Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Ousman Sonko: Jammeh's one-man killing machine - Part II

Former Interior Minster Sonko seeking asylum in Sweden 
Ousman Sonko's well-earned reputation as the quiet enforcer of the deadly wishes of the tyrannical leader of the Gambia against political opponents came to an abrupt end when he received his dismissal letter, last week, at State House and was refused access to his office at the Interior Ministry, signalling the end of the road for the "viciously loyal" and "criminally smart" former right-hand man of Yaya Jammeh.  This is how he is being described by his former police and army colleagues.

During his decade of service to the dictatorship as Interior Minister, Mr. Sonko built a network of relationships across Western Europe with immigration authorities, especially in the past several years, when the mass exodus of African migrants across the Mediterranean that included a disproportionate number of young Gambians fleeing their country because of the deplorable human rights environment coupled with declining living standards.

Both Jammeh and Sonko have benefited financially from the bilateral aid package the regime has been signing with countries like Spain, Italy and Malta to help stem the migration tide.  Monies meant for protects like skills training are pocketed by corrupt immigration officials.  Patrol boats and motor vehicles provided by donors meant for coastal and border patrols have been converted into either private or military use.  Some of these assets have been traced as far away as coastal Morocco where they are employed in the lucrative fishing industry.  Jammeh's wife is Moroccan.

These bilateral funds have enriched corrupt officials like Ousman Sonko over the years.  Despite our opposition, some of these European countries continue to enter into bilateral agreements that are regularly breached both in letter and spirit by a very corrupt and incompetent dictatorial regime of which Ousman Sonko has been the second most important member, after Jammeh.  Sources close to the former minister are suggesting that this network of friends and associates that he was able to cultivate over a decade may have played - directly or indirectly - a role in his escape to Sweden where he's filed for asylum.

Mr. Sonko saw the walls closing in on him when he planned and coordinated the arrest and torture of Solo Sandeng under the supervision of the Director General of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) Yankuba Badjie in April this year that led to the death in custody of the United Democratic Party's (UDP) youth leader and member of its executive committee.

The passage of a Resolution by the European Parliament last May that strongly condemned the ongoing and increasing violence against political opposition and called on all members of the EU to consider freezing all non-humanitarian assistance and the possible imposition of travel ban was the unmistakable signal that harden and loyal followers of Jammeh seemed to have been waiting for, to be convinced that the EU means business.

Ousman Sonko and senior officials in similar circumstances did not want to get stuck behind, what has suddenly become, enemy lines, should a travel ban be imposed.  The presence of the 4-person European Parliament mission in Banjul only served as a reminder of the inevitability of the gauntlet being thrown by individual members of the European Union.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Senior Intelligence Officer losses job after advising release of political prisoners and postponement of elections

Election Day in Gambia 
The Director of Political Affairs, Samba Bah, of Gambia's National Intelligence Agency, lost his job after advising Jammeh to release Ousainou Darboe and all the other political prisoners held at the Mile II facility which is among the worst prisons in the world.

Citing the tense political climate and environment of insecurity and uncertainty that has engulfed the country, Mr. Bah also recommended postponement of the scheduled December 2016 presidential and the April 2017 National Assembly elections.

Samba Bah is a highly respected professional intelligence officer who is known, according to sources, to be non-partisan.  He is said to be one of the few college-educated officer at the notorious National Intelligence Agency that is better known for the brutal use of torture against opponents of the regime of Yaya Jammeh.

Although Jammeh disagrees with the assessment conducted by his Director of Political Affairs that led to his recommendations and subsequent dismissal. it is a view shared by many observers of the Gambian political scene, especially now as recent events start to unfold.  The fleeing to Sweden of Jammeh's long-serving Interior Minister where he is seeking asylum has started to reverberate across Jammeh shaky security establishment.

The mass arrests and imprisonment of the leading opposition party leader and nearly all of its senior executives and supporters have contributed to the political tension.  The demand by the European Union for the release of all political prisoners has added to the pressure the regime is facing.  Our sources have intimated that Jammeh thinks that Samba Bah's recommendations were influenced by or taking direct orders from the EU.

Bah's recommendation to postpone the elections is also consistent with the general consensus that appears to be building, fueled by the apparent lack of financial support from Gambia's traditional donors who finance the electoral process.  The poor human rights record has caused all donors to withhold funds until the abuses stop and the environment improves, a highly unlikely proposition as long as Jammeh remains in power.  

Sunday, September 25, 2016

It's time for Jammeh to step down

The Gambian dictator, Yaya Jammeh 
We have been calling for Jammeh to vacate the presidency three years running.  You can see the relevant blog posts here, here and here.

Recent events unfolding in the Gambia  have compelled us to renew our call for Jammeh to step down from the presidency for the good of the country and its people.

Jammeh's 22-year dictatorship has been nothing but a nightmare. It transformed a free, open and democratic Gambia into one of the world's most repressive country's.

The democratic environment that guaranteed the freedom of expression and, the rule of law, under the government of Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara, formed cornerstone that made it possible for a relatively well-managed and thriving economy which was the envy of managers of regional economies.

The mismanagement of the economy under Jammeh resulted in wealth and financial resources being concentrated in the hands of the Gambian dictator and a few of his cronies at the expense of economic growth and development.  For example, The Gambia ranked third (behind Cote d'Ivoire and Cabo Verde) in the 16-member ECOWAS region in per capita GDP when Jammeh seized power illegally in 1994.   Today, the Gambia ranks dead last being out-performed by Guinea Bissau  (one of Africa's most unstable country) and post conflict countries like Sierra Leone and Liberia.

The economy is not the only casualty of the Jammeh regime.  Human rights of Gambians suffered and continue to suffer similar fate.  Jammeh has jailed, maimed, exiled, killed, extra-judicially executed and made countless Gambians to disappear.  His deplorable record has resulted in numerous verbal sanctions from every human rights organization of note across the globe.

The international community and its associated organs such as the United Nations, European Union and the Commonwealth - before Jammeh unilaterally withdrew the country's membership - have all fielded missions to the country that resulted in condemnation of the regime's treatment of its citizens that resulted in the threats of sanctions.

