding judge recuse himself from the case because he considers him to be biased, apparently for what he know of the character of the sitting judge.   In leveling the bribery charge, Wowo challenged Nkea to issue a court order for him to produce the evidence.  Nkea declined.

Another accusation leveled against Nkea by Wowo is that the presiding judge is acting illegally because he's illegally occupying the office of Justice of the Special Criminal Court.   The logic employed here by Wowo is that since he occupied the Office of the Chief Justice illegally before he was dismissed several month ago and it was during his tenure that he extended Justice Nkea's contract, therefore "it follows that all the actions, decisions and judgments that Justice Nkea has taken since the renewal of his contract by a supposed illegal Chief Justice are null and void', he opined.  As far as Wowo is concerned, Nkea should also be stripped of his judgeship and all his decisions, including his latest judgement against Amadou Sanneh, the Treasurer of the leading opposition United Democratic Party, taken as Special Criminal Court judge be considered null and void.

This blog has written a great deal about these two characters employed by the Gambian dictator whose main interest is not in dispensing justice but settling political scores.  You can find "The return of Justice Wowo" here: http://sidisanneh.blogspot.com/2013/08/the-return-of-wowo.html., "The silver lining in the Joseph Wowo bribery scandal" here:  http://sidisanneh.blogspot.com/2013/08/the-silver-lining-in-joseph-wowo.html, "the world is watching the Gambian judiciary" here : http://sidisanneh.blogspot.com/2013/08/the-world-is-watching-gambian-judiciary.html , "Justice Emmanuel Nkea is the eye of the storm" can be forund here and finally "Justice Emmauel Nkea will also be held responsible" in the case of Amadou Sanneh can be found here: http://sidisanneh.blogspot.com/2013/11/justice-emmanuel-nkea-will-also-be-held.html.

Unfortunately, the judiciary has been misused and abused by the Jammeh regime and  has proven to be an effective tool to suppress and subjugate a population.  Emmanuel Nkea is from Cameroon and Joseph Wowo a Nigeria, and both were an integral part of an inept, corrupt and highly repressive regime until one fell afoul of the law and out of favor of the dictatorship, and the other on the brink of being thrown to the wolves just like his former friend and colleague Justice Wowo.  The legal qualifications of both have been questioned by legal experts.

We have vowed to pursue these mercenary judges with a view to exposing their complicity to a criminal enterprise that is the Jammeh regime by using the courts to further subjugate and repress Gambians in the name of the law.  Since the Gambia Bar Association (GBA) has been total subsumed by a corrupt and bankrupt justice system which they help create by refusing to stand up for justice, it is up to the rest of us to draw attention to the deplorable and downright embarrassing state of affairs that exists in the Gambian judiciary.  

Until the GBA join hands with the opposition to say to Jammeh enough is enough, we will continue our campaign against the mercenary judges and the rotten judiciary, and to further solicit the support of the international legal community, development agencies and bi-lateral partners in our effort to stop the nonsense that's going on in Banjul.  

Monday, December 16, 2013

Open letter to the Government and People of Taiwan

We are normally not in the business of writing open letters. We prefer a face to face dialogue with government officials to communicate our concerns about our country - a country we watch helplessly drifting into ethnic strife, fueled, in part, by the ability of the dictatorship to convert or transform foreign assistance into a potent source of financing of self-perpetuation schemes of a very corrupt and inept regime that continues to divide a once culturally and ethnically cohesive country.

In the main, the regime in Banjul has used, and continues to use development assistance programs in a preferential way that benefit areas and peoples the dictator perceive as supporters.  The regime also uses development aid as a cudgel by withholding it from communities on the opposing side of the political spectrum at the direction of the "idiosyncratic leader", as your own Foreign Ministry officials now describe Yaya Jammeh. This targeted form of development has become the hallmark of the regime that is proudly touted publicly, and in political campaigns as a means of punishing the non-supporters and their respective communities.

We are forced by distance to use this form of communicating with the Government and People of the Republic of China (ROC), and prompted by an article we read in the respected "Taipei Times" entitled "MOFA rejects most allies' projects" published in the December 17th 2013 edition.  In the piece, we learned for the first time that the Jammeh regime has benefited from vegetable and fruit plantation projects since 1996 when diplomatic relations were established between Taipei and Banjul. What is startling, though not surprising, is that "only 3.6 hectares of farmland has since been developed, benefiting only 90 farmers", despite the fact that more than US$ 1 million was pumped into the project in the past three years alone.  One wonders how much more was spent in the previous fifteen?  We will appreciate answers from the Government of Taiwan.

