Thursday, March 17, 2016

Is the resumption of diplomatic ties with China another election year ploy?

According to Reuters news agency The Gambia has resumed diplomatic relations with China after the Gambian dictator abruptly and unceremoniously broke off relations with Taiwan in November 2013.

True to form, Jammeh has done so without notice or national debate, even though many Gambians would support the move.  Gambians had opposed Jammeh's Taiwan move in 1997 and in favor of the Chinese who have been actively involved in the agriculture sector - particularly rice cultivation under the deposed government of Sir Dawda Jawara

When Yaya Jammeh seized power in July 1994, he an faced international backlash that saw development assistance withheld and the British issuing travel adviser to British tourists.

The economic sanctions were partly responsible for Jammeh's decision to look for a diplomatic suitor outside Gambia's traditional development partners which he quickly found in Taiwan - a country that the international community (with the exception of few countries) recognizes as being a province of mainland China.

Yaya Jammeh was also attracted to Taiwan because of the island's unorthodox - some would say lax - system of management and disbursement of development funds.  The checkbook diplomacy that Taiwan practises is a main attraction of some of the world's most corrupt leaders so as to fill their pockets at the expense of the citizenry.  

In fact, the decision by Jammeh to sever ties with Taiwan was over his incessant demand for money which finally proved intolerable to the Taiwanese who, in the end, described his as "the idiosyncratic leader." For example, Jammeh demanded $ 10 million ( others in Taipei have suggested a higher figure) from Taiwan and insisted that the sum neither be recorded nor receipted in any form.  When his demand was refused, he broke off a diplomatic relations that has been mutually beneficial to Taiwan and to Jammeh, personally.

Although the presence of the Chinese in The Gambia has been reported since last year, little by way of public pronouncement was issued by a regime that is notorious for its lack of both transparency and accountability.  Gambians are probably hearing the news for the first time of the resumption of diplomatic relations.

Are the Chinese going to continue pursuing the checkbook diplomacy that Jammeh has grown use to relish? If they do, the support of the Gambians for the move will be short lived.  meanwhile, this is further signal to the opposition that Jammeh will use his new-found friendship with China to further his electoral ambition of a landslide victory at the polls next December.