Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Is peace finally at hand in Casamance?

The unilateral cease fire declared recently by Salif Sadio appears to hold more promise than previous cease fires in the 32-year old low intensity war, making it the longest unresolved conflict in Africa.

The election of a new President in Macky Sall gave Senegal a new push in search of peace in the Casamance, a peace process that started during the administration of President Wade.

Preliminary peace talks started in Rome on the 13-14 October, 2012 under the auspices of the Catholic Community of Sant'Egidio.  The process continued under Macky Sall with the February 2014 when 'confidence-building measures' were adopted by both parties which, among other measures, the  Macky Sall government agreed publicly and in writing that "there is no arrest warrant issued against Salif Sadio", leader of the most important faction of the rebel groups.

The confidence building measures also included a guarantee of free movement of Salif Sadio and the commitment of both parties "to maintain a behavior that can facilitate negotiations" that can lead to peace.

The process's success to this point leading up to the MFDC cease fire is attributable in part to the isolation of parties Macky Sall consider to be tangential in nature who may have actually contributed to lack of progress in the search for peace in the Casamance.  The decision of the Sall's government to maintain the Community of Sant"Egidio process started under Wade assured continuity, and provided the opportunity to build on the gains made of the past couple of years.

Two significant deviation from previous policy seemed to have proved significant to the unilateral cease fire announced by Salif Sadio.  The first is the marginalization of the "collectif des cadres casamancaise" (known simple as the "Colletif") headed by the local entrepreneur Pierre Goudiaby ATEPA, and second is the exclusion of Yaya Jammeh from taking part in the peace process.

Both the "Collectif" and Yaya Jammeh were seen by many in the new administration to have contributed to the lack of success during the 12 years of the Wade presidency, who famously promised to resolve the conflict in 100 days upon his assuming office.

The peace process appears to have received a significant helping hand from the Obama administration by elevating its role with the appointment of a Adviser dedicated exclusively to the conflict in the Casamance.

A source in Dakar who is close to the MFDC confirmed that while the cease fire is in effect, he's unsure of how long it will hold.  When the question was posed to him as to whether Salif Sadio has given up the idea of independence for the Casamance, the surprising answer was in the negative.  When he was asked why, he refused to respond over the phone.  We hope he's wrong, and for good reason.

Food Security Corporation: This is a dangerous idea

The Food Security Corporation being floated by Yaya Jammeh and the Secretary General of his ruling party is a very dangerous idea which must be resisted at all cost, and here are a few of the reasons why:

We are concerned that Yaya Jammeh and the Secretary General of his ruling party, Momodou Sabally will succeed in their quest to establish a Food Security Corporation which has been called different names during different stages of the 21-day tour of the rural areas.  This suggests that the idea has not been thought through, as has been m,any ideas of this regime over the past 20 years which has jettisoned this once peaceful and thriving small economy into complete chaos.

They appear to be proposing the consolidation of rural agricultural land by transferring ownership from traditional settlers to a Yaya Jammeh-run Corporation.   This is dangerous.

Based on preliminary information reported in The Point newspaper, the regime intends to conduct what is being referred to as 'a comprehensive review"of the traditional land tenure system with a view to "freeing surplus land for agricultural production." To "free" the land from whom?  The rural folk.

Once the land is freed from the traditional owners, the commercial scale agriculture Jammeh and his side-kick have been promoting throughout the tour - including today's report in the Daily Observer where Jammeh is quoted as saying Gambia could produce 2 million tons of rice per year -  can only be achieved with foreign direct investment from the Gulf States that are buying huge tracks of land in Africa.  Jammeh is not leveling with the owners of these lands that he intends to deed to a Corporation that exists only in his mind.  Here lies another danger.

This incompetent and thoroughly corrupt regime should not be allowed to tamper with a traditional tenure system that has served us well by helping glue together rural communities and help foster social order and harmony over centuries.  Any change to the current system must be thoroughly and carefully studied, to be followed by a national debate or conversation that must be led by farmers and not Yaya Jammeh.  Any change in the current tenure must be done in an orderly fashion and gradually but only after careful study with the active participation of the traditional owners of the land.

Granted the current tenure system may not lend itself to full-scale commercial agriculture, and it also does not grant ownership to women,(only access is provided) but these can be fixed without having to turn the entire system on its head which is what Jammeh and Sabally are proposing - a very dangerous proposition for Gambians to sit idly by and see it happen.  The ownership of these vast tracks of agricultural land must never be transferred whole-scale to a Corporation that will be run from Kanilai.  This is dangerous.

At the risk of being called an alarmist, this is an extremely dangerous path for this regime to take, and thus must be resisted at all cost.  We hope the rural population, the Gambian people and the opposition parties will not stand idly by while their land is taken away from them, only to be deeded to a yet to be formed Corporation that will be controlled from Kanilai.  This scheme will disturb the rural order beyond anything ever imagined.  This is a dangerous scheme.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The promise of rice self-sufficiency is a cruel hoax

Local rice production in The Gambia, according to Oxfam America, has declined 79%.  Even with a corresponding increase in rice imports, the country experienced one of its worst food deficit, almost of feminine proportions, since the drought years in the 1970s to early 80s.

The agriculture sector is still in the recovery stages, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and many other donors.  There is not a single donor agency active in the Gambia that we are aware of that holds contrary views to those expressed by either of these two agencies.

FAO noted that since 2005, the sector has suffered from declining food production due not only to adverse weather condition but also "to a range of other constraints including weak levels of support."  This is a nice way of say the regime has not been doing much to provide extension services and necessary subsidies to farmers - same issues we've been harping about since the inception of our blog.

It is safe to say that the World Bank's projections of an agriculture sector recovery will be in line with its sister organization the IMF.  So, we have three leading international organizations plus an international NGO all agreeing on one thing - that the sector is digging itself out a food-deficit hole the regime dug as a result of inappropriate policies, and it will take concerted and sustained effort to full recovery.

For a regime that is as indiscipline and reckless as the one in Banjul, it will be a miracle to get it to focus on any set of policies for an entire year, much less in the medium-term.  It is a regime that jumps from one incoherent set of policies to another and from one sector to another, and the agriculture sector is no different.

Which brings us to the Vision 2016 self-sufficiency in rice which was unveiled to the surprise of many during Jammeh's current tour of the rural areas.  Equally caught unawares were many Gambians aboard including a Gambian activist and radio commentator who thought the announcer meant to say Vision 20/20 which is the regime's National Blueprint that was to launch The Gambia's entry into the middle income group of countries. Jammeh seemed to have abandoned his 15-year plan for a 24-month plan that promises rice self-sufficiency in two planting seasons.

The Vision 2016 must be placed within a larger context of the agriculture sector as a whole to appreciate the impracticality of the task Jammeh  and Momodou Sabally are presenting to farmers as achievable.  Because of the enormity of the task of achieving rice self-sufficiency, just like food sufficiency,  requires long-term planning because it is a long-term development goal which cannot be achieved in two planting seasons.

The FAO has also said to Government that to be self-sufficient in rice, the sector must undergo a
"transformation that will shift from subsistence to commercially-oriented sector."  But this would require a policy framework designed to address the sector's constraints.

What are these constraints facing agriculture?  According to FAO, they are "insufficient human and social capital development, limited capacity and inefficiency of extension services, weak research-farmer extension linkages, poor agricultural practices, declining soil fertility and soil erosion, low farmer productivity,  major challenges to natural resources due to steadily rising urban population, inefficient agricultural marketing systems, especially for groundnuts and food products, lack of access to long and short term financial capital, low agricultural investment, and inappropriate land tenure arrangements that do not give women full rights.

The Secretary General of the ruling party who doubles up as Head of the Civil Service announced the formation of what he called the Food Security Corporation (FSC).  But before the creation of this entity, the regime will establish a Vision 2016 Commission, and then a Committee of Ministers will also be set up, we guess to monitor the work of the V-2016 Commission which will presumably announce the formation of the FSC - to do what? buy and sell rice paddies? trade in other commodities?  You see why no serious person, and Gambian farmers are as serious as they come, should listen to these two.

The rationale for setting up a Vision 2016 Commission is murky at best especially if the ultimate goal is to prescribe "a way forward" because the dictator has already decided that the solution is the establishment of a Food Security Corporation to address not only the rice deficit but the food deficit as well.

