Monday, February 26, 2018

The problem with President Barrow's communication strategy is the absence of one

President Barrow and his Director of Press 
Faced with mounting criticism from supporters and non-supporters alike, at home and abroad, for staying behind the fortified State House and communicating minimally, if at all, at long stretches, President Barrow appeared recently to be surrendering to the public's demand by granting press interviews and addressing an audience of Gambian immigrants during his recent trip to Turkey.

Credit goes to the president for responding positively to criticism, even if the outcome of those press outings were anything but successful.  In fact, his comments and responses to questions produced what can only be described as serious backlash, in social media and on the ground in Banjul.

The Banjulians and the urban dwellers in the Greater Banjul Area were unfortunately on the receiving end of Barrow's public scorning in a foreign country.  Fire was returned immediately and ferociously from those who felt offended by Barrow's Ankara statement and rightfully so.

Our president should be a uniter and not a divider.  He should be the president of all Gambians and not a president of a section of a country or a group.  We maintain our early characterization of Barrow's Ankara speech as ill-advised, divisive and beneath the dignity of the Office of The President of The Republic of The Gambia.

The president's recent encounters with the press appears to be in response to mounting criticisms of his management style and his government's priorities during the transition period - criticism that seems to intensify as he continues to insulate himself further from the public by surrounding himself with relatives, friends and business partners he feels comfortable to be around with but who, unfortunately, have little or no governance experience.

In a recent television interview, President Barrow seemed to take pride in not taking the time to visit Military or Police Headquarters even though he's the, and neither has be visited the Department of Customs and Excise "that collects revenue" for his government.  If we extend his logic to apply to the condition of the nation's health facilities, he will not be visiting the country's doctors and nurses any time soon or the facilities in which they toil daily without electricity most of the time and where the medicine cabinets are empty.  We would like to believe this is not what he meant but that's how his statement is being interpreted. 

Is Barrow uncaring?  We don't think so.  In fact, he is generally seen as a caring person.  His public statements, however, suggest the opposite which points to the need to develop a communication strategy to address the obvious deficiencies in his communication skills.

Listening to critical voices outside of the State House bubble can be a double-edged sword.  It can and does keep him abreast of the concerns of the population to help him govern better.  But it can also contribute to reacting inappropriately, as he has done when he appeared to have dismissed and poo pooed the financial and intellectual contributions of diaspora Gambians, Greater Banjulians and many other non-Gambians across the globe.  There was the expected reaction from the diaspora, correcting the record of their financial and other contributions that led to Jammeh's electoral defeat.

It is now obvious, especially after so many misspoken words of the president, that a communication strategy is needed at the State House to ensure uniformity and consistency in messaging of the true account of the current state of the transition government which includes but not limited to the prepping up of the president before every interview with journalists, domestic and foreign.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

President Barrow must step down in 2019, unless...

The Coalition of 7+1 
The adage that a person is as good as his or her word will be tested in the coming months as President Barrow presidency approaches the halfway mark of the three-year MOU-specified tenure in office, which, in our view, must be respected.

For Barrow to serve beyond December 2019, the Coalition Partners comprising of the seven opposition parties and the independent presidential candidate must reconvene, in a convention-style forum, to agree to extend the mandate prescribed in the MOU beyond the 3-year limit.

During normal times, the issue would find an easy solution by simply referencing the MOU which created the Coalition under certain terms and conditions.  Unfortunately, these are not normal times.  The country is beginning to emerge from twenty-two years of one of Africa's most repressive regimes, the trauma of which is debilitating to both the democratic institutions as well as the human spirit.

The dictatorship also weakened the political parties to the point of rendering them impotent.   The former regime succeeded, as well, in blurring the lines that distinguished one political party from the other.  The resultant effect is a symbiotic relationships between them, driven partially by expediency and political opportunism rather than by shared values and principles.

The blurring of the boundaries occurred among opposition political parties, as well as among political parties' interests and, the personal interests of individual party members that were beginning to converge after the electoral victory of Adama Barrow.  It immediately resulted in the trading of party membership for positions in the civil service.

Recently, we cited the various sentiments expressed across the political divide regarding whether President Barrow should stick with the provisions or principles set out in the Coalition's MOU that requires the Coalition President to vacate the seat after three years or to follow the stipulated constitutional presidential term of 5 years.

The matter may have been a topic of discussion during the negotiations that led to the selection of Adama Barrow as the Coalition's flag bearer.  Whereas there are some who feel that the Coalition partners should stay true to the MOU, there are other voices that favor the stipulated presidential term of 5 years.

