Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Some random thoughts on the state of the Gambian opposition

Omar Jallow (OJ) Interim Leader of PPP
"We have a long way to go when one cannot point out the fact that the other (political) parties should have been present" reads an entry in reaction to our Facebook post following last Saturday's Progressive People's Party's (PPP) Brikama political rally that the opposition parties failed to attend.  The non-attendance of the other parties was the essence of our post.

The rally was to commemorate Gambia's 50th Independence Anniversary and a run up to the PPP Party Congress scheduled for later in the year.

Following the successful conclusion of the rally, we noted in our Facebook page that not a single one of the opposition parties invited to grace the occasion attended. The excuses of non-attendance ranged from the ridiculous to the preposterous which caused us to ask, since when did the 18th February 1965, Gambia's National Day, become a party political affair which is how one of the non-attendees described the rally.

Even if commemorating Gambia's National Day by the PPP was a partisan affair, and formal invitations were extended to other opposition parties to attend, we fail to see the rationality in refusing to attend by using lame excuses.    

The Day has always been a national affair.  Just like every thing else in The Gambia these day, 18th February has been politicized by Jammeh and religated to the back burner in favor of 22nd July, 1994 to commemorate his illegal seizure of power from the Father of the Nation, Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara.  This is a historic fact that no attempt at  historic revisionism can or will change.  It is a day that should be celebrated by everyone and beyond partisan politics.  Anything short of that benefits Yaya Jammeh.

The exchange on Facebook reveals several obstacles along the way that must be addressed by the opposition if the goal of a unified opposition is to be achieved.  As we said in our Facebook post, the propensity to instinctively point fingers at the person rather than the substance, or lack thereof, of the argument still continues to pose challenges to the opposition parties and their supporters.

If the exchanges resulting from our Facebook post are anything to go by, party affiliation is still very strong, even from those professing to be in support of a unified opposition.  Thus partisanship poses a real threat to a unified opposition.

It must be said all is not doom and gloom despite the potential pitfalls and other obstacles on the way. The diaspora is still disposed, in our view, to engaging the opposition parties on the ground but with a caveat. And that is, the diaspora doesn't seem to have the stomach for business-as-usual, and more openness from the opposition parties during the negotiation process is expected and will be demanded.

Monday, March 30, 2015

We support the students' demands; Basic and Secondary Education Minister should be dismissed

Sidi Sanneh 
For a very long time, the regime of Yaya Jammeh has ignored the real problems facing the University of the Gambia that are vital to the institution's viability and relevance.  The regime preferred instead to focus its attention on what appears to be an assembly line approach to graduating as many students as the young institution can handle with little regard for quality as suggested by the current grading system.

While we agree that the system needs calibration to bring it up to, and in line with international standards, as claimed by the out-going Vice Chancellor, putting a new one into effect immediately and across the board will cause confusion in interpreting students' grade.  Grandfathering all students currently enrolled  to the old grading system and applying the new system to future intakes makes more sense at little or no financial cost.   This is the easy part.

The challenge facing the government is delivering on its promises to students i.e. reducing tuition costs or (a more realistic short-term goal) holding them down which means maintaining a level of subvention or subsidy, if you will.

A quick look at the Program for Accelerated Growth and Employment 2012 - 2015 (PAGE) policy document does not seem to substantiate students' claim that it has as a target the reduction in tuition. The document does admit, however, the heavy burden of household budget on education.  For example, in 2010, Gambian families spent over $ 700 million or 2.5% of GDP of household income on education; a figure higher that 18 African countries that maintain similar data.

Because the majority of students are from poor family background, some level of subsidy is morally justified. The question becomes - for how long? The simple answer is - not for long especially if the economy continues to be mismanaged and corruption remains rampant from the top to bottom. Affordability becomes then a real issue.

We have said in the past that the current rate of student intake is unsustainable which has contributed to current problems the students themselves are facing that range from poor library resources, recruitment and retention of qualified faculty to student transport to ferry them from campus to campus.

The regime has used the university as a propaganda tool for long at the expense of addressing the less sexy but equally important expenditure items that is not readily visible.  Even the 'brick and mortar' projects, like educational infrastructure that carries high propaganda value because of its visibility is 86% externally funded.  One wouldn't know this simply by listening to Yaya Jammeh disparage the British colonialists, the American imperialists and European Union's aid that amounts to nothing but "chicken change" in exchange for the freedom and sovereignty of Gambia.

Jammeh frequently assures students that it would be "over his dead body" that he'll use Western aid only to be subjugated to them.  He will never kowtow to Britain, U.S. and the EU, never.  Yet almost 90% of all educational infrastructure stock was built using external donor funds; funds that do come with conditions attached.

The problems facing the students are real and must be addressed.  These include, but certainly not limited to, the following: tuition costs, the grading system, educational/teaching/learning resources including library facilities, student transport to bus them to and from classes and between campuses, student intake; the list goes on.

All of the above have been recognized and acknowledged in PAGE as issues that the government must address between 2012 and 2015 if quality of education is to improve and the mismatch between output at UTG and the requirements of the economy resolved.  We are in 2015 and the problems have increased instead of being mitigated signalling failure of the regime to address issues that it identified in its own policy document but failed to implement accordingly.

Government cannot successfully address these problems while increasing student intakes and reducing recurrent expenditure to tertiary education which is exactly what Jammeh has been doing for nearly a decade, and thus the failure to meet the basic minimum of student expectations.

Quality is an issue of great concern across the education sector.  One of the biggest contributors to the quality issue and the most ineffectual cabinet ministers is the current Minister of Basic and Secondary Education.  Apart from maintaining her services for a decade, 29% of grade 5 students score the minimum grade in English and 22% in Math at the National Assessment Test.  At the senior secondary school level, the students continue to perform poorly with only 7% scored a pass mark in Math and 13% in English.  The Minister of Basic and Secondary Education has, for a decade, overseen the precipitous decline in educational standards and she still maintains her post. She should also be fired.