The last thing that the Gambian economy needs is anything but a vacillating leadership that reacts daily to the economic news.  What is needed is what donors have been advocating, and farmers are yearning is a steady stewardship for the long haul.  These problems were not created overnight.  They took two decades to create.  They will, therefore, take more than two planting seasons to correct.  The sad fact is that both Jammeh and Sabally know that Vision 2016 is a campaign stunt in preparation for the next presidential elections to take Gambian minds off of a failed Vision 20/20.  The whole Vision 2016 is a sad and cruel hoax.  

Monday, April 28, 2014

Shame on you, Daily Observer - up-dated

It has been exactly one week and one day when the Works and Infrastructure Minister was apparently involved in a car accident, which, as far as it can be pieced together, occured during Yaya Jammeh's 21-day tour of the provinces.

In any decent government, the accident should have been reported in the very same Daily Observer, the official mouthpiece of the regime, that is this morning, eight days after the accident, displaying a banner headline announcing the discharge from a Madrid hospital of the Minister.

The news blackout, which was deliberate, caused people in The Gambia calling us to find out about happenings in their own country.  In fact, we got to know about the accident on Monday in America, a whole day before the rest of Gambia got the news.

Meanwhile, Jammeh was busy politicking while his Infrastructure Minister was in a Madrid hospital.  We have said last week, the most appropriate and humane thing to have done was to suspend his tour.

To have just stopped at the announcement would not have been that bad as it is beginning to look when the paper decided to start looking for culprits who being responsible to what the Daily Observer regards as "negative comments whirling in town in the past two days about the health of Minister Balla Jahumpa."

This type of journalism by the official news organ is both irresponsible and dangerous.  The regime is equally culpable in keeping Gambians in the dark as Yaya Jammeh and his group of incompetent followers have been doing for 20 years.  It is a regime that thrives on deceit, misinformation and disinformation.

If the Daily Observer is now so concerned about "negative whirling in town", why didn't the paper report on the accident and condition of the Minister.  They had eight days to do it, but they didn't because they've been asked by Yaya Jammeh not to say a damn thing.  After all, the last we checked, both Yaya Jammeh and the Minister are public officers drinking from the public trough filled by Gambian tax payers.

And as long as both are under our employ, they will enjoy less privacy than your ordinary Pateh or Demba.
Most importantly, both Yaya Jammeh and the Minister are accountable to us, the people.

It was because of the irresponsible handling of this incident, as is the case with numerous other incidences that is of the public's concern, that this blog got into the act in the first instance.  We do not do straight news. We do analysis of the news by trying to explain to ordinary Gambians, especially those with little knowledge of how "the government" functions (or more appropriately, supposed to function), especially in the areas of macro-economic management.

If the regime, through its Ministry of Information, and the Daily Observer did their respective jobs as expected, there would not have been the risk of neither having been exposed to the "negative comments whirling in town for two days."  Because you failed in your fundamental duties of reporting the facts and keeping the population informed of the regime's official activities, you were partly responsible for the ensuing speculative reporting we saw in the past eight days.

All said, this editorial is in no way excusing sloppy reporting or absolving any culprit on the other side of the political divide, especially when the news is sensitive, personal and as tragic as that involving life and death.

We are certainly not absolving ourselves.  We have had our share of pie-in-the-face moments.  That said, we are not journalists but bloggers, and there's a difference.  In spite of the difference, we are are all bound by simple journalistic ethics because our interpretation of the news is, and must be based on facts.

If we are not sure of our "facts", we should not put them in print, and when we do, only to realize that what we thought were facts, were not facts, the decent thing to do is retract, apologize and move on.  Doubling down, when we've killed someone who's busy fighting for his or her life or is alive and kicking somewhere in Madrid is the wrong strategy for any journalist to take.

We can afford to apply light humor only because we now know that "Balla J" is alive and well and drinking Spanish coffee somewhere in Madrid.  All's well that ends well.

Up-dated  April 28.14  12:54

Youth Minister backs down in face of sanctions threat

The regime of Yaya Jammeh appears to enjoy making fool of themselves.  They've stepped in it again, this time with the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

The decision of the Ministry of Youth and Sports to supplant the IOC-recognized GNOC with a hand-picked selected (HPS) "Interim Committee" was not viewed kindly by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) as a result of which they made three demands of the Jammeh regime.

The IOC demanded of the Minister of Youth and Sports for the military to immediately vacate the offices and return all properties of the IOC-recognized GNOC headed by Mr. Momodou Dibba.  IOC demanded that any restriction imposed by the regime on the IOC-recognized GNOC be lifted immediately; and the Government of the Gambia must cease any action aimed at destabilizing the IOC-recognized GNOC.

The IOC warned the regime in its letter dated 14th April 2014 that protective measures or sanctions will be applied if the regime fails to accede to the demands of the Olympic Movement.

The letter may have had the desired effect because there appears to have been a miraculous coming of the senses of those trying to politicize the selection process.  According to sources close to the problem, "most members of the 'renegade 5' (Interim Committee) have cross-carpeted, and bowed down to to their (sports club) membership and joined the majority."  As rightly observed by a source, "inviting the IOC to come to Banjul to help solve the crisis that no longer exists" is a pure waste of time of the Minister as well as the IOC.

In what appears to be a face-saving move, the Ministry of Youth and Sports will be inviting someone in the IOC to come to Banjul to resolve what has now become a non-issue.  The military occupation of Olympic House is over, the Offices have been returned to their rightful owners, and, it appears for now, at least, any action aimed at destabilizing the IOC-recognized GNOC like the "Interim Committee" has been nullified.

The Ministry of Youth and Sports should ensure that it refrains from further attempts at politicizing the GNOC, GFF or any other sporting body.  One would have thought that the message has sipped through some thick skulls in Banjul that the International Sporting authorities will never tolerate the use of sports or athletes to advance the political ambition of politicians or their cronies.

Rather than waste the valuable time of the IOC in order to cover the failed partisan moves of the very few of the sporting fraternity,  the Minister should focus his attention on making sure GNOC and all other sporting bodies are free of politics.  His primary concern is to help develop the individual potentials of the Gambian youth through sports.  

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The precipitous decline in Jammeh's popularity

The precipitous decline in Yaya Jammeh's popularity is commonly traced to his decision of August 2013 to execute nine prisoners who were on death row.  The significance of executions is indisputable.  It certainly drew international attention to the dictatorship in The Gambia, and it may have sparked internal self-examination among the ardent supporters of the regime, especially when the bodies of the victims, which included a Senegalese women, a mentally-incompetent and a prisoner whose death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment by the government of Sir Dawda Jawara.

The regime's refusal to hand over the bodies of those executed extra-judicially to respective families for proper Muslim burial rites revealed the very dark side of this regime to ordinary Gambians.  It sets Jammeh apart from Gambians, supporters and opponents, Christians and Muslims alike, whose religion teaches that bodies of the executed should have been returned.  Questions started being asked in APRC quarters about Jammeh's fundamental moral beliefs, especially someone who claims to be a pious Muslim.  Many began to question his faith, especially in rural Gambia.

Jammeh's popularity began to wane within the business community when he introduced the pre-inspection scam that forced importers to pay inspection fees in U.S dollars in 1999 when foreign exchange was already scares.  This scam led by his late father-in-law led to the collapse of the transit trade, and the beginning of what is now the exodus of foreign and local investors to neighboring countries.  The seizure of ALIMENTA's properties the following year, set the pattern that was to be replicated elsewhere by the seizure of private properties owned by private individuals and companies.   It did not only cause resentment among the business class, it also started businesses contributing less to the APRC coffers.  As a businessman told me back in 2001, "the future of The Gambia is bleak with this man in control."  When I asked him why, he responded "the man behaves as if Gambia is as rich as Nigeria with his heavy demands on us."  He has since left Gambia for Senegal.

Jammeh's gradual dominance of the business sector with businesses directly competing with others became another source of resentment and frustration which increased, over time, with every push by the dictator into other sectors of the economy.  From his lowly farm he started in his native village of Kanilai in 1997 to bakery to his taking over monopoly power in the importation of petroleum products, his supporters and political allies began seeing themselves as victims themselves of the regime they helped prop up since 1994. His recent closure of the border only adds to his problems, not only with Senegal but with the Gambian business community.

The privileged class, for the first time, began experiencing the same repressive nature of the regime that many Gambians have been complaining about, including farmers who by 2001 have started feeling the pain being inflicted (deliberate or not) on them by the regime by subsidizing farm input in one year and removing them the next year.  Credit buying of the regime of farmers groundnuts became prevalent.  By 2003, the practice of buying produce on credit has resulted in millions of dalasis of outstanding amounts owed to farmers by the regime.  Figures are hard to come by because of the secrecy surrounding the regime's groundnut-buying operations.