In fact, we have come to learn that last week's follow-up mission by members of the European Parliament following the passage of a sternly-worded Resolution that threatened targeted sanctions that included the possibility of imposing travel ban on the regime's senior officials led to the fleeing of the regime's Interior Minister (Ousman Sonko) who feared that his name would be at the top of the list of any impending ban.  He escaped to Sweden where he is seeking political asylum.

The decision by the longest-serving Interior Minister and the most trusted partner of Jammeh has sent signals across the security agencies that the end is near for the regime.  As we have reported previously, cracks in Jammeh's security cordon continue to widen since the 30th December 2014 attack on State House led by diaspora dissidents.

The Interior Minister was personally and intimately involved in the planning and execution of numerous high profile human rights cases that include but not limited to the death in custody of Solo Sandeng, the assassination of Deyda Hydara, the disappearances of journalist Ebrima Chief Manneh and aid worker Kanyiba Kanyi.  

Factions within the armed forces have already developed and a high degree of suspicion exists within them, threatening the peace and stability of both The Gambia and the region.  Ousman Sonko's defection has caused others within the security forces to think of absconding as well, plunging the country into further insecurity.

The former minister has vast amount of sensitive and highly explosive information in his possession that can further damage the regime's already battered image but may seriously undermine the legitimacy of the regime because of the pivotal role Ousman Sonko had played in the electoral processes that saw the election of Yaya Jammeh as president.  It is time for Jammeh to step down.            

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Gambian politicians grilled at ECOWAS Parliament

Majority Leader, Fabakary Tombong Jatta
Netty Baldeh 
Hons. Fabakary Tombong Jatta and Netty Baldeh, both APRC National Assembly Members wished they didn't attend this year's second session of ECOWAS Parliament in Abuja where their colleagues, especially parliamentarians from Senegal and Togo, peppered them with stinging questions, ranging from the deplorable human rights environment, the precarious state of readiness for the presidential elections to the lack of presidential term limit.

The Senegalese parliamentarian, Soulaymane Ndoye, questioned his Gambian colleagues on the wisdom of the arbitrary and exorbitant tariffs increases without due notice in contravention of existing ECOWAS protocol. which led to the 3-month closure of the border between the two countries early this year.

However, it was the Togolese opposition parliamentarian's citing of media accounts of the suppression of the rights of the opposition and the lack of freedom of expression prevailing in Yaya Jammeh's country that irked the two Gambian politicians.  The Togolese parliamentarian wanted to know whether the rights of the opposition and freedom of expression will be guaranteed as the December presidential election approaches.

In response, the two Gambian parliamentarians went into their characteristic incomprehensible and defensive tirade in defense of the man they erroneously refer to as a pan-Africanist who does not bend to the wishes of "external forces" or 21st century imperialists.  Their boss has a special dislike for the British, so it was not surprising that employed - as a matter of routine - anti-British and/or anti-America tirade  in their responses.

It was equally unsurprising when Mr. Jatta said that neither in the UK nor in the US was political space or opportunity accorded to the opposition..  In short, and from their vantage point, the opposition's political space must be restricted to the point of rendering them ineffectual or extinct.  We hope the Gambian opposition is taking note of what is in store for them.

On the question of term limits, Netty Baldeh's responded as a matter-of-factly that " [W]e decided not to limit the mandates and not to have a second round in the presidential. After all, democracy is the will of the people."  The irony to his response is that Netty Baldeh will automatically cease to be a member of parliament by being expelled from the ruling party that the Gambian dictator heads even though he (Baldeh) was elected by the voters of his constituency which says a great deal about the will of the people.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Ousman Sonko: Jammeh's one-man killing machine - Part I

Gambia's Former Interior Minister, Ousman Sonko  
Ousman Sonko was Gambia's longest-serving Interior Minister until he was dismissed last week by the country's dictator Yaya Jammeh who has imposed his 22-year iron-fisted rule on continental Africa's smallest country.  He's reportedly fled The Gambia and currently seeking asylum in Sweden - a development that did not come as a surprise to us.  

Ousman Sonko who named himself the "Baye Faal" ( loose translation: The Disciple or follower) of the Gambian dictator whose instructions are carried out without question.  The former Interior Minister has proven, over time, to be one of the fiercest defenders and protectors of a regime that has distinguished itself for its extreme brutality against its real and perceived opponents.

As an army officer in 1994, Ousman Sonko was charged with raping a 15-year old girl. A few months later, Jammeh seized power unconstitutionally on the 22nd July, 1994 and proceeded to drop the charges against his army comrade.  Being a member of the military as well as being from Jammeh's minority Jola tribe who was born in the Casamance region of Senegal but raised in the Gambia seemed to have played a role in his exoneration.  He was quickly reinstated into the army and became part of the elite Presidential Guard.

Mr. Sonko has a self-effacing personality that served him well both as a close protection officer of Jammeh at the State House, his tenure as Inspector General of Police and finally a decade as Gambia's Interior Minister.  He has always preferred staying in the background and away from the limelight while planning and implementing schemes designed to eliminate what he sees as, obstacles to the dictatorship.  Once the target is identified by Jammeh, the rest is left to Ousman Sonko to implement with a devastating precision.

In January 2000, the security forces announced that they've foiled a military coup led by State Guard Commander, Landing Sanneh.  Ousman Sonko who was then a member of the elite Guard was reportedly part of the coup attempt but was able to outmaneuver his accomplices by reporting the other coup makers.  He led a party to arrest the suspected coup makers.  One Almamo Manneh was killed after his arrest, allegedly by Sonko, one Captain Dumbuya was chased and shot in broad daylight at the Banjul Albert Market.  Commander Landing Sanneh was shot in the leg.  The surviving coup plotters were tried and sentenced to long prison terms.

It was during Sonko's tenure also Commander of the State Guards* that 14 unarmed school children were gunned down by para-military police under his command which was the worst incident of mass murder in the country's history.  It was also during Ousman Sonko's tenure that 44 Ghanaians were killed, mistaken for foreign menageries who were in the country to topple the regime.

Deyda Hydara, the prominent Gambian journalist's death was planned and executed by Ousman Sonko as a commander of a hit squad known locally as the Junglers" that carry out tortures, rapes and assassinations of Jammeh's enemies. There is a preponderance of evidence to this effect.  Another journalists named Ebrima "Chief" Manneh of the Daily Observer and Kanjiba Kanji an aid worker with the Christian Children Fund were made to disappear under Ousman Sonko's watch.