Because the National Assembly Members were elected to serve the full 5-year term, it becomes necessary to realigned the president's term with that of the NAMs.  The shortening the term of the NAMs to 3 years would be an unlikely option because it is already consistent and in line with the constitutional provisions.

That leaves open the options of formally extending the term of the Coalition president for an additional two years or not extending the president's MOU-mandated 3-year term which automatically allows the Vice President to assume the presidency for two years.

A convention of the Coalition partners must reconvened sooner than later so as to determine the length of term of the transitional president created by an MOU that is still operational, independent of the standard constitutional provisions and, only if to confirm maintaining the current status quo.  The MOU created the current political dispensation.

The MOU should form the basis for untangling the untidy mess created as a matter of necessity.  It is therefore an absolute and necessary imperative to untangle the mess to allow The Gambia to start the recalibration of the term of office of the President of The Republic with that of Members of the National Assembly.

Friday, February 23, 2018

SEMLEX-produced passports revoked and cancelled

Comoros Islands 

While the Foreign Affairs Minister of the Comoros Island, Souef Mohamed El-Amine, was busy revoking and cancelling - at last count - 170 Comoros passports, all issued by Albert Karaziwan, the Syrian-Belgian owner of SEMLEX, authorities in the Commonwealth of Dominica have raised concerns about the security of their own passports being produced by Semlex. 

In the case of Dominica, as in elsewhere in Africa where Semlex has operated, it is being reported that alleged bribes and kickbacks have been paid for Semlex to secure the contract.  Alarm bells rang when Dominican passports were found in the possession of Syrian nationals which were traced back to a large amount of blank passports delivered to individuals in Morocco. 

Although Dominican authorities denied that any of their passports were unaccounted for, the country was doing business with Semlex owned by "a dody Syrian national accused of major misconduct throughout Africa, according to and as described by a local press outlet.

Meanwhile back in the Comoros Islands, Mr. Karaziwan's Comoros diplomatic passport was being cancelled, together with those of his wife and children, in addition to 170 passports all issued by Semlex.  He was travelling as Ambassador of Comoros and Counsellor to the President of Comoros Islands. 

His appointments as Honorary Consul, Vice Consul, and Investment Counsellor, illegally coonfered on Mr. Karaziwan, were also cancelled by the government of the Comoros.

Mr. Karaziwan was also accused in the Comoros of printing and selling the country's passports to foreign nationals, including the brother of Iran oil sanctions evader, Reza Zarrab, who recently pled guilty in U.S. District Court in New York. 

It is being reported that the Government of Comoros Islands has demanded further information, from Semlex, on an additional 158 passports that were claimed to have been issued and delivered to foreign nationals.  It is not known, according to reports, whether criminal charges will be brought against Semlex.


Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Why is SEMLEX being forced down our throats?

Semlex Hq in Brussels 
The on-again off-again contract between the family-owned Belgian company, Semlex,  and the Gambia government is on-again.  Pristine Consulting, a Microsoft-certified, Gambian-owned biometric company, was first awarded the contract to produce national ID documents, eventually ran afoul of the Jammeh regime that resulted in court action.  In the end, one of the owners of the company went into exile in the U.S. and the other briefly held in custody.

Eventually, it was Jammeh's turn to be sent into involuntary exile after he lost the December 2016 election when the new government of Adama Barrow tried awarding the contract to Semlex without properly engaging Pristine in the process which contravened the open tender process for such projects that involved public funds.  For background history of the Semlex contract saga, read more here, here here and here.

Fast forward to December 2017 when the government decided to invite Semlex and Pristine to re-submit proposals in a limited tender with a January 2018 deadline.  Pristine accepted the invitation and proceeded to submit its proposal accordingly.  Semlex, on the other hand, adamantly refused to participate and thus did not submit a proposal because it felt entitled to the contract and should be "restored" regardless. 

Why is Semlex feeling entitled to the contract? This is a company that is currently being investigated in Belgium and has had both its headquarters and the CEO's private residence raided by the police in search of evidence.  The company has been suspected for engaging in bribery and corruption in several Africa countries where its business record is found to be so appalling that it calls for it to be blacklisted in The Gambia.

Why is Semlex acting so brashly?  Is it because, as it is being alleged, that the brother of the Attorney General and Minister of Justice is the currently serving as Semlex's lawyer in The Gambia?  If true, why is the Justice Ministry managing the procurement process instead of the Finance Ministry?  Why is the Justice Minister not recusing himself from the process because he is so conflicted?

In the words of the Justice Minister, the decision to accorded Pristine the privilege to participate in the limited re-tendering was "for strategic legal reasons", suggesting something nefarious especially when Semlex's refusal to submit a proposal was rewarded instead with the contract that will now include the production of the country's voters card - a very perplexing development.