In a country where 70% of its 1.8 million inhabitants are engaged in agriculture, a sector that is also the single biggest foreign exchange earner, bringing only 3.6 hectares under cultivation and impacting the lives of only 90 farmers is a disappointingly low outcome of an 18-year project.  We think an explanation is in order here too, from the two governments.  Given that the Gambia government is a dictatorship where transparency is in short supply, I hope that the Government of Taiwan will help respond positively to our requests for details of not only this specific project but all projects funded by Taiwan since 1996.

Taiwan has over its 18-year relations with The Gambia provided generous assistance to the people of the Gambia covering a broad areas of intervention that included but not necessarily limited to the security, education and health sectors.  We will be forever grateful for both your financial assistance, and especially your friendship over the years.  Many of us had made and maintained friendships with Taiwanese diplomats and development experts over the years, relationships we intend to keep and cherish.

The personal friendships notwithstanding, it still does not obviate the fact the Gambian people are in the dark on many of your country's foreign aid program with The Gambia.  As we have shown in the past, the Taiwan aid was a closely-guarded, centrally-administered program from the Office of The President.  What the public saw was the handing-over ceremonies of checks and gifts from the Government and People of Taiwan to the Gambian dictator.  What the dictator does with these monies is what we, Gambians, are demanding answers to.  With the cooperation of the Government of Taiwan and in the interest of transparency in its foreign aid policy, the Gambian people will be better informed of how and where the aid given in their name was utilized.

We look forward to your cooperation in our quest for transparency and accountability not only in the contracting of these foreign assistance programs but it their implementation during the entire 18-year period of diplomatic relations with The Gambia.

Thank you

薩內 甘比亞


  

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Jammeh has struck against the opposition

Lasana Jobarteh of Churchill's Town, the operator of the gateway at the Brikama rally, had been picked up my agents of the notorious National Intelligence Agency at his home.  At the end of the rally, Mr. Jorbateh who recently returned to The Gambia from the United States, was driven home in the vehicle shared by Ousianou Darboe and Omar Jallow and dropped off at his compound.

I was informed by phone that Lasana Jobarteh was picked up by security agents immediately after being dropped off by Ousainou Darboe and O.J. for presumably operating the gateway that made it possible to transmit the audio and video streaming of the rally that was jointly organized by the United Democratic Party, the largest opposition party in the Gambia, the people's Progressive Party and The Gambia Moral Congress.

As we try to piece together what happened so that we can locate his whereabouts, we advise all opposition leaders and supporters to be extra vigilant.  Jammeh allowed these rallies under tremendous international pressure following recent incidences that attracted attention and drew the spotlight on him and the deplorable human rights situation in The Gambia.  The criticisms of Jammeh and his corrupt regime voiced by the opposition at the Brikama rally has been pointed and harsh.  It is expected that he will retaliate with a wave of arrests.

The situation is fluid.  We will bring you new developments as we get them.

The Brikama Rally : We will be cheering you on

The  blog has deviated somewhat in the last two installments from its main mission of looking at, what we want to believe to be, substantive issues of governance confronting Gambians brought about by a bad government. Economic and monetary policy, including general economic management issues, have been our primary focus but we have also delve into serious mismanagement of our agriculture, education, health and tourism sectors.  

Recent installments have tried to lend support to a political process that seemed to have stalled for various reasons which we'd rather not address here but to simply say that all's not well in the state of Denmark.  Therefore, when we see what we think are green shoots sprouting in an arid spot, we'd rather fill our jerry cans with water instead of kerosene with the hope of propagating strong and healthy enough roots to support a trunk of hope for a citizenry that has been lied to, cheated, traumatized and their rights trampled upon by a very corrupt and inept regime.

For the UDP, PPP and GMC to organize a joint rally in a non-election year is a significant event and , in my view, a necessary first step in a long process of getting rid of the dictatorship.  We also recognize that in an atmosphere of mistrust of politicians and a high level of frustration, these baby steps can easily be dispelled as insignificant.  Insignificant they may be but they are necessary.  It is, therefore, imperative that all those genuinely in support of the idea of a united opposition front against tyranny lend support to the process with constructive suggestions that will be helpful to the opposition leaders on the ground.  Words of encouragement in difficult situations like the ones these brave men and women face every day go a long way in boosting the morale of opposition supporters who risk everything, including their personal freedom.

