Sunday, March 20, 2011

Alleged Norwegian Child Abuser Pleads Not Guilty

A Norwegian tourist on Thursday denied allegations of sexually abusing five underage children when arraigned at Bundung Magistrates’ Court presided over by Christiana Johnson Lyon.

Mr Svien Age Sandaker was however granted bail in the sum of D50, 000, with two Gambian sureties with landed properties within the Greater Banjul Area. The court also ordered for his travel documents be seized.
Mr Sandaker is charged with four counts of sexual abuse of underage children, indecent photograph of underage children, sexual exploitation of underage children and indecent assault of underage children. He pleaded not guilty.  
He was arrested in December last year at his residence in Brufut where he allegedly lodged the children between the ages 3 to 10. His arrest came following a tip off provided to The Gambian police by Norwegian police. He was at one time convicted in Norway for child abuse, police had said.
Police said Mr Svien took photographs of his abusive conduct on the children and stored them in electronic mass storage devices, which they recovered from him.
The case resumes Thursday March 24.

Two Ministers Fired

Gambian president Yahya Jammeh on Friday recharged his electrical broom sweeping two ministers out of his shaky cabinet.
Mr Abdou Kolley, minister of Trade, Regional, Integration, and Employment and Mr Yusupha Kah, minister of Works, Construction and Infrastructure have been relieved of their duties with effect from Friday, March 18.
A typical fashion of president Jammeh’s regime, no reason was advanced to the public for the dismissal of the two ministers who have been recycled several times before shown the exit door on Friday.
The state-owned TV said president Jammeh relied on a constitutional provision which empowers him to fire both ministers. 
Meanwhile, Mr Abdou Kolley’s dismissal was greeted with shock for he has earned himself a national acclaim, humble and hardworking.
He was awarded "2008 Partner to the Private Sector" by the Gambia Chamber of Commerce and Industry during its Annual Business Awards Dinner held on February 6, 2009.
Kolley 41, joined the cabinet in 2007 as minister of Trade and Employment and was appointed Finance Minister in 2009.
He was dismissed and re-hired as minister of Trade, Regional Integration and Employment in July 2010, and he was later re-assigned to the Ministry of Finance. In January 2011, he was redeployed to trade ministry. 
Yusupha Kah, 54, served as permanent secretary in various ministries; Interior, Trade, Finance and Communication and vice president’s office from 1997 until his appointment as trade minister in 2009.
Following a major cabinet reshuffle, he was deployed to the dissolved ministry of Economic Planning and was re-assigned to trade ministry in 2010.
 In January 2011, he was appointed minister of Works and Construction. 

President Jammeh Slams Journalists' Demands as Ridiculous

Gambian president Yahya Jammeh has slammed as ridiculous the demands made by Gambian journalists for the decriminalisation of anti media free laws and subvention ofto media outlets.
“Some of you [journalists] have made ridiculous demands that cannot be met. Tell me one country where there is no libel law and where government subvents the media?” Jammeh told the Gambian media chiefs and their editors at Statehouse on Wednesday.
The uncommon gathering between the government and the independent media was made possible thanks to the efforts of the newly appointed Director of Press and Public Relations, Fatou Camara.
The government-media relationship has been tense for over a decade. The government boasts of creating an enabling environment giving rise to proliferation of media outlets. However, the media practitioners decry lack of liberty in the face of ‘unwarranted arrest, detention, intimidation, lack of access to official information and laws that impede on freedom of speech.
The unsettled murder of veteran journalist Deyda Hydara and the mysterious missing of journalist Ebrima Manneh, as Sam Sarr of Foroyaa told the president and his cabinet, trigger uneasiness on the part of the executive. 
And the meeting witnessed renewed calls made by media chiefs for government to address these issues for any progress to be made, but their demands were met with yet an objection by the president.
However, both parties expressed satisfaction with the initiative and hope it could be the beginning of a new chapter in government-media relations with promises of follow-up meetings all, but geared towards smoothening the rough edges.  

