Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Media role is to protect the rights and welfare of children, says UNICEF Country Rep.

Sara Beysolow Nyanti, UNICEF Chief in Banjul
The UNICEF Resident Representative in The Gambia, Ms. Sara Beysolow Nyati, has called upon the Gambian media to provide balanced reporting in general, but particularly in the reporting of the general welfare of Gambian children in The Gambia.

In what appeared to be a mild criticism of the independent media.  The UN official was addressing the journalists who attended the UNICEF - financed workshop when she stressed the need for an independent media that will not only protect the rights and welfare of children but to be treated as citizens at par with the rest of the adult population.

It is important to note (i)  that there are independent media entities in The Gambia and (ii) what is referred to as independent media are those that are the privately - owned.  All those that are in the latter category operate under unwritten self-censored rules.  Although they are unwritten, as an editor of reporter, you know it when you've crossed the line by a phone call from the notorious National Intelligence Agency (NIA) or the Serious Crime Unit.

The regime's favorite targets are journalists as attested to by the numerous journalists in exile across the globe, estimated to be in the region of 200.  Journalism is by far the single most dangerous profession in The Gambia, perhaps outside of being a member of the country's militia and other security units.  The regime has created a deliberately designed harsh environment that even the Yaya Jammeh-owned Daily Observer runs afoul if the unwritten rules of journalistic conduct of the dictator.

Ms. Nyanyi's appealed to journalists by saying that "as partner [in development]...giving the right information will help [UNICEF and the donor community] work together to fulfill the rights of people, especially children." To say that her appeal fell on deaf ears will not be accurate but it is safe to say that it fell on cautious ears because the journalists in the room know very well what "giving the right information" that is inconsistent with the official government narrative will cost them.  They are walking an extremely fine line and donors must be cognizant of the plight of Gambian journalists.

There is no doubt that Gambia journalists practicing their profession in The Gambia are experts in accentuating the positive that keeps them out of trouble with the dictatorship.  Unfortunately, this instinctive maneuver by journalists comes at a cost of omitting what the UNICEF Country Representative refers to as "good and correct information" which can easily land a  journalist in real trouble.  Veteran journalist Deyda Hydara was assassinated to exactly the same reason - reporting "good and correct information."

Gambia journalists are aware of the serious public health issues facing most parts of the rural areas, especially as it relates to nutrition that has particularly hit the Central River the hardest. but they are afraid to report the problem for fear of being killed or made to disappear.

Gambian journalists operating in the Gambia are equally aware of the results of UNICEF's own study of child education which shows that while access to primary education is high - and the regime should be commended for that - quality and rate of continuity are low, particularly for girls.  Not all children make it to the Upper Basic.  "Of the 69 per cent of the children starting school, only 63 per cent reach 9th Grade and only 17 per cent achieve a pass in mathematics, which indicates a major problem relating to quality.  Journalists would rather self-censor themselves than go against the regime mantra of building schools in every village to increase access even if it means the end product is not suited for competition in the local job market much less the regional or international job markets.

Journalists are not the only ones fearful of the regime.  NGOs working in this area are working equally in fear and thus very cautious of even sharing information with outside journalists for fear of expulsion.  Well speaking of expulsion, the United Nations Family in The Gambia has had it own fair share of the wrath of a ruthless and idiosyncratic dictator.  Amnesty International got it right when it aptly titled its seminal 2008 Report on the Gambia - "Fear Rules".    

     

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Yaya Jammeh on a conference call to Gambians residing in Atlanta in February 1995 (AUDIO)





In less than a year after he seized power illegally and immediately following the arrest of the Junta's Number Two strongman, Sanna Sabally and the then Interior Minister, as suggested by the audio recording, the Gambian dictator was on a telephone conference call with some Gambians resident in the American city of Atlanta in Georgia.

While a transcription of the audio is being made and further background information regarding events leading up to the conference call, I invite readers to listen to the raw tape and make up your own minds about this character named His Excellency Doctor Professor Alhagie Yahya Abdul-Aziz Jamus Junkung Jammeh Naserudeem.

The spectacular failure of a dictator

His Excellency, Dr, Sheikh, Professor Alhagie Yaya Jammeh, Naserudeen
When the Gambian dictator seized power illegally in July, 1994, he promised to return to army barracks after overseeing the transition from the Jawara government to a new replacement government.

He also promised an unsuspecting citizenry an accountable,transparent and a probing government with the assurance that he will never introduce a military dictatorship.  Instead, Gambians were treated to one of the most corrupt, incompetent and opaque dictatorship in Africa by one of the least prepared and most vindictive individual Gambian society had on offer.

21 years ago, His Excellency Sheikh Alhagie Doctor Professor Yaya Jamus Junkung Jammeh inherited an agriculture sector, the single most important sector in terms of employment - employing over 70% of Gambians -  and foreign exchange earning capacity - contributing 20% of GDP - that appears to have been abandoned by a regime that is over its head, a regime that lacks both capacity and the will to govern.  It is a regime that has been overwhelmed by the sheer size of the problem that the dictatorship created.

With the exception of the effects of the Ebola scare on Gambian tourism, the troubles of the Gambian economy are mostly self-inflicted. From the insistence on the dictator to interfere in the monetary sector to his lavish spending habits on official celebrations and festivities that are mandatory for all ministers and senior-level government officials to attend or risk dismissal and/or imprisonment.     When these festivities take place, the entire government machinery or what's left of it, shuts down.  In a country that has a four-day workweek, you can imagine the toll on one of Africa's smallest economy.

Gambia's per capita GDP  in 1994 was the third highest in the 16-country ECOWAS community at US $ 720, behind Cabo Verde and Cote d'Ivoire.  In 2013, the figure plummeted to US $ 488, the lowest of any ECOWAS country.  Yaya Jammeh succeeded in pulling The Gambia from the top of the ladder to the bottom of the heap in 20 short but devastating years.

Gambia's downgrade is not limited only to the economic sphere.  Its human rights record was dragged through the mud as well.  When Jammeh came to the scene, The Gambia was touted as a bastion of human rights where the independence of the judiciary and rule of law reined supreme. Today, The Gambia is being compared to North Korea, both for its human rights record and its dark and sinister style of governance characterized by forced disappearances, extra-judicial killings, exiling and imprisoning of journalists, among other forms of torture and mistreatment of ordinary Gambians.  Non-Gambians have been victims of this vicious regime as well.

As we close the year, we must renew our resolve - as Gambians and friends of The Gambia - to fight for the restoration of democracy in the tradition of Sir Dawda Jawara, freedom, justice and the rule of law in a country that has been degraded to the point of devastation by a regime that has clearly demonstrated that it's over its head.  A change is thus inevitable in 2016.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

"Are your hands clean?"

The Gambia Christian (multi-denominational) Council 
Our attention, of recent, has been focused disproportionately - and rightly so - on the role played by the Supreme Islamic Council in perpetuating the brutal and corrupt regime in Banjul.  Jammeh has become an international embarrassment and a pariah within the comity of Nations.