Now is the time to start addressing the pressing issues facing the students by first shifting resources from the Office of the President to the Ministries of Education and Agriculture.   In 2014, 10% of the entire budget of the government went to the President's Office - a figure hard to justify when Education's share was approximately 13% and Agriculture was less than the 10% goal set by the African Union's Maputo Declaration for Member States and to which Jammeh signed off on.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

"When your president sells bread and meat, it's time to get a new president", says PPP's Omar Jallow

PPP Brikama Rally with man in Sir Dawda shirt 

The political rally organized by the Progressive People's Party (PPP) today at Brikama, in the West Coast Region of The Gambia was very well attended and an absolute success. says Omar Jallow, the Interim Leader of the PPP.

In addressing the crowd, Omar Jallow compared the economy and the governance environment under Sir Dawda Jawara and under the 20-year dictatorship to highlight the stark difference.

OJ cite the case of the two ferries "Jokadu" and "Kansala" which were reported to have costed the regime D 200,000,000 that are still moored at the Banjul port facilities.  These vessels have never seen service.  The PPP Interim Leader challenge Jammeh to tell Gambians what happened to the money.  "It is a shame" OJ said, "that the Jammeh regime cannot provide a simple as service as a regular ferry service which the PPP government was about to do without missing a single day of service over a 30 year period."

The former Agriculture and Fisheries and the Environment turned it attention on the high level of unemployment under the dictatorship, coupled with the abuse of human rights of Gambians that has led the young to vote with their feet by taking the dangerous "Back Way" to Europe via Libya and across the Mediterranean.  Omar Jammeh said he is more sympathetic to the plight of the young than being upset.  Thus he understands the reason they had to look for greener pastures so that they can take care of their families at home.  The Jammeh regime has failed the young, says Omar Jallow, by its inability to create jobs.  Instead, Gambia is losing jobs to Senegal and neighboring countries.

He challenged Yaya Jammeh to account for his personal wealth he accumulated within a span of twenty years since he accused  members of the PPP government of corruption which he used to justify the coup d'etat of 1994.   He demanded that Jammeh explains his two Rolls Royce sedans, one of each cost $ 500,000.  At this point he turned to the crowd to say to the security agents, who were suspected to be around, as if addressing them directly when he said "Yes, I said it.  Go and tell Yaya Jammeh that I said it."

Omar Jallow criticized Jammeh for degrading the army by turning soldiers into his personal herdsmen. It is common sight to see soldiers herding Jammeh's cattle in the Kombos.  At some point in his speech, he quipped "when your president sells bread and meat, it is time to get a new president."

On the human rights front, Omar Jallow urge Jammeh to stop the abuse of the human rights of Gambians.  He site the example of Mambury Njie who, after being freed by a court of law, was rearrested and held in remand without charge.  He ended up being sick and was hospitalized with police guarding him at the hospital.

What looked like intimidation tactic employed by NIA agents present at the rally, they appeared to be taking down names of those in the crowd they suspected of being government employees.  What they will do with the names is anyone's guess.   The impressive size of the crowd may have contributed to the nervousness displayed by the security agents who were probably not expecting that many people to brave the threats that Jammeh usually employ against his opponents.  Well, it didn't work today.

Friday, March 27, 2015

UTG must restructure and reorient or perish

Vice Chancellor Jammeh of UTG
The recent spat of demonstrations and threats of sit-down strikes by students of the University of The Gambia (UTG) appear to have costed the Vice Chancellor his job even before the students' grievances are investigated by the authorities.

According to newspaper reports, students are unhappy about the introduction of a new grading system where to get an "A" a student must score 90% and above.  Currently, 80% represents an "A" grade.

Students also seem unhappy about across-the- board application of the new grading system.  They'd like, instead, to be exempt from it or be grandfathered in the old system.  As it relates to the 10% increase in tuition, Professor Kah justified the increase by pointing out that this is the first increase in over a decade of the university's existence.

The Vice Chancellor, Professor Muhammed Kah, in response to students demands said he was not prepared to negotiate the integrity of the University and that the introduction of the new grading system is an attempt at bringing UTG in line with world class norms.  While Chancellor Kah has a point in trying to realign the current grading system to higher standards, the students concerns about the implementation must distinguish those currently enrolled who should be exempt from the new system, and incoming freshmen.

Tuition costs which are central to the grievances of students as they are in the debate about the sustainability of the UTG, as currently constituted, and its viability and relevance.  Students must understand that up to this point, their fees were being subsidized by directly or indirectly by Gambian taxpayers.  The economy has reached a strategic inflection point that demands reorientation and the reordering of our public finances which are in shamble, thanks to an incompetent and fiscally indiscipline regime.   It is also a regime that lacks vision thus making the task at hand near impossible for Jammeh to resolve.

We must realize the hard fact that once an institution of learning is politicized, it becomes irrelevant as far as common national interests are concerned, as it caters exclusively to the political desires and machinations of a dictatorship whose primary objective is to perpetuate itself in power.

Education costs are central because most, if not all of the students are from poor backgrounds and thus without government subvention they will not be able to attend.  Government, on the other hand, is so mismanaged that it has become bankrupt and thus can no longer afford to keep some of the unrealistic promises it made to students.  The economy has stopped generating new jobs and has been losing them to Senegal and the rest of the region instead because of bad economic policies.  It follows, therefore, graduates being churned out yearly cannot find employment.

And as a result of the heavy handedness and constant interference by government, the university administration and faculty are not free to plan in order to cater for the needs of the economy.  We raised similar concerns a year ago when we asked whether UTG was not a ticking time bomb, ready to go off, not necessarily in the physical sense but in the mismatch between what it is producing and what the economy needs, in terms of trained personnel in the next decade or two.   This regime despises planning which it regards as a waste of time and resources.

