Thursday, October 30, 2014

Why go to jail for a dictator whose days are numbered?

Deputy Ambassador Mr. Y. Bojang---First Sect. Mr. Gaston Sambou
Deputy Ambassador, Yusupha Bojang and First Secretary, Gaston Sambou, both of the Gambia Embassy in the United Kingdom have been accused, together with six other Gambians at the Embassy, of fleecing British taxpayers of £5 million for buying huge quantities of duty free products.

Southwark Crown Court was told that some of the accused were ordering tobacco worth more than their annual salaries, over a three year period, all the time claiming it was for personal use.

The eight accused were ordering these products at a rate that the two duty-free suppliers were finding it difficult to keep up with the demand.  The court heard that the eight accused collectively ordered or were invoiced what amounted to over 32 tonnes of tobacco to their personal use despite evidence suggesting that none smoked.

The sheer volume of the transactions emanating from the small Embassy of The Gambia is signal to a larger problem facing Gambian diplomacy in general and the larger picture of the governance situation facing this slither of a country that has been under dictatorship since 1994.

The Gambian Missions abroad under Jammeh have been transformed into enclaves that advances his personal business interests instead of the traditional role of diplomatic missions.  In the United States, the Embassy is nothing more than a reception center to welcome and see off Gambia's First Lady who visits Washington twice monthly.  All of Jammeh American vehicles are procured by the Embassy staff.  All of the foodstuffs consumed by Jammeh and his Moroccan wife and two children come from Sam's Club or Costco in Washington DC.

The Gambian Embassy is evidently no different from what these Embassies have been reduced to.  All of the professional diplomats have been dismissed from the service, exiled or imprisoned by the dictatorship.  They have been replaced by Jammeh's relatives, the majority of whom are illiterates or semi-illiterates.  They are posted to Embassies around the world to service the dictator.

A £5 million illegal operation could not have been sustained for three years without backing from Banjul. And no business operation of this size, with that number of Gambians, all associated with the Embassy, without the  knowledge of the Gambian dictator.

Deputy Ambassador Bojang is a cousin to the Dictator's mother.  Prior to being elevated to second in command at the Embassy, he worked as a cinema ticket vendor in Bakau New Town, The Gambia before moving on to being a sales agent for Banjul Brewery.  His last known job was at Challeram's, a department store chain in the capital city and up-country.

Before leaving Challeram's, he collected all the sales receipts from outlets across the country.  The rural Rest House at Mansa Konko where he stayed went up in smoke and all the money he collected perished.  So he told the police.  The case was never investigated.  Few weeks after the episode, he ends up as Gambia's second highest ranking diplomat in the Court of St. James who can hardly write his name much less a complete sentence.  He was recalled briefly two years ago for reasons still unclear but was subsequently reinstated.

Gaston Sambou, the First Secretary is a high school product who ended up signing up for the notorious National Intelligence Agency (NIA) known simply by its acronym.  His main function at the Embassy was to keep tabs of the dissidents groups resident in the United Kingdom and to report on them.

The Gambian Ambassador Mrs. Ya Eli Harding is expected to be the prosecution witness whose testimony will be crucial to the state's case against the eight defendants.  It is unclear at this point whether authority has been granted by the Gambian dictator for the Ambassador to testify.

We have suggested to the former Deputy Ambassador to cooperate with the UK authorities provided that it is not too late in the day.  For these Gambians to take the bullet for Yaya Jammeh with the likelihood of spending many years in jail and then face deportation after serving their respective sentences is not worth it.