The SIC has been complicit by compromising the Islamic teachings and principles in exchange for worldly possessions in the form of bundles of cash in  addition to government-issued and -maintained vehicles to accompany government allowances and spacious offices at the expense of the poor and heavily-taxed Gambian taxpayer.

The behavior of the Gambia Christian Council (GCC), as a body representing all of the denominations, has been considered measured and cautious in its dealings with the Jammeh regime up to this point, particularly when compared to its Muslim counterpart.  However, recent events are cause for concern.

Accepting bundles of cash a spectacle that has become a hallmark of the Jammeh regime and - quite frankly - an obscene and boorish sight to watch on national television when 70% of Gambians are food insecure and an equal proportion live on less than a $ 1.50 per day.  It is, in our view, beneath the dignity of the Church, as it should be with the SIC, to allow to be manipulated in such a manner and in public view for a view propaganda points by an corrupt and incompetent regime.

We wonder what would have been the reactions of the late Reverend Ian C. Roach - of "Are your hands clean fame" - and the late Archbishop Solomon Tilewa Johnson to being awarded a D 1 million as Christmas gift as opposed to the traditional turkey.

We have suggested in our Facebook page that we will be directing more of our attention towards the GCC as we commence to draw attention to what we consider to be a growing concern of the Church's relations with a regime whose human rights record is among the worst in the world.

Until such time and as The Gambia continues its slide towards political instability, it is time for the Church (through the GCC) to speak up or forever hold its collective peace.  

Thursday, December 24, 2015

UDP Leader's Christmas Message

Lawyer Ousainou Darboe, Leader of UDP
Christmas Message by

ANM Ousainou Darboe
Secretary General and Party Leader - UDP


Fellow Gambians, as the year comes to an end, we all look forward to celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ.  His birth represents peace and harmony to mankind.  His message was and still is one of peace, enthronement of the truth and rejection of injustice.   The hallmark of his teaching has defined the lives of a huge number of people in Europe, North and South America, Africa and Asia

This year’s Christmas is a special one.  We celebrate the birth of Christ the day after we celebrated the birth of prophet Muhammad (PBUH) – the last messenger of Allah and the seal of the prophets.   The prophet of Islam like Christ has preached the values of peace, tolerance, justice and good neighbourliness.

For Christians and Muslims the world over,  Christmas season is a unique one, but it is more so for us Gambians as Muslims and Christians live together in the same household, attend the same schools, marry into families of different faiths and take part in each others feasts and festivities.

Fellow Gambians, it is this special relationship that makes The Gambia  a unique society whose citizens do not only believe in the values of peace, tolerance, justice and good neighbourliness but practice what they believe in.  We have always been an example of inter religious harmony worthy of emulation.   Gambia’s religious pluralism is in eclipse and its future uncertain.   It is a matter of regret that the President of The Gambia who took the oath to protect and defend the Constitution of The Gambia and other laws will declare Gambia as an Islamic state at a time when Christians of the various denominations in The Gambia are preparing to celebrate Christmas.   The ill-considered declaration, influenced by ulterior motives could be seen several years ago when the President  that Sharia will be made applicable to every Gambian.

The reason for the President’s anti-religious pluralism is ostensibly to fight so called imperialism but this is no justification for disturbing the peace and harmony built up in our country for centuries.   This is a sinister attempt to distract the Gambian people from the real problems that they face daily.  Problems such as the skyrocketing prices, collapsing economy, inadequate health services, poor education standard, mass exodus of youths to Europe by the Back Way, threats to the independence of the judiciary, and dismissal of public servants on executive directives.

The secular status of The Gambia is not only spelt out in the Constitution but ensconced deeply in our way of life long before we became a Nation.  It has always been live and let others live.  Pray to your God and let others pray to their God.   Christmas has never been an affair for Christians only but for all, just as Tobaski or Banna has never been an affair for Muslims only.

Fellow Gambians, Christmas this year falls on a Friday, let all Muslims therefore turn out at the mosques for Jumaah prayers and our Christian brothers and sisters in their churches and we all prat for One People, One Gambia united and indivisible.  Let us after offering prayers for the well being of The Gambia,  go out and enjoy our traditional makalos, kankurangs, kumpos, gessehs, hunting etc. in solidarity with our Christian brothers and sister as has been done many generations before us.  This is what we have been born into and no pernicious religious falsehood will change that.  This Christmas is a defining moment for all Gambians.

On behalf of the United Democratic Party and on my own behalf, I wish you all a Merry Christmas

LONG LIVE THE GAMBIA
LONG LIVE GAMBIA’S RELIGIOUS HARMONY
LONG LIVE THE UDP

UDP Secretariat

December 24th  2014 

Damfaye Primary School Headmaster arrested for refusing to bribe Police Sergeant 844 Bayo

Principal Lamin Camara, Damfaye Primary
Sgt. Bayo's note

Sgt. Bayo's note

A little over a week ago, we published a verbatim blog post written by Karamba Touray, a Gambian resident in the United States about the ordeal of trying to help his home village's primary school at Damfaye in the Central River Region.  You can find his original story here.  Unfortunately, what was supposed to have been an act of good citizenship ended up in a Headmaster being arrested and held in custody at the Bansang Police Station.

According to Mr. Touray's original account, a forty-foot container-load of "assorted materials for a school project" he and others who are from Damfaye village in the CRR and currently resident in the US was shipped to Banjul.  Upon arrival of the shipped items, a number of villagers accompanied Damfaye Primary School Principal, Lamin Camara, to Banjul to collect the container.  But since the items consisting of donated items for a school project are non-dutiable items, they sought and eventually received duty waiver from the Ministry of Finance.
Sergeant 844, Bayo, Kaur Police Station

While transporting the items in two trucks to Damfaye village, the convoy was stopped at a Kaur checkpoint that was manned by two police officers.  At this point, acording to Karamba Touray, one of the officers who identified himself as Sergeant 844, Bayo, took the driver's licences of the two drivers and demanded  D 3,000 for them to proceed on their journey.  When they refused to pay the bride,  Sergeant Bayo drafted the notes seen here instructing the drivers to return to Kaur police station after off-loading the materials at Damfaye.

Mr. Touray called Sergeant Bayo and demanded the return of the drivers' licenses " he illegally confiscated and...also told him he wasn't going to get a butut from the drivers." It must be noted that Sgt. Bayo is a graduate of Yaya Jammeh's Green Boys, fashioned after the late Colonel Qaddafi's vigilante enforcers unleashed to terrorize the general population.

The frustration in Mr. Touray's written account is reflected in a rhetorical question he posed after his experience with a criminal enterprise that Jammeh has created when he asked " [w]hy should government officials pose deliberate and obtuse hindrances to ordinary people trying to make their communities better."