The priority of the regime is the security of the dictatorship as it is evident across Gambian society, and the university is no exception.  It is common knowledge that UTG campuses are infested with security agents who spy on students activities and on what professors teach.  Subjects are banned from the curriculum willy nilly and so are certain book titles.

The university has become a re-education camp for the future recruits of a regime that has no regard for academic freedom and/or the right to free speech and association.  A UTG lecturer  was recently arrested, released and quickly rearrested and presently in the remand wing of the notorious Mile II Prisons awaiting trial.  His crime was to have been part of a team of academicians from Ghana who were conducting a survey relating to human rights.

Because the university is seen by the regime as its own creation - a false perception - it has become the exclusive domain of the APRC (the ruling party) at the expense of academic freedom.  Extending the party's sphere of influence into and beyond the university is party policy where divergent views and independent thought are punished by expulsion and/or imprisonment.

As for the actual protests, instead of opening an investigation into the students' claims and grievances by an independent body with a view to understanding the issues that could lead to remedial or mitigating measures, the regime fired not only the Chancellor but his wife too who is Head of the Management Development Institute which is part of the University.  Her role, if any, in what has resulted in the current stalemate is unclear, apart from being the spouse of the Chancellor who appears to have ran afoul of the dictatorship.  Presumably, it is an occupational hazard that civil servants have learned to live with.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Opposition Interim Leader confirms P.P.P. rally in Brikama on Saturday

Opposition Parties at Brikama Rally 
Omar A. Jallow, former Minister of Water Resources and also Agriculture in the PPP government who is affectionately known by his initials, O.J., confirms to us by phone that a mass rally of the Progressive People's Party (PPP) will be held in Brikama on Saturday, 28th March.

The rally is part of the former ruling party's program of activities in commemoration of Gambia's 50th Independence Anniversary.

The PPP prides itself as the 'Party of Independence' and thus incumbent on it not only to mark the day with a political rally but also to parade its pre- and post-Independence records in all spheres of Gambian life.  The party militants expected to take part in the rally will try to debunk what they see as distortions of their party's 30-year record of managing the affairs of State.

According to O.J., the application for the permit to hold the rally was submitted on the 8th March. However, it was not until the 23rd March when approval was finally given but not before the Interim Leader of the PPP led a delegation to Inspector General of Police to inquire about the delay in issuing approval.

All of the opposition parties have been invited to attend the rally which, according to the Interim Leader of the PPP, is a gesture of goodwill, on the part of his party, to extend the arm of friendship in the spirit of a United Opposition.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Gambia is an unreliable strategic partner of U.S.

The Gambian dictator 
The BusinessInsider.com article on the recent charges brought by the United States government against Banka Manneh and others raised some issues which, in our view, are central to understanding what is against the Gambian dissidents resident in the United States, going forward.

The issues confronting them have more to do with what drives U.S. foreign policy than who drives it, even though we are quick to blame president Obama.

The main drivers of U.S. foreign policy are its strategic security, economic and political interests which pose a dilemma for the Obama administration following events of 30 December 2014.  And as Business Insider puts it "...failing to prosecute the plotters would convey a sense that the U.S. considers Jammeh's regime to be something less than sovereign government and communicate a weak US's commitment to the regional state system."

On the other hand, this sliver of a country that is buried in the bosom of Senegal, only twice the size of the State of Delaware with no proven natural resources "to warrant any special attention from American diplomacy" as described in the Business Insider article.

National sovereignty may have been a powerful argument against a more aggressive foreign policy   to give the semblance of international political order.  However, recent developments - the Arab Spring and the Middle East come to mind - seemed to have weaken it significantly, further buttress what most believe i.e. that pure nationalistic interests still drive the the US foreign policy train.

Therefore, and to some extent, it is reasonable to fault the current administration for refusing to sanction some members of the Jammeh security detail who physically assaulted at least three members of a group of Gambian dissidents during the U.S - Africa Summit held in Washington last year.

It must be noted that a similar fracas was recorded on video tape involving the DRC delegation of president Kabila when a man, presumed to be part of the presidential security detail, punched and kicked a Congolese protester.  As far as we can tell, no sanction, legal or otherwise, was applied in that case either.

The message from these two incidences seemed to be that African dictators can come to the United States, beat up on their opponents and return home, scot free.  And in the case of Yaya Jammeh, he returned home with t-shirts of him shaking hands with president Obama as prove of US endorsement of his brutally repressive policies.

This is not a very encouraging message to send to those who uphold the principles of democracy and the rule of law and want to restore democracy in a country that was one of the freest countries in Africa in its first 30 years of Independence from Britain.

While the Gambia may not have the natural resources, its strategic position has grown in importance with the proliferation of terror groups in the West Africa region following the fall of Mouamar Qaddafi, including, of late, the rise of "Boko Haram" that has now pledge its allegiance to ISIS.

Mali still poses a regional security challenge to both ECOWAS, Western Europe and the United States with serious implications to the latter's counter-terrorism program that requires reliable partners that Jammeh is unable to provide as Gambia becomes increasingly a hub for the trafficking in light arms, drug trade and human trafficking.

The seizure of two tons of cocaine in The Gambia in 2010 that was destined for Europe with an estimated street value of $ 1 billion should serve as a reminder that the international drug cartel has made significant headway in West Africa.  There are reports that huge quantities of cocaine in containers shipped from South America were uncovered at the Banjul port suggesting that The Gambia is fast replacing Guinea-Bissau as the drug gateway to Europe.

We must also remember that Jose Americo Bubo Na Tchuto, the former Guinea-Bissau Navy Chief, and drug kingpin of West Africa was arrested off the Atlantic Coast on drug trafficking charges.  He quickly pleaded guilty last May in a New York court. The court transcripts were immediately sealed without explanation.  Thus the charges he pleaded to remained unknown and so are the terms of the plea bargain.