More perplexing, according to the Justice Minister, Semlex is being awarded the contract to avoid, what the minister concludes, to be, another expensive arbitration judgement he is certain to lose at a huge price to the public treasury.  Says who, and is that sufficient reason to contravene the procurement laws by awarding a contract to a company that refuses to honor government's invitation to a limited tender.  Gambians cannot lose sight of the fact that Semlex refused to submit a bid and is being rewarded with a contract nonetheless.

The conspicuous absence - in public, at least - of the Ministry of Finance is equally perplexing as the ministry responsible for public procurement process.  When the former Interior Minister Fatty led the charge in support of Semlex, the current Justice Minister was dead set against awarding the contract to Semlex.  Now, he's the one championing the Belgian company.  What has changed?

Finally, given all the controversies surrounding Semlex and its dismal record around the African continent, Government should blacklist the company by barring it from doing business in The Gambia, as other countries have done.  If Semlex's public business record is not enough, the fact that its offices and the CEO's private residence have been raided in search of evidence relating to bribery and corruption allegations should be sufficient to raise the alarm bells in Banjul.

Is orderly transfer of power possible in The Gambia?

As the Ukraine government was crumbling under the sheer weight of three months of protests against the repressive regime of Yanukovich in the winter of 2014, we were wondering whether Gambians will be so lucky as to enjoy an orderly and/or non-violent transfer of power.

This was two years before the December 1 2016 elections that saw the defeat of Yaya Jammeh which caught the majority of Gambians and non-Gambians flat-footed.  The violent protests in Kiev looked like an acceptable option for our country as Jammeh became more bellicose in language and reckless in action with the increase use of obnoxious laws that threatened opposition leaders with imprisonment.  This made the Gambia National Assembly an increasingly possible vehicle for political change.

We predicted that an orderly transfer of power was possible through parliamentary action.  Like most, our electoral chances of dislodging Jammeh was next to nil.  We join the many to have been gladly proven wrong by the Gambian electorate. 

This blog post was first published February 23rd 2014.  Enjoy.


We watched in real time as anti-government protesters in Kiev finally overran the city, after three months of protests against a repressive and corrupt dictatorship similar to what we have in The Gambia.  The Ukrainian protesters proceeded to fill the vacuum left by a fleeing President Viktor Yanukovich by occupying the Presidential offices.

The opposition immediately demanded May elections while the Ukrainian Parliament, under the control Yanukovich's party only hours before, voted almost unanimously to remove him from power.  They also voted to release the former Prime Minister who was being held in a hospital ( not in a prison ) who proceeded immediately to the city square to address the jubilant anti-government protesters. Although Parliament is yet to authorize an interim government, the affairs of state appears to be in the hands of its members.

It is obviously too early for the Ukrainian protesters to declare complete victory, given the complex nature of the competing geopolitical interests at play involving Russia, the U.S. and the European Union with Russia's stake being the highest.  Kiev did not only rain on Putin's Sochi parade both literally and figuratively, (the Sochi Winter Olympics just ending), the crisis has the potential of handing the Russian leader a humiliating defeat he can least afford to suffer at the hands of a strategically important ally of the Russian Federation. Equally unaffordable is for the United States to adopt a zero sum strategy that goes for gold i.e. push for total victory by the anti-government forces, assuming that Russia will not react with severe economic sanctions with the option of the use of military force to keep Ukraine within the orbit of the Russian Federation.  A solution that will help Russia safe face is the likely outcome.

Kiev protesters serving riot police sandwiches

Of course, conditions in Ukraine is far more complex that involve Russia, U.S and the European Union. The strategic importance of Ukraine cannot be compared with Gambia's, but there are lessons that can be drown from the events unfolding in Kiev and around Ukraine.

The protesters at the center of Kiev are yearning for the same things Gambia opposition parties are yearning for - freedom of association, of expression, of assembly, human rights, the rule of law and a government free of corruption. Within a federated Russia, even Ukraine's residual power appears to have been usurped by Putin and his cronies.  Yanukovich was part of Putin's team, but so was the Parliament until it decided, ultimately, to switch teams and join those demanding democratic space and the freedom to decide their own destiny.  They want closer ties with the European Union and the West. Russia, of course, wants to maintain the status quo.

Ordinary Gambians have been deprived of their liberties for twenty years by a repressive and corrupt regime.  The regime has found a dependable ally in the National Assembly that rubber stamps every law that originates from Yaya Jammeh, regardless of the impact of the law.