The human rights abuses contributed to the regime's unpopularity, but they took longer than normal for the abuses to reach international dimension because of the weak human rights organizations on the ground, in spite of the fact that Banjul in the home of the African Union's Human and People's Rights.  The mounting of a coordinated international campaign by rights organizations, including Gambian diaspora groups did help shine the international spotlight on the regime's human rights record.   However, it was the execution of the nine death row prisoners that finally did the trick, so to speak, to draw local attention to the vicious nature of a regime they help create by supporting it to nearly twenty years.

Jammeh's medical quackery put him on the international stage permanently as "that African dictator who claim to cure HIV/AIDS" even if many around the world cannot remember his name and the few who does cannot pronounce it.  Locally, the resentment is within the medical and public health communities who have spent a good part of their careers putting Gambia on the map in the fight against the dreadful disease.  Family and friends of those suffering from HIV/AIDS felt threatened if they refuse to commit their loved ones to Jammeh's treatment which is performed in public and in full view of television cameras.   Resentment from families and relatives is very strong and a source of opposition, especially from those who have lost loved ones who would have otherwise survived if they had continued their antiretroviral therapy.

All of the above are self-inflicting, unforced errors that led to his current predicament.  Jammeh, in short, is his own worst enemy.

Border closure : Much ado about nothing, ferry fares remain the same

The Jammeh regime announced Friday 25th April that the borders have been opened effective immediately, after causing havoc to the economies of both Senegal and The Gambia, not to mention the citizenry whose daily lives have been unnecessarily inconvenienced.  Families have been separated and businesses disrupted because of Yaya Jammeh decided to "teach Macky Sall a lesson" for blocking his path to the nomination to contest the election to head ECOWAS.

As we have stressed in previous blogs, the security argument advanced was a smoke screen.  There were no threats coming from Gambian dissidents based in Dakar.  The Senegalese government would not entertain any overt challenge to Jammeh's power in The Gambia from within Senegalese borders.  If the security threat was real which led to the border closures, Jammeh would not have opened while he's still on his 21-day tour of the provinces, and currently in Basse but will be in Soma, Pakalinding and Mansakonko for two days starting tomorrow.  If Jammeh was so scared of spending the night in Farafenni for fear of Gambia dissidents, he faces similar threat in the southern flank of the Soma/Senoba border posts.

The cause of the border closing in the first instance was the ferry fares which remain unchanged.  Trucks are charged 800 franc per tonne, buses 13,000 franc per bus and individual passengers 200 franc.  Nothing has changed from what obtained on 31 December, 2013.  Senegalese truck drivers are not obligated to pay in CFA if they so chose.  They will continue to pay the same fares as before until a new proposed fare structure, reported to be 15,000 franc per bus and 1,000 franc per tonne for trucks, is put in place as signed by the two parties.

What Youssou N'doure's trip to Banjul was able to achieve was to provide Jammeh with safe-saving channel to extricate himself from the box he locked himself in.  Dakar ignored his threats since January this year at tremendous cost to the Gambian treasury and the GPA.  It reduces Jammeh's bargaining power in the process.

The two sides are to meet "in the next few days"to finalize the new fare schedule, something that could have been achieved under the existing Agreement between the countries signed in 2005 which Jammeh elected to ignore in putting new fares in place without consulting his Senegalese counterpart.  The closure was deliberate and part of Jammeh's way of "teaching Macky a lesson" at tremendous cost to The Gambia as well as Senegal.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Balla Jahumpa did not suffer a "fractured backbone"

Gambia's Works Minister did not suffer any "fractured backbone" as reported previously. According to a close family source, he entered the hospital as a precaution where he's resting comfortably.   We continue to wish him well.  

GPTC: The sad story of an iconic bus company - PART II

GPTC buses
In tabling the Act of Parliament in November 2012 that repealed the GPTC out of existence by, the then Minister of Works, Construction and Infrastructure promised Gambians that all salaries and benefits owed to GPTC staff affected by the dissolution will be paid in full.

As a former staff member reminded us all recently, "it will be one year next month since the Minister of Works announced before the National Assembly that the former staff of the GPTC will be paid all their benefits but which has not yet materialized."

The quote was made in October of last year.  One year six months have now gone without the regime of Jammeh fulfilling its promise.  At the time, the Permanent Secretary at the Works Ministry, Abdoulie Camara, claimed that all the "paper work" has been completed and forwarded to "the appropriate authorities" meaning the Attorney General's Office.  A local newspaper reporter, interested in the plight of the former staff members, visited the Ministry of Justice and demanded answers from the then Solicitor General, Pa Harry Jammeh, who informed the reporter that the file was indeed "on his desk and that action with be taken shortly."

Pa Harry Jammeh was soon therefore accused and charged of unrelated crimes. He was succeeded by Basiru Mahoney who claimed immediately claimed ignorance by claiming that he knew nothing about the issue and that there was no file pertaining to outstanding salaries and benefits to former staff of the GPTC.  This is in spite of the claim by the Permanent Secretary  of the Works Ministry that the file has been forwarded to the Justice Ministry and confirmed by the former Solicitor General.

Meanwhile, ex-staff have been undergoing agonizing periods with their families in an urban setting without employment and without benefits due them.  One ex-staffer explained how he had to send his wife and kids up-country to relatives to save his family that he can no longer maintain in Greater Banjul.  Some marriages have ended in divorce and children have been withdrawn from school because of a regime that was interested in dissolving a public corporation that provided a vital and reliable service to the public.

During the extra-ordinary session of the National Assembly that was convened in a haste at the direction of Jammeh, from the Speaker, through NAM members like Netty Baldeh of Tumana, Alhaji Sillah of Banjul North and Fabakary Tombong Jatta of Serrekunda East among others kept reassuring their colleagues that they found nothing controversial about the Repeal Bill, as if they were trying to convince themselves that they were doing was in the interest of the people who sent them to Parliament to protect their interest.

Prior to becoming parliamentarians, all of these characters were users of GPTC.  They were, therefore, aware of the vital role it played in transporting Gambians around the country, and thus the reluctance on their part to proceed with the Bill but could not bring themselves to challenge the absolute power of the dictator. In the words of the UDP Minority Leader, Mr. Momodou L.K.Sanneh of Kiang West, " the collapse of GPTC is man-made because before 1994, the institution was in good shape."  The former opposition lawmaker also blamed staff and management of the corporation for what he described as "supporting the culture of silence" for failing to raise the alarm when "they saw the institution going towards the wrong direction."

All the assurances given to Gambians by the Jammeh regime have not been fulfilled.  In the words of the then Works Minister, having closed an old chapter, it is only prudent that we must look to the not distance future for realizing our our dreams with regard to public transport."  The said Minister continued to reassure members of the National Assembly that "government is ever conscious of its commitment to provided public transport for the socio-economic development pf this country."  They knew the sensitive nature of public transport (including the school bus service which was also a victim of the dissolution of GPTC) and the potential disruption it could cause if the vow they are creating is not filled immediately, which led the Minister to continue assuring the general public, through the National Assembly, that "plans are afoot for the revival of this mode of transport in line with the objectives of the Program for Accelerated growth and Development."

The vacuum created by the "disbanding of the corporation" to use the word of the regime has not been filled. The public's transportation needs have not been met.  The school bus service is nonexistent, and the ex-staff of GPTC have not been paid their dues.  The regime and members of the National Assembly have, once again, failed in protecting the interest of Gambians in pursuit of the selfish interest of a few.  Gambians deserve better.  

Correction:  It has been brought to our attention that Pa Harry Jammeh never jumped bail.  The correction have been made with our apologies to Pa Harry and to all those affected.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Balla Jahumpa is alive and still in critical condition

Balla Jahumpa, Gambia's Roads and Transport minister, who was involved in a car accident last Sunday while on the presidential tour of the provinces, is, as at this writing, alive but still in critical condition in a Madrid, Spain hospital, according to a source close to the regime of Yaya Jammeh.

We may be on the opposite side of the political divide, but we are all, however, on the same side when it comes to our small community of The Gambia.

We have been critical of Yaya Jammeh's handling of the accident victims who, we feel, did not get the immediate and urgent attention they all deserve regardless of their standing in the regime's hierarchy.  Medical evacuation should have taken place earlier.  We also felt the entire tour should have been cancelled or suspended for several days to tend to the medical needs of all of the accident victims.  The regime's continued news black-out is deplorable which only invites insidious speculations.

