Saturday, November 29, 2014

A dictatorship on a death spiral

 Former Gambian Ambassador to Taiwan caught unawares
Last November, the world was greeted with the surprising news that The Gambia had severed diplomatic relations with Taiwan, one of its most benevolent diplomatic partner.  No one saw this coming, not the Taiwanese Ambassador in Banjul nor his Gambian counterpart in Taipei who was not informed of his government's decision until he landed in Banjul.

The Gambian dictator who prides himself as the most unpredictable leader in Africa, if not the world, obviously did think that his decision the previous month to withdraw, for no apparent reason or warning, Gambia's membership in the Commonwealth was of the attention grabber he had wished before delivering the suckerpunch to Taipei with consequential effect.

The national budget or -  more appropriately - the dictator's personal finances was the first casualty of the diplomatic rupture as a result of Taiwan's decision to refuse Yaya Jammeh's personal request of $ 10 million in walking around money with the condition that it should be receipted or documented.  The demand was made in January 2013. Taiwan refused the demand almost immediately.  Allowing time, presumably for Taipei to reconsider its decision, and when it didn't arrive, Jammeh lowered the boom in November.

Because Taiwan's development aid was treated mostly off-budget or below-the-line, it is difficult to estimate its size from official returns, an arrangement that suited the Gambian dictator well but was highly injurious to the Gambians it was supposed to help.  The loss of Taiwan financial assistance became immediately evidenced by increasing requests for supplementary budget.  Living within Gambia's budgetary means became more evident and proved to be an insurmountable huddle in the absence of the Taiwanese aid.

Whereas the Taiwanese divorce impacted the budget directly and immediately, the impact of the Commonwealth withdrawal was less visible but equally impactful, especially in the areas of technical cooperation area under the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Cooperation (CFTC) that provides experts and offers training abroad for Gambians.  All of these programs eased immediately or phased over the training period of those caught up in the mess created by Yaya Jammeh.

Things simply went haywire from last November when in April this year Jammeh closed the border with Senegal after he unilaterally hiked the fares for the ferry crossings at all points of entry without the required notice in contravention of existing Agreements with Senegal.  Jammeh also demanded that the fares must be paid in foreign currency, this time in direct contravention of Gambia's own laws because the dalasi is legal tender.

The budget took another huge hit from this callous and illegal act only to have the borders opened, the fares returned to their original levels, and as a face saving device Senegal agreed on the payment in foreign exchange as an option.  An avoidable event that ended up being a costly exercise both financially and diplomatically.

The regime's problems are not all financial.  For a regime that seem to deliberately go out of its way to cause trouble with the view to generating controversy, it is not a surprise that it has found sources of controversial in radical islam and gay and lesbian bashing that threatens to divide Gambia in religious sectarian lines, using gays and lesbiams as convenient vehicles to advance their myopic political ends.

Within the last month along, the dictatorial regime in Banjul has managed to deny a United Nations Mission of two Rapporteurs access to the security wing of the notorious Mile II prisons as part of their investigations into torture and executions.  Last month, 62 countries gathered in Geneva and The Gambia was yet again the topic of discussion.  Representatives took to the floor at the United Nations Universal Periodic Review (UPR) where the Gambia was admonished and urged to promote and protect human rights.

This week, the government determined not to relent in the face of international pressure upped the ante by issuing what it terms a "declaration" through the Foreign Minister to inform the world and "making it clear to the European Union and any outside bloc that wants to impose acceptance of homosexuals as a precondition for aid that we will never accept that conditionality, no matter how much aid is involved."

The declaration which was issued in a nationally televised speech by the Foreign Minister continued with the warning that "as from today, we are no longer going to entertain any dialogue on the issue with the European Union or any other power for that matter."

When it rains, it pours.....