Solo Sangeng died at the hands of his captors at the National Intelligence Agency where he was tortured and the sessions recorded on the Director General Yankuba Badgie's personal cell phone for the viewing pleasure of Yaya Jammeh who actually was issuing instructions by phone from Turkey where he was on a state visit.

Ousman Sonko has been responsible for the planning and execution or has full knowledge of all the human rights abuses sited in the blog.  

In subsequent blogs, we will review the details of these heinous crimes that Jammeh, Ousman Sonko, Yankuba Badgie and many others in the regime have committed against the Gambian people for which they must be held accountable.
* Initially reported as his tenure as Inspector General of Police.

Stay tuned for Part II  

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Dismissed Interior Minister and other senior officials will soon be blamed for Solo Sandeng's death

Dismissed Interior Minister, Ousman Sonko
After months of stonewalling, Yaya Jammeh finally admitted in a Jeune Afrique interview that Solo Sandeng, the UDP youth leader, died in the custody of the notorious National Intelligence Agency (NIA) - a story vehemently denied as it was being first reported here less than 48 hours after Mr. Sandeng was arrested while demonstrating for reform of the country's draconian electoral laws.

In response to the international community's demands for an investigation of the youth leader's death, Jammeh was quoted wondering why investigate when only one person was killed and therefore doesn't "see the point."  After all, he continued, "people die in custody or during interrogation; it's really normal."

It was not until the threats of additional sanctions that included the possibility of travel bans on senior officials of the regime that Jammeh started singing a different tune.

The European Union's suspension of disbursement of development assistance which took effect several months earlier as punishment for the regime's human rights began to take immediate toll on Gambia's public finances because the EU is Gambia's single biggest aid partner.

Faced with a rapidly dwindling options available to one of Africa's most reviled and isolated regime, the Gambian dictator is looking for ways of responding to its diplomatic isolation and its dwindling financial reserves and a public treasury that it all but empty.  Admitting that Solo Sandeng died in the custody of the NIA - although, he's still refusing to say that the death was due to wounds inflicted while being tortured - is the necessary first step to fulfilling the demands of the international community.

The next step in owning up and taking responsibility for the death is to  name those directly responsible and that is what Jammeh is in the process of doing.  He has reportedly fired Interior Minister, Ousman Sonko, his long-serving and one of the most trusted ministers who has been accused of being responsible, directly or indirectly, for the murder and disappearances of many of Jammeh's opponents.

Sources close to the Gambian dictator said he is preparing the ground to dismiss and/or jail other senior officials, namely the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Mama Fatima Singhateh, the Managing Director General of the National Intelligence Agency, Yankuba Badjie, the Inspector General of Police, Yankuba Sonko and Sheikh Omar Jeng, NIA's Director of Operations all of whom are being blamed for their role that led to the death in custody of Solo Sandeng.

Why is unity still eluding the Gambian opposition

From the archives of the sidisanneh.blogspot.com published exactly two years to the day, on why, in our view, opposition unity is elusive now as ever before.

May be, we all need to reflect on the issues that matter the most and not on tangential ones that can only make the effort to unite even more elusive.

  First published 18th September 2014

Unity among the Gambian opposition is as elusive as it is frustrating to supporters of the political parties generally considered the opposition.  Why is this the case, especially when they number three to four that are functionally operational, the biggest of which represents between 80-70% of the total number of opposition votes cast in any presidential election.

Compared to any of its regional neighbors, and everything else being equal, it should follow that the challenges facing the opposition in uniting against the ruling party should be less difficult than Senegal, Mali, Guinea and Liberia to name but a few.   There are more registered political parties in any of these countries than in The Gambia, and not by a small margins either.

In any one of these countries the number of registered parties are anywhere between five fold to over ten fold more than in The Gambia.  And in all of these countries, opposition parties uniting against the ruling party or the leading vote getter in the first round of elections have almost always been assured a win.  The party that leads the opposition, in every case has been the one with the second highest votes.

It is universally accepted norm and/or process governing a multi-party environment that is conspicuously absent in the Gambian electoral system which is a first-past-the-post rather than the more democratically acceptable system of 50+1.

The ruling A(F)PRC was never confident of its popularity among Gambian voters which led it to the change thus eliminating a run-off phase.  The opposition cried foul for a week or so and then proceeded to contest subsequent elections as if nothing has happened.

Gambian politics seemed to have regressed with time.  Although politics has also become more tribal with Jammeh - at least he's tried to make it all about tribe - he has not succeeded it transforming Gambian society into a tribal community.  In short, we have not become a society where once tribal affiliation determines your fate and success in society, although his Jola tribe has benefited appreciably, both in terms of social and economic/financial standing in society, than at anytime in Gambian history.

With the regression, comes deep rooted sectionalism that can be traced to the Jawara regime. To add the new privileged class created under the A(F)PRC regime, the cleavages became more pronounced.  The new political class, protective of its new-found status leaves little doubt to the rest of society as who is in charge, at least, politically, but flouting the power vested in them by the dictatorship.  The mix of old and new adds to the complexity of the new Gambian society which is reflected in the new political order.

The move by the AFPRC government to ban all political parties except the PDOIS was obviously a deliberate act designed to give the party advantage over any subsequent parties than the regime will allow to be formed.  Since it was certain than the elements of the PPP, from whom power was seized, will try to regroup as a party or join any opposition party other than PDOIS (given the ideological differences than existed between them) Jammeh and his military council  were certain the rivalry between the two will be carried over to post-1996 and beyond.

The soldiers got it right, and more.  Rightly or wrongly, PDOIS sees PPP in UDP and the suspicions and lack of trust that existed between the old rivals has now been transformed into a PDOIS and UDP rivalry. Of course, both parties will deny it but, we, Gambians, know better.

The intense rivalry between the opposition fits in well with the current first-past-the-post electoral system designed to eliminate the need for a second round which would have forced opposition to coalesce around the second highest vote getter or vote for the ruling APRC.