For The Gambia to be viable and remain a sovereign country, Gambians must learn to separate their political views from their private and personal ones to allow us to debate the country's national priorities honestly and substantively while remaining civil in a non-vindictive way.

The country is small and compact enough an entity to provide the insularity necessary for personal, tribal and regional animosities not to thrive.  The country's small size also makes it possible for Gambians to be related by blood or otherwise allowing us to pull together as one family in our hours of need.

It is in this spirit that, and all those associated with our blog operations that we wish "Balla J" a speedy recovery.   He continues to be in our prayers.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Did Jammeh abandon Balla Jahumpa ?

Balla Jahumpa, Transport Minister
Serenading someone considered to be one of Jammeh's most reliable political ally and ardent supporter who appears to have been abandoned at a Banjul hospital suffering from what The Point newspaper described as "fractures in his backbone" is insensitive, deplorable and highly irresponsible of Jammeh and his entire APRC party apparatus.

The tour is proceeding in the Central River with political rallies, with drumming and singing the praise of Balla Jahumpa instead of evacuating him to Dakar or Europe immediately.  This is one more proof that Jammeh is concerned about Jammeh and no one else.

Balla Jahumpa, according to The Point newspaper reports, has been in an accident involving a cow that was crossing the road while on official duties as member of Jammeh's entourage in his capacity as Minister of Roads and Transport.

Up to the writing of this blog post, there has been no official pronouncement of the incident in any of the regime's news outlets.  The Gambia Radio and Television Services (GRTS) said nothing about the accident, and neither did the Daily Observer which acts as the regime's mouthpiece.  The Point's reports were based on anonymous sources within the administration.

Under normal circumstances, we would have stayed mute until we hear from Jammeh in the form of an official statement that can be attributable to him.  There were unconfirmed and conflicting reports as the news began to filter through Easter Monday suggesting that Jammeh had "suspended" and others said he had "cancelled" the tour.  What is known now is that the Roads Minister has been admitted to the RVH in Banjul together with other accident victims.  Who else is involved in the accident is unclear, and how many of the others have been admitted is equally unclear.

We are prompted to post this blog to express our disgust at how the accident victims have been treated.  It is tempting to start comparing this accident to the 1981 helicopter accident involving Sir Dawda, when there was  loss of life and many injuries.  As far as we know, there has been no death in this case.  We can, however, draw parallels in that in 1982 all official functions were cancelled, and all attention focused on the accident victims.  Those who were to be evacuated to Dakar were flown immediately, and those who needed first aid were treated on the spot.

Here, we have the president proceeding with his political tour to save his political career while one of his most sincere and committed supporter is abandoned in an ill-equipped and under-resourced hospital with a delicate and life-threatening spinal injury, according to the Point newspaper.

Rice self-sufficiency not possible with Jammeh

Yaya Jammeh's promise to make Gambia self-sufficient in rice by 2016 is the umpteenth time he's made the same promise since 1994.

He made the promise during his current "Dialogue with the People Tour" which he has conveniently change to "Vision 2016 Rice Self-Sufficiency Tour".

It is tempting to discount the promise as politics as usual.  However, because basic food stuff, especially rice, is a matter of life and death, in a country that has seen a steady decline in production of all other food stuff : rice (-79%), groundnut (-67%) and early millet (-53%), to make such an outlandish promise is irresponsible and callous because it is unattainable.

The Gambia has been experiencing a serious crisis in agriculture.  Food crop production has been declining while food prices have been on the increase.  In fact, prices have been increasing higher than during the 2008 world food crisis. A bag of rice has gone up from D1,200 in the past couple of months to almost D2,000, and it is because of these price rises that have set the regime of Jammeh in a panic mode.  He is convinced that focusing his attention in the next two weeks of the tour on rice production, he will convince farmers that his government is going to solve the problem by 2016.

How can Gambia be self-sufficient in rice in two years when there has been a cumulative 79% decline in rice production in the past six years.  To make up for the deficit, rice imports grew.  And all indications are it will continue to grow because of inappropriate policies with inconsistent application.  Jammeh has interfered in all aspects of Gambian life and agriculture is no exception.  In the eyes of a senior official of the agriculture ministry " how can we register progress when the president keeps interfering with our work."  

Jammeh will massage the figures, bend the truth to mislead the rural population. He's so detached from reality that he fails to realize that every policy pronouncements, including his stories and anecdotes, have been the same since 1994. Nothing has changed in his stories and comportment, except his attire which has morphed from army uniform to multi-color traditional dress to his signature flowing white boubou.

To recommend that Gambians change their dietary habits by eating what they grow makes no sense to a country that has been grappling with food deficits for over three decades makes little sense.  There is already hunger, not only in rural Gambia but in urban Gambia as well.  Jammeh should, therefore, be making those tractors available to farmers on a rental basis, provide agricultural extension and provide improved seeds and adequate fertilizers, and then step aside and allow experts to do their work without interference in an area you have no expertise.  You are in the way, Yaya.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

"I will teach Macky Sall a lesson" says Jammeh

Of all the reasons given for the belligerent and erratic behavior of the Gambian dictators, the suggestion that the closure of the borders is security-related is the least plausible for reasons we have advanced these past two to three days.

Senegal certainly doesn't think it has anything remotely connected to the dissident community in Dakar, as suggested in some quarters.  According to sources in Senegal, Yaya Jammeh is still nursing a grudge since he was rebuffed by his colleagues at Yamoussoukro last month when he tried to get elected Chairman of ECOWAS.

Jammeh felt felt then, as he does now, that the Senegalese President played a pivotal role is blocking his nomination to contest the election with President John Mahama of Ghana.  A source close to Jammeh told this blog that Jammeh is so furious that he said, and we quote "I will teach Macky Sall a lesson."

The Senegalese President may have shared a commonly held view within the ECOWAS leadership that Jammeh's unpredictable and child-like behavior is unsuited for leadership of the regional organization.  There were unconfirmed rumors that President Sall played an adverse role prior to and during the nomination process that produced only one nominee, John Mahama of Ghana, who emerged as the consensus candidate a day before the elections were to take place.  Jammeh's name was never placed in nomination, not even by Nigeria or Senegal.  Jammeh felt betrayed by Nigeria after his Hoka Haram speech in Abuja which he thought was sufficient to win over President Goodluck Jonathan.  As for Macky Sall, Jammeh thought he could, at least count on the vote of his neighbor which wasn't to be.  He stormed out of Yamoussoukro seeking revenge.

Yamoussoukro of 2013 was a repeat of Accra of 2005 when Jammeh was bypassed by ECOWAS in favor of President Mamadou Tandja of Niger.  Obasanjo of Nigeria was the culprit then who Jammeh pointed fingers at for blocking his passage to the chairmanship.  Jammeh refuses to accept the reality that he will never be elected to lead the regional organization as long as he continues to display ignorance and immaturity.  ECOWAS relies on external assistance, financial and technical, from the United States and the European Union who have made it as clear as possible that Jammeh will not be invited to their respective capitals because of his anti-Western views and erratic behavior.  He is not considered a reliable ally and thus will negatively impact any inflow of assistance to the organization.  All his colleagues get the message loud and clear, except Yaya Jammeh.

Yaya Jammeh's frequent border closure is seen by many in Senegal as a weapon pointed at its head.  The former Senegalese Ambassador to The Gambia, Mr. Ndiouga Ndiaye, was quoted in the press as suggesting that "Senegal must assume its responsibility and work around the Gambia."  Patience seems to be running out in Senegal, and the former Ambassador Ndiaye seemed to have abandoned diplomacy when he is being quoted in the same paper as saying "there is no diplomatic solution."  He asserted that previous Senegalese governments have tried every trick in the book to work with Jammeh to no avail, and has accused Jammeh of "bad faith" in closing the border when he and his Senegalese counterpart had signed loan agreements with donors to build a TransGambia bridge across the Gambia River.  "Senegal must have courage to call Yaya Jammeh to order," the former Ambassador was quoted as saying because "it was he (Jammeh) who decided to close the border without notice, Senegalese must leave the matter for the State to act."

The rhetoric is growing louder with every passing day.  In the southern Senegalese capital of Ziguinchor, the transporters are demanding the government of Senegal to abandon the TransGambia route completely in favor of developing the Tambacounda route.  Tempers flared when travelers discovered Sunday morning that the borders were closed, and the only option opened to them was to travel around the Gambia, a journey which adds 500 Km and CFA10,000, a proposition that many cannot afford - a sobering reminder that the two countries a condemned to living together, bound by the inevitability of geography.  However, peace, respect and mutual co-existence between Senegal and The Gambia will never be realized with Yaya Jammeh in power.  