The personal friendship between Bubo Na Tchuto and Yaya Jammeh is well known. In fact, the former was harbored by Jammeh for about a year prior to the former Navy Chief's arrest that led to the plea deal he entered into with US authorities.

All of this to say that The Gambia plays a strategic importance that is easily lost because of its small size and the lack of mineral and/or natural resources.  The recent refusal of The Gambia to ratify the US - Gambia Maritime Security Agreement which led the regime to refer the United States as "satanic" and the frequent anti-American rhetoric reflect the hostility of the Jammeh-led regime towards America's regional interests.

The record of the Jammeh regime, especially in the last decade, has been one that lacks reliability and dependability needed to be mutually beneficial to both parties.

We, therefore, strongly encourage the Obama Administration to reassess its policy towards The Gambia, particularly as it relates to governance, human rights, terrorism, drug, small arms and human trafficking.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Standard newspaper knowingly reports falsehoods in shooting death of Ya Binta Jarju case - UPDATED

The verbatim reporting of the statement purportedly given by Sulayman Bah, who was identified by Standard as a civil servant and boyfriend to Ya Binta Jarju, appears to be a coordinated effort by the regime, to ensure that there are no variances in what was being reported about the circumstances leading to the death of a young and promising young woman.

All newspaper accounts of the case were largely based on Mr. Sulayman Bah's statement which, sources within the security services tell us, was coerced and made under duress.  Therefore, to even report on it without independently verifying its content is irresponsible journalism.  It is inexcusable also of, Gambian journalists who know that the regime routinely extract cautionary statements from victims and witnesses alike by torture or the threat of torture.

The Point newspaper shares blame in quoting extensively from a cautionary statement that contains distortions and falsehoods, probably coerced from the witness, in this case Mr. Sulayman Bah.  As for The Daily Observer, it is expected to blemish everything, as long as it favors the regime since the papaer is owned by none other than the Gambian dictator.

Let us make one thing clear; no warning shots were fired contrary to what the Police PRO made in his initial statement and contained in Mr. Bah's statement - a statement that is most likely than not made under threat of torture or actual torture.

Another point we want to make very clear is that no warning shots were fired.  The security forces started shooting the moment the taxi driver made that fateful u-turn into the dark narrow street with the security still in pursuit.  All the shots were made while the taxi was in front of the marauding and highly nervous troops following the events of 30 December 2014 when the State House came under attack from a group of Gambians residing abroad. .

The reporting of the murder of Ya Binta Jarju is abysmal at best.  We take particular exception to Standard's reporting of the case because its proprietor is Sheriff Bojang who also happens to be the regime's Minister of Information and Communication Infrastructure thus stretching journalistic principles and ethic beyond the breaking point.

In less than a week since the incident, the taxi driver has been dragged into court, found guilty already of two of the four counts : failure to stop, disobedience to lawful order, rash or negligent act resulting in death and unlicensed driving.  We wonder he was not charged with driving without a seat belt which was the main reason why the driver was fleeing from the armed security in the first place. Why is the regime rushing this particular case when there are countless cases that have been languishing in the court system for years without being disposed of in court.

Rushing this particular case is against the public interest, and advancing it by Standard owned by a member of cabinet represents a conflict of interest that should not be tolerated.  You stay as owner and proprietor of Standard or remain in Jammeh's cabinet and sell your interest in the paper because putting it in blind trust will not resolve the problem.  

Updated: Added paragraph 7.    

Friday, March 20, 2015

We remember November 11 all too well

An unusual public announcement was published in today's newspapers informing the Gambian public that the regime will be conducting military exercises on the 20th and 21st March 2015.

The announcement said the exercises will take place in the vicinity of the Bakau Barracks, the same scene that on November 11th 1994, dozens of military personnel were slaughtered by members of the Provisional (Military) Council under the pretext that there was coup d'etat in the making.  Those responsible for the slaughter of men like Dot Faal and others are still moving freely among us.

The strange announcement advised the public not to panic as guns will be fired.  In their awkward way of reassuring the general public, they revealed that they will be shooting blanks, forgetting the same out-of-control army informed Gambians, the next morning, that all they were doing on was quelling a coup d'etat at the same Bakau Barracks.

Military exercises the world over are not held in densely populated urban areas like Bakau but in isolated and properly secured areas.  These military exercises are therefore a sinister move to continue to instill fear in the general population.

It is also possible that these exercises are being used as screens to engage in extra-judicial executions of soldiers accused of involving in the 30 December events that saw the State House attacked led by diaspora Gambians resident in the United States, United Kingdom and Germany.

We will be monitoring the situation.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The man who could cure AIDS admits quackery

AIDS curer Yaya Jammeh  
The Gambian dictator, Yaya Jammeh, has asked his National Assembly to pass the National AIDS Council and Secretariat Bill 2015.

The unanimous vote in the National Assembly is the final act of admission that the medical quackery practiced by Jammeh as the curer of HIV/AIDS that brought international rebuke that attracted butt of jokes was nothing but a deceptive ploy.

Unfortunately, the claim that the dictator cures HIV/AIDS came with devastating consequences.  It costed a United Nations Development Program Resident Representative her posting in The Gambia when she questioned the spurious claim not supported by science.  The UNDP Res. Rep. was immediately declared persona non grata.

Prior to his claim to fame as someone who cures HIV/AIDS, the disease was under control, including his native area of Foni.  However, following his claim about a decade ago, when patients were yanked out of regular treatment in favor of Jammeh's quack treatment that led to numerous remissions and ultimate deaths.  His treatments were nationally televised with his prayer beads, splashing his concoctions on AIDS patients in his $ 700 (D 32,000) Gucci slippers.