Jammeh and his political operatives also knew that without the 50+1 system, they were depriving the opposition of the surest tool available to extract unity by forcing the opposition, even if they despise each other, politically, because it is inherent in the system. The opposition would have been left with two options :  refuse to go to the polls to get rid of the APRC or to vote for the party representing the one with the second highest votes i.e the united opposition.  We think the answer is clear.

In trying to find out why unity among the opposition parties is elusive, we may have been making the case also for electoral reform that should seek to restore the 50+1 - a system that will force the opposition to unite, a feat they've been unable to achieve in two decades.  All of our neighbors have the system that allows a run-off in the event that no one party enjoys the plurality of the electorate.  Why should we allow ourselves to be the exception?  Why?   


Saturday, September 17, 2016

Stand-off at State House between Jammeh and General Saul Badjie, elections in the balance

General Saul Badjie
Dictator Yaya Jammeh 

A source is informing us that there's a stand-off at State House between the Gambian dictator Jammeh and General Saul Badjie over Jammeh's decision to purge the Republican Guard of Badjie's loyalists.

According to the same source, when Badjie resisted the purge, Jammeh stormed out of State House in anger, heading for his home village of Kanilai and reportedly still furious as we post this blog.

Tension between the two men continues to mount since the General refused to deploy the Republican Guard at the height of last April's UDP-led protest demonstrations against the draconian electoral laws that led to the death of a UDP youth leader.  Jammeh has been nursing a grudge over what he sees as insubordination by General Badjie  

The refusal by General Badjie to carry out Jammeh's instructions to deploy the Republican Guards during the April demonstrations to quel the protests led him to rely on the Police Intervention Unit (PIU), the paramilitary outfit, that eventually suppressed the protests using excessive force.

To show appreciation of the unit's loyalty, Jammeh rewarded the PIU by merging it with the military despite it's non-military character but still under the command of the Inspector General of Police.  It must be noted that the legislative process that formalizes the change has yet to take place - an unlikely proposition under the current tense security atmosphere.

The heightened tension between Jammeh and the head of the Republican Guard threatens the December presidential and the April legislative elections.  The tense security situation, coupled with a regime that lacks the financial resources conduct a credible elections, only adds to the uncertainty as to whether Gambians will go to the polls as planned.

Even under normal circumstances, the prevailing fiscal environment is such that supplementary external financing of the elections would be required.  In the absence of international donor participation and financial support, the elections may end up being postponed for lack of financial resources.  The tense security atmosphere that engulfs the country \can only add to the precarious and uncertain nature of electoral calendar.

A developing story .....

Jammeh's summer hiatus and his belief Kandeh's presidential hopes're being financed by Macky Sall

Gambian dictator, Jammeh
Jammeh has been uncharacteristically silent and shuttling between Banjul and his home village of Kanilai for over two months.  He has not taken his annual leave this year.  At least, he's refrained from making the official announcement on state-controlled media, as he customarily does over the years, to demonstrate his love for the country and farming.  He loves reminding his country folk that he spends his annual leaves in his village farm in contrast to his African counterparts who prefer Paris, London, Rome, Barcelona etc.

Jammeh's radio silence over a couple of months is without good reason. He is confronted with a sustained threat to his regime from political opponents at home and abroad.

Internally, several of Jammeh's economic interests have been targeted by arsonists, signaling an elevation of the opposition to his regime which appears to be planned and implimented from within his own internal security apparatus.  These arson attacks have heightened the angst within the immediate circle of the dictatorship that was once considered to be impenetrable until the 30th December 2014 attack on State House which shook the confidence of the military and splinter the security apparatus.

While Jammeh's vulnerability has been enhanced over time by opposition from Gambian dissidents living abroad,  the regime is being challenged internally by the United Democratic Party's April peaceful demonstrations which was kick-started by one of the party executive member and youth leader, Solo Sandeng, who was arrested, tortured and subsequently died in custody. The regime's response to the demonstrations with excessive force that resulted in the arrest and sentencing of the UDP leader, Ousainou Darboe, and dozens of his officials was roundly condemned by the international community.

The swift and intense criticism resulted in Jammeh's withdrawal from and avoidance of direct confrontation with the opposition that has contributed to his withdrawal from the public scene while he assesses the new political challenges  posed by the emergence of the Gambia Democratic Congress led by Mama Kandeh, a former member of Jammeh's ruling APRC and Dr. Isatou Touray, the Independent candidate.

Sources close to Jammeh are suggesting that the APRC leader is more concerned about the threat posed by Mama Kandeh than any of the other opponents, not because of the purported strength of Kandeh's over-all support and the claim that he is siphoning support from Jammeh's column. According to the same sources,  Jammeh is convinced that Macky Sall, the Senegalese president is partially bankrolling the GDC's party leader and as a result, Jammeh's agents are fanning the Senegalese landscape to collect evidence to confirm his suspicion.                  

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Opposition leaders must take full charge

Leaders of Gambia's Opposition parties 
We weren't going to comment on opposition leadership or its absence thereof but as one avoidable party surrogate debacle after another, it's hard to stay mute on a pandemic that can only get worse if concerted effort is not made to reverse the trend.

The lack of message discipline is threatening to derail an otherwise flawlessly-launched rolling out  of the candidature of Dr. Isatou Touray as an Independent presidential candidate at the Kairaba Beach Hotel..  Unfortunately messaging mishaps started to gush out of the faucet immediately following the roll-out event.

A female team of Dr. Touray's supporters that hit the airwaves in support of their candidate was soon dubbed the "gender brigade" and accused of using the gender card to advance the cause of the Independent candidate.  Gambian society is a still tradition and conservative setting and, more so in rural Gambia where .  No one knows this better than Isatou Touray who has dedicated  almost all of her professional life, in rural settings in the fight against female genital cutting.
Tagging her campaign with the gender card label is not only unfair, it is a demeaning to Isatou Touray and  her female supporters - most, if not all, of those whothat is limiting to the human spirit that can only limit personal freedoms by stifling  human progress.