We spoke with a Banjul resident yesterday who said that he learned of the rally on  television.  He was surprised to hear for the first time on state-controlled television (and I presume on state-controlled radio too) an announcement of the rally.  It is tempting to pooh pooh this development as just another ploy or gimmick by the regime or that it is unworthy of our notice because, after all, the television station is ours funded by our taxes.  Recognizing a right that was denied us for 19 years is late in coming but a significant shift in policy nonetheless.  Let us acknowledge the policy shift with a determined resolve and a renewed commitment to help sustain the process with a view to registering incremental gains as we move forward.      

Are we altogether happy with the opposition?  No.  Have we been critical of them? Constantly, and we will continue to do so, but with what we judge to be reasonable, sensible and well-measured alternatives.  We have gone past the era of the Kamikaze. We now live in the age of the drone and 'smart power'.  Let's employ the new and powerful tools at our disposal, smartly and wisely.  Let's cheer them on today, criticize them tomorrow, so that they will do better the next day.  Until then, we wish the UDP, PPP and GMC and their respective leaders a successful rally.

     

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Yaya Jammeh's latest toys, three BMW X6 Limousines


Yaya Jammeh just bought not one or two but three of these MBW X6 limousines at US $ 350,000 a piece for a total sum of US $ 1,050,000 courtesy of the Gambian tax payer who is not only one the most taxed human being alive but is also among the poorest humans on earth.  The average Gambian lives on a dollar a day.

With reference to the Unity Rally that the opposition held today, one critical observation, a valid one at that, was that human right abuses were not emphasized by the speakers.  Whereas that might be the case, economic mismanagement and high level corruption, which were highlighted, are equally important issues and must be part of the campaign against the regime.  All of these issues are inextricably linked and, therefore, cannot be compartmentalized. Gambia's problems must be seen in its totality and addressed in a comprehensive manner.  We must be able to walk and chew all at once.

Let's put this in context with agriculture that employs 70% of Gambians and it is the single biggest foreign exchange earner.  Despite successive poor harvest and persistent decline in farmer income, the regime plans to maintain the same level of farm gate producer price as last year's price.  The farmer is not only faced with unfavorable marketing arrangements for his primary product, he must make do with the same level of prices which farm inputs prices have gone up from last year.  Despite these mountains of problems the rural dweller faces, the budget allocation for the Office of the President in the 2014 will be three times the size of the entire Agriculture Ministry. There is something fundamentally wrong both fiscally and morally when the state's priority is Yaya Jammeh and everything else is religated below the line.


UDP, PPP, GMC Buffer Zone Unity Rally : A necessary first step



Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The visit of Stephen Schwartz to Banjul

U.S State Department's Stephen Schwartz is scheduled to visit Banjul tomorrow, Wednesday, December 11th 2013.  He is the Director of the West Africa Department responsible for all affairs affecting the region as it relates to U.S. foreign policy.

According to Gambia's Daily Observer, the Jammeh regime's newspaper of record, Mr. Schwartz will be in Banjul to "meet with government officials and members of civil society..."  It is also understood that the Director of the West Africa Department will conduct a press conference at the end of his visit - date unknown - to discuss what we hope will be issues of mutual interests to all parties and issues that constitute American policy towards The Gambia in particular and the West Africa Region in general.

I assumed that the opposition leaders will be meeting Mr. Schwartz, if not when I suggested on my Facebook page earlier that I hope the opposition leaders will make it a point to meet with him to emphasize the need to bring pressure to bare on the regime that continues to employ repressive tactics against the civilian population and opposition party leaders and supporters.

As at this writing, several members and supporters of both the UDP and PDOIS have either been jailed or have disappeared within the last month alone; the latest victim of the regime is Ebrima Solo Sandeng, the Executive Secretary of the UDP youth wing who was arrested by the notoriously violent NIA, and has still remained unaccounted for.  All of these missing persons and those dragged to courts manned by mercenary judges are political prisoners and should be presented as such.  They have all been kidnapped or framed because of their political views and not because of the contravention of any criminal law.

