Tuesday, October 13, 2015

African Leadership qualifies Jammeh's award

Sidi Sanneh 
African Leadership magazine that describes itself as "dedicated to telling the African story through the lenses of Africans", and in doing so counter the negative image of Africa portrayed in the international press, finds it necessary to issue a statement explaining its decision to select the Gambian dictator for an award for his distinguished and extraordinary leadership qualities.

The magazine now explains that the leadership award to Yaya Jammeh was for tourism development, and that the title of the award is "Political Leadership Award for Tourism Development".

The firestorm in social media following the award was ferocious and widespread, engulfing both the diaspora communities in America, Europe and Africa and their international human rights allies that included but not limited to the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights and Human Rights Watch.

For the African Leadership Magazine to counter the negative image of the continent by accentuating the positive is praiseworthy.  In doing so, however, the magazine must avert the risk of embellishing the records of African dictators the likes of His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhagie Dr Yahya Abdul-Aziz Jamus Junkung Jammeh, Babilimansa, Nasurudeen.

The name and string of titles should have been enough red flags, in our opinion, to have suggested candidate Jammeh was as wacky a dictator as they come, and that is putting it mildly and respectfully.  Dictators love titles and will go to any extent to add to their collection.  Speaking of titles, Jammeh is recipient of an award called Admiral in the Great Navy of State of Nebraska, a landlocked state which was duped into buying it from a scammer for a handsome fee.

However laudable the mission of the magazine, selecting the wrong recipient poses great danger to the reputation and image of a news outlet like the African Leadership Magazine.   The selection criteria, including whether fees are involved, for being a candidate that eventually leads to the award must be clearly stated and made available to the general public for the readership to judge.

Africa is faced with a serious leadership deficit.  Dictatorships in Africa are a serious obstacle to economic growth and development.  Selecting a known and recognized dictator for the award only prolongs efforts to improve Africa's governance environment.  The Mo Ibrahim Foundation is doing a fantastic job of encouraging African leaders not to overstay their welcome.  ECOWAS is attempting to introduce term limits for its 16-Member State regional organization. The African Union is being encouraged to lend support to regional political organizations to move in similar direction. Leadership Awards like the one administered by African Leadership should go towards reinforcing good governance culture that we are all trying to promote.

While it is encouraging that the African Leadership magazine's qualification that the "ward is in no way an endorsement of the Gambia's president regime and reported human rights abuses...", we cannot help but to react to the insinuating reference to President Obama's invitation of Jammeh to last year's U.S. - Africa Summit as endorsement of the administration's endorsement of Jammeh and his record. It must be noted that there has been a significant shift in attitude, if not in official policy, of the Obama administration towards the Jammeh regime.  If there is ever another event like the one held last year, the chances of Jammeh receiving an invitation from President Obama are next to zilch. Attitudes towards the regime have change significantly around Washington in general and the White House in particular.

Calling on Yaya Jammeh not to see the award as endorsement of his overall performance as a leader is like a bartender denying a drunk on last drink before closing time.  Dictators know the propaganda value of such awards and will exploit it to the fullest.  The value Jammeh placed in the award is proportional to the number of Ministers - four minister, Education, Information, Health and Justice - who accompanied Gambia's Vice President just to receive the award in Washington DC who, in turn, we supported by senior officials at tremendous cost to a treasury that is effectively bankrupt according to the IMF last mission report.

The Vice President of The Gambia is already touting the exemplary leadership quality, citing the award as proof, of someone who oversaw, in his 21-year brutal rule - the decline of an economy that had the third highest per capital GDP in the 16-Member State ECOWAS in 1994, behind Cote d'Ivoire and Cabo Verde to its current last place.

The economic management style of the Jammeh as described by the last September Mission of the International Monetary Fund has resulted in policy slippages that have led to weaker real GDP growth than in other countries in the region - policy slippages, according to the Fund have worsened an already difficult macroeconomic situation and are threatening the near- and medium-term growth prospects.  Citing performance of the tourism sector as the primary reason for the award, in the midst of an EBOLA outbreak that resulted in  last season's 60% reduction in tourist visitors is a weak argument to make.

All the same, we do appreciate the fact that the news magazine is trying to make amends with the Gambian people by qualifying the award, and we thank Africa Leadership magazine for it. We hope similar errors are not committed in future awards.