The latest report from Foroyaa newspaper is that Laim Camara, the Principal of Damfaye Primary School has been arrested Friday 18th and taken into custody at Bansang Police Station.  The Police Commissioner Sankareh could not say what crime the principal is being accused of.

Principal Lamin Camara's only crime is his refusal to pay a bribe to Sergeant Bayo of Kaur Police. He must, therefore, be released unconditionally and without delay.

How the Christian community should use Jammeh's D 1 million "gift"

The Gambia Christian Council 

Gambia's status as a secular state has been threatened since 1994. President Jammeh's decision to build a mosque at State House was the first warning shot against the Christian Community. 

From time immemorial, Christians and Muslims have lived harmoniously, in dignity and respect of each others religion with little or no favors, interference from the Government.  In fact the Colonial Governors never made any attempt to build a Chapel or Mosque at State House or at any colonial building because they believed in the Secular State - a concept carried over and observed at Independence.   

Although the Constitution of 1997 declares The Gambia a Sovereign, Secular Republic, the Christian Community - an entrenched clause that can only be modified through national referendum -  it didn't deter Jammeh from unilaterally and without warning, declare Gambia an Islamic State.  The action was contemptuous of all Gambians, Christians and Muslims alike. 

Pulling his favorite divisive tool from his tool box,  Jammeh have since been able to appease the Christian community - at least a portion of it -  with his childish rants about Muslim men being beggars and criminals. All these statements were certainly geared towards creating a friction among the religious groups. The irony here is that an insult against any Muslim has an adverse impact on Christians as both of them are interrelated. 

However, my Christian brothers never saw the need to be cautious with Jammeh's dishonest overturns. In fact, President Jammeh’s decision to deny Bishop Tilewa Johnson's family access to McCarthy Square for a fitting State funeral clearly show his vindictiveness against people who challenged him in the past.  

No one was more offended than us at the Sidi Sanneh Blog at the disrespectful manner the late Bishop was treated in life as in death by the Jammeh regime which led us to pen the blog post entitled "Let the Archbishop rest peacefully" and another a few days later entitled "Yaya Jammeh robbed the funeral of solemnity" in February 2014. To add insult to injury, Bishop Johnson is yet to be afforded a posthumous award for being the First Gambian to occupy the office of Archbishop of Church of The Province of West Africa. Instead, the same President Jammeh is granting awards to Yai Compins and party mobilizers for partisan activities.

As we have said earlier, Jammeh has no power to declare The Gambia as an Islamic State because it is unconstitutional and can only be introduced after going a long hurdle leading to a referendum. In fact the constitution makes it illegal for the National Assembly to pass any law which establishes a state religion or one party state. However, the lacuna in this constitutional provision is that Jammeh can easily give the National Assembly unlimited powers to pass any laws. 

Another interesting aspect of this scenario is for long Jammeh has been violating the 1997 Constitution. In fact it is only in the Gambia that one can be a head of the Civil Servant and still occupy a Ministerial Post. We all saw how the nicely tailored constitution has now been sexed up several draconian amendments in which the Presidency or Incumbent having unlimited powers to impose despotism 

Finally, we now learn of Jammeh’s hypocrisy in the whole affair by giving the Gambia Christian Council D 1 million as part of their Christmas present, in place of the traditional turkey and we wonder why. The representatives will be a big disservice to the Christian Community in accepting such funds from Jammeh without inquiring the source of such huge donation.  We were wondering if we should read anything into the conspicuous absence of representative of the Catholic Church at State House?  

All the same, it is our solemn view that The Gambia Christian Council should not be accessory to Jammeh’s lavish and irresponsible spending of public funds, as the D 1 million could have been better used to assist others who are in desperate need of help. Perhaps, the Christian Council should consider the following;

  • Use the D 1 million to buy grocery (food stuff) and donate to the Gambia Prison Service or the Edward Francis Small Teaching Hospital
  • Donate to families of victims of the Jammeh regime, including those who have been arrested, tortured and illegally detained to help defray their legal expenses
  • Set up a Trust Fund towards helping the victims of April 10 and 11th massacre in 2000
  • Set up a Legal Defense Fund for any religious leader, be it Muslim or Christian being persecuted for exercising their constitutional rights. 

·

Monday, December 21, 2015

Jammeh is described as "a poor example of African heads of state" as President Conde is criticized for inviting him to Guinea in the first place

Ouattara, Conde, Buhari, Gnassingbe and Sall (back to camera)


The Gambian dictator decided to end his own self-imposed travel ban which has been in effect for exactly a year when he suddenly decided to join his ECOWAS colleagues in Abuja to help commemorate the regional organization's 40th Anniversary of its existence. Or, so it seems.

In fact, Jammeh's quarantine lasted longer than a year - to March 2014 - when he stormed out of the Yamoussoukro Summit after President Mahama of Ghana was elected to succeed Alassane Dramane Ouattara as Chairman of ECOWAS.  After 20 years of lording over 2 million Gambians, the dictator expected that it was finally time for his status to be elevated.  In stead it went to the rookie president who had been in office for barely a year.  Jammeh is convinced that the Senegalese president, Macky Sall, was the instigator and architect of the conspiracy with Goodluck Jonathan, the former Nigerian president and president Ouattara as co-conspirators.

Therefore his decision to travel to Abuja invited pundits and informed observers of the politics of the region to speculate as to the reason or reasons for the deplacement.  Although terrorism and employment creation were on the agenda, Jammeh's forte and interest lie elsewhere.  He is a notorious attention seeker and an expert in creating an atmosphere of chaos and intrigue designed to keep him in power.

Following the two-day Abuja Summit, Jammeh returned last Thursday only to take off again, this time to Guinea Conakry where he arrived today, Monday, on a state visit.  It is highly unusual for a state visit to be shrouded in such secrecy from both the Banjul and Conakry ends which has led local human rights activists and journalists in Guinea to come out forcefully to oppose the visit and to chastise President Alpha Conde and for being "unquestionably guilty of his first political mistake of his second term.   Guineans are asking the question why invite Jammeh to a state visit a week after he elected not to attend their president's inauguration, attended instead by many of his colleagues.

A scathing criticism of Alpha Conde and the heinous human rights record of Yaya Jammeh was carried in an article in one of Guinea's leading online papers lexpressguinee.com in which a catalog of atrocities committed under the 21-year dictatorship dating back to the brutal murder of Jammeh's Finance Minister, Koro Ceesay in 1995.

The list also included the students mowed down by the Jammeh forces, Deyda Hydara's assassination and many others.  These atrocities should disqualify Yaya Jammeh from being invited to Guinea as guest of the Guinean people, the article concluded. And for President Alpha Conde who is aspiring to be the Nelson Mandela of Guinea, Jammeh's visit was ill-advised, especially from someone who claims that his long political struggle is to establish genuine democracy in Guinea.  The article described Jammeh as Jammeh as "a poor example of African heads of state".