For example, and by way of illustrating the pathetic state of affairs within Gambia's parliament, the National Assembly passed a law that gives the president the power not only to expel a member from the party for breaking party by-laws but from Parliament as well, even though parliamentarians are directly elected by the people whose interest they are to serve and protect in the National Assembly. We have tried to look for a comparable law under similar circumstances in any country without success, not even in Ukraine.  Gambian parliamentarians have the unique distinction of voluntarily surrendering their mandate to the Gambian dictator who has routinely exercised his extraordinary powers against parliamentarians.

Is a Parliament that is composed of men and women of the caliber that readily surrenders its power to a dictator capable of putting the interest of the Nation ahead of that of a dictator like Jammeh?   Does the Gambia's National Assembly have the capacity to emulate the Ukrainian Parliament by deciding to put the national interest ahead of personal, individual interest?  When the protests persisted for over three months with increasing violence and mounting body counts, and the prospects of civil war staring members of the Ukrainian parliament straight in the face, they decided to abandon their individual interest in favor of the national interest.

Anti-government protesters in improvised Medieval armor - Kiev   

Gambia's National Assembly has been in the clutches of the Gambian dictator for so long that members seemed to have developed the Stockholm Syndrome.  Despite this, it is still possible that the National Assembly can, and with the right conditions will put the interest of the country ahead of individual and/or parochial interest should matters come to a head.  The conditions that exist in the Ukraine as they relate to individual and collective freedoms are similar to those that obtain in The Gambia.  The economic conditions and mismanagement are worse in The Gambia than in the Ukraine, leading to the threat of total collapse of the country's economy. Corruption continues to be rampant and unchecked.  In fact, it has gotten worse.

Our optimism and faith in the National Assembly to put the nation's interest ahead of Jammeh's is based entirely on recent trends observed in the proceedings of the National Assembly's Public Accounts and Public Enterprise Committees (PAC and PEC).   Over the past year, individual parliamentarians, few as they may be, have been unusually vocal.  Some have even ventured to veer away from the official position and toward the public interest at the cost of their membership in the party and in the National Assembly.  But there are still some in the national Assembly who are capable of leading a revolt by first voting to rescend the law empowering Jammeh to expel them as members of Parliament thus restoring their full parliamentary powers.

Parliamentarians have been particularly vocal about the lack of proper groundnut marketing and extension support to farmers, contrary to the regime's official pronouncements. To cite specific instances beyond what we've said here will only expose the concerned parliamentarians to political pressure from Jammeh and his ruling party.  There appears to be the desire to break loose from Jammeh's stranglehold.   With growing recognition of the failure of Jammeh's policies combined with an increasing level of corruption that is threatening the social order, some parliamentarians are ready and willing to side with the interest of Gambia and Gambians.  Of course, the opposition parties must provide the spark necessary to set the stage for a massive protest against tyranny.

We have left the army out of the Gambian equation because it will be last institution to join any popular uprising given its composition, and the corrupted command and control structure designed to make it difficult to act effectively under any command that is not led by Yaya Jammeh. That said, if a parliamentary revolve similar to Ukraine's should take place in the Gambia - it is within the realm of possibility - with politicians from the opposition and the ruling APRC joining forces, Gambia will succeed where many African countries have failed in the transfer of power from dictatorship to a new democratic dispensation with little or no bloodshed.

Are we engaged in wishful thinking?  Perhaps.  But it is also something the APRC parliamentarians should ponder over the next several days or weeks; to convene the National Assembly to remove Yaya Jammeh from power for the abuse of power.  To avoid a vacuum being created as we are are witnessing in Ukraine, the National Assembly should also pass a law ordering a transition government be formed to prepare for fresh, free, fair and transparent elections.  The international community, and especially the regional bodies, will be less hostile to this scenario than your run-of-the-mill military coup d'etat.


Monday, February 19, 2018

The rigged electoral calendar and President Barrow's 3-year term limit need to be revisited

This blog post is exactly a year old, but the issues raised therein are are pertinent today as they were then.  In fact, they have become more urgent as we approach the 3-year term of the Transition Government of Adama Barrow.  A reprint of the February 19th 2017 issue. 
President Barrow taking the Oath of Office 

Gambia's electoral calendar was tailor-made for Jammeh at his request, to benefit him and him alone.  The recently concluded presidential elections, the results of which were announced in favor of candidate Adama Barrow, took another seven weeks or 51 days before the incumbent vacated State House.  And he did so under threat of ECOMIG forces who were left with no option but to deliver their ultimatum: leave now or else we'll forcibly remove from from State House and into Mile II prisons.

