Sunday, October 31, 2010

Beyond lex talionis

May be I need to make myself understandable here. Lex talionis, is a latin term, referring to “Law of Retaliation (in English) otherwise “an eye for an eye” as it is referred by scriptures. In a simpler term, he who kills must be killed or punishment be equal to crime. And given that The Gambia extends death penalty to drugs and human trafficking, Kissy-Kissy Mansa argues that this amounts to excessive vengeance.  

"They are going to kill them for crimes they did not commit,” families of the eight treason convicts, including former defense chief, bemoan after justice Amadi declared: “I hereby sentence you to death…”

Three months on, former defense chief Lang Tombong Tamba and co are still breathing  (according to reliable source) but in jail, thanks to their defense team who appealed against the conviction before president Yahya Jammeh fulfils the executioner’s dream.

It is the same fate hanging over Sulayman Bah, who was convicted for killing a housemate over $457 and a Senegalese woman, Tabara Samba, convicted for killing her husband by pouring boiling oil over him after she grew suspicious the man was going to take a second wife.

As these valuable souls await the president to append his signature for them to be asked of their final words, The Gambian parliament recently amended Drug Control Act 2003 and Trafficking of Persons Act 2007, substituting the penalties with death sentence for would-be offenders.

Human rights activists and some Gambians have greeted this move with disapproval, which is seen as the latest move to curb these heinous crimes that are rising at a worrying rate in the country; for it both contradicts the constitutional provision on death penalty, and hefty by all standards.

 “Although one cannot measure the destruction 250g of cocaine could cause, but life is too precious for it. Infact the world is abolishing death penalty,” says Hon. Babanding Daffeh, an opposition National Assembly member.

“In my opinion, in as much as we want to curb drug trade and human trafficking, we should not impose death penalty, but rather emphasize on preventing it and re-integrating criminals into the society.”

The constitution states very clearly that no court in The Gambia shall be competent to impose a sentence of death for any offence unless the sentence is prescribed by law and the offence involves violence or the administration of any toxic substance, resulting in the Death of another person.

“As lawyers or any other person, we never supported any drug trafficking or drug trafficking activities by any syndicate. But, the issue whereby there would be death penalty for anybody, we do not support the death penalty to be part of the penalties for such,” human rights lawyer Assan Martins told VOA recently.

Martins said the penalty for any drug offenses could be “for life imprisonment if he is caught” instead of the death penalty that the person will face under the new measure introduced by the government.
The Gambia, the tiniest country in Africa with an estimated human population of 1.5m, is among the first African countries to abolish death penalty – in 1981 – during the first republic.

Since independence in 1965, death penalty has been executed only once, on Mustapha Danso for killing the then commander of the Field Force, Ekou Mahoney.

However after the military take over in 1994, the junta re-instituted it by decree in 1995, and it was later incorporated into the 1997 Constitution. This resulted in the commuting of the life imprison of one Lamin Darboe to death sentence after he was accused of being the ring leader of hunger striking prisoners. Death sentence initially applies to murder and treason, but now extends to drug and human trafficking, pending President Jammeh’s assent.
According to the new amendment on Drug Control Act, any person found guilty of being in possession of over 250g of cocaine or heroine shall be sentenced to death, while human trafficking has been extended from life imprisonment to death sentence.  

“The menace of drug trafficking and the activities of major drug lords have started to rear their ugly heads in this jurisdiction in recent times,” justice minister Edu Gomez told lawmakers. “Therefore this bill seeks to nip the negative developments in the bud by providing sentences which will serve as deterrent to anyone wishing to use this country either as a transit or destination point for hard drugs.”

On human trafficking, he says, “Both the strategic location of The Gambia as a gateway to the western world as well as our liberal immigration policy has attracted the attention of unscrupulous persons in using the country as a transit route for trafficking in persons.

“Therefore this bill seeks to enhance the penalties in order to protect vulnerable persons.”
This move came hard on the heels of an upsurge in both illicit drug trade and human trafficking in the country, with a view to curbing the menace.

Indeed, The Gambia has in recent times witnessed a sharp rise of trade in illicit drugs, to a magnitude Kissy-Kissy describes as “a Mexico state”.
June this year, security agents seized about two tones of cocaine with an estimated value of $1billion bound for Europe, a discovery that shocks the nation.