If the visit was to test the waters of public opinion with the hope of mending fences with Macky Sall, Alassane Ouattara and other regional leaders through the Guinea president, Jammeh's effort had failed, risking further isolation, regionally and at the international level.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Is Jammeh planning to hold the 2016 presidential and parliamentary elections the same day?



During a recent Joint Parliamentary Committees of the  Public Accounts and Public Enterprise (PAC/PEC), the current Chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) was questioned by members about the upcoming 2016 presidential and parliamentary elections and the possibility of holding both concurrently.

The two elections are held separately and four months apart with the presidential being held first.  It would appear from the responses of the IEC Chairman, whose term on the Commission has expired and thus serving illegally, all he is waiting for to execute the new arrangement i.e. holding the presidential as well as the parliamentary elections on the same day, is his matching order from the dictator in the form of an Executive Order which is how Gambia is governed.

Interestingly, the Chairman seem to be clamoring for the switch, as a cost saving move, while in the same breath arguing against the idea because of the cost of having to handle additional ballot drums as each party candidate would have to provided with one as opposed to having a single ballot drum for all candidates if the Gambia were to switch to paper ballots as opposed to the marbles.

The parliamentarians were making a case for a switch to ballot paper while the Commission Chairman was anything but clear as to which one he prefers, leaving it up to Yaya Jammeh to decide. We hope the opposition has taken note.    

Meanwhile, the IEC Chairman's complaint that government is the sole financier of elections is of the regime's own choosing.  Jammeh made the conscious choice of refusing to make room for donors to participate in elections financing for fear that they will positively influence the atmosphere that will level the playing field for the APRC as well as the opposition parties.

Bilateral donors, including the European Union, would have preferred to be actively involved in the electoral process leading up to and including the monitoring of the elections by helping underwrite them provided they have an active role - a proposition that the regime had resisted, at least, since the 2006 presidential elections, if not earlier.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Yaya Jammeh's $ 3.5 million mansion is within sight

Yaya Jammeh's $ 3.5 million Potomac, Maryland mansion

The United States Congress passed the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act and was signed by President Obama today before he and the US Congress went on their Christmas break.

The law authorizes the US President to impose assets freeze and travel sanctions against any foreign person or entity responsible for carrying out extrajudicial killing, like the nine death row prisoners executed some of whom did not exhaust the legal remedies provisioned under Gambian law.  The US law also provides for sanctions for human rights abuses.

The mansion pictured above was purchased by Yaya Jammeh in September of 2010 for $ 3.5 million. To conceal the real owner, he bought it under the unincorporated name of the "Trustees of My J Family Trust" which has been traced to Yaya Jammeh and family.

This new law has provided us, the democracy campaigners, the impetus needed to intensify our campaign against impunity and high level corruption that has come to characterize the Jammeh regime.  The law gives the State Department the power to identify foreign culprits, including legal entities, for sanctions provided under the provisions of the new legal instrument.

The mansion belongs to the Gambian people and every effort will be made in the coming weeks and months to lobby the United States government for it to be returned to its rightful owners.  

 

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Gambia excluded from 35-nation Islamic military coalition selected to fight terrorism

King Salman of Saudi Arabia 
The Gambia, with a population that is 80% Muslim, has been excluded from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia-led 35-nation Islamic military coalition to combat terrorism.
Coincidentally, the Gambian dictator announced a few days ago that he has unilaterally decided to declare his country an Islamic Republic.

Equally of interest to Gambian watchers is the presence of Gambia's Ambassador to Saudi in the last week leading to Jammeh's announcement of the Islamic Republic and before Saudi's cabinet meeting that decided on the membership of the military coalition.

The formation of a 35-nation Islamic military coalition to combat terrorism was announced in the Saudi capital of Riyadh, according to Saudi Press Agency.

According to Saudi's Deputy Crown Prince and Minister of Defense, Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, the Islamic military coalition will "target all terrorist organizations in the Islamic world."

Every country in the coalition will participate "according to its capabilities and will not fight only Daesh, but any terrorist group" according to the Defense Minister.

The omission of The Gambia with an 80% Muslim population whose dictator has recently declared The Gambia an Islamic Republic while countries like Sierra Leone - with 60% Muslim population - and Benin, Niger and Uganda with lesser Muslim population are part of the 35-country coalition has raised eyebrows.  Senegal, of course, is part and parcel of the coalition and it's expected to play a central role in the African contingent.

The United States has been openly critical of the Arab countries, especially Saudi Arabia, for its apparent lack of military commitment to helping the US and the Western coalition in fighting against the Islamic State (ISIS) militant group based in Iraq and Syria.  It appears that the formation of the Saudi-led 35-nation Islamic military coalition is in response to the criticism.

The countries that have signed up to join the coalition are :  Saudi Arabia, Jordan, UEA, Pakistan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Benin, Turkey, Chad, Togo, Tunisia, Djibouti, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Somalia, Gabon, Guinea, Comoros, Qatar, Ivory Coast, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Maldives, Mali, Malaysia, Egypt, Morocco, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Uganda, Yemen and Palestine.  

Monday, December 14, 2015

Unintended consequences of Jammeh's stupidity

Yaya A. J. J. Jammeh 

Yaya Jammeh's pandering to the Arab world and to the electorate at home for development aid and votes in the 2016 respectively will undoubtedly have consequences beyond the original intent of declaring The Gambia an Islamic State - a declaration that has caught many by surprise into the Supreme Islamic Council.

The international interest in the declaration of the Islamic Republic of The Gambia, manifested in the story's trending in social media and countless newspapers accounts around the world is also for reasons beyond Jammeh's immediate intent and concern - lack of financial resources for its embattled regime and an emboldened opposition resulting from a growing discontentment of a citizenry that lack social amenities like clean running water, functioning health system and public services that cater to its basic needs.

Jammeh's timing could not have come at the worse time when ISIS and Al Qaida and their allied affiliates that are Boko Haram and AQIM are competing for the most prolific and heinous terror organization, and at a time when Mali was temporarily occupied by terrorists and neighboring Senegal threatened.  Gambia is ill-equipped and, in fact, could be a sitting duck.  Jammeh is as irresponsible as he is adventurous and corrupt and easily enticed.  As we have argued elsewhere, Jammeh is an unreliable partner of the United States and Western Europe in their fight against global terror.

Closer to home, the Christian community in The Gambia is concerned and rightfully so but the sycophantic supporters of the dictator are urging them not to. The regime supporters have suddenly become defensive following the dictator's declaration who are arguing that since Muslims and Christians have lived along side each other in peace and harmony for centuries, Gambians should not be surprised at such an asinine and ill-conceived decision.  The fact that there is the need to tamper with the secularism of the state is reason enough to be concerned and Christians are no exemption. Our advise to Yaya Jammeh : Leave well enough alone.    