The parliamentary elections are yet to be held. They are schedule to take place a clear four months (in April) after the presidential elections were conducted that transformed an opposition candidate as the new president who must inherit a parliamentary majority of the party that dominated Gambian politics for 22 years.  The new president is not only inheriting a hostile parliament but he is saddled with a budget that was prepared, approved and executed for, at least, the first two months of the new administration, by the outgoing regime.  It could be legitimately argued that budget execution is still in the hands of those whose allegiance is to the defeated Jammeh regime.  At least, until he departed on 21st January 2017, Jammeh has full control of and directing the levers of power, including the ability to execute the budget to his advantage.  A supplementary budget can be submitted to address some of these issues.

Realigning the electoral calendar to address the unacceptable gap between the presidential and parliamentary elections is an urgent issue that must be addressed.  The conduct of the presidential and parliamentary elections must be on the same day based on solid financial grounds.  Every effort must be made to utilize scare financial resources scrupulously.  Gambia couldn't afford it then and, certainly. it cannot afford it now, to conduct separate elections for the Presidency and  the National Assembly. Of course, adopting same day elections will also remove the undesirable gap between the expiration of the presidential term and that of the National Assembly to prevent a repeat of what Gambians were put through between December 1st of last year and January 21st of this year.

This brings us to the 3-year term of President Barrow as called for in the MOU of the Opposition Coalition 2016, which are a set of conditions agreed to by the seven opposition political parties plus one independent presidential candidate that made it possible for the candidature of Adama Barrow as the Coalition's presidential flag bearer.  We have no doubt that all aspects of the MOU - including every clause - that support the strategic objectives of the Coalition are negotiated in good faith and with every intention of being honored by all parties.

However, the extraordinary circumstances confronting the Coalition of Adama Barrow warrant a revisit of the terms of the MOU, particularly as it relates to presidential term.  As it stands presently, President Barrow is required to vacate the presidency in January 2020, two years before the end of term of the National Assembly that will be elected in April of this year.  If the 3-year term limit is maintained as well as the 5-year term for the National Assembly, it will create a nightmare scenario that will prove impossible to manage and will make programming of development funds almost impossible.  Government must bring its budgetary programming schedule/cycle in line with both domestic and external actors by ensuring that the lives of both the presidency and national assembly are in sync.

Of course, reducing the term of the incoming National Assembly members to correspond with that of President Barrow's is an option but it will not address the programming issue that a shortened term for the Coalition presidency will pose for Gambia's domestic partners.  It is, therefore, neater and easier to extend the term of President Adama Barrow by 2 years to 2022 instead of 2020.      

Sunday, February 18, 2018

53rd Independence Speech by President Barrow

Fellow Gambians,

As we celebrate yet another Independence day, we must reflect on the state of our nation over the past 53 years, and hence the theme of my address focuses on THE ‘NEW GAMBIA’ FOR REFLECTION AND SOUL-SEARCHING FOR INCLUSIVE NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT

My fellow Gambians, 

Together, we have ushered the New Gambia into a world of hope - while we shall jealously guard to preserve the freedom and dignity of our people.   We should continue to nurture the spirit of unity to build the New Gambia that we want and deserve.  Peace is priceless, that is why my government will tirelessly work towards safeguarding this peace to be able to set our development agenda on the right path.  

We can only continue to enjoy a peaceful atmosphere if we embrace our diversity, and as citizens selflessly contribute to making The Gambia the best it can be. We will always have our differences but we must learn to respect those differences.  There is no one correct perspective but let us remember that despite our political, ethnic, economic, gender difference, we have one thing in common –we have one Gambia and we are all Gambians.

We can only impact positive change in our institutions and society if we realise that the ultimate responsibility to bring effective systems in place lies with all of us, state and non-state actors. We all have specific responsibilities that we cannot neglect. 

In this regard we must take responsibilities bestowed on us and be accountable to the citizens. No matter what position you hold in my government, or profession you practice, or be you an opinion shaper, or a politician, we are in it together for the success of this country.

We have won the war against dictatorship, which is the easy part, maintaining the peace for our democracy to thrive will be our utmost challenge.  This will require patience, tolerance, and even mistakes will be made but we will correct them as we work towards perfecting the New Gambia.  In this journey we are not alone, the world has opened its arms and shows us a lot of goodwill in this experiment of democracy, and we must make good use of this opportunity.  The Gambia has been re-admitted to the Commonwealth of Nations because of our strife to promote democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law.

My fellow Gambians,

In shaping the New Gambia, my government has begun the task of steadily reforming the government machinery.  The reforms will put in place the instruments for best practices we formulate in governance through the policies and practices in the execution of our duties. This will also include cultural and attitudinal change in the timely execution and delivery of our work.  In this regard my administration will focus not only on service delivery but also on the quality of work expected of public servants. 

