Monday, March 23, 2015

Gambia is an unreliable strategic partner of U.S.

The Gambian dictator 
The 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.