"This is not about Islam, but (about) his survival" says a former confidant of Yaya Jammeh

Yaya Jammeh surrounded by military bodyguards  
It's been exactly one year since the Gambian dictator last ventured outside the country's borders.  For someone who loved globetrotting, giving it up must be the ultimate sacrifice.

The reason  for his self-imposed quarantine is he's petrified of the possibility of another attempt to oust him from power as dissidents resident in the United States and Europe tried to do in December 2014 further reinforcing his reputation among his former military colleague of being a coward.

His political opponents resident in the U.S. and Europe, who attempted to oust him, have not relented in their determination to see him exit the scene.  They are more determined today than ever before to this endeavor.

The pressure Jammeh faces is not limited to the diaspora Gambian communities abroad.  Political and diplomatic pressures also appears to be coming from regional sources such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) whose recent attempt to pass a resolution that would have imposed term limits on the 16 heads of state that constitute its membership failed by two votes - the two opposing countries were are Gambia and Togo.  All indications are, the heads of state will try again to pass it, with Togo joining the majority, further isolating Jammeh.

The European Union had earlier blocked the country's access to development assistance fund, upwards of $ 36 million, because of the deplorable human rights record and the chronic corruption culture that has permeated the regime and thriving.  Lack of development funds has forced Jammeh to look towards the Arab and Muslim world and, as we have said in an earlier blog, declaring Gambia an Islamic Republic is part of that strategy.

Development expenditure, mainly financed by external credits and grants, has slowed significantly as a result thus forcing Jammeh to resort to domestic borrowing to continue to finance his pet projects at tremendous cost to the economy.  Many businesses have either closed their doors or have moved to more friendly business-friendly environments in neighboring countries.  Unemployment is high, especially youth unemployment, and cost of living has skyrocketed with no signs of abating.

The resultant effect of all of these problems facing the regime is heightened anxiety among an increasingly restive population that must contend with the effects of living in a repressive environment under a brutal and corrupt dictatorship.    

Therefore, the pronouncement by Yaya Jammeh that The Gambia is now an Islamic Republic must be seen in the context of the new realities of a country that has been significantly transformed, in our opinion, for the worse.  The Gambia, though small in size, was once a highly respected country with an enviable track record, internationally.  The situation today is significantly different and Gambians have finally come to realize that the regime of Jammeh is bad for the country who has tarnished the image of the country so extensively that it will take a generation or two to restore.

The isolation of the country is being felt within the regime.  Therefore, every effort is being made internally to engage the population by deflecting their attention, hopefully, away from the problems. At the regional level, Jammeh is barely on speaking terms with his immediate neighbor - Senegal - and the larger grouping of ECOWAS.  Gambia has effectively reached a pariah state status, if not a failed state.

Jammeh's options a limited and he knows it.  A former close confidant of Jammeh when asked what was the dictator's real motive for the decision to proclaim Gambia an Islamic Republic, his response was "...it had been part of his greater agenda to get rid of credible opposition in the country."  The same source continued "[M]ark my word, he's not serious about [creating] an Islamic State.  It is a ploy to arrest and silence opposition figures under Sharia law."

Jammeh's strategy appears to be "to use every bit of Sharia to humiliate, arrest and jail them" according to our source. "This agenda", the source continued, " will affect everyone from [members of the] security forces to civilians."  When we recalled that Jammeh's Justice Minister Mama Singhateh visited Malaysia earlier in the year to seek technical assistance in drafting Gambia's Sharia laws, the former Jammeh aide said "it is not about Islam but his survival." Luckily, "people know his tricks now," he concluded.

 

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Salaries of Ministers to increase by 36% in 2016, contrary to statements by Finance Minister Kolley

Finance Minister Kolley
Last week, Hon. Samba Jallow, the NRP Member of the National Assembly from Niamina Dankunku questioned the wisdom of proposing a salary increase for Ministers and not to civil servants, especially those at the lower end of the pay scale - a claim denied by Finance Minister, Abdou Kolley.

At the time the Finance Minister was making such spurious denial, we said we will give him the benefit of the doubt since we were not in possession of the budget figures in question.  We were further influenced by his status within the regime and because he was a former staff of the local office of the United Nations Development Program who aught to know better.

The facts we were subsequently able to access run contrary to the emphatic statement of denial that the Minister offered to the Daily Observer, the dictator's official mouthpiece.

Let us look at the facts as they appear in the Minister's budget proposal.  It is true that from 2013 to this year, Minister's salaries were held at D 244,800 annually or D 20,400 per month.  This figure excludes benefits and privileges this class of public servants enjoy, like two or more luxury vehicles, fueled on the tax payers, residential allowances and other hidden fringe benefits.
Hon. Samba Jallow 

But in this year's budget proposals of the Finance Minister, a budget provision amounting to D 331,000 from D 244,800 in the previous three years i.e. from 2013 - 2015.  These are simple, plain figures that a primary school pupil can easily decipher thus making the Minister's denial not only laughable but an in insult to Hon. Samba Jallow and to the collective intelligence of the Gambian people.

The proposed increase represent 35% from the three-year base salary, averaging out to a little over 11% over the same three-year period which is still higher than the official rate of inflation considered to be 7%.

If the regime's argument is that the new salary proposals represent cost-of-living adjustment, then the morality of such a proposal becomes even more repugnant as we maintained in our first post on the issue.  Fiscally, it still remains irresponsible regardless of the regime's reasoning given the precarious state of Gambia's economy.

In short, any increase in salaries without a corresponding decrease in spending elsewhere (i.e. savings) is fiscally irresponsible and morally repugnant.  The increase should, therefore, be rescinded by the Minister or be voted down by the National Assembly.  Yes, we know, it's a rubber-stamp parliament.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