Gambian roads : Unsafe at any speed

Yaya Jammeh's presidential motorcade is reported to have been involved in multiple car pile-up around the Central River Region (CRR) of the country.  As far as it can be determined, the chain accident did not claim any lives, but several senior officials were said to have been injured.  They have been rushed to the main hospital in Banjul.  We hope there's medicine and qualified personnel to tend to those needing medical care.

Jammeh and his entourage were in the 5th day of a 21-day Dialogue with the People Tour, and according to the official itinerary posted on the official State House website, they were to spend Easter Monday, a rest day, in Jangjanbureh, capital of CCR.  They were not scheduled to depart Jangjanbureh until tomorrow, Tuesday at 10:00 AM. Unless there has been a change in the official schedule, the entourage should have been stationary at Jangjambureh.

For a regime that touts its commitment to the development of the country's infrastructure, if the state of Gambia's roads is testimony to the claim, it is time to adopt a new propaganda strategy because, despite investments in road since Jammeh seized power in 1994, corruption has hindered implementation which has, in turn affected the quality of road network under his watch.

Contractors have complained privately of the heavy-handedness of the regime in demanding bribes and/or even shares in companies wanting to do business with government.  Jammeh is the head of this group of extortionists who's made contracting in The Gambia a highly risky business.  It has caused indigenous construction companies, as well as well-known Senegalese and regional companies, to flee to friendlier countries in the ECOWAS region. Those contracting companies that have tried braving it out in Banjul have ended up being bankrupted by a regime that is among the most corrupt in Africa.

Poor roads notwithstanding, it is a common sight to witness presidential motorcades travelling at hair-raising speeds, some say, in excess of 100 MPH through pothole-filled third rate roads, killing and maiming Gambian children and adults alike in their wake without stopping.  All, they say, in the name of the security of one man - Yaya Jammeh.  For the Gambian dictator to stop this time is something new, and to cancel an official tour involving Yaya Jammeh is quite extraordinary for a man who seems to care more about his own safety and security than anyone else's.

While wishing the injured speedy recovery, we hope that senior officials will counsel Yaya Jammeh to put as much premium in the safety and security of all Gambians as he does his.  Those children and adults killed by his motorcade practically everyday deserve the same consideration and treatment that he accorded to the injured members who were rushed to hospitals.  The lives of children killed and maimed in the Kombos ever so frequently are as precious, if not more so, than members of his entourage.  The last thing I should be engaged in is to lecture to a father of two little children about reckless driving in a congested road filled with children at play.    


Monday, April 21, 2014

Farmer's Tour - Updates

Prince Sankanu
Contrary to his official tour itinerary which gives the impression that he his out visiting only rice fields, Jammeh has been spending a great deal of time politicking in the nooks and crannies of the Niumis, Badibbous and the MID where he spent 2 days each, and as our source observed, "trying to win confidence of the populace."

He realizes that he's taken Gambians for granted for far too long, and has lost significant support in the past year because of his neglect to some, and mismanagement to others, of the economy.  The failure of the groundnut buying season is playing a key role in this tour.

Our source is reporting that he's been told that it was while in Farafenni which is close to the border that Jammeh felt insecure and decreed that the borders be closed.  This reason for the border closure is not a very plausible explanation because, if he is insecure in a military camp where else on earth would he feel secure.  If he still feels insecure with his own, then spend the night in Jenoi with the agriculturists rather than soldiers and spare Senegambians the disruption to trade and their daily livelihood.

We continue to maintain that he's trying to deflect attention away from the real issue : the boycott of the ferries which has taken its toll on the economy.  He wants to have it resolved on more favorable terms than the Senegalese Transport Union is willing to offer. He opened the borders to entice the union negotiators only to close them when they couldn't agree to proposed reduction in fares which will still be voluntary, and not mandatory as Jammeh had wished, to pay in CFA.

It is this climb down from his original demand which has caused three and one half months of gridlock and hardship to citizens of the SeneGambia region that is the reason for all the commotion that Jammeh has manufactured.  Jammeh is master at distracting attention from real problems.  As we have previously cited, everybody is talking about the border closure and nothing on what started the problem in the first place - the contravention of the 2005 Agreement between Senegal and The Gambia which states that Gambia cannot increase or change the fare structure without consultation and giving Senegal adequate notice of any impending changes.

Back to the tour, his itinerary suggests a break from the tour to observe Easter Monday in Janjangbureh where, I presume, he will safer because the place is an island, and furthest from the Senegalese border as he can get.   He resumes the tour tomorrow with visits to the Niaminas.

After Commonwealth, Taiwan, and Senegal: A comment

Karang Police Post
Gambians were again caught unawares, this time, about the Gambia-Senegal border closure, a unilateral decision by the Gambian dictator.

An anonymous official of the Gambia Transport Union confirmed on Sunday that an executive order was issued for the closing of the border near the border town of Amdalai which came into effect Saturday 19th April.  He claimed that no reasons were given for the closure, except to insist that these orders from the leadership, meaning Yaya Jammeh.

The closure comes about 4 months after the regime of Yaya Jammeh decreed that henceforth all ferry fairs by non-Gambian users at the crossing points ill be in CFA francs or any other convertible currency.   The Senegalese Transport Union reacted to, what they consider to be a contravention of an Accord reached in 2005, brokered by former President Obasanjo of Nigeria.

Senegalese transporters called for a boycott of the Gambian ferries, denying million of dollars in revenue to the Gambia Ports Authority and Gambia's central treasury.   Jammeh expected that the dispute which he initiated by unilaterally demanding payment in foreign exchange will not last this long.  Just as he has miscalculated the severance of diplomatic ties with Taiwan, his misjudgment of Senegal's reaction to the demand that Senegalese trucks pay in CFA franc has severely impacted Gambia's economy by denying it much-needed revenue.

Jammeh's physical health has always been open to speculation.  What is not in dispute, however, is Jammeh's mental state.  He idiosyncratic and erratic behavior has convinced many that he is delusional that borders on paranoia.  He explains his Commonwealth withdrawal by accusing the organization of being a neocolonialist outpost that it out to exploit The Gambia, and did not bother to give reason for severing ties with Taiwan except to say that he was driven by "strategic national interest:" only to be told by Taiwan that it was because he was refused a cash demand in excess of $10 million, apparently for his personal use.

In both instances, as it appears to be the case in the latest border episode, his Foreign Minister was not even aware, much less consulted.  Gambians were unaware of the border closure until those who thought were on their way to Dakar were greeted at the border by barricades announcing the closure.  Jammeh likes flying solo, and hardly seeks clearance from the tower.  No wonder, he always crash lands, and always manages to survive.  

It is evident that these are not normal times, both in the Gambia and the region, and the continued and sustained erratic behavior is increasingly becoming a threat to both The Gambia and the region.

The withdrawal of Gambia's membership from the Commonwealth, the severance of diplomatic ties with Taiwan and the boycott of the Gambia's ferry services by the Senegalese Transport Union have a cumulative effect that is costing the Gambian economy, leaving a population more disillusioned than ever before, resulting in erosion of political support for Yaya Jammeh.  How long this "idiosyncratic leader", as he was described recently by a Taiwanese Foreign Ministry official, can continue to act recklessly at the expense of the economy, the Gambian people and against good neighborliness remains to be seen.  

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Did Yaya Jammeh capitulate on the border issue

Gambia - Senegal border post 
It is now official,  The borders between Senegal and The Gambia have closed effective Saturday 19th April by unilateral action of one man - Yaya Jammeh.  

Prior to Saturday when the orders came from Jammeh, who is presently on tour of the provinces, the borders were not closed as we tried to distinguish border closing from the boycott action by the Senegalese Transport Union against the ferry services operated by Gambia Ports Authority. 

The orders from Jammeh were made without reference to existing bilateral processes put in place since the 2005 border closing, and without explanation to the Senegalese authorities as to the rationale for the closure who are trying to find reason(s) for the decision. 

According to website, the decision to close the border came on Saturday 19th April "just days after the opening of the TransGambia" route.  Jammeh's decision came as a surprise to both Gambian and Senegalese transport operators who thought the fare and tax disputes that led to the boycott in the first place is now "old story." 

The fact that the borders were opened a "few days ago" is news to many, because it was never announced officially, neither in the Daily Observer nor in the Office of the President's website.  The Senegalese boycott of the Gambian ferry services has taken its toll on the revenue of the GPA and the Gambian economy.  Jammeh has miscalculated once again.  Senegal's reaction to the boycott has been what can be referred to as 'benign neglect' which is seen in Dakar as industrial action by an independent union of transporters.  The strategy of the Sall's government seemed to have worked in this particular instance. 