In lamenting the unforced errors of the Dr. Touray's campaign a few blog posts back, little did we expect that the most devastating with potentially lasting impact on the campaign of Gambia's first woman candidate for the presidency.  In an email release from the United Democratic Party members in the diaspora expressed frustration and down right disgust that a member of the Isatou team actually demanded that Gambia's biggest opposition party of the past 20 years should step aside (without any negotiations) and make way for his candidate as the leader of the opposition.  The gullibility of the gentlemen is breathtaking; no wonder the reaction of the UDP in the diaspora was equally brazen and understandably so.

Whether the person was authorized or not is immaterial at this point because the damage has already been done, threatening to leave a bad taste taste well beyond the December elections. unless the party leaders - and that includes Independent candidate Touray -  take full charge of their respective campaigns and restraining unauthorized supporters from speaking on behalf of their respective parties.

Inter-party negotiations must commence immediately which, we hope, will lead to a single flag bearer for all of the opposition parties.  These negotiations should be the exclusive responsibility of the leaders of the opposition and not surrogates - unless empowered by the party - because it is the single most consequential political discussion of their lives, given the options stirring the Gambian population in the face should negotiations fail.  It is time for party leaders to take full responsibility for the process from here on out to avoid the mess currently on display in the online press and social media.  

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

How GDC is changing the political landscape

Mama Kandeh, Leader GDC 
The leader of the Gambia Democratic Congress (GDC), Mama Kandeh, dubbed the new kid on the block is increasingly looking more like the new Sheriff in town as he quietly, in the literal sense, consolidate his envious political position  he's enjoying by virtue of being a former member of the present ruling APRC.

After his expulsion from the ruling party a few years ago, the two-term member of the National Assembly under his old party set out quietly to form the GDC with little fanfare until its inauguration this year, taking even Yaya Jammeh by surprise.

The crowds that attend his political rallies and the caravans that follow his campaign team across the country have caught the attention of other political parties and vast swaths of the APRC who seem to be switching allegiance from Jammeh to Kandeh at a confidence shattering pace.

It is this discernible shift in support from Jammeh to the new party within the AFRC that threatens to change the political landscape, not only within the ruling party but across all opposition parties.  And it is not only Jammeh taking notice but all of the other opposition parties whether it is admitted or not.

Mama Kandeh's entry into the political fray has undoubtedly changed the dynamics of the campaign by his ability to siphon off support from the APRC, thus weakening a party that has dominated the political scene for over two decades, fueled by the dictatorial zeal of its leader.

 A weakened APRC makes the ruling party more vulnerable than at anytime in its history, thus providing the opposition a rare opportunity to, at least, give Jammeh a run for his money in the coming presidential and parliamentary elections in December 2016 and April 2017.  For all of this to happen hinges on the opposition parties' ability and willingness to coalesce under a single leadership.

It is widely believed that GDC's influence extends beyond the APRC and into the support base of other opposition parties, making it a party of pragmatic opportunism than one driven purely by ideological, parochial or ethnic concerns which partially explains its popularity across party and ethnic lines.

No one understands the favorable political  position GDC is in better than Mr. Mama Kandeh, party officials and his supporters which puts them in an enviable negotiating position. Recent information suggests that the consultations process is ongoing which should give hope to all those who wish to see a united opposition against Jammeh in December.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Dear Mr. Yaya Jammeh, please leave peacefully

Sidi Sanneh 
The vultures are circling while obituary writers are busy crossing the t's and dotting the i's on their respective editions in readiness to announce the death of a unified opposition.

We hope, the anticipatory excitement, driven, in part, by Jammeh's agents, will prove to be premature.  We also implore all parties to take note that Jammeh last wish is to see a unified opposition and will do anything to ensure that it doesn't materialize.

The outcome of the Inter-Party Coalition talks, leaked to the online press even before, at least one opposition party leader was aware of the initial outcome of what is seen as the preliminary stages of a long negotiation process.

There is something nefarious about the manner in which disjointed, imprecise and unconfirmed information slowly seeps into the online press.  That said, we hope and pray that all is not lost and that the onslaught will cease as cooler heads take full charge of the negotiations which have entered a critical phase.

The opposition party leaders must take full charge and direct the negotiations in the direction that will put the interest of the country in the fore which can only be achieved by shutting off the noise coming from social media.  The lives of Gambians are too precious to allow exogenous sources, with no skin on the game, to influence the outcome.

Folks on the ground, directly and constantly impacted by a brutal, corrupt and incompetent regime, should have the final say in any negotiations, and these negotiations are led by opposition party leaders and not by talking heads and pundits.  

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The rigging of the 2016/17 elections has commenced

Ballot boxes Gambian-style 
Mr. Alieu Momar Njie, the new IEC Chairman held a press conference to announce that almost 90,000 eligible voters have been added to the electoral rolls bring the total number of eligible voters to a little under 890,000.

This number represents an 11% increase from the 2011 figure which was presented by the former IEC Chairman a little under 800,000.

Since the conclusion of the 2013 Population and Housing Census, no final figure has been published.  The 1.9 million that the regime said was the size of Gambia's population was a preliminary figure.  And as far as we are aware, the figure is still preliminary.  Final census figures have not been published and, as far as we aware, no public explanation emanated from government as to the reason for the delay in releasing the final and definitive population figures.

As things stand, government is using preliminary, instead of final figures for planning and budgeting purposes since 2011 without telling Gambians what is holding up the validation process. The 2013 census figures must be finalized immediately and the results published for it to be the official figures.  It is our view that the electoral process is incomplete until the official population figures have been finalized.

Back to the voter registration process that had been fraught with lack of transparency dating back to the 2001 election cycle, if not before.  90,000 new voters being added to the roll, representing an 11% increase from the 2011 figure raises a lot of eyebrows given that the Gambia has been losing its youth through the phenomenon referred to locally as The Back Way,  The rate of out migration of the youthful population of the Gambia has been so alarming that it caught the attention of the world.

The Independent Electoral Commission ought to know better than releasing global voter registration figures without disaggregating them by constituency.  The number of voters registered in each of the 53 Constituencies must be shown.  It is only then that Gambians can determine whether the figures presented do indeed add up.  If the integrity of the voter registration process is doubt, the entire electoral process will be questioned.  The IEC Chairman is giving us all the reasons needed to declare the entire electoral process rigged.