Former chief of anti-drug agency and four of his staff are facing trial over drugs. Separately, the former police chief and two top military officers are also alleged to have lied against the president that he gave them illicit drugs to sell.

 The trio is facing trial at the High Court in the capital, Banjul.
In the fight against drugs, the president has issued several stern warnings. During celebrations marking 16 years of his rule – military-turned civilian – he vowed to clamp down on the practice.

“I would rather die than allow some misguided elements to use The Gambia as a drug zone,” Jammeh was quoted as saying.

This was followed by dashing-out of 9 brand new four-wheel drive vehicles to the National Drug Enforcement Agency, following which, hardly a week goes by, without seizure of either cocaine or cannabis.
The introduction of death penalty is seen as the latest move towards the “all-out-war against drugs. Can it be justifiable?

Martins and Badinding may not even know about each other, but they echo the same concern; there is a possibility that innocent people could be executed for crimes they have not committed.

“We need to rehabilitate our criminals” Daffeh says and Martins buttressed: “The fear is that an innocent person may also suffer or may end up being a victim. We don’t support anything of collective punishment of both the innocent and the guilty”.

It is worthy of mentioning that modern penal systems are designed to be correctional or rehabilitative and not primarily punitive in nature, for the fact that once a criminal could not always be criminal.

In Islam for instance, the Quran permits exact and equivalent retribution, but softens the law of an eye for an eye by urging mankind to accept less compensation than that inflicted upon him or her or to forgive altogether.

"You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth'. But I say to you, do not resist an evildoer. If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also" says Jesus Christ.

After all, the whole world agrees with an Indian civil rights leader, Mahatma Gandhi that: “the law of an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Writers Association of The Gambia at Writers’ Congress in Libya

The Writers’ Association of The Gambia (WAG) is currently participating in the Arab African Writers’ Congress holding at the University of Garyouni, in Benghazi, Libya. At the invitation of the Libyan Writers' Association through the Pan African Writers Association based in Ghana, WAG is among Arab and African writers and intellectuals deliberating from October 24-25, 2010, on the theme: Activation, Cohesion, Union and Progress.
The representative of WAG, General Secretary Mr. Cherno Omar Barry, will address the congress on: The effects of the Arab culture in the Senegambia Region: Arab, Islam and the Senegambian Cultures under the sub-theme: Arab Culture in Africa, Between Westernisation and the Challenge of Renewal.
Mr. Barry will deliberate on the contemporary Muslim child’s difficulties in accommodating the learning of the Quran and attending formal school and will give a brief background of the arrival and introduction of Islamic and Western education and the conflicting struggle to accommodate the two in the life of the Gambian child.
The congress which is being attended by several other national writers’ associations in Africa and the Arab world is taking place under the auspices of the World Centre for the Study and Research of the Green Book, the General Forum of the Afro-Arab NGOs (FONGAF), with the cooperation of the University of Garyouni and the Libyan Ministry of Culture.
Through Mr. Barry’s participation, WAG expects to build solid contacts for cooperation with other writers’ associations attending. Mr Cherno Omar Barry left Banjul on Wednesday October 20 and is expected back on Friday October 29, 2010.

Prayer: May You Not Fail Like NAWEC

Many people express concern why KISSY-KISSY MANSA hasn’t been featuring for a while. There are fears I was cowed, but no! Those that send me email, sms, or others, I thank you all.  I was away to the land of gold - Gold Coast - present day Ghana to broaden my knowledge.  Synonymous to its name today  is, champion of Africa’s democracy. Here we go again with a special prayer I offer to all those who wish to say Ameen! May you not fail like NAWEC.  

Frowned beyond recognition, Alpha Omar Bah, 23, sits at right at the entrance to his internet café, as if to bar customers from entering. On the contrary, he wants them in, but none was coming in.

For the past few months he is getting used to sitting whole day without a customer, no money thanks to erratic power supply or lack of it sometimes by the country’s energy giant NAWEC.

 “NAWEC is really killing me,” he says, without changing his mood. “I am not making any returns. All my investment is going down the drains”.