An account of corruption, abuse of power and incompetence by Karamba Touray



Sergeant Bayo and his extortion note in Kaur today

The narration below is by Karamba Touray, an active member of the opposition to the dictatorship in The Gambia.  Please read on -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
The last two weeks has given me added perspective on how decadent and corrosive some Gambians with a little bit of authority have become. Allah provided the good people of my village Demfaye in CRR a forty foot container of assorted materials for a school project we have been working on .
As a 100% donated consignment we sought a duty waiver through the department of education as is routine. When the container arrived two Friday's ago , the villagers and their school principal came to collect the container. As final step to complete waiver granting process , they were told the permanent secretary at the department a Mr Bouye had to sign off on the document after the endorsement of the Regional Education Officer in CRR.
Mr Bouye refused to sign the waiver on the grounds that the shipping manifest did not designate the name of Demfaye Basic School first and then followed by the name of the principal who is overseeing the school enhancement project. It was explained to him that school/ principal or principal / school meant the same thing and since the container already arrived in Banjul the manifest could not be amended from the shipping company here in America without significant cost or delay. He hung on that technicality and held up the container at the port of Banjul for more than a week resulting in the container incurring charges significantly beyond the means of the villagers. At one point during this ordeal they waited at his office for six hours only for him to see them briefly dismissing them with his refusal.
It was not until yesterday evening December 11 more than two weeks after the arrival of the container that the villagers finally loaded there consignment in two trucks and headed to Demfaye on the south bank road. They drove through the night and spent the night in jenoi in Jarra . They crossed the river at farrafeni early this morning to complete the journey. Then they were stopped at a routine check point in Kaur manned by two police officers. As at the previous stops they showed the paper work .
One of the police who identified himself as Sergeant Bayo took the license of both drivers and demanded he and his partner be given D3000 for them to proceed . He delayed for more than an hour and when he concluded the drivers were not going to pay, he formalized his extortion attempt by writing this rediculous note on a torn piece of paper you see accompanying his picture obligating these honest and law abiding drivers to go back to him in Kaur after they drop the load in Demfaye.
I called him this morning and demanded he return the licenses he illegally confiscated and I also told him he wasn't going to get a butut from the drivers. I also intend to file a citizens complaint to his superiors at the department of the interior requesting the matter be investigated and appropriate action be taken . As citizens we must stand against bureaucratic tyrants who use the little power they have to obstruct the good efforts of ordinary citizens .
Why should government officials pose deliberate and obtuse hindrances to ordinary people trying to make their communities better. I appeal to every Gambian of conscience to not give in to police and security service shakedowns and take affirmative action . My friends and neighbors deserve to be treated as law abiding citizens . I insist this miscreant wearing a policeman's uniform named Sergeant Bayo and his accomplice be removed from their position pending a full investigation to protect the public from their criminal behavior. Here he is from his extortion check point this morning hounding our volunteers who were up more than 36 hours


Friday, December 11, 2015

What is behind Jammeh's threat to declaring Gambia an Islamic State?

Jammeh with military bodyguards 
Faced with increasing opposition, including within his own political party and avid supporters - though not displayed outwardly - the Gambian dictator has once more raised the specter of forcibly turning the once bastion of democracy into an Islamic State.

He issued his latest threat at a recent political rally in the town of Brufut, on the outskirts of the capital - a town he has hesitated to visit because of recent spat of demonstrations and mass arrests by his security forces.

The demonstrators were protesting against strip-mining of both sand and heavy metal in a nearby village by Jammeh who, many believe, owns the mining operations in an area of the country that is considered a tourist paradise because of its beautiful beaches.  Although the 3 youths who were charged with rioting and sent to jail because they were denied bail for offenses that are bailable, were subsequently released after the charges were dropped, area residents are still riled up with public display of contempt to the Gambian dictator.

Sensing that his popularity is slipping because the country and its people have fallen into hard economic times because of bad and incoherent set of economic policies, coupled with harsh and repressive tactic employed by the security forces, Jammeh is adding harsh rhetoric to the mix by employing obloquy, and other forms of intimidating tactics - like saying to his supporters composed of the young and village elders that he owes them nothing anyone caught practicing FGM will be personally circumcise those responsible.

Using such abusive and vile language in such a disrespectful and contemptible manner has turned a sizable number of Gambians against him and his increasingly unpopular and isolated political party.  

To direct the attention of an unhappy population away from the realities and the daily challenges facing them, Jammeh is resorting, once again, to inflammatory language designed to both intimidate the local population and to send a message to the Arab world, as he has done in the past, that he is ready to take The Gambia the Islamic State route.

He abruptly severed diplomatic relations with Taiwan two years ago - preceded by a couple of months -  of his withdrawal of The Gambia from the Commonwealth without notice or proper authority from his (rubber stamp) parliament with no public objection from Gambians.  Jammeh thinks he can pull a similar fete i.e. transforming his threat into reality by declaring Gambia an Islamic State with little or no consequences from neither internal or external sources.  

Starve of development funds because of his deplorable human rights record and economic mismanagement, Jammeh is looking towards the Arab world as substitute for and source of development aid.  Thus, chances are he will transform his threat into reality because, in addition to lack of development aid from western countries, there is no rule of law in The Gambia and in spite of the fact that Chapter 1 of the Constitution states that "The Gambia is a Sovereign Secular Republic" and, therefore, unconstitutional to change its secular character.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Who owns the assets of Carnegie Minerals (Gambia) Ltd and who is benefiting?

Hon. Samba Jallow, NRP
The subject of our immediate past blog post which you can find here concerned the issue of the treatment of the proceeds of the mining sector in the 2016 Budget proposals that is before the National Assembly - a question raised by Hon. Samba Jallow who is Minority Leader and Member of the National Reconciliation Party.

The Minority Leader's contention is that the mining sector generates revenue and yet there is nowhere in the budget that reflects this fact.

The Assembly Member also raised other issues, including salary increase for cabinet ministers and questions about the agriculture sector which he feels has been neglected by the regime of Yaya Jammeh.

In response to the Assembly Member's question, the Finance Minister denied that there has been salary increases for cabinet ministers.  He also assured the National Assembly that the "government through the Gambia Groundnut Corporation (GGC) provided adequate funding for the purchase of farmer's nuts" without being specific about the year he's referencing.  It must also be noted that GGC is now part of a new entity named National Food Security Processing and Marketing Corporation.

However, the Minister of Finance failed to respond to the Minority Leader's primary concern about the omission of mining sector in the budget proposal.  Failure to address the Assembly Member's concern about the mining sector suggests that the minister is concealing something from the Gambian people. We are, therefore, rephrasing Hon. Samba Jallow's question : Who owns the assets of Carnegie Minerals (Gambia) Ltd., who is benefiting and why it is not featured in the 2016 Draft Budget Estimates.

Revenue from mining not reflected in 2016 budget, claims opposition National Assembly Member?

Finance Minister Abdou Kolley
Hon. Samba Jallow, NRP
Hon. Samba Jallow, the National Reconstruction Party's Member of the National Assembly revealed in a newspaper interview that although the mining sector "is a revenue earning source, it could not be found in the budget" and he wants to know why from the Minister of Finance who tabled the 2015 Appropriation Bill before the National Assembly.

As far was we can tell, The Gambia, under the dictatorship of Yaya Jammeh has entered into one known mining contract with an Australian-based firm which has ended in arbitration.  The Carnegie Mineral (Gambia) Limited took its case to the World Bank's International Center for the Settlement of Investments Disputes (ICSID) in Washington for breach of contract which ruled in Carnegie's favor by awarding it approximate $ 22 million in damages plus cost.  The Gambia is appealing the decision.

All of the information used in this blog and previous blogs came not from the government of the Gambia but from either the parent company of Carnegie Minerals (Gambia) Ltd or the ICSID sources.  It is therefore not a surprise that a Member of The Gambian National Assembly is demanding transparency from a regime - including the Joint Parliamentary Committee PAC/PEC - that claims to be transparent.