I have also suggested that whereas it might be necessary to stress to Mr. Schwartz the need for fundamental revamping of the country's electoral laws, including the Chairmanship of the Independent Electoral Commission, the opposition's strategy should now shift to the legality of the regime itself.  The opposition, in my view, dropped the ball when ECOWAS declared the 2011 elections were not free and fair.  It is never too late to start challenging the legitimacy of the Jammeh regime given the deteriorating governance environment, and the mismanagement of the economy by an inept team of managers.

The opposition should make it clear to the Director that they will no longer legitimize the regime of Yaya Jammeh by participating in elections are are continuously rigged and the electoral laws skewed in favor of a corrupt and repressive regime.

A change in strategy is imperative if the opposition is to make any headway in its fight to replace the regime. This is a regime that has outsourced its most critical institutions necessary for peace, security and the rule of law i.e. the security services and the judiciary to mercenary judges and foreign fighters who, obviously, have nothing at stake, and thus no interest in a future Gambia with secure borders, a well-manged economy and the re-institution of the rule of law and a robust democratic culture that was once the pride of the country.

Monday, December 9, 2013

The other half of Gambia's problems

First Ladies, like presidents, come in different shades, sizes and shapes, and most importantly different levels of dedication and commitment to the human condition.  Some countries are luckier than others in their share of First Ladies. There are countries blessed with empathetic ones who's interest is to bring voice to the voiceless, be they the poor, the powerless, the young and defenseless.

In short, First Ladies are usually associated with, and lend their names to, the good works of charities and other non profit organizations that exist to compliment, supplement or fill a need otherwise ignored by government.  Some have been very good at publicizing a cause or a set of causes that would otherwise go unnoticed or continue to rest at the bottom of the list of the national priorities list that society and thus government would otherwise ignore.

Proximity to the single most powerful public official in the country and chief influencer of public policy is the single biggest advantage of First Ladies outside of the obvious fact that they are married ( France is a rare exception ) to the head of state or government.  With the right set of values and interests, First Ladies have been known to influence even world events through their spouses even if they are unelected.

At the top of any First Lady's job description is a definable cause which she's committed to and ready to promote and advocate for.  As the Chief Advocate of a cause, she must also possess some minimum level of communication skills to advocate, publicize, help educate the public and lobby for it.  The First Lady must also be prepared to sell her agenda nationally through the media and by interacting with the citizenry using grassroots organizations.

In developing, as well as developed countries, successful advocacy without employing these methods hardly succeed.  Television extravaganzas alone, including internationally-sanctioned ones Mrs. Jammeh seem to favor, are not enough because television viewing is limited to few urban centers that can boast of few hours of electricity rationing per week.  She must take her message to the people, in the villages, in government and non-governmental agencies, at the State House. Gambia's First Lady is challenged in may of these requirements that makes an effective, supportive and caring First Lady.

Zainab Suma Jammeh is Moroccan.  I am of the personal opinion that nationality of the First Lady should not matter within or without the African context.  What matters, however, is, at least, to have a working knowledge of the official language of the Gambia which is English.  A good or reasonable command of one of the local languages certainly helps.  Mrs. Jammeh is neither fluent in the English language nor does she speak any of the local languages.  She speaks French, and barely.  There lies a major problem.

All of the above deficiencies in her resume as enumerated here would have been been ameliorated, had she shown interest in, and cared about, The Gambia and Gambians. There's no evidence that she has ever retained a Jola or Mandinka or Wolof tutor to help learn the local languages, and neither has she ever been seen or heard in public trying to utter a sentence or two in any of them.  Gambians do feel insulted by it.

This woman has been around almost as long as the Jammeh regime, and yet she is hardly known or seen in The Gambia. The tellers at Bloomingdale's Louis Vuitton store and Nordstrom at Tysons Corner see more of her than the Director of Social Welfare, in charge of children's welfare or the Executive Secretary of the Women's Bureau despite claims that she's interested in the welfare of Gambia's children and women.  Granted, every New Year's she's seen on television awarding a certificate and cash prize to the first baby born on that day sponsored by her "Operation Save a Baby" that she characterized as "a charitable outfit" in a speech purportedly given at the Paris Summit on Peace and Security in Africa.

The truth is Gambia's First Lady has very little interest in and affinity for Gambia or anything Gambian.  Her food is cooked by Moroccans and non-Gambians.  She's driven around Washington and Northern Virginia by Moroccans.  Even her babysitters are imported from the Near or Far East.  All of her business associates are either Moroccans or Lebanese with businesses not in The Gambia but in Rabat, Casablanca, Fez, Conakry, Nairobi and Dubai.