It has been two years since this industrious young boy finished his secondary education. Unlike most of his colleagues who fail to further their education because of lack of either financial or other support, Alpha’s family assisted him to study computer science.

Again, a privilege most of his colleagues lack and are left frustrated with business propositions but without a kick starter, Alpha got financial support from his sister in abroad to set-up an internet café.
He partnered with a friend Abdoulie Sillah, 23, who as well got some money from his sister in abroad.

Having attained some level of computer literacy, both Alpha and Abdoulie hope Internet business will help them at least make ends meet in the face of growing demand for them lend a hand in running the affairs of their families.

However, little did they know that in a country where providing a basic need as energy has become so laissez-faire that, as a Senegal comedian says (about our power supply), everybody has his or her own NAWEC (generator) at home, technical know-how and (good) location are not enough for such a business venture, which relies solely on energy, to thrive.

“From day one, it has not been easy,” Alpha says. “We encounter numerous challenges here. At times we loose [internet] connection for some hours or in some instances a day or two.
On the heels of these challenging moments, comes a more devastating one; that is the unprecedented load shedding by National Water and Electricity Company (NAWEC).
“How are we going to pay our bills” he quizzes rhetorically knowing very well that whether he makes money or not his landlord will make a request end of month.
But Alpha and Abdoulie aren’t alone in this dilemma. It is a national problem. And the president, who would have ordinarily dismissed his energy minister, is himself doubling as the nation’s energy minister.
Families abandon their beautifully decorated air-conditioned houses seeking for fresh air as house turn hell.  
According to a veteran journalist Bijou Peters, “the sudden disruption of electricity supply can be dangerous for families, most of whom have to resort to the use of candles during a black out.
“It creates a hazard also for the elderly members of the family who are unable to find their way safely in a darkened house during power failures. Reports of accidents in the home have been recorded, some of which have resulted in fatalities.”

Members of the community who require a regular supply of energy such as welders, bakers, tailors, fishermen, fish processers and dryers are particularly hampered by these frequent power failures which affect their works and earnings daily.

“I have many contracts to work on but due to the constant power interruption I cannot execute it,” says, a welder, who was speaking to Daily News recently.

Bakers are now buying bag of ice to mix flour to bake breads, newspapers go off the newsstand, ice sellers have their ice boiled in the fridge, fishers no longer keep the fish fresh and many others have their appliances spoiled, all but thanks to NAWEC.  

Dram at parliament
Recalling what could be described as a drama at the National Assembly recently when Hon. Sedia Jatta lamented about NAWEC’s poor performance. Vice president responding to him tried to defend but before she finishes there was a power failure.

“I am vindicated” Sedia said, amid laughter. Even the journalists burst into laughter.  
Power resumed almost a minute after vice president took her seat and the Speaker was saying it was not a power failure, but rather they are switching from generator to NAWEC when there was power cut again.
“What is it this time” Sedia teases and there was even more laughter.

No pleasing news
NAWEC rarely gives pleasing news. Public notices from NAWEC always read: NAWEC regrets to inform general public that….”
Remembering few years ago, while still going to school we were three in a room having a small radio set giving us some entertainment. But nothing entertains us more than news releases from NAWEC. Anytime the announcer announces: “This is a public announcement from NAWEC, we would burst into laughter. Without listening to what would come next, we would turn-off the radio and then turn it on seconds later, predicting that the final part of the release would read: “NAWEC apologizes for any inconvenience.”

Promises again
Meanwhile after remaining unreasonably mute over this issue, NAWEC has finally broken the silence.
According to news reports, the problem was due to an inferno which damaged its machinery, but it is poised to do better.

Praying for people’s goodness or otherwise is not only religious, but a culture. One of the reasons I used to greet my grandma every morning is because of the prayers she offers to me, which I found not only a blessing, but interesting. “May you shine like sun,” she would say even after I left.
However, nowadays, these metaphoric prayers are no longer likened to nature, but rather the prevailing man-made circumstances.
Among them are: “May you not fail like NAWEC, May you rise like the price of commodities.”