Journalist make demands

“I would not wish to rekindle the fire of the old wounds,” said Mr Swaebou Conateh, the editor/publisher of The Gambia News & Report weekly magazine, referring to the detentions, prosecutions, attacks and the mysterious killing of Deyda Hydara, founder of The Point newspaper and disappearance of journalist Ebrima Manneh of Daily Observer. 
Conateh added: “However, it is not too late to adjust or re-adjust the position, so that the Gambia can, among its many achievements under the Jammeh administration, boast of having the most free press in Africa, if not in the whole world.
Being the oldest practicing journalist in the country, Swaebou said: “I therefore propose to take the bull by the horns to ask for certain programmes of the government to be carried out in order to make more satisfactory and systematic progress on what is now a vexed question.”
Conateh calls for the decriminalizing of speech since one is in contravention with the universal principles as the free flow of information is necessary for human understanding cooperation and developments.
“Our laws on sedition publication our libel laws and false publication laws are either archaic or out of step with the information age and should be repealed or revealed” saying that other countries have done this.
Swaebou also called on the government to have an open door policy, recommending for the president, interior and foreign ministries to hold regular press briefing to entertain questions from media on offices they hold to clarify it to the public.
“I know you are capable of doing it,” Conateh told the president, “But there is some reluctance on your part which makes us to have doubts about your intentions.”
Mr Pap Saine, Managing Director and co-publisher of The Point newspaper emphasized the need for the independent press to access to government news in order to effectively execute its constitutional mandate to disseminate information about the activities of the government for the benefit of the public.
“We want to make our position very clear that we are not an enemy to the state,” said Mr Saine, whose friend Deyda Hydara was gunned-down by unknown assailants since 2004. “The journalist does not see himself or herself in that role. We are neither backers of nor the opposition. Our job requires us to report on both the pleasant and the sordid aspects of society.”
According to Sam Sarr, Editor of Foroyaa newspaper, governments have to be kept on their toes in order to assist them to become more effective, and also to preempt wrong doings and errors that may be created in the process of governance.
Mr Sarr highlighted that rather than government cooperating to bring about justice to the case of Deyda and others, there is uneasiness on the part of the executive whenever such cases are mentioned.
According to him, the government is taking pride in allowing the large number of radio stations, but the fundamental question that should be asked is where they are allowed to broadcast local news.
“There must be an alternative broadcast,” said Sam Sarr, who was among the six journalists jailed last year after found guilty sedition and defamation, but release after two months following presidential pardon.
“There must be divergent views and dissenting opinion,” he added.  
For Abdul Adiamoh, publisher of Today Newspaper, The Gambia is a very beautiful country, but the Gambian media is denied to portray the image of the country.
Adiamoh said he is a Nigerian, but he considers himself as a Gambian. He told the president that throughout his extended stay in the country, he has not seen a single Gambian journalist locally who is set out to vilify the country.

