We have written a great deal since last week on the topic, and to date the story line keeps changing, confirming our initial suspicion that the scheme was prompted by the country's precarious financial position which is the driving force behind the abrupt u-turn on the prisoner release. Gambia needs financial resources and the quickest way of alleviating the budgetary pressure is the release of the blocked EDF funds by the European Union.
We have also highlighted the discrepancies and imprecision of the number of prisoners affected. Several figures have been banded about, from the precise number of 235 prisoners to the Interior Minister's vague reference to an approximation of 'two hundred and something.
Today, at the match pass ceremony, both Gambia's foreign minister, Neneh MacDouall-Gaye and the vice president have augmented the figure to "about three hundred" which is further proof that our demand for a comprehensive list of ALL affected prisoners with personal details - for the purposes of identification - is imperative. We demanded it previously. We are repeating the demand here.
Of course, for all of this to be official, the names of all of the prisoners MUST be gazetted in the Government Gazette for all of this to be official.
In reaction to the loud and incessant criticism about the apparent tribal preference favoring Jammeh's minority Jola tribe that represent a disproportionately higher number of those released, even when the crime for which they were accused of are more serious or the same as those left behind most of whom are Mandinka tribe, nine more prisoners, comprising of the other tribes, to respond to the tribalism charge.
The speeches at the match pass ceremony, especially from the foreign minister, is further evidence that the decision was reached to entice the donor community to release the much needed development assistant, particularly the EDF funds. She announced a diplomatic charm offensive that will start with next Tuesday's meeting with members of the diplomatic corps whose nationals were among the prisoners pardoned who will express their gratitude and appreciation to the regime, according to Mrs. MacDouall-Gaye.
It appears that the Jammeh regime was expecting a much more upbeat rather than the lukewarm reaction from the recent U.S. State Department contained in the form of a Press Statement, thus the need to ramp up the diplomatic campaign. Presumably, the American (although no known Americans were among the released prisoners), British, Dutch, Senegalese, Nigerian and Ghanaian Ambassadors will be invited to the meeting. Those resident in Dakar (Dutch and Ghanaian Ambassadors) will have to make the trip to Banjul.
Nothing seem to be going in the regime's favor. Even the much publicized prisoner match pass was greeted by torrential rains that lasted an entire day which was poorly attended if it weren't for the vale threat to civil servants who were instructed by the Head of the Civil Service for all to participate in the event. Those who fail to attend without justifiable reason risk being dismissed or sent to jailed.
The scheme which was a propaganda ploy which was expected to turn the tables in the regime's favor and against the dissident communities in America and Europe is now developing into a diplomatic nightmare for the regime.
The speech by the foreign minister appeared rather defensive for the occasion which tried to assure Gambians that the prisoner pardon scheme was all the idea of Jammeh and that the regime was under no pressure to act the way it did; which may be true. But when your economy is in such shambles with mounting budget deficits, difficulty meeting payroll of civil servants' on the eve of an election year, no external pressure is necessary. The donors will sit back and watch you twist slowly in the wind, Watergate style.