By passing the National AIDS Council and Secretariat Bill which the Gambian dictator will sign into law, he is admitting that his claim that he can cure the disease was false.  He, therefore, owes The Gambia an apology for bringing the Office of the Presidency into disrepute by engaging in medical quackery that in the butt of jokes around the world.  What a shame.      

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Gambia's Majority Leader justifies ballooning debt

Majority Leader, Fabakary Tombong Jatta
Fabakary Tombong Jatta, Majority Leader of the APRC ruling party in the Gambia's National Assembly said in a newspaper interview that he sees nothing wrong with the country's ballooning public debt.

The country's domestic debt at end December 2014 stands at D 18.7 billion, representing a whopping 38% increase from just 12 months previously.

Fiscal imprudence is what distinguishes the regime of Yaya Jammeh from the Jawara administration they replaced in a coup d'etat, prompting the IMF to step in to negotiate to institute a Staff Monitored Program to be followed  by a bail-out loan.  The recent firing of Finance Minister Touray may have been attributed, in part, to the irresponsible spending habits of a regime that it out of its depths.  The problem is not the Finance Minister.  The problem is Yaya Jammeh and minions like Fabakary Tombong Jatta, Seedy Njie and Yankuba Colley of KMC.

The Assembly Leader defended the rising debt stock by citing other African countries, without naming them, that, he claimed, are faced with similar predicament.  He went to the extent of suggesting that Western nations also have similar public debt problems.

To justify imprudent spending by Fabakary Tombing Jatta is the height of irresponsibility from the Majority Leader of the Assembly who should take blame in approving Supplementary Appropriations requests, year in, year out, by a rubber stamp Assembly.

Faced with increasing public outcry over the irresponsible spending habits of the Jammeh regime, the parliamentary leader, and other APRC party stalwarts, are now forced to respond to a situation that is unsustainable and thus threatens the Gambian economy.

The parliamentary leader had to resort to blaming Sir Dawda Jawara's PPP administration that Jammeh ousted from power through a coup d'etat twenty years ago for the out-of-control spending. It is unfortunate that Mr. Jatta will resort to falsehood by accusing the PPP for the current economic malaise and a burgeoning debt burden that is threatening the livelihood of ordinary Gambians.

Most of the debts inherited by the A(F)PRC regimes from the PPP had been repaid or been written off as far back as 2000 under the heavily Indebted Poor Countries or HIPIC - an IMF-World Bank Program

In December 2000, the Gambia benefited a debt reduction from HIPC in an amount of $ 67 million.The debt relief was to help advance the regime's poverty reduction program and to stimulate economic growth.  The debt reduction will translate into debt service relief over time of $ 91 million.

The Jammeh regime failed to reduce poverty and also failed in its attempt to stimulate economic growth thus wasting valuable resources in the form of debt relief to stem the tide.  It is important to note that the current accumulated external debts in question have been under the watch of the Jammeh regime.

The domestic debt burden under Sir Dawda Jawara was negligible after the successful implementation of the ERP in 1986.  Between 1986 and 1994 when Jammeh seized power, both external and domestic debt were manageable and sustainable.

The statement by the Majority Leader justifying irresponsible spending habit of regime is ill-informed and a display of ignorance of public finance which is breathtakingly embarrassing.  No wonder the public finances of The Gambia are in such a mess.  And as long as these characters stay in power, matters will only get worse.

Monday, March 16, 2015

GAMBIA : 20 years is enough

Sidi Sanneh 
20 years of brutal dictatorship is enough.  We said so in our blog post published on 7th December 2013, re-issued on the 18th January 2015. We have repeated the call numerous times since.

We have the cause to repeat our call, once more, for Jammeh to step down at the end of his term.

We are prompted to reiterate our call, following the release of the United Nations Special Rapporteur's Report on torture, cruel and other inhumane treatment of Gambians, the latest of many reports by Amnesty International and the Robert F. Kennedy center for Justice and Human Rights, for Jammeh to step down at the end of his current term.

All of these reports share one common thread :  a systemic abuse of human rights that is growing worse instead of getting better, and with the events of 30 December 2013, the UN Report suggest that the regime in Banjul will grow more repressive to maintain control.

It is not only the human rights of Gambians that raises concern among the international community. The management of the economy has been a prime source of concern of the donor community which the European Development Fund has linked to its disbursement of future development assistance with its 17-point demands.

The economic decline has been extricable linked to the high level corruption that has become endemic, driving investors into the hands of friendlier business/private sector environments in the neighborhoods of Senegal, Guinea-Bissau, Mali and Guinea.  The business and private sector advantages built over the first thirty years of independence have been squandered by the current regime through corruption and ineptitude.

Yaya Jammeh should be barred from taking part in the 2016 presidential elections because 20 years at the helm is enough.  He seized power because he felt Sir Dawda Jawara overstayed.  Jammeh has also overstayed his welcome and should leave so that a new political dispensation is constructed to start reconstructing a New Gambia.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Why Taiwan will not renew ties with Gambia

President Ma Ying-jeou with the Gambian dictator
Rumors are rife that the Gambia is considering sending a delegation to Taiwan soon to discuss with the Ma Ying-jeou-led government about the possibility of re-establishment diplomatic ties.

Gambia abruptly and ungraciously severed ties with Taiwan on 15th November 2013 that took everyone, including Taipei, by complete surprise.

The decision to sever ties was the personal decision of Yaya Jammeh, the Gambian dictator, a fact that was not lost in the eyes of the Taiwanese Vice Foreign Minister who received the news with "shock and regret".  He also concluded that he thinks "it was Jammeh's personal decision".

Taipei's Ambassador to The Gambia was blindsided by Jammeh as well, and so was his Gambian counter-part in Taipei, making the separation very awkward at best.  Jammeh's own Foreign Minister was unaware and so were the Cabinet and the National Assembly.