Under my administration, every artificial barrier that will prevent the application of creativity, innovation and service delivery system will be completely removed.

It is one year into my administration, and yet we have remove one of the major huddles – Management by Fear – by creating an enabling environment that encourages critical thinking, collaboration, positive engagement, guided by a clear vision in our quest to build the New Gambia. This vision is captured in our National Development Plan 2018-2021. 

This plan is our National blueprint that would ensure the New Gambia is put on a firm footing to deliver good governance and accountability, social cohesion and national reconciliation and above all to revitalise and transform the economy for the wellbeing of all Gambians. 

My priorities which are in line with the NDP is to fix the energy problem, improve health and agricultural sub-sectors, youth empowerment, and education and tourism.  

To this end, the office of the President and Ministry of finance will work in tandem to ensure that a robust monitoring and delivery system is put in place so that I will be personally briefed on a quarterly basis on the status of implementation of the NDP. 

Fellow Gambians, 2017 was a challenging period in starting the transformation process because we inherited a structure and a system that was dysfunctional, with coordinated policies, and in some instances no records for my government to immediately continue governance. We have also recognized the impatience from fellow Gambians and in some cases frustrations in the speed with which they want to see things happen. 

In spite of all these challenges, my government has registered modest but profound improvements in tax reforms which has significantly benefited companies and individuals, improved macroeconomic performance by improving our import cover from one month to four months, improved fiscal discipline by cutting on our expenses and reduced borrowing. We will also implement the vehicle policy that will reduce the overall government spending in maintenance and fuel cost.

Similarly we have improved the power supply across the nation, where in some places fellow citizens are enjoying 20-24 hours of steady supply.

Fellow Gambians,

On Justice and Judicial reforms, a Constitutional Review Commission, Truth, Reconciliation and Reparation Commission and the Human Rights Commission have been enacted.  The Executive Secretary of the TRRC has also been appointment.  At this junction, I will use this opportunity to declare a moratorium on the use of the death penalty in The Gambia, as a first step towards abolition.

Similarly the Security Sector Reform assessment has been completed and it will guide the programme design and implementation. 

On Works and Infrastructure, we have secured $75Million grant from the Chinese to construct roads and bridges in the Upper River Region.

Fellow Gambians,

The Gambia is open for business and we have taken steps to facilitate trade and provide incentives for investment in the country.  We now have a country that will benefit from greater openness through international trade.  Many investors are exploring the Gambian market and opportunities.

We have formulated several policies to enhance our trade relations and to better integrate The Gambia in to the multilateral trading system.  The Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) has been ratified.  The Gambia was successfully reinstated into the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) which provides duty free market access to the United States.

The Ministry of Youth and Sports is partnering with Ministry of Trade, Industry, Regional Integration and Employment on the EU funded Youth Empowerment Project working closely with the International Organisation for Migration. 

Fellow Gambians

The price of groundnut at the seccos has increased from D16,850 last year to D18,800 per ton this year.  Also, the Islamic Development Bank provided my government with $25million to support farmers with groundnut seeds and fertilizers. The Agriculture and Natural Resources policy 2017-2026 has been reviewed to boost and add value to agriculture.
The Ministry of Fisheries, Water Resources and National Assembly Matters and the Ministry of Justice reviewed the fisheries regulations 2008 to make it more relevant to our current realities.

My government has signed an agreement with the FTI tour operators to boost the tourism industry and build the capacity of young people in the sector, all aimed at making tourism an all year round activity.

Fellow Gambians,

My government has put in place the right policies and programmes to protect our environment and combat the effects of climate change and has benefitted from $20.5million from the ECO system based adaptation climate change project to restore and build The Gambia natural resource base.

To improve health delivery, we have obtained mobility for Village Health Workers and Community Health Nurses across the country. 

Fellow Gambians,

In one year, MRC Holland Foundation has supported the construction of 477 new classrooms in 50 schools, renovation of 318 classrooms, 520 toilets and 28 staff quarters built, 28 schools and staff quarters solarised and 29 boreholes dug in 29 schools.

The curriculum review process is ongoing and with support from the World Bank and the Global Partnership for Education, we are building on existing programmes to enhance access to quality basic education, including early childhood education.
To enhance capacity in the education sector, 75 Teachers in various disciplines are undergoing their graduate studies at the University of The Gambia.

To further strengthen the freedom of the media, my government is preparing an Information Bill and a committee on Media Law Reform has been set up to review the existing media laws to support the drafting of a Media Law that is in line with the developments in media and communication technologies. 