We were prompted to publish this post because of the hurriedly convened press conference of the Chairman of the IEC in advance of the completion of our data collection exercise - including up-dating our migration figures in an attempt to shed more light on issue.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Dr. Isatou Touray's unforced error could prove troublesome

Isatou Touray, Independent candidate 
Dr. Touray's acceptance speech as the Independent candidate for the December presidential elections may have won over some "no elections" die-hards along with a number of frustrated diasporians who have longed for a unified opposition alliance that, they hope, would end 22-years of Yaya Jammeh's dictatorship but it also caused consternation among the politically diverse group of opposition supporters abroad.

By mentioning a handful of Gambians residing abroad, namely in the United States and Europe, by name, the newest candidate for president inadvertently stirred up a dust storm of unsubstantiated allegations.

Claims of supporters nefariously positioning themselves, and behind-the-scene skulduggery abound, feeding the social media frenzy as if such maneuvers are unusual in political campaigns. They may not be under normal circumstances but Gambians are not living in normal times.

Those external endorsers of Dr. Touray who were thanked in her speech became immediately the focus of attention at the expense of the message of unity among the opposition and her program of action should she be elected in December.

The mere mention of half a dozen names has exposed the raw nerve endings of supporters and opponents of the Independent candidate who have been emotionally exhausted, individually and collectively, as a result of many years of failure in their search for a unifying candidate.  And as soon as they thought they had found a promising candidate, their hopes were dampened - not dashed, in our view - by what some saw as favoritism coming from Dr. Touray who is being billed as the missing bridge connecting all the opposition parties.

There is certainly nothing wrong with extending gratitude to supporters who went the extra mile that distinguishes them from the rank and file but be certain that it can result in bruised ego and in hostility that any campaign can least afford, especially when your opponent is an incumbent named Yaya Jammeh.

In fact, according to sources, the same evening Jammeh watched the video of the ceremonies, he started falsely labeling known supporters of Dr. Touray as traitors who tried to topple his regime in 2014, and wondered why Gambians should entrust the future of the country in their hands.  Rough waters are ahead.

Plucking folks from the diaspora lineup and giving them special mention was, in our view, an unforced error that should have been avoided. As a result, it is proving to be troublesome, at least in the online Gambian community, because it is distracting from discussing issues outlined in Dr. Isatou Touray's Manifsto.

Perhaps expressing appreciation for their efforts could have been handled outside the formal Acceptance Speech to avoid the unnecessary rancor it had generated within the ranks of the opposition in the diaspora.  If the website version is an admission of error in judgement, we will chalk it as that and move on.

The Gambia Democratic Congress is not without its media problems.  We will be taking a look at what they are and how to avoid the avoidable in subsequent posts.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Dr. Isatou Touray's Acceptance Speech, Independent candidate for president, Republic of The Gambia

Dr. Isatou Touray, Independent candidate
Gambians are hardworking and peace loving people. In the last two decades I have traversed the length and breadth of this country, I have met hardworking men and women in the city, towns and villages, and have heard your stories and aspirations. I have also heard your frustrations. I am inspired and motivated by you the Gambians, by your desire for change in the face of immense economic hardship, restrictions on our freedom and personal liberty.

Alerted by a deep sense of concern for the Gambia, committed to our country’s advancement unfettered by repression, abuse, impunity and persecution, I have observed the current dispensation over the years.

What I have seen is a deteriorating Gambia with deteriorating institutions, where those in authority abuse state power to instill fear and hopelessness within the people. Gambians today are not free to say what they think. Fear and terror, through the abuse of state power, have so gripped the people that, most will look behind their shoulders before they speak.

The immediate and compelling task before us all is to awaken our consciousness of the sovereign power that resides in us – the people - to use our votes as the instrument of change to free ourselves from the rule of fear and terror, unleashed by a regime that created a series of laws or made amendments to existing laws that erode the rights and freedoms enshrined in the constitution.

I also observed the trends and patterns of the systematic mismanagement of our limited resources. Two decades of APRC misrule witnessed a series of false starts. While Gambians were yearning for results, APRC’s visions became mere illusions and so called operations were compromised.

During the recent past, the Gambia’s economy has been challenged by shocks, largely domestic and to a lesser extent external, resulting in low growth and resurgence inflation. The financial position weakened considerably compounded by weak policy implementation, particularly as regards excessive spending relative to mobilization and dwindling external budgetary support.

Those in power are not listening to the demands for political or economic reform. Conditions for political participation have been so crafted that political pluralism has been curtailed, generating a feeling of powerlessness among many. Too much power is concentrated in too few hands. We need a new approach to government that involves the people in decisions that affect them. Those who make decisions on behalf of others are too often not accountable. I will restore the sovereignty of the people, end impunity and decentralize authority and power.

It is my fervent belief and conviction that we can bring about change for a better Gambia by directing our efforts and political capital towards one end - the singular pragmatic goal of ushering in a new and third republic that brings progress by building strong democratic instruments and institutions, repealing the obnoxious laws that restrict our freedom and liberty, building a strong economy, and leveling the political playing field, so that the sovereign will of Gambians will always prevail in their choice of leadership.

I am committed, if elected to serve for one five year term only, working with all those who have the capacity and commitment to salvage the Gambia as it totters on the brink of total collapse. Nothing less than the fate of our nation and the future of our children hang in the balance. We cannot walk it alone neither can we turn back. Together, we can bring the change that is needed. Principles and values need not be compromised, but strategies and tactics must be flexible enough to make progress possible, especially under the difficult political conditions we face.

Everything I learnt in my years of work with the women, men and the youth of this country, and in academia, has convinced me that Gambians need a president that will serve them, not one that looks down on them, a president who will uphold the constitution, the rule of law and restore good governance; a government that will bring economic prosperity to Gambians. People want more say in the decisions that affect their lives. The old command and control politics, doing things to and for people, but never with them, has not and will not work.

True democracy does not mean voting every five years. True democracy requires the active participation of all citizens in planning the development programmes and activities for their localities, working with their wards, Village Development Committees and other development committees. Allowing people affected to take leadership in advancing the best interest based on the common good.

Together we can stop further degeneration of our beloved country and contribute to give it a new lease of life where hope, love and appreciation of each other, respect for fundamental freedom, dignity of the person, rule of law and peace will thrive, in an entity that is nothing other than Gambian, ensuring that nobody is victimized on the basis of tribe, religion or political affiliation For this is the true nature of the Gambian people.