It should not, therefore, come as a surprise that the Gambian people were also in the dark until it was announced on national television only to be told that the "decision was final and irreversible" and that it was all done in "line with Gambia's strategic interests."

The unceremonious manner Jammeh conducted himself seems to rule out the possibility of reestablishment of diplomatic relations.  The national pride of Taiwan was wounded by an ungrateful African leader who have personally benefited, in the relationship as much as, if not more than, the ordinary citizens of one of poorest countries in the world.  To President Ma Ying-jeou, it was a diplomatic slap in the face from one he thought was a friend.

Even if the Taiwanese president was to overlook the embarrassment he had to endure resulting from the breakup and a bruised national pride, it may not be in the national interest of Taiwan to even attempt to accommodate a dialogue with Jammeh with looming presidential elections in Taiwan in 2016, and all its implications.

Even if Ma Ying-jeou's party were to be returned to the presidency - a resurgent opposition is making it increasingly unlikely - resumption of diplomatic relations between Taipei and Banjul will not be under the same arrangements as previously, and Jammeh wouldn't like any arrangement that is rigid and transparent.

One of the biggest obstacles Jammeh faces and which his handlers failed to see along the road was the cross straits understanding between Taipei and Beijing that prohibits them from poaching each others diplomatic allies.  This understanding may have contributed to a significant degree to the lack of interest shown by Beijing which has led Jammeh to try to court Taipei.

The incident that may have started the downward spiral of the relationship was Jammeh's incessant demand for cash which Taipei tried to stop with the denial of "a huge sum" which some have put in the range of between $ 10 - $ 20 million.  When a senior official of the Foreign Ministry was quoted confirming that indeed the Gambian leader did make such a request and it was turned down, Jammeh went on national television threatening to expose high level corruption at the Taipei end of the relationship.

The Gambian leader came out of the breakup looking more like someone whose primary interest is himself and not the Gambian people. Greed and personal self-interest are what Taiwan finally saw in an idiosyncratic African leader, as he was aptly described by a senior Foreign Ministry official.   Jammeh came out of the breakup looking as a very unreliable diplomatic partner who is ready to stab his friends in the back when they least expect it.

The timing of any form of diplomatic rapprochement must take account of the presidential elections in Taiwan which may result in the ushering in of a new president. In fact, it is because of this likely scenario that China is ratcheting up the rhetoric in anticipation of making political, diplomatic and trade gains in subsequent cross strait talks with Taipei.

When we made inquiries about the rumor that Jammeh is planning to visit Taiwan to discuss with authorities the possibility of reestablishing diplomatic relationship, a highly placed source in Taiwan emailed us and we quote "I don't think either Taiwan or PRC (People's Republic of China) want to play diplomatic games with Yahya Jammeh anymore". unquote.

On the other hand, China is in no rush because it's presently in a lose-lose situation; the understanding that bars Beijing and Taipei from poaching each other's diplomatic partners is still operational and The Gambia has no known natural/mineral wealth in an significant amount that is worth the risk to China to breach the understanding.

The dust must settle first after the elections before Taiwan and China can see their way clear of their next move. What is certain is that the Taiwan gravy train that Jammeh had grown accustomed to riding in from 1995 - 2003 has been mothballed.  

Monday, March 9, 2015

Have we no moral conscience or sense of decency?

Sidi Sanneh 
To sit, watch and actively participate in the destruction of the Gambia through our active or passive support of Yaya Jammeh who came out of the blue to torment, torture, maim, rape, extra-judicially execute, exile, imprison and humiliate our sons, daughters, wives, husbands, uncles, aunts, grand-children while we stay mute, and pretend nothing ever happened.

There was an instance when the life of a father was attempted, and if not for the timely intervention of medical treatment in Senegal, another precious life of a Gambian would have been wasted by Yaya Jammeh's criminal gang.  What did Yaya Jammeh do?  He appointed the victim's daughter to the bench while the father was still in exile in America.

Eventually, the victim returned to Gambia to those who attempted to assassinate him.  These are personal tragedies with national proportions and, thus, must be discussed within that context, and also within the context of trying to understand Jammeh's tactics that he's used to stay in power. The world must know what Gambians are going through under the regime of Yaya Jammeh.  We cannot accomplish this goal if all of us stay mute.

It is only in The Gambia where a husband is killed by the notorious security henchmen of the regime only to find the wife hitching a ride the next day to Kanilai to engage in 'celebrations' and fraternizing with the very soldiers who killed her husband.  Gambia's social fabric is being destroyed by a regime that careless while we watch from the sidelines or help in the destruction.

Stories like these are horrid and numerous.  As a Gambian, I am embarrassed by them.  How did we get to be where we find ourselves?  How did we degenerate to this inhumane and unprincipled state of mind that a wife will report a husband to the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) in the name of a brutal dictator? These and many questions will engage psychologists, psychiatrists, behavioral scientists and other social scientists for generations to come.  What a degenerate life we have resigned ourselves to as a Nation?  Where is the moral decency in us?

Ebrima Barry, a schoolboy was forced into a sinister exercise that required him to load and off-load a truck-load of cement by a group of Fire Service personnel.  Young Ebrima collapsed and died of stress because his small skeletal frame could not bare the brunt of the abuse while we stayed silent.

Within the same time-frame, a thirteen-year old girl was raped by members of the same Jammeh security henchmen.  We stayed silent.  As a result of our irresponsible behavior as elders, fellow students had to take to the streets in civil disobedience to demonstrate against injustices meted out to the populace resulting in 14 students being mowed down.

In this one instance, Pa Dacosta, with Manu Kumba as master of ceremony spoke up while the rest of us stayed mute.  Eventually, Manu succumbed and was consumed by a vile regime that thrives on sectionalism.  Rape and murder have become a weapon of choice of the tyrannical regime in Banjul. We all know it but chose to stay silent.