The first Private television station has been licensed and all the radio stations that have been illegally shut down have been re-opened. 

In one year, I held three bi-annual press conferences with both local and international press all aimed at informing the Gambian and development partners on the state of affairs of the nation.  We will continue to pursue our communication strategies. 

Fellow Gambians,

May I now turn my attention to the students. We have begun a journey that will usher in democratic change and this comes with respect for human rights and the rule of law.  However, it equally calls for responsible citizenship, and to this end, I want to encourage you to be steadfast in your education and learning to become future teachers, nurses, engineers, technicians, doctors, journalists, politicians and business people to name a few on whose shoulders the New Gambia will be carried into the future.  We need these professions to thrive as a modern nation that is successful.  Success can only be built through hardwork; there is no short cut to success. Those countries that have advanced placed country before self, show respect for rule of law and have positive attitude towards nation building. 

Therefore, I am calling on both parents and teachers to redouble their efforts to instill discipline, hardwork, truthfulness, self-reliance and love for nation before self.  It is such values that can make The Gambia great again.

I cannot conclude my statement without thanking our partners who stood by us when it was difficult and continue to stand by us as we strive to realise our national development plan. Each one of them took strategic decision to support us because of our common belief in nurturing democracy, rule of law, freedom and equality of all citizens.

On that note I thank you for your kind attention and wish you a happy celebration.


Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Gambia's media laws violate human rights of journalists, says ECOWAS court

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) regional court has ruled that the Gambia's draconian media laws violate the human rights of journalists.

Amnesty International (AI) declared that today's ruling is "an historic day for Gambia's journalists and human rights defenders who, for decades, have suffered torture, imprisonment or exile just for exercising their right to freedom of expression."

The ruling should mark a new beginning in the relations between the new transition government of Adama Barrow and Gambian journalists at home and abroad.

We join Amnesty International in encouraging the government of Adama Barrow to waste no time in repealing these draconian laws that inhibit free flow of information and thus deny the news consuming public unfettered access so that they become better informed citizens.

A repeal of these laws, among other draconian laws that are vestiges of the colonial era such as the Public Order Act of 1955 that severely restricts the citizens' right to assembly, will bring The Gambia in line with its international and regional responsibilities as a member of the international in good standing.

The case was filed by the Federation of African Journalists (FAJ) in December 2015 on behalf of four exiled Gambian journalists during the brutal and repressive regime of Yaya Jammeh.  They argued that their rights to freedom of expression had been violated by the Jammeh regime through the enforcement of laws criminalizing libel, sedition and false news.   

Thursday, February 8, 2018

President and Adviser of Barrow's Youth for National Development resign

President Adama Barrow 
The president and adviser of the recently formed Adama Barrow's Youth for Development have resigned from their respective posts. 

Both resignations take effect today.  It is unclear whether the decisions of the two officers were coordinated.

In her resignation letter addressed to the executive members and advisors of the President Barrow Youth for National Development (PBYND) dated February 8th, 2018, the president of PBYND, Ndey Fatima Jammeh said she was selected to lead the movement "on a transparent basis and on the promise that we will be loyal to each other."  She continued, "[H]owever, (the) spirit faded away because of few individual's personal interest and that is not the agenda we wanted."

She assured Gambians that she "wouldn't be part of anything that will be a threat or to jeopardize the peace and democracy of my country."

Lamin K. Saidy, was carried the title of Adviser to the Barrow's Youth for National Development also submitted his resignation citing similar sentiments.  He said in accepting the challenge as adviser to the group, he did so in the spirit of providing his support to the initiative.  "However, over the past months, the nation is divided in opinion about the formation of such a group attributing it to politics." To many, he continued, "it has the potential of undermining democratic principles on which our new found democracy is built on."

In concluding his resignation letter, Mr. Saidy said that although there is no evidence to support the concerns that the PBYND is more political- than development-oriented, his overriding reason for resigning his post has to do with protecting his credibility and that of the civil society organization he works with.  Although personal, his decision to resign is also guided by his professional undertaking. 

Monday, February 5, 2018

It'd be a grave error to misread the national mood

Sidi Sanneh 
The arrest and detention of Dr. Ismaila Ceesay, a political science lecturer at the University of The Gambia, for expressing a personal view that the Barrow administration found unpalatable, is the latest in a series of unforced errors that has refocused the spotlight on the human rights of Gambians.

The furor that accompanied the universal condemnation of the arrest was a strong signal to the government that Gambians cherish their restoration of their inherent freedoms and will resist any attempt to return the country to dictatorial rule.  We've been there once, we are not going  to travel that road again.