Gambians face a dire situation with the APRC regime and every Gambian has a story to tell. But I urge you to muster courage and strength so that we can make the Gambia better.  I seek your support in our quest to bring the Gambia out of isolation, to build bridges and linkages with peoples of other nations in partnerships that safeguard, protect and promote the interest of the Gambia as a sovereign state.  Gambia’s interest is best served by engaging with other nation states and being part of the wider international community.

I want us to usher in a Gambia that will bring on board the hearts and minds of all Gambians in the Diaspora, including those who left the country because of the tribulations, persecutions, fear and abuses they face as private citizens, entrepreneurs, academics, politicians, and activists, but more than anything else, a new Gambia of economic prosperity, freedom, rule of law, peace and stability.

The youth of this country are frustrated and their hopes dashed. Those born at the cusp of the second republic have now come of age. Twenty years of APRC rule has failed to give them opportunities to fulfill their aspirations and achieve their goals. What their country has failed to give them i. e. jobs and decent living, they try to seek elsewhere, embarking on perilous journeys across the harsh desert and the wild Mediterranean. The Gambia needs you most now of all times, as nation builders and agents of change to build a better Gambia for us all. Your votes are your weapons to effect the change you desire. Under our sovereign third republican constitution, we can be the architects of our own destiny.

By investing more in the productive base of the economy, in the private as well as in the public sector, by avoiding wasteful spending, we will create more jobs that would motivate the young generation of school leavers and job seekers, remain in the country. We would motivate and encourage Gambian scholars and academics abroad to return and contribute their quota.

We would encourage and lure the private sector to open opportunities to the young people to earn a decent living and fulfill their dreams. We must preserve the Gambia for our children and the future generation and must open the doors for development.

We cannot afford to leave matters to chance and to men alone, heaven helps those who help themselves. Hardworking women of this country have waited far  too long for mainstream politicians entrusted to address the things that matter to you; family, home, work and the economy, garden inputs, access to credit and market outlets for your garden produce. Over the years, you have lobbied government to pass bills that could bring meaningful change to the lives of the women and men of this country. You have marched to protest against rape and domestic violence and other rights violations and you have campaigned for more inclusiveness for women in decision making. Women can no longer remain as onlookers and cheer leaders.

We can, together with the youth and men of this country, work to bring about unprecedented development in record time. Your personal concerns could become political if you use your voices and votes to be heard. You have a choice, you have a voice. The personal can be political and women and the economy are directly related. Where one is flourishing so is the other.

Your children will face new challenges. But each of you can help prepare for that future by standing for justice, equality and women’s rights at home and at the workplaces.

Human rights framework and perspective will continue to be central in our approach to issues as we strive to restore the dignity and integrity of all Gambians and all those who chose to live in the Gambia. We commit ourselves to democracy and good governance as we address the emerging issues of the state in order for the Gambia to gain its rightful position in the world.

 We cannot afford to be isolated in the current inter connected world of development initiatives. All sovereign citizens of the Gambia, living abroad, would be free, as a matter of right to return or visit the country their motherland which belongs to us all.

In this election of 2016, the country has a choice. The APRC regime has brought the country to the brink of economic collapse and dysfunctional social sectors.  The secular and republican status of the constitution is under threat. Youth unemployment and inflation are soaring and the level of human rights abuse is alarming. That path led to the Gambia’s descent from the unenviable status of ‘least developed country’ to our current pitiful status of ‘heavily indebted poor country’, a status that will change with me as the president of the Gambia.

When the Government of the First Republic was unconstitutionally toppled in a military coup in 1994, Yaya Jammeh, then a young army officer said he wanted to end self-perpetuation in power and condemned what he called the flamboyant lifestyle of the former regime. But in a twist of irony he then changed the constitution and removed term limits without consulting the people, perpetuating himself in power for twenty odd years. His lifestyle is not only flamboyant and lavish, but gross with planes, and a multi-million dollar home. He has broken faith with the people. It is time for him to go.

Together we can change that direction towards the path of economic growth, creating wealth, creating jobs for the youth, rewarding the hard work of Gambians across the country, upholding the fundamental rights and freedom of Gambians, the rule of law, and the promotion of women’s rights, and the national interest and security of the Gambia.

If elected, I intend to serve only one term, during which period, I would work with all the existing parties and Gambians ready and willing to steer the Gambia towards a direction that will enable it respond to the needs and aspirations of the people.

I reject the call to turn Gambia into an Islamic State intended to bring division and set us against each other. I will uphold and reinforce the secular republican status of the constitution, where every Gambian will be free to practice his or her religion in accordance with their faith; in a Gambia where democracy, good governance and human rights will prevail. I will bring the smile back to the face of the people of the smiling coast.

Culled from Dr. Touray website. This version was not checked against delivery 

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Adama Barrow's Acceptance Speech : UDP 2016 presidential candidate

Mr. Adama Barrow, UDP flag bearer 
It is our pleasure to introduce Mr. Adama Barrow, the United Democratic Party's (UDP) presidential candidate who was selected today 1st September, 2016.

The 51-year old Barrow hails from Basse and has been a member of the UDP since its inception in 1996.  He started his grassroots support of the UDP and worked in the Jimara Constituency.

His educational background includes a stint at Kuba Kunda primary school and at Muslim High School in Banjul via Crab Island Secondary Technical School.

We will allow Mr. Barrow to introduce himself to our readership, in his own words, as he accepts the nomination of his party today, 1st September 2016.


Acceptance Speech as UDP Presidential Candidate for the 2016 Elections.

The National Chairman of the United Democratic Party, Alhaji Dembo Byforce Bojang, the Acting Party leader and Secretary General Aji Yam Secka, honorable members of the Central Committee representing the party structures from all the Regions, party militants, Members of the diplomatic Corps, members of the press, ladies and gentlemen.
There comes a time in the life of an oppressed nation when its people just get up and say enough is enough. We have seen it over and over again throughout the whole world.  Gambia is not going to be an exception. WE have reached that stage. We have allowed our country to exist in fear and we do nothing about it.  It was Thomas Jefferson, third President of the United States who once said that "When the government fears the people, you have liberty. When the people fear the government, you have tyranny."  It is tyranny that prevails in Gambia.