Did Jammeh back down from his demands for payment of fares and taxes in CFA? Did he reduce the fares? Why would Jammeh withdraw his Ambassador from Senegal only to plunge The Gambia into yet another period of uncertainty when the relations have been the two countries are at their lowest ebb in almost a decade?  Is the border closing a ploy to divert attention from what appears to be capitulation on the border dispute if reports from Dakar are correct that the TransGambia route was opened "a few days ago" only to have the borders closed without notice. 

We will spend the next days and weeks trying to make sense of a dire situation where the main character is as unpredictable as the London weather. 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Monologue With Farmers Tour: The politics of rice

"If anyone is selling a bag of rice at D900, take him to the police because it is unlawful.  I recently agreed with major importers of rice into the country on the maximum price of a bag of rice to be at D800, which will start by June/July 2008. Therefore, anyone selling a bag of rice at D1,000 should go to jail.  In fact, from now against September 2008, government will make sure that the price of rice is stabilized."

These were the words of Yaya Jammeh on Monday May 5th, 2008 during his Dialogue with the People's Tour.  The warning was directed at district Chiefs, village heads, Governors (Commissioners) and cabinet ministers who were threatened with dismissal of those "who fail to stand firmly in support of poor farmers against exploitation by rice dealers and retailers.

It was at that same meeting in Kerewan, North Bank Division when Jammeh declared, unilaterally and without consultation, that henceforth government was no longer going to provide 'free' fertilizer to farmers which, according to a furious dictator, which were then sold at weekly markets or 'lumos'.

Farm input subsidies were either withdrawn outright or phased out over time in 1986 with the advent of the Economic Recovery Program (ERP).  There was always an element of subsidy as regards fertilizer but by playing politics with agriculture, Jammeh declared that henceforth fertilizer was going to be free.  His actions in 2008 were simply reverting to what obtained prior to his unilateral actions.

He did not only withdrew the fertilizer subsidy, he also informed the farmers of Kerewan that he was also going to withdraw subsidies on tractor services because farmers were misusing them.  Henceforth, the 500 tractors he has in stock will be sold without telling farmers that these tractors were procured on loan from Ex-Im Bank of India which the farmers will have to pay for within a 20-year period.  The tractors belongs to the farmers and not Yaya Jammeh.  

Back to the astronomical price of a bag of rice, six years after the Kerewan meeting, a bag of rice has more than doubled in price to D2,000, and out of reach of ordinary Gambians who earn, on average, less than D1,800 per month.  The Gambian staple food has reached price levels that can only cause problems for a regime whose political fortunes have dropped so precipitously, it has left Jammeh worried.  The price of bread of D8 per loaf only makes matter worse.  However, it is the price of rice that is definitely driving this year's Tour agenda.

Of the 30-odd stops on the tour, 25 stops on the Tour are to rice fields, from Jurungku in the North Bank to Kafuta in the Western Division.  There's a visit to a poultry farm and a lunch and visit stop-over at the International Trypanotolerant Center at Kiang Keneba, and about three stops to visit Jammeh's private farms that are farmed using, what can only be described as involuntary labor because those who refuse to 'volunteer' their labor are subject to harassment and risk the label of 'saboteur' of the regime.

Jammeh has promised Gambians self-sufficiency in rice since he seized power in 1994 but all his actions have been anything but encouraging dependence on imported rice, and no amount of visits to rice farms that have received little support from the regime will change the current imbalance.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Dialogue With the People Tour - Day One did not go well for Jammeh

Day One of the Meet the Dialogue with People didn't go well for Yaya Jammeh.  First, he took the navy speed boat to cross with his ministers to Barra while the rest of his entourage ventured into those deadly, unseaworthy death traps better known as 'floating coffins.' It took those less unfortunate souls hours to reach the Barra shores.  They should consider themselves lucky they didn't find themselves drifting along the Bakau coast.

At Barra, the crowds were small because Gambians have had enough of Jammeh who has been promising them the moon, only to end up fleecing them instead.  Farmers all over the country are mad and frustrated, all at once.  They are mad because Jammeh has denied them of their right, as members of a supposedly free society in a free market system, to sell their groundnuts to private buyers as they were able to do last year. Chinese buyers participated in the second half of last years groundnut buying season, and were able to offer prices 25% - 30% higher than was previously on offer from the Gambia Groundnut Corporation.  The same opportunity was denied them by none other than Yaya Jammeh

The only visible crowd presence was demonstrated by the so-called Green Boys who were seen in front of the entourage.  However, by the time they reached Farafenni, the Green Boys, the only seemingly enthusiastic group in the entourage had grown tired, unappreciated and unfed.  The Green Boys grew hungry.  When they were shown their living quarters in Farafenni, they grew angry.  Their anger was justified because they were expected to sleep on the concrete floors of Farafenni Secondary School.

Farafenni teachers and school children who came out to greet Yaya dispersed even before the presidential entourage reached the outskirts of town because he was late, as usual.  The small crowd irked him and some unfortunate soul in the local organizing committee will lose his job tonight, and should consider himself lucky if he is not spending the night in a Farafenni jail.    

The way things are going, something tells me by the time Jammeh returns to Banjul, he would have probably lost the support of a few of these Green Boys who are both hungry and angry.  Talk about the misfortune of Yaya Jammeh.  Everybody seems to be giving up on him.  Gambians have finally come to realize that all Yaya Jammeh cares about is Yaya Jammeh, and no one else, and they appear to be in the mood for a new leader and a new type of leadership.

Good luck on Day Two, Yaya.

GPTC: The sad story of an iconic bus company - PART I

The mere mention of the now defunct Gambia Public Transport Corporation, popularly referred by its acronym GPTC, generates nostalgic references to an iconic symbol of the First Republic.

The initial name was The Gambia - Libya Jamahiriya Public Transport Corporation.  When diplomatic relations between the countries soared over what Sir Dawda Jawara saw as Gaddafi's attempts to subvert Gambia's sovereignty by training Gambian dissidents, the partnership was dissolved and the Gambia took sole ownership and renamed it Gambia Public Transport Corporation.

GPTC in spite of managerial deficiencies of its own, symbolized a relatively efficient management, as African public transport companies go.  It hauled in decent profits year in year out since its inception in 1975, up until July 22nd 1994.

The company's first Managing Director brought to the job the managerial and technical prerequisites expected of managers of public corporations which helped put the new corporation on a trajectory that his successors built on to make it a success story. Gambians were able to travel to Basse and back the same day if they so chose.  The services covered both the North and South Banks of the River Gambia, express and local services.  Banjul-Dakar and Dakar-Banjul daily services were also available.  All of these services started to deteriorate and finally came to a grinding halt with the advent of the A(F)PRC regimes where competence was less important than your tribal or party affiliation - never mind that you may be a certified illiterate.

Fast forward to November 20, 2012, at the direction of Yaya Jammeh, the Speaker of the National Assembly called an emergency session to table a Bill to repeal the GPTC Act of 1976 that will dissolve the GPTC as a corporate entity.  The convening of the session came as a surprise to many parliamentarians, and the Bill before them politically sensitive enough to warrant the Speaker to start off the 'debate' with the following opening statement: "I do hope members of both sides of the House will understand the reason for the short notice given, especially since it is also within Standing Order 26(q).  I hope that the Bill, not being controversial, will be dealt with as soon as possible, but of course, without compromising, in any way, the public interest this Bill deserves."  It is obvious from the Speaker's words that the National Assembly is being blind-sided by Jammeh for springing a surprise that appears to betray the public trust.

In laying the Bill, the then Minister of Works, Construction and Infrastructure, Francis Liti Mboge, recounted the story of how, "in the 1990s, the GPTC slid into serious financial and operational difficulties when management was faced with aging fleet, declining revenues and investments aggravated the situation."  The exasperated sounding Minister continued : "A business entity must either maximize revenue or cut costs to remain solvent, with GPTC, neither option was possible.  The decision was therefore made to disband the Corporation."  Conveniently ignored by the Minister was the fact that in November 2003, Yaya Jammeh admitted rescinding GPTC's management decisions to cut cost by retrenching excess staff with the excuse that "why should the staff suffer", because they were mostly relatives or supporters of his ruling APRC.