The regime is obviously sitting on information that Gambians are entitled to.  Although Carnegie Mineral has been expelled from the Gambian and its assets seized by government, mining operations still continue in numerous sites.  The question is who owns the assets and how are the proceeds from the mining operations treated in the budget.  Are the assets owned and operated by government or have ownership been transferred to an entity owned by Yaya Jammeh?

In addition to the heavy metal mining activities, the sand mining operations, like the petroleum sector, are also shrouded in secrecy.  Are the owned by government or private concerns and how are proceed from these operations treated in the budget?  The National Assembly Member deserves an answer and so do Gambians in general on the mining sector.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Salary increase for Ministers is fiscally irresponsible

Sidi Sanneh 
The budget proposal of the Finance Minister to increase the salaries of cabinet Ministers is both fiscally irresponsible and morally repugnant.

Regardless of the size of the increase - which is unknown to us at this time, which says a lot about the lack of transparency of the regime - the idea of an increase alone is something that should not have been a part of this years budget proposals.

We therefore agree wholeheartedly with Hon. Samba Jallow, one of two members of the  opposition in the National Assembly, in opposing the proposal.  He criticized the increase as "totally unfair" because "it should not be specific [to cabinet ministers], but it has to be across the board."

The Opposition Member of the National Assembly points to the fact that civil servants in general and those at the low end of the pay scale in particular deserve pay raises as well.  In fact, they are more deserving when you consider that this class of workers cannot even afford to buy a bag of rice - Gambia's staple food - at the end of the month.

Proposing to increase the salaries ministers in the midst of an IMF-sanctioned staff monitored program is bad optics, to say the least because it is fiscally irresponsible thing to do.  Of course, it is also inappropriate from an equity standpoint.

The priorities of the regime should focus on trying to get a handle on a ballooning debt, especially domestic debt which is projected to increase in 2016.  A staff audit of the entire civil service must precede any salary adjustment which must be across-the-board, as suggested by Hon. Samba Jallow. Piecemeal approaches to Gambia's budget problems are not going to solve the problems, especially the systemic ones facing the economy.    

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Jammeh tells Banjulians : "I don't owe you anything"


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Speaking at a political rally as part of his provincial tour of the country, Jammeh's Banjul meeting revealed, once more, his contempt for the people of Banjul, to add to his long list of localities that the Gambian dictator has disparaged throughout the tour.

It all started when Alhagie Birri Birri Njie, an APRC stalwart, Banjul political operative and former international soccer star, stood up to draw attention to the deplorable state of the capital city's road that are rendered impassable, especially during the rainy season.  

Birri Birri also drew the attention of the Gambian dictator of the dysfunctional drainage and sewerage system that has plagued the city since 1994.   The pumping station (photos) completed in 1952 after the Banjul floods in 1947 that killed hundreds of the city's residents, has served the city well while the levee system worked.  But it has unfortunately fallen into disrepair, with two of the three pumps missing and the remaining one inoperable, according to findings of a recent study.  The levee is stuck in an upward position, allows raw sewer to flow into the streets of Banjul during the rainy season further threatening the health of the general public.

The island capital city of Banjul is very vulnerable to sea level rises - and it has been so appropriately designated by the United Nations.  The city is 1 meter above sea level.  If there is a corresponding 1 meter rise in sea level, Banjul will be under water.  Another example, the highway linking the island to the southern half of the country is estimated now to be less than 10 meters from the high water mark and at the current rate of erosion, the highway will be cut off from the city within a period of five years.

Banjul's problems are real, urgent and life-threatening - problems that Birri Birri highlighted during his brief speech at the Banjul rally.  From the speeches by the Mayor of Banjul who offered his full support to the prospective APRC presidential candidate - even though the Mayor was elected as an Independent - to the one by Mr. O. B. Conateh who appeared to be admonishing Alhagie Birri Birri Njie for putting emphasis on the dilapidated road infrastructure unbefitting a capital city instead of the new Parliament Building - ironically threatened by the same dysfunctional Bund Road levee system - and Arch-22.

It is obviously embarrassing for the bastion of A(F)PRC support since 1994 to have been abandoned by Yaya Jammeh as the infrastructure of the city seem to indicate which did not prevent Mayor Lie Bah, an Independent candidate at the last elections - from promising an opposing politician - Yaya Jammeh -  a 99.5% vote margin in the 2016 presidential election.

Jammeh's response to the pleas and pledges of his followers has been brief and to the point.  Instead of offering solutions to the real problems facing the city and 33,000 residents, Jammeh responded rudely by telling Banjulians to their faces that he owes them nothing because he felt betrayed by them.  It was unclear in what sense.  The rest of his speech was about skin bleaching and other social ills which he promised to eradicate indicating where his priorities are. It is now up to Banjulians to decide whether, after the Banjul rally, this man is worthy of their continued support because he has clearly indicated his intention to allow Banjul to sink, literally and figuratively.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Delay in marketing arrangements for the 2015/2016 groundnut season bad for the farmer and economy

A groundnut farmer
The decision of the Jammeh regime to stay silent on the marketing arrangements for this year's groundnut marketing season is not only worrying but downright callous behavior. Equally callous is its decision not to officially announce the 2014/2015 final tonnage purchased by the defunct Gambia Groundnut Corporation (GGC).

The same pattern of silence was displayed last year in declaring the regime's plan to purchase the crop from farmers who depend entirely on this single once-a-year economic activity for their livelihood.

The culture of silence and deception has become a hallmark of the Jammeh regime.  For example, we've come to learn only in May this year, and only through newspaper accounts, that GGC has been subsumed into a new agency that is called The National Food Security Processing and Marketing Corporation (NFSMC).  An Act creating the new entity is not accessible to us.  We hope it exists.

Given the opaque governance style of the regime, we can assume that it has abandoned its initial plan to create the Food Security Corporation (FSC) - a proposal we opposed, which would have been empowered to manage "all freed surplus land" presumably meaning virgin land as well as land lying fallow.  In the absence of a blueprint or public debate of this extremely important policy initiative, the citizenry can only speculate as to what was meant by the proposal.

In spite of the scanty information on the proposal outside of the imprecise announcement made by Jammeh's former Secretary General (Momodou Sabally) during a political tour of the provinces, we wrote two Open Letters to the International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD) a leading investor in the sector.  The first, laying our case for opposing the proposal we believe would have threatened the traditional tenure system that has served the country well for centuries and the second drawing IFAD's attention to Jammeh's unethical methods of acquiring land from rural communities. We will continue to monitor the situation to see whether the new corporation will be given similar mandate.

Back to this year's marketing arrangements - why are the farmers not being prepared for the season? Senegal is expected to produce one million tons and has guaranteed its farmers a producer price of CFA 200 per kg.  SONACOS, the government buying agency is expected to purchase a third i.e about 300,000 tons with the remaining 700,000 to be purchased by private buyers including Chinese buyers.  These announcements were made over a month ago and the marketing campaign in Senegal has already started while the Jammeh regime procrastinates.