I stand before you, before the whole nation, in humility having been honoured by my party, by the members of my party, by the entire Gambian people in selecting me to carry the flag of the United Democratic Party to victory in the forthcoming presidential elections. This is a great responsibility and I am accepting it with my unquestionable belief in Allah the Almighty and the confidence and trust I have in the Gambian people. I know the Gambian people are yearning for change. They have done so since 1996 and I believe that time has come for that change.  My nomination is the first step and I know that with the suffering that all Gambians irrespective of age, sex, religious or tribal background, have without exception experienced, we will bring about change in December. 

The United Democratic Party, being the largest single party in the Gambia has done what is expected of it. We have participated in all elections since the lifting of the ban on political activities imposed by the military junta in September, 1996 and apart from the ruling party, we have had the highest number of votes and the largest number of seats in the National Assembly. It was certain to everybody therefore, that the UDP was going to participate in the forthcoming cycle of elections starting with the nomination of its own candidate for president.Yes, we have indeed gone through unimaginable trials, our party alone, among all political entities in this country, our party lone has been singled out for the worst treatment one can imagine to mete out on one’s political opponent. Our party is the only party that has recorded since 1996 hundreds of unlawful arrests and detentions, a dozen of deaths and a handful of unexplained disappearances in the course of this political struggle against the APRC rule

The past twelve months have marked the beginning of drastic change in this country. It started in Fass Ngagga Choye when our Party leader and the UDP convoy going on a countrywide tour were stopped from continuing their tour. The standoff that followed led to the capitulation of government and granting of a permit to continue. The demonstration by our youths led by Solo Sandeng our Organising Secretary in April this year which led to their illegal arrest and detention and subsequent death in custody of Solo, was the turning point in the history of politics in our country. Our party leader and /Secretary General Lawyer Ousainou Darboe led his Executive to demand the release of Solo or his corpse, and his group and they in turn were arrested and tortured. The kangaroo court that tried them sentenced them to three years. The majority of the arrested executive members are over sixty-five years old. Three of them are over seventyThis cowardly action has led the Gambian people to appreciate that UDP is and has infect always been the party of the people and we are convinced that with the forthcoming elections the Gambian people will show this government that enough is enough.

I have been a member of the UDP since 1996 . As an ordinary member I worked for the party in my native constituency of Jimara, in Upper River Region where I was born in the town of Basse. I started my education from Koba Kunda primary school then in 1981 I went to Crab Island Secondary Technical School. After doing well in the secondary school leaving certificate examinations I proceeded to Muslim High School from 1985 to 1988. However, I spent most of my adult life in   Banjul in the guardianship of the famous Alhagie Momodou Musa Njie, who introduced me entrepreneurship and that’s what I have been doing successfully until today. I also lived and traveled extensively in both England and Germany. In 2010 the National Executive of the party appointed me as Coordinator of the UDP URR Committee.  This gave me the opportunity to travel the length and breadth of the Region and that way extended the membership and support of our party.  In 2006, I was again appointed by the Executive as Deputy Treasurer to Amadou Sanneh. I was quite comfortable in accepting this post because I did have prior accounting skills. This job, with the encouragement of Amadou, also broadened my interaction with the grassroots organisations of the party and today I can say that there is no Regional Committee that I am not known in. 
The unfortunate and unjustified detention and imprisonment of Amadou Sanneh further added a heavy burden on my shoulders. Not only was Amadou, with his extraordinary experience and knowledge highly suited for the job, he conducted his work with extraordinary skill and humaneness. I had had the fortune of working with and accepted to take on the job and in accepting it I knew what experienced working with him would stand me in a good position.  This position not only further brought me into wider contact with our members throughout the country, but as a senior member of Executive gave me the possibility of taking part in major business of the party and contributing  personally in the  decision making regarding matters of national importance.
 My role as Acting  Treasurer, a position I have now held for the past three years, has enabled me to cultivate a rich relationship with my colleagues on the Executive as well as party officials in the various regional committees and indeed at grassroots level. I can say with absolute certainty therefore, that I enjoy the confidence and support of both the Executive as well as the party rank and file.  As has been the case in my normal interaction with them I know that I will get their full encouragement and support knowing full well that that is the way to achieving our noble object of taking back our country. I have also within the framework of our interactions with the Gambian Diaspora, worked closely with UDP Chapters overseas.

As we take this bold step to enter the fifth cycle of elections since the military coup, we do so for our leaders, who have been unjustly arrested, imprisoned for months without bail maltreated and then sentenced to four years in prison. We will be letting them down and betraying them if we sit by and allow Yaya Jammeh to win these elections. As the leading party we owe it to them and the entire Gambian people to fight as if they were with us and win. Winning the elections will enable us to remove them from unlawful imprisonment and enable them to take their rightful places among their fellow Gambians and continue relentlessly their mission of redeeming and reconstructing our country from the terrible situation it has found itself for the past twenty two years.

As I accept the nomination as the party’s presidential candidate, let me urge you all - members of my party, and fellow Gambians in general, to rededicate ourselves to this noble task of salvaging our country. I wish to appeal to all Gambians particularly leaders and members of other sister parties to get together and unite around the common cause that we are unanimous that we have in common – remove this government in the polls and create a government truly of the people and by the people. In the coming days, my fellow Gambians I will be stretching my hands to other parties to come together to form a single front to once and for all take this soulless dictator out. It is a monumental task but we owe it to our country, to our leaders to do it and do it the right way.

In the next few days, our Executive and I would be contacting our colleagues in the other parties and other interested groups with a view to engaging in a dialogue that could lead to creating a conducive and feasible arrangement that would lead to the defeat of this government. I wish to call upon all Gambians to take these forthcoming elections seriously. We cannot continue another five years under Yaya Jammeh.  
I thank the Executive and the Central Committee for giving me honour and privilege to serve the party in this capacity and solemnly promise I will do all in my power to lead the party to success in the polls and beyond.  May Allah guide and protect us and bless our beloved country.

Long Live the United Democratic Party
Long live Ousainou Darboe and his colleague political prisoners
Long live the Gambia
I thank you all for your attention.