It appears that it is because of the strength of the reaction from local and international human rights activists and ordinary citizens that resulted in his release of the University of The Gambia lecturer.  Whether it will result in a lasting change and commitment to democratic norms, the rule of law  and cessation of operational command being conducted from State House instead of from Police Headquarters.

Public reaction to Generals Ansumana Tamba and Umpa Mendy's surreptitious entry into the country has been equally ferocious.  The two military officers, who are closest and among the most trusted of Jammeh's  inner circle, elected to join the ex-dictator into involuntary exile in January of 2017 only to resurface in Banjul without notice or being detected at the port of entry despite being well known military personalities.

This serious security breach, and others before it, of course, raised eyebrows and raised a dust storm, followed by probing questions as to how the two could have slipped into the country unnoticed.  Investigations, we are told, are still ongoing and, we expect, the results and the remedial measures will be shared.  The Gambia people demand it.

Recent security lapses are constant reminders that very little has changed since Gambians voted the transition government to power because administrative/institutional structures built purposely to prop up the 22-year dictatorship and the personnel trained to maintain a repressive and corrupt system  are still intact and discernibly operational.

The appointment of a political operative and convicted drug dealer by President Barrow as his Youth Adviser was, again, so out of touch with the mood of the country that it invited more public scorn and criticism of the continued torn deafness of the government. 

It is this current state of play that probably led the PDOIS (political party) leader to tell an East London audience last October that even though a regime was changed has occurred at last December 1st 2016 presidential elections, there's yet to be a system change; an observation that some found to be an unfair critic of the government. 

Nothing has changed, the sentiment goes, except Gambia replacing Jammeh with Barrow as president.  In a recent BBC interview, the Gambian Information minister was hard pressed to list Barrow's achievements in its first year at the helm.  And when he listed freedom of speech and association, the interviewer retorted that these were inherent rights that Gambians were bound to exercise even if Barrow put both hands in his pockets and did nothing.

Gambians' patience is being tested to the limit by a government that seems more interested in cutting deals and getting entangled in procurement processes that is, in our opinion, beneath the dignity of the highest office in the land.  The focus should be on kick-starting an under performing economy to improve the livelihood of 2 million inhabitants who are among the world's poorest.  The impatient mood with the Barrow administration is not only with Gambians but with our development partners.


Thursday, February 1, 2018

Shut the foundations down, Mr. President

Foundations, by definition, are generally nonprofit legal entities, created, typically, to support a good cause by donating funds and support to other organizations or provide the source of funding for its own charitable purposes.

Foundations can also be for wealthy individuals seeking permanence with the preservation of a family legacy. Henry Ford and Bill and Melinda Gates come to mind.  Highly successful businessmen and women, politicians and mega-rich individuals set up foundations, using their own resources exclusively as seed money, or use supplementary funding from various sources to promote a cause.

As the saying goes, the easiest way to fund a cause is to write a personal check.  Setting up of a legal entity requires a structured framework to qualify as a non-profit organization that must conform to the laws, including the tax laws, of the country of incorporation.

The foundation must be appropriately and adequately staffed just like any for-profit entity with executive officers to manage the financial and human resources of the foundation. A foundation and a business enterprise are markedly different in only that the former is a non-profit entity and the latter is not.

Because the foundation requires permanent staff and other recurrent costs, managing it require huge investment outlays in recruitment and retention of professional experts in numerous fields.  In short, to run a foundation is a full time job and thus not an appropriate vocation, especially for a sitting president who is charged with managing an entire country.

If history is a reliable guide, then the country's experience with foundations run by the occupant of State House must serve as a warning to his successors.  The experience has been abysmal, at best, because they served the previous president as a conduit that funnel funds solicited from Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries for the private use of the ex-dictator.

It is this sort of abuse that foundations of the kind being proposed by president Barrow are frown upon because they are subject to abuse.  Foundations in Africa have been used by politicians to divert public funds for private use and to launder money.

President Barrow is head of a transition government elected to serve for a period of three years.  It is our view that he should focus the next two years addressing the structural problems created by the previous regime that impede economic growth and development and not managing foundations at the risk of using public funds to run them.  He should also address the problems posed by an inefficient civil service among other institutional bottlenecks.  You can find a detail list of priority areas in this blog post with the review of our Constitution and electoral law reform being among the most urgent.

In conclusion, the CEO of The Gambia and guardian of the State Constitution that declares The Gambia a Secular State should not be seen promoting a religion by building mosques across the country and not propagating one religion over another.  In either case, it would be unconstitutional.  Allow religious leaders to perform their religious leaders to propagate their respective religions while political leaders tend to the affairs of State.