So when Jammeh acquired 31 buses six months after he had asked his rubber stamp parliament to repeal the law that gave birth to GPTC, revenue enhancement was furthest from his mind.  He was paving the way for his own bus company using the remaining assets of a publicly-owned company, to supplement the resources of yet another public company in Social Security and Housing Finance Corporation (SSHFC). During the official inauguration of the buses, Gambians were told that Jammeh acquired the buses through a "joint Gambia government and Transport Metropolitan de Barcelona" with the fingerprints of one Kassim Njie Dampha who was described at the same ceremony by Jammeh as "Gambia's Liaison Officer in Barcelona." Whether he is still acting in that capacity on behalf of the regime is unclear.  What is clear, however, is the fact that Jammeh had used public investments and Social Security funds to form the Gambia Transport Service Company (GTSC).

It is  important to note that during the June 8th 2013 re-launch with the unveiling of 50 Ashok-Leyland buses from India, Isatou-Njie Saidy, standing in for Yaya Jammeh, read a statement prepared for him which she said because "the government is ever committed to the welfare and well being of Gambians requested the Social Security and Housing Finance Corporation to work with my office (meaning the office of Yaya Jammeh) to establish a public transport company that is efficient, reliable and offers affordable services." This is further confirmation that the Office of the President under Yaya Jammeh has become an omnipresent, one-stop-shop office for private-public partnership where the private is Yaya Jammeh and the public is government and parastatal agencies.  Where the public treasury ends and where Jammeh's pockets begins is a tough call.  To destroy a public corporation only to set up another one in its place with Jammeh holding equity is mind-bending.

The GTSC has failed in its mission, as stated by Jammeh, of providing "efficient, reliable and affordable series."  The services provided by the GTSC are poor compared to the services that were provided by the now defunct GPTC that was killed by Jammeh and his rubber stamp National Assembly to make way for his private bus company using public funds.  School children are major casualties of this new transport company which does not provide services for school children in contrast to GPTC that received subvention from government to run an efficient school bus service.

End of Part I

Part II will look at the human cost of repealing the GPTC Act establishing the transport corporation causing sufferings of former staff of GPTC, most of whom were left stranded without compensation, pensions and even outstanding wages and social security contributions, in spite of government promises that former GPTC employees will be paid their outstanding dues.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Budget-busting 'festivals'

Despite more government promises to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), excessive domestic spending seems to go unabated.

Why would a government in dire straights, financially, continue to entertain reckless spending.  It was before the start of the rainy season that Jammeh conducted the constitutionally-required Meet the Farmers Tour.

Such a tour requires the mobilization of both human and financial resources that is a heavy burden on the budget in normal times, much more when the fiscal position of the regime is in such a precarious state.  We raised similar concern in our Facebook page yesterday.  We asked what will Jammeh say to the farmers who have been abandoned in the 2013/14 groundnut buying season by a regime that claim to put agriculture at the top of is priority list.

The financial crisis facing the regime and the corresponding hardship facing the rural population in particular and ordinary citizens in general warrants cancellation of this years' tour.  The constitutional requirement can and should be invoked in period of national emergencies.  We are in an emergency when the entire economy is at the brink of total collapse.

As if the challenges facing the regime is not enough, Yaya Jammeh is insisting on going ahead with this year's Roots Festival which requires a financial outlay in the millions of dalasi.  Staff time that will be tied to this week-long festival is immeasurable which will be further drag to an already struggling economy.  A week spent in Kanilai with the mandatory requirement that all senior-level civil servants must attend, tantamount to government shut-down.  The impact on productivity is likely to be negative.  The argument that Festival tourists receipts will offset expenditure is not evident because most of those attending have, in the past, being sponsored by the government.  The Festival should be postponed indefinitely or until the economy has sufficiently recover to afford such a lavish occasion.

Finally, we have suggested that the planned celebration of the 20th Anniversary of the so-called Revolution, together with the associated fund-raising should be scrapped .  It is tasteless to ask Gambians to contribute towards it when the burden of the current economic crisis has fallen disproportionately o the shoulders of the very people who are being asked to contribute.  Besides, there is nothing Gambians should celebrate for. The 20-year rule of AFPRC and APRC regimes have been nothing but a nightmare, leaving Gambians traumatized, abused, killed, maimed and forced to go on exile.

The cancellations of all of these unproductive 'celebrations' will go a ling way in helping the Minister of Finance need its domestic debt target that he promised the IMF.      

IOC to Yaya Jammeh: Return 'Olympic House' to owners, reinstate officials or face sanctions

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) came down like a ton of bricks on Yaya Jammeh's Minister of Youth and Sports, Alieu K. Jammeh.

In a strongly-worded letter to the dictatorial regime of Yaya Jammeh, the IOC made the following requests of the Minister:

1.  The Office and all properties of the GNOC must be returned to the IOC-recognized GNOC currently headed by Mr. Momodou Dibba with immediate effect.
2.  Any potential restrictions imposed by the IOC-recognized GNOC and its officers must be lifted with immediate effect and;
3.  The Government of the Gambia shall cease any action aimed at destabilizing the IOC-recognized GNOC.

Protective measures or sanctions will be applied against the representation of The Gambia, including barring it from participation in future Olympics, if the above conditions remain unmet, as provided under Rule 27.9 of the Olympic Charter.

IOC did not mince words. The so-called "Interim Committee" installed last week by the regime is not recognized by the Olympic Movement.  As explained on numerous occasions to Gambian officials, including the Minister of Youth and Sports, the National Olympics Committees world-wide ( including the GNOC) "are not government bodies installed or dismissed, and their members are not appointed by governments."

GNOC is an autonomous body "established to develop, promote and protect the Olympic Movement.  The word "Olympic" is a registered trade mark for the exclusive use of IOC-recognized entities, thus, its use by a government-selected and appointed is illegal as well.  Officials should know better and not allow themselves to be used by this despicable and discredited regime, unless, of course, they are in it for their own personal and selfish interests.

IOC reminded the Minister that their illegal and undignified behavior to unleash tribal militias to seize Olympic House, close the offices and take possession of properties belonging to the GNOC has already started to negatively affect Gambian athletes who have been prevented from participating in sporting events abroad as a result of this ill-advised action of the Minister of Youth and Sports.

IOC hopes that reason will prevail for the highest interest of sport and the Gambian athletes.  These shenanigans have been too frequent in the administration of sports in the Gambia which should cease.  Jammeh should be told so by those doing the bidding for him that sport and its administration should neither be politicized nor personalized. Enough is enough.

DEVELOPING : IOC's scathing reaction to the closure of Olympic House

As we reported a little over a week ago that the International Olympic Committee will not take kindly to the dictatorship attempts at the politicization of the GNOC,  The International Olympic Committee has reacted scathingly and firmly with ultimatum to the Minister of Youth and Sports.  Since the letter was dated yesterday 14th April, 2014, we will allow reasonable time for the regime to respond before we report fully on the matter.  The regime is culpable but, as we have seen in the previous case of the Gambia Football Federation's arbitrary banning of football officials, supporters of this regime lurking behind and doing the bidding for Yaya Jammeh are equally culpable.  In fact, they are the drivers of these recent spats of interference in the affairs of the independent and apolitical sports federations.


Sunday, April 13, 2014

Offer GGC to ALIMENTA for D1

The seizure of the ALIMENTA-owned and operated Denton Bridge and Kaur milling facilities, together with their other assets in 1999 by Yaya Jammeh was the start of the rapid decline of the groundnut sub-sector; a decline that continues to date.

To reverse the trend, the regime must, first and foremost, admit that the current marketing arrangements have failed under the apex organization, Gambia Groundnut Corporation (GGC).  It has become painfully obvious that the synergy between production, extension, research and marketing was neither appreciated nor understood by the "soldiers with a difference" even though they all claimed to be of rural backgrounds.  Ironically, their first major act in this sector, after seizing power, was to dissolve the farmer-own Cooperative Movement, followed by the seizure of the privately-owned ALIMENTA properties.

Over time, public investment in agricultural extension and research slowed under their watch, leaving the National Agricultural Research Institute and the Department of Agriculture strapped for basic financial resources to carry out their basic mandates to the farming community; to provide support and extension services.  Production subsequently declined because of poor input distribution system and support.  Seed quality also deteriorated correspondingly.  Th marketing of the premier foreign exchange earner remained a major stumbling block even in bumper harvest years.  GGC is, and has been a bankrupt business enterprise since it was formed.  It was rescued from itself on two occasions from total liquidation, thanks to Gambian taxpayer's bail-out.  It lacked resources, both financial and managerial know-how, to survive as a viable business.