Some of her husband's business associates have been shown to have Hezbollah connections.  She appears to despise anything Gambian and avoids them at all cost. She is hardly in The Gambia.  She's more or less an absentee First Lady.  She shows up, as she did last week at the Peace and Security Summit in Paris, in international gatherings, submits her prepared statement for the record which is then reprinted in the government mouthpiece in Banjul for public consumption before she sets off on her jet-setting ways to the US and the Gulf States.  

Instead of Gambia benefiting through her advocacy, it is us Gambians who are subsidizing her extravagant lifestyle.  She has a jet at her disposal to satisfy her appetite for travels to the U.S.  She's in Washington DC every month to shop and for medical treatment for her two children.*  She flies to Rabat and Nairobi to manage an aircraft leasing company whose ownership is still to be confirmed, and when it is confirm will help explain the three planes parked at the Banjul International Airport as hub.  Navy personnel in Banjul have also claimed that some of the patrol boats procured by Taiwan as part of its foreign aid package to Banjul, meant for patrolling Gambian shores have found their way into Moroccan waters and are being operated in private hands.

The Gambia deserves better.  Gambia needs a First Lady who will promote peace, oppose executions including extrajudicial ones, condemn torture and work to stamp out corruption, and not one who is engaged in vanity, conspicuous consumption and in practices unbecoming the First Lady of one of the poorest countries on earth.

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* Figures have just been provided on the First lady's travels to Washington DC this year.  She's made 17 trips in all to date with still 3 weeks to go in the year.  In two months this year, she traveled to Washington about thrice in the month with 2 aides and 2 security.  Normally her entourage comprises 17-19 persons.  She travels by private by charter or state-owned jets.            

    

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Jammeh must step down, and now

Yaya Jammeh's almost two decades of terror-filled rule has brought the Gambia's economy, together with the spirits of Gambians, to its knees.

It is evident from the past several months that the regime in Banjul has lost control of the state's machinery, further threatening the very well-being of ordinary Gambians.

Functions of the Central Bank have been unilaterally transferred to the Presidency causing severe disruptions to the markets, especially the foreign exchange markets, resulting in massive losses to private investors as well as government foreign exchange accounts.

Economic management has always been the biggest challenge of the Jammeh regime.  The key economic ministries have been manned by Jammeh's hand-picked men and women regardless of experience and/or qualifications.  Corruption is extremely high and it occurs in the highest of places.  Jammeh is known to act as the final arbiter in any major tendering of government contracts.  He is the single biggest businessman in The Gambia with interests in almost all sectors of the economy.

All assessments conducted by donors of the Gambian economy have been bleak, and prospects for a recovery considered dim because of the regime's apparent inability to exercise prudence in its monetary and fiscal policies, characterized by high level of domestic borrowing, crowding out the private sector causing high rates of interests. Businesses are fleeing the country as a result of the constant interference by a regime that insists on micromanaging all aspects of the economy.

The economy is not the only mismanaged aspect of Gambian life by a regime that is increasingly displaying level of incompetence never seen it is 19-year of governance.

Recent foreign affairs debacle started off with the Gambian protesters that confronted the Gambian dictator, his wife and their entourage when they were holed up in their hotel to almost their entire stay in New York to attend the 68th United Nations General Assembly.  Faced with intense protests from Gambian exiles and refugees who descended on him from eastern seaboard localities, something he's never experienced in his entire presidency, he became very upset for being humiliated.  He was forced to stay cooped up in his hotel while his African counterparts and colleagues moved in and out unfettered by their own nationals.  The entire three-day protests were captured on video and posted on YouTube which were instantaneously accessed by Gambians as event unfolded.  Social media brought the entire debacle in the homes of Gambians.

Arriving home, Jammeh withdrew Gambia's membership in the Commonwealth by attacking it as a neocolonialist organization.  The abrupt action obviously did not receive the blessing of neither the National Assembly or the citizenry via referendum.   In fact, a majority of Gambians opposed the move by Jammeh. Gambians did not recover from the shock of the Commonwealth withdrawal before the regime announced a few weeks later that it is severing diplomatic ties with Taiwan - a long time and reliable friend of Jammeh and his regime.