On the eve of the unofficial release of the 'United Nations' Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment' which describes The Gambia's precarious security position as being at a "pivotal moment".  The Report of the United Nations Special Rapporteurs warned that, as a result of last 30 December events, Jammeh "seems poised to further suppress fundamental human rights and retreat into isolation The Gambia's neighbors, the region and international community."  

We have seen the proliferation of military check points and marauding "bulldozer death squads" tormenting civilians which has resulted in the assassination of Ya Binta Jarju, a Red Cross volunteer because she was a passenger in a taxi that, according to the polices, fail to stop at a military check point.  The official version of events contradicts witnesses versions - witnesses who will not come forward for fear of reprisals which is not surprising because report after report, ranging from Amnesty International to the Robert F. Kennedy's Center for Justice and Human Rights substantiates the fact that The Gambia is ruled through fear instilled on the population by the regime.

Community policing has failed precisely for fear of reprisal - a failure confirmed by the Rapporteurs' Report.  We have become the enemy and yet we continue to support a regime that has us under siege with military checkpoints every 500 meters, choking traffic and affect normal conduct of business.

It pains me to write this blog post because of we have failed the most vulnerable of the Gambian population in pursuit of our own selfish ends.  Perhaps when the NIA agents come knocking at our door in the dead of night, maybe we would have realized then that the strategy of keeping one's head down and to pretend that everything is hunky-dory is not such a wise idea after all.

Ya Binta Jarju laid to rest at Jeshwang cemetery amid heavy security presence

Ya Binta Jarju, the 27 year old cashier has been laid to rest at the Jeshwang Muslim Cemetery at 17:00 hrs GMT with heavy NIA presence according to a source.  According to the same source, no remorse was shown by members of the security forces present.

The scene at the cemetery was somber and serene with the Red Cross "escorting the body" of yet another victim of a heinous regime.  The family, friends and colleagues were obviously in shock as they grief.

Many couldn't understand the heavy-handedness of a military whose primary duty is to protect the territorial integrity of the country and not to terrorize the civilian population.

We have also come to learn today that in addition to the NIA presence, there were other military personnel in civilian clothes at the cemetery. This  lends support to our assertions in previous blog posts that relations between the various security agencies have been deteriorating since the 30 December events.  We also suggested then that things will never be the same again within the current scheme of things.  The assassination of Miss. Jarju has also revealed that the cleavage is wider than expected.

With  more facts emerging since the assassination of Miss. Jarju, it is becoming increasingly evident that division between the police and the marauding military "bulldozer patrols" has been deepening since the incident and it is expected to deepened further with time.

We now know that when a barrage of heavy machine gun was unleashed, Miss. Jarju's body was obliterated and left lying in a pool of blood for two hours inside the taxi.  No one was allowed near the taxi. We also know that a  heavy automatic rifle was use and not an AK-47" according to our source.

The same source said that "most of those in the military patrol were wearing head masks like the ISIS guys, just their face and mouth were showing. These guys are so scary at night, believe me."  It is description like these that we say that The Gambia is under siege.

However scary these murderers looked, those who witness the incident were hauling verbal insults at them not knowing who are behind those masks.  They may not have even understood the language because they could be foreign mercenaries for all we know. Regardless of who's behind the masks. Gambians have had enough of these criminals pretending to be soldiers determined to destabilize The Gambia.

Given the precarious nature of the circumstance, sensitive information is being withheld to protect our sources and also not to provide valuable information to the enemy of the Gambian people.

May Ya Binta Jarju's soul in peace.


Sunday, March 8, 2015

Who assassinated Ya Binta Jarju : The military or the police?

Ya Binta Jarju
Ya Binta Jarju, 27, a resident of Banjul, worked as a cashier at the "Comfort Neon Sign Company" situated on Gacem Road in the Kanifing Industrial Estate in Serre Kunda.

Last Saturday, Ya Binta asked a friend to accompany her to to buy pizza at the Palma Rima Hotel located in the Kotu/Manjai which is part of the Tourism Development Area (TDA) complex.  They hired a taxi - town trip - to the pizza joint.  It was around 10:00 PM.

Under normal circumstances, the TDA would have been the safest parts of The Gambia because they are heavily patrolled by all branches of the security forces.  The opposite is the case because the regime is extremely shaky and insecure after the 30 December events.  A disoriented and nervous military is the result of that insecurity.   Equally nervous and disoriented are other segments of the security establishment.

The proliferation of checkpoints after the December events, according to eyewitness reports, is such that there is a military checkpoint for every 500 meters - a constant complaint of European tourists who describe the TDA to a city under siege.

After buying pizza, Ya Binta and her friend were on their way home when what was to be an uneventful day turn into a nightmare for her and her companion.  They met up with what was described to me as "a patrol 'bulldozer' pickup".

Both passengers at this point were in the back seat when the driver said to Ya Binta and her companion that he was going to be in trouble with the "bulldozer" military patrol because "he was not wearing a seat belt".  It is highly likely that the vehicle did not have one. The penalty for not wearing a seat belt is D 1,000 which must be paid on the spot or go to jail.

The taxi driver then decided to evade the security.  Obviously in a panic mode, the taxi decided not to stop.  Ya Binta's companion decided to jump from the back seat to the front seat in an attempt to take control of the vehicle so that he could stop after the taxi driver had made a u-turn to escape the military that was in pursuit.  Taking partial control of the steering, Ya Binta's companion finally succeeded in ramming the vehicle into a brick wall.

The patrol vehicle carrying fully-armed men was "less than 10 meters" from the taxi, according to our source.  The distraught source concluded that,"there was no need to fire a single bullet" but instead "they shot the cabin (of the taxi) and killed Ya Binta Jarju.  Her companion escaped sure death only because he earlier decision to the front seat to help bring the vehicle to a stop, the source said.