The genesis of the GGC will help explain why the GGC must be liquidated. The defunct Gambia Divestiture Agency failed primarily as a result of the regime's refusal to allow it the operational independence necessary to successfully divest the ALIMENTA facilities and similar government assets.  Many saw the failure of the GDA as a self-induced outcome. The regime simply did not want a transparent method of disposal of government assets which led it to constantly interfere in and reverse the decisions of the GDA.   It was this strong desire to maintain control and influence over the groundnut sub-sector for the economy that led, eventually, to the creation of Gambia Groundnut Corporation (GGC).  The interests of farmers played little part in its creation, in direct contrast to the colonial-era Gambia Oilseeds Marketing Board (GOMB) or its successor the Gambia Produce Marketing Board (GOMB).

The failure of this year's groundnut production and marketing is directly attributable to Jammeh's interference in the market, just as we saw last June when the regime interfered with the foreign exchange market that we have yet to recover from.  One the even of the start of the groundnut buying season, Yaya Jammeh fired the Agribusiness Services and Producers Association (ASPA) and walked away from the terms of the MOU between government and ASPA, effectively banning private buyers from participating in the buying of groundnuts.  He also gave monopoly power to GGC, a bankrupt entity.  The result of which we are beginning to see emerge from the rubble of the 2013/14 trade season.  When I ask a North Bank resident this morning about this year's trade season, he responded thus "Uncle, there is no trade season.  This is a failure."  When I responded my suggesting that perhaps if private buyers were allowed, as they were in the second half of  the 2012/13 season, things would have been better.  His response was "that's the issue" which led me to my Facebook commentary and this blog.  Late year GGC bought 30,000 tons.  This year, they will be lucky to match the figure, leaving the farmers poorer than they found them last years.

The recovery of the agriculture sector will not take place until (i) government interference in sub-sector stops (ii) GGC is liquidated in one form or another and (iii) agricultural research becomes a priority again (iv) a robust extension service is reintroduced (v) top-down  re-organization of the technical departments under the purview of the Ministry of Agriculture and Allied Ministries.

Government interference in the sector will remain as long as Jammeh remains on power.  So it is an issue we will grapple with for sometime to come.  But the issue of what to do with GGC should be in the uttermost minds of any successor government.  It is not premature to start thinking about what to do with it and how to effect a transition that will cause minimal disruption to the ground-nut sub-sector.  Returning the GGC in private hands is a necessary prerequisite to a return to normalcy in the sub-sector.

Of course, there are various forms of privatization but given the history of the evolutionary transformation that led to the GGC, it would be worthwhile to consider offering ALIMENTA its former assets for the price of D1 (one dalasi) with the rest of the terms to be negotiated on a long-term basis.  The Gambia needs the guaranteed markets that an association with a world class company like ALIMENTA can bring to the table. It was a grave mistake committed by a bunch of power-hungry and corrupt individuals that has costed the Gambia US$11 million in compensation to the company, and it has limited our access to a market that we once had access to through ALIMENTA.  The company will not entertain any proposals from the Jammeh regime for obvious reasons, but a successor government may stand a better chance to, at least, being listened to.

Offering GGC for one dalasi is, at least, one option among many, that deserves serious consideration.   The present arrangement under Jammeh is untenable and must be changed to respond adequately to the needs of the farming communities across rural Gambia.    

Saturday, April 12, 2014

A morally repugnant scheme

The joint announcement by Yaya Jammeh, billed as the founder of the APRC and the political bureau was plastered across the Daily Observer and national television informing the general public that "fundraising accounts... have been opened at the Guaranty Trust Bank" for the purposes of soliciting contribution for Yaya Jammeh and his coup plotters to celebrate 20th Anniversary of their constitutionally illegal act of staging a coup against the government of Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara.  A more appropriate fund-raiser would have been to buy new ferries for a ferry-less country whose capital sits on an island;  but that's for another blog.

To kick off the fund-raising drive, the announcement claimed that Jammeh was personally donating the superstition-driven sum of D222,000, and thus arguing all those "who have benefited one way or the other from the 20 years of the July 22nd Revolution" to contribute. "No amount is too small" concludes the plea from the supposed president of the Republic who led the illegal coup and its only surviving member.  The rest have been killed, imprisoned or exiled.

There's something degrading about the idea of a 'president' going around, unashamedly, soliciting funds from an economically-deprived population that live on $1-a-day, in one of the poorest countries on earth.  If the funds were to be used to help alleviate the hunger and suffering of the many Gambians who are presently going to bed hungry, the solicitation might have been excused.  But to mount this massive campaign, using state resources, like GRTS, the national radio and television network, for the sole purpose of extracting cash from an unsuspecting and highly taxed population is unconscionable.

Gambians are presently among the most taxed humans on earth.  Women selling 'akara' and 'mono' on street corners have been driven from their road-side open air stalls into their living rooms, and the more frightened, into their bedrooms, to escape the revenue agents and rate collectors.  These women are being asked to pay D1,000 as tax and/or rates to the state and city when their total annual earnings is probably less than D2,000.  These are the very same people that Yaya Jammeh is soliciting cash from to celebrate the hardship he's brought on them - the women of Gambia, who are among the hardest-working people anywhere.

The APRC party Congress has been postponed because of lack of financial resources.  Previous party functions have been financed exclusively by the party founder, Yaya Jammeh.  That was then.  This is now. Faced with depleted personal bank accounts, Jammeh has resorted to bizarre and repulsive schemes to finance his "extravagant life-style", a phrase that stuck with me for 20 years.  Even this usually friendly business community has run out of patience for someone who's always devising money-making schemes to extract cash from a weary populace.  Business response to an earlier fund-raising effort to fund the Congress has been disappointingly low.  Donor-fatigue has hit the business community too.

If celebrating the 20th anniversary of the illegal coup d'etat that brought Jammeh to power, and with it the corruption, death and destruction that accompanied it, it should be worth his while to either foot the bill himself or ask the state to provide a line item budget, properly reflected in the Estimates.  He knows he cannot do this, coming right at the heels of two successive and devastating IMF reports on the finances of The Gambia, so he devised this very repugnant and shameless scheme to raise money for what is purely a partisan affair.  If referendum were held today on whether the anniversary will take place, it will fail miserably because the majority of Gambians are tired of APRC 'celebrations' and 'festivals' and would like to see their government concentrate on making their lives better by addressing the urgent challenges facing the economy.

Given the deteriorating conditions of the economy, it is, therefore, morally repugnant to be asking for money from the very victims of the most corrupt, repressive and inept regime the Gambia has even had.  No true Gambia should contribute a dime to this fund, and the sooner we get rid of these criminals, the better.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

April 10 - 11 victims remembered

Abdoukarim Jammeh was shot in the left leg
The promise we made about presenting a photo editorial to commemorate the April 10 -11 2000 killing of at least 14 school children and the maiming of countless more kids could not be fulfilled due to poor response.

However, we are presenting here a short note of remembrance of our fallen heroes who faced death in defense of their basic fundamental right to petition their government.

April 10 - 11 are days that will live in infamy when the lives of 14 unarmed school children were snuffed out, and numerous others of their colleagues maimed for life.

It is as certain as the eastern sun that these kids would have been alive if there was no Yaya Jammeh, Isatou Njie-Saidy, Ousman Badgie and Baboucar Jatta.  These people are responsible for the ensuing death and mayhem when AK-47 wielding security agents of the state disguising as soldiers charged into a crowd of petrified school children whose crime was to petition their government.  Their grievances were purely and simply to ask their government to investigate the killing of one, and the alleged raping of another, of their colleagues.

Isatou Njie-Saidy standing in for Jammeh who was on a visit to Cuba was in charge on those fateful days, immediately and without the benefit of an iota of evidentiary proof, claimed that the security forces were responding to fire with fire, when she claimed, the first shots came from a bunch of 13-year olds or younger.  In short, this woman blamed the kids for their own deaths and maiming.  Obviously, that was a lie - a lie she will have to live with for the remainder of her life.

As for Yaya Jammeh, Ousman Badgie and Baboucar Jatta,  they will have to answer, someday, to these and other crimes.  Laws will be passed to de-indemnify all members of the security forces implicated in these heinous acts against defenseless children.  

The kids were crying "we want justice, we want peace."  The Jammeh regime has refused to grant them neither justice nor peace.  A successor government will, and that's a promise.  May their souls continue to rest in peace and those maimed and neglected by a corrupt and incompetent government, we hope a successor government will try to redress the situation where the APRC regimes has failed you.