If Gambians were surprised by the move, Taipei was shocked by the move.  Neither Taipei's Ministry of Foreign Affairs nor its Embassy in Banjul had an inkling of what was in the pipeline.  However, in the ensuing days following the break-up, it became clear that Jammeh's frequent demands for money from the Taiwanese culminated in a cash and unreceipted in the sum of $ 10 million which was turned down may have pushed him over the edge.  It may have taken the Taiwanese 18 years to realize that Jammeh is an 'idiosyncratic character' ( their description of Jammeh ) who is not only unpredictable but ungrateful as well. The diplomatic break-up immediately blew a large hole in Gambia's budget in critical sectors of the economy i.e. education, health and agriculture.

The hope of immediately getting China to replace Taiwan quickly faded as Banjul realized, however belated the realization, that Beijing will not rush into establishing diplomatic relations because of the diplomatic 'detente' or 'diplomatic flexibility' it had established with Taipei.

Jammeh's international reputation has come under sharper focus, and has taken a big hit; thanks to the protests mounted by Gambians in the United States.  Protests mounted by Gambian dissidents in Europe against the Gambian dictator who is in Paris to attend the Peace and Security Summit of over 50 Heads of State and Government will certainly help reinforce the international image of Jammeh as the symbol of repression and indiscipline.

Jammeh's bodyguards being filmed beating up on protesters in front of Jammeh's hotel can only further reinforce an already bad image of this regime.  As the diplomatic isolation of the regime in deepens internationally, internal resistance is beginning to manifest itself in forms never expected only two months ago. The youth of Banjul went on a rampage a couple of days ago, smashing car windows and other property destruction.  Security personnel were also targets of youths in both Banjul and Brikama after football matches.

These are sign that the regime is on less secure position than ever before.  More worrying is there appear to be cracks within the security apparatus.  Allegiances are beginning to shift. Meanwhile, the protests will continue outside Gambia.  Internally, the youth will start agitating in ways never seen before too.

The regime has undoubtedly failed the Gambia people in most fronts, especially in the economic and diplomatic fronts leading to increased opposition to a regime that is using murder to get rid of its opposition. These murders are becoming extremely frequent.  This circle of violence will continue unless Gambians rise up and demand the resignation of Jammeh and his cabinet.  The international community must also step in to facilitate a smooth transfer of power to avoid a tribal bloodbath.      
            

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

One more dead soldier at the hands of Yaya Jammeh

Another soldier has been murdered by the security elements of the Jammeh regime.  It now appears that there is a murder squad on the loose for the sole purpose of eliminating, what the regime consider to be, threats to the security of the State.  These are soldiers who conduct themselves in a professional manner and thus refuse to join the murder squads.

The latest victim is Lance Corporal Momodou Ceesay of the Gambia Armed Forces.  According to reports by the American Street News (ASN), family members of the soldier that the victim was forced into an unmarked car by masked men while walking along the road in his hometown of Brikama.  According to the same news source, after he was killed, his body was buried even before family members arrived at the site the renegade soldiers claimed they found the body.

The government version of events is in variance with what is being reported by private press.  According to the Daily Observer, the body of the 29-year old infantryman was found last Thursday in the village of Basore in the Western Division, "after he reportedly hanged and set himself on fire."  I will leave it up to readers to make sense of this.  How can one hang himself and than set himself on fire.  These stories have now ecome very familiar to Gambians.  The regime of Yaya Jammeh is so incompetent that they cannot concoct sensible stories and alabis that will absolve them of these frequent murders of both civilians and members of the military who refuse to join the murder spree of Gambians the regime consider its enemy. 


The official version of events reported by the Daily Observer quoted family members that Momodou Ceesay
was last seen alive when left his compound last Thursday, the 21 November around 6:00 a.m.  He was missing for more than a week before the police notified the family on Friday, 29th November that they found the dead body in bushes at Basore village.  When the family members rushed to the site where the body was found, they could only identify the badly mangled body as Mr. Ceesay through is cell phone SIM card.  "Due to the nature of his body, we could not see him because the police quickly buried him on the site," according to official source of Government through the Daily Observer.  The government has also floated the idea that the murdered soldier was mentally ill which hos mother vehemently denied.  Her son was of sound mind who was described by family members as a "young man of dignity and respect who had contributed immensely toward the development of his family."