These "bulldozer patrols" do not man checkpoints.  They resemble more like the marauding terrorists in Mogadishu in 'technicals' or pick-ups with mounted heavy guns, wreaking havoc on an unsuspecting and unarmed civilian population.  This kind of lawlessness in the midst of the busiest part of The Gambia has cost the life of a promising, responsible, young lady.  These marauding bandits continue to terrorize a traumatized population at the encouragement of the Gambian dictator Jammeh who has said his forces "should shoot and ask questions later."

When the victim's family arrived at the Kairaba Police State on Pipe Line Road they were visibly furious and are demanding answers from the police and higher authorities.

Apparently, while the military were in hot pursuit, some police officers were also in the pick up as part of the "bulldozer"crew.  We also learned from other sources that the police sense trouble, gauging from the reaction of the family and friends of Ya Binta Jarju.

The police, according to sources close to the investigations, denied firing a single shot at the taxi. According to them, all of the shots came from the military "bulldozers" team and not from them, the police.

To the family and friends of Ya Binta Jarju, all that matters is that justice is done which is a tall order considering the nature of military dictatorial.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Gambia: Anti-Corruption Commission should start with Yaya Jammeh

Dictator Jammeh
Last Friday, the Gambian dictator informed the National Assembly that the Anti-Corruption Commission established in 2012 will be fully functional soon to start seating.

Why it is taking almost three years for the Commission to be established and fully functional is unclear.  The dictator did reveal that in 2015, 7 commissioners and an Executive Secretary to the Commission will be appointed.

Jammeh's $3.5 million mansion with protesters

Jammeh concluded that corruption "makes a country sickly and less attractive as an investment destination." He also suggested that corruption "limits access to much needed services, stifles efficiency and eats away public resources." Therefore Jammeh concluded that he will "not waiver in the fight against corruption.

Yaya Jammeh and his wife Zineb Suma Jammeh should be the first to be probed by the Anti-Corruption Commission.  The couple must account to the Commission and the Gambian people of their ill-gotten wealth that include but, of course, not limited to, their $3.5 million Potomac mansion outside Washington DC.  The mansion may be the most visible of Jammeh's wealth but there are numerous others spread across the world - from Paris to Rabat to Conakry.

The number of landed properties in Banjul alone under the name of Jammeh is mind bugling.  The outright confiscation of rural agricultural land, not to mention the entire African Union Village built on agricultural land owned by Brufut residents, must be probed by the Commission.

Of course, it is wishful thinking on our part that Jammeh will probe himself even though he's the most corrupt individual the Gambia has ever seen.  It should, therefore, the task of a successor government to thoroughly probe him and his family.          

Thursday, March 5, 2015

"We congratulated only the people of the Gambia, not Jammeh says Obama Administration

It did not take long for the Obama administration to distance itself from a claim by the Gambian dictator that he was "felicitated" by the U.S. President on the occasion of the Gambia's 50th Anniversary of its independence from Britain in 1965.

The administration, on Thursday, denied issuing the letter that said Gambians "have much to celebrate" implying that the Obama administration endorses Jammeh's rule.

In denying that the letter congratulated Yaya Jammeh, the U.S. administration took the trouble of stating that they "continue to have serious differences with the government of the Gambia across a range of issues, including its human rights record."

The Daily Observer, the official mouth piece of the Gambian dictator reported with the blaring headline falsely claiming that "Barack Obama, president of the United States of America has felicitated the Gambian leader, His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhaji Yaya AJJ Jammeh."

Suspicious of the letter, the Gambia activists in the United States and Europe collaborated with the Robert F. Kennedy Center to seek clarification from the Administration regarding both the source and the content of the letter.

It soon became evident that the letter that The Daily Observer quoted was a concoction of the imagination of the editors of a paper whose glaring propaganda and distortions have brought nothing but an embarrassment of an increasingly unpopular regime.

The deliberate distortion of a simple letter that the U.S. routinely issues to countries on their National Days by the Daily Observer has been trending on social media and has become an international scandal that the Jammeh regime could do without.

The Jammeh regime is its own worse enemy because of its persistent desire to seek validation of its existence by publishing routine congratulatory letters from Heads of State that, in normal countries, are not meant for public consumption.  

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Gambian dictator bans casinos, lotteries and all forms of gambling effective immediately

Sidi Sanneh 
Without notice and by the stroke of the dictator's pen, Yaya Jammeh announced moments ago on government-controlled television and relayed to us by a Gambian activist that he (Jammeh) has decided to ban casinos, lotteries and all other forms of gambling effective immediately.

The decision, guided only by the whims of a megalomaniac and a deranged dictator, came as a huge surprise to Gambians in general and to operators (both foreign and domestic) in the tourist industry.

While details of the ban are still unclear, the impact the decision might have on an industry that is already on life support, due in part to the Ebola epidemic, will be adverse.  Gambling casinos have sprouted all over the tourism areas since the inception of the industry in the 1960s and it has been inextricably linked as part of normal operations of operations.

What are foreign investors going to do when they have not been notified in time to secure their investment.  The impact of the decision on the tourism sector will be devastating.  The dictator's Finance Minister presented his 2015 Appropriations Bill only in December and no mention was made that such a major decision was in the offing.

The 2015 Budget made on mention of government's intention to ban an industry that contributes significantly to the national budget.  The immediate impact will be felt in the employment of Gambians in hotels, casinos and at the National Lottery when unemployment is already very high due to inappropriate government policies.

The banning decision will force the Finance Minister to revisit his budget figures, particularly his revenue projections, in preparation for both the bail-out negotiations with the IMF and its next mission to the Gambia later this month.

Anytime one thinks that Jammeh has finally exceeded his capacity to inflict harm to the economy or to his fellow human, he always succeeds in proving us wrong.   And as someone commented after hearing the announcement, if his decision is based on religion, he should have banned alcohol first.