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Gambia Crawls towards Press Freedom

Hard on the heels of the recently launched Hunger FREE report revealing the rising hunger rate in The Gambia comes another report, indicating a crawl towards press freedom in the country.
Reporters Without Borders, an international journalists’ organisation, says African journalists, Gambians included, are still seeking for freedom from their governments, decades after independence.
The Gambia has moved from last year’s ranking as 137th worst media friendly country to 125th this year. But the report says The Gambia was neck and neck with Niger last year, who has made an impressive leap of 35-place jump from 139 to 104th this year.  

Relation between the second republic and the media in The Gambia is sour, and government is showing no sign of respite in loosening the noose on the neck of journalists.

Growing calls for the Gambia government to release journalist Chief Ebrima Manneh of pro-government Daily Observer newspaper, who was allegedly arrested since 2006, has fallen on deaf ears, while government’s seemingly laid-back investigation, if any infact, on the murder of a veteran journalist Deyda Hydara, co-proprietor of a private independent newspaper, The Point,  remain  bitter pills for journalists to swallow.

Government has also closed-down some major media outlets, including the independent newspaper, new citizen newspaper, and citizen FM radio.
Doing everything at its disposal to muzzle the press, government also relies on numerical strength in parliament to enact repressive laws amid hefty penalties, while courts have been described as worst places for journalists.
Several journalists suffer arbitrary arrest and unconstitutional detentions as well as allegations of torture in the hands of security agents.
The neighboring sisterly republic of Senegal has become the safe-haven for local journalists hosting about a dozen exiled Gambian journalists. Many others are in US and Europe.
“Many African countries are marking the 50th  anniversary of their independence, 2010 should have been a year of celebration but the continent’s journalists were not invited to the party,” Reporters Without Borders says.

Eritrea (178th) is at the very bottom of the world ranking for the fourth year running as it holds at least 30 journalists and four media contributors are held incommunicado, followed by Sudan (172), with a state surveillance of print media and closure of  the opposition daily Rai-al-Shaab and the jailing of five members of its staff.
Namibia tops the ranking as Africa’s most media friendly country and world 21st, while Cape Verde (26th) has caught up with Ghana (26th) and Mali (26th). South Africa (38th) has fallen five places.

“Surveillance of the press and a decline in the climate for journalists during the May elections account for Ethiopia’s continued bad ranking (139th). Violence against journalists, arbitrary police arrests and intelligence agency abuses explain why Nigeria (145th) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (148th) are still in the bottom third,” the report says.  

Saturday, October 16, 2010

President Jammeh's U-Turn

President Jammeh and Zeinab Zuma, the first lady
Gambian president Yahya Jammeh is trapped in the plush of a polygamous life style, a practice he had seemingly despised.
Polygamy is believed to be an exclusive privilege of African men and The Gambian leader is now one of them. He has over the years earned support of Gambian women for his acclaimed women empowerment initiatives.
In 2009, he raised eyebrows when he castigated Gambian men for taking on more than one wife, a remark that invite  applause at the National Assembly during the state opening of the legislative year.
 He even threatened to seize properties of men who mistreat their first wives after marrying an apparently beautifully plump and younger wife.
But the president himself now bags two, despite expressing outrage at the attitude of Gambian men marrying more wives.
Analysts say it is somewhat common for president Jammeh who came in power in 1994 through a coup before restoring (Lilliput) democracy, to go against his words.
As one analyst said: “He (Jammeh) recently [during meeting with Banjul Mandinka society] said his government is not regional bias, while six months ago, he vowed not to develop certain regions because they failed to vote for him.” 9
Meanwhile The Gambian first lady Zeinab Suma Jammeh is a Guinean, who president Jammeh married after what seemed to be separating with the former first lady Tuti Faal, a Gambian.
And his taking on of Her Excellency young Lady Halima Sallah has been greeted with mixed feelings, as some did not find fault, whilst others seem not to be happy about it, an opinion poll reveals.
“So Jammeh has married his third wife big deal. He divorced his first wife. He married a second wife and married a third wife. What’s all the fuss about?” said anonymous contributor on one of Gambian online newspapers. “Each wife knows about the other and all consented to marry him. What’s up! Are the objectors just jealous or what?”

However, another anonymous writer writes: Respect your wives my Muslim brothers and stop using religion as an excuse to abuse women.”