What is incomprehensible is the lackadaisical approach adopted by the Jammeh regime in managing a sector that is the single biggest foreign exchange earner, at a time when the economy is already on life support and needs resuscitation.  What is likely to happen instead is the meager groundnut crop will find its way across the border where the market condition are more favorable to the Gambian farmers, including the payment of their crop in cash as opposed to the credit buying that is the standard practice of the bankrupt GGC now NFSMC.  This scenario will only exacerbate and already dire economic condition.

We hope the Minister of Finance will use the occasion of presenting his 2016 Budget to include in his speech the mandate of the new NFSMC, inform the farmers the producer price they should expect from their toil as well as the marketing arrangements for the upcoming season.  The regime owes the Gambian farmer, at least, that much.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Jammeh is contesting the $ 22 million award to Carnegie Mineral (Gambia) Ltd. by ICSID

Astron Corporation Limited, parent company of Carnegie Mineral (Gambia) Ltd that won an arbitration case against the Jammeh regime has just announced that the Attorney General Office has filed an annulment application with the World Bank's International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID).

The arbitration panel of the ICSID awarded Carnegie Mineral (Gambia) Ltd. approximately $ 22 million back in July of this year for breach of a mining contract by Yaya Jammeh.

According to a press release by Astron, the corporation was notified that The Gambia has submitted an application of annulment "on the grounds of the constitution of the arbitral tribunal, an arguments about admissibility and jurisdiction.   The ICSID do not have a n appeal process outside of the annulment of the award which the panel will take up.  It is not clear how soon the annulment process will take.

Speaking to someone familiar with the workings of the ICSID, the chances of the award being overturned is "next to nil." The application for annulment is therefore seen as a way of buying time by delaying any payment of such a huge sum just when the government of going through a budget crisis.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Yaya Jammeh intends to raise taxes in 2016 to finance his re-election campaign

Chairman Carayol of the IEC
The Finance Minister's Appropriation Bill of 2015 to parliament opens up a window into the Gambian dictator's thinking into how he intends to handle the upcoming presidential elections and how he intends to use the budget to his reelection campaign - provided that he is not denied the privilege to participate.

In the past, Jammeh had used the budget as part of his reelection campaign by funding his so-called "development projects" including his numerous bridges-to-nowhere, most of which, from a development standpoint, have proven to be white elephant projects.  Admittedly, these projects did achieved the desired objects and effects they were meant to i.e. to score propaganda points against the electorates.

Presently, the budget is once again seen as a source of finance for the ruling party by increasing domestic spending for what the Finance Minister described as "to cater for the settlement of existing arrears, OMVG contributions and 'government intervention' to further invest into the education sector, including availing more scholarship to students."  The legally accrued arrears are binding and must be paid off.   The OMVG contribution must also be paid, particularly when Senegal and Guinea have just contracted a loan from the European Investment Bank to finance another phase of the interconnection of West Africa's power grid.

Buried among these legitimate expenditure proposals are innocent-sounding budget subheads under all-encompassing phrases like 'government intervention' to further invest in the education sector and more scholarships.  

Funds allocated to these subheads are routinely diverted to ruling party's political activities and the forthcoming election year will be no exception.  Full scholarships for the duration of the academic program is a rarity under Jammeh.  Most of the recipients experience interruptions in their studies for non-payment of tuition.  The lucky ones are those with Taiwan scholarships because it was directly handled by the Taiwan government.

In addition to the planned investment in education and scholarships, Jammeh also intends to increase "infrastructural spending" by 43%.   During his provincial tour, he indicated that his regime plans to finance a bridge over the Gambia River at Basse to connect the town to Niakoi on the North Bank. All indications are he intends to finance the project using local resources.

All of these new expenditures cannot be financed without heavy local borrowing, further aggravating a domestic debt problem that has been crowding out the private sector, starving it of much-needed investment funds to expand and create jobs for a very youthful population.
Finance Minister, Abdou Kolley

During the current budget cycle, both the World Bank and the African Development Bank provided budget support to the regime this easing its budget problems.  However, the Finance Minister is serving notice to the parliament that no budget support will be available in 2016 because the development partners have ceased such financial assistance.

How is Yaya Jammeh proposing to finance these additional expenditures in 2016 ?  According to his Finance Minister, he intends to raise taxes (income, VAT, sales and capital gains) to pay for his election campaign.  It is, therefore, not a coincidence that the Chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission, Mr. Mustapha Carayol, also used the occasion of the presentation of the Appropriation Bill of 2015 containing the Budget Estimates for 2016 to announce that the next presidential elections will be held on 1st December 2016 which serves as a notice and reminder to members of parliament of the high stakes involved in next year's budget.      

Monday, November 30, 2015

Kartong youths reportedly released; it remains addressing their concerns

The People of Kartong

It is being reported from reliable sources that the Gambian dictator, Yaya Jammeh, has taken the unilateral decision of ordering the release of all the Kartong youth arrested and sent to the notorious Mile II prisons.

"The release of the illegally detained Kartong youth is a welcome development but hardly satisfactory," says Coach Pa Samba Jow of the Washington-based DUGA.

"It is not within the president's powers to file a nolle prosequi.  The responsibility lies entirely with the Attorney General," says an experienced lawyer and keen observer of developments in the Gambia who also said that Jammeh could not claim to have pardoned them when they have not been found guilty of any wrong doing.

Parading these innocent youths before television cameras to beg for mercy - a cheap propaganda ploy employed by Jammeh will not the regime well in the event that that is what is being contemplated.

The youth were protesting against mining activities in Kartong that threaten their livelihood with equally damaging effects on the immediate communities.  These issues relate to the mining of sand and other heavy minerals in Kartong that is destroying the environment, dotting the landscape with open pits and heavy metal residue that pollute the streams and the soil, making life considerably more difficult for the population.

The mining is being done by KGI, a company owned by the very same dictator who has decided to release the Kartong youth.  The official action must go beyond simply releasing the youth.  The concerns of Kartong residence must be addressed to the satisfaction of the village residence.

Similar issues of concern exist in other parts of the Kombos and across the country where agricultural land belonging to the communities have been forfeited to the Gambian dictator, threatening the traditional tenure system.  These lands must be returned to its rightful owners : the respective rural communities across the country.

  

Kartong people standing up for their rights






Amnesty International has joined a host of others in calling for the release of all of the peaceful protesters who have been jailed because they were exercising their rights to petition their government for what they see as a policy detrimental to their livelihood and harmful to the environment as a result of inappropriate land use policies and mining practices.

"A blanket crackdown on protesters is not acceptable.  The right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly must not be unduly curtailed because of the suspected unlawful behavior of some individuals," said Sabrina Mahtani Amnesty International's West Africa researcher.

We are reminding supporters of the 33 Kartong youth, including a 70 year old man who is in poor health, to show support and attend  the court proceedings at the Brikama Magistrate Court, tomorrow, Tuesday, December 1st.