And Jammeh, Ministers Respond

However, Jammeh said there is no law or policy barring public officials in his government from talking to the press.
“When we came from Mecca, I got that same comment that people are complaining that they are not enlightened; that they never have access to information -  public officials are tight-lipped, giving the impression there is a ban,” Jammeh said on Wednesday during a rare meeting with the independent press at Statehouse. 
“My government has no law that public officials are not supposed to talk to the press,” Jammeh said,  warning journalist from making a general comment that Yahya Jammeh’s government does not even allow public officials to talk.
“When you ask anybody [the public officials] and they tell you we are not supposed to talk, ask those people to put it into writing and sign it and ask the person who does not allow you to talk to the press.”
President Jammeh however vowed that he would not compromise national security, the peace and stability in the country at the altar of freedom of expression.
“The peace and stability of this country, I will never compromise,” Jammeh vowed. “I always make it very clear, from 1994 to date, that whatever I do, write it, but if you write what I didn’t do, I will deal with you, and I will deal with you whether the West or the East likes it or not, even if the sky is going to explode.”
“Because am the President doesn’t mean that I can trample on anybody’s rights or go about beating up people. No, but also because you are a journalist does not mean that you can write whatever you want to write, knowing that it is not true,” he stated.
On the death of Deyda Hydara, Jammeh said his government has nothing to do with it and there is nothing his government could do about it. He said he has many people on a death row since 1996, but did not execute any one. “Why would I kill a journalist then,” Jammeh said.
According to the Gambian leader, the delegation he sent to the funeral of Deyda was greeted with hostility saying that he even regretted why he sent them.
On the demands for regular press briefings, Jammeh said he used to do it when he took over but had to stop it because his message is distorted and some journalists represent opposition parties.
Regarding the need to repeal anti media free laws, Jammeh there must be such laws for him and Gambian people to seek redress whenever they feel offended by the journalists.
He said the demands for decriminalization of sedition, subvention for media outlets cannot be met.
He said if the media had accepted the setting up of the Media Commission he would not have the cause to resort to courts, but rather he will seek redress at the commission.  
 “Let me make one thing very clear – my heart is a very small heart; it does not have enough space to accommodate hatred. My heart is full with the love for humanity and the love for this country,” Jammeh said.
He then pointed out that if his government doesn’t want the press, it won’t have allowed operation of these outlets given the fact that it is the government that issued a license and hence none of them could have operated without a license.
Also speaking, the vice president and minister of Women’s Affairs, Isatou Njie-Saidy urged on the media to recognise the positive developments registered by Jammeh administration even areas of good governance, democracy and human rights.
 “Let all Gambians realise that we have nothing except the country and let us not take the peace and stability of the country for granted.” Dr Njie-Saidy urged the journalists to be responsible journalists.
The secretary general and head of the Civil Service, Dr Njogu Bah told the media practitioners to ensure responsibility in the discharge of their duties; one that will be accompanied with ethics.
Bah said the problem between government and the media is the lack of responsibility in the media.
“Nobody is saying don’t write anything negative about what government does, but constructive criticism is what we are asking for,” he noted.
However, The Gambian minister for Health and Social Welfare Fatim Badjie implored on both the government and private bodies to open up to the media, saying that the media must ‘trigger thought’ as it carries both a sweet and sour tongue.
“There is a general culture of people shutting the door at the media,” the youngest minister who was appointed minister in 2009 at age 24 as communications minister admitted.  
Fatim said information on the progress and challenges are being highlighted and that the independent press has been covering their ministries’ events. She believes that the media has a steady potential for growth. 

Friday, March 11, 2011

Over 600 Gambians in Violence Stricken Libyan Yearn Homecoming

Over six hundred Gambians are trapped in the troubled Libya yearning to return home, The Gambian foreign minister, Momodou Tangara told GRTS on Wednesday.
Over two hundred of them are already being hosted at the Senegalese embassy in Libya.
There have been mass departures of both foreigners and Libyan nationals since the peaceful anti-government protest turned into a civil war.
Protesters demanding for the end of Libyan leader Ghadafi’s 42-year despotic rule have been attacking foreign nationals, particularly Africans in the wake of reports that African mercenaries hired by Ghadafi are carrying out the carnage against them.
Twelve Gambians rescued by Morocco on Wednesday arrived home. They were among over 2, 000 foreigners, mostly Moroccans who were evacuated from Benghazi city in Libya and ferried to Morocco. They arrived in Morocco on Saturday.
The Gambian foreign minister said the arrangement for Morocco to take Gambians on board was bargained by President Yahya Jammeh.
He said his permanent secretary has joined The Gambian Liaison Officer in Libya to effect the evacuation of Gambians back home.
Minister Tangara said his government is also cooperating with Senegal to evacuate the citizens of both countries in Libya.
A major producer of oil, Libya serves as a gateway to Europe for thousands of greener pasture seekers. And those who face prolonged transit usually stay to engage mostly in menial work for both survival and to gather enough funds to proceed with the journey. 
Hundreds of thousands of foreigners are working and residing in the North African country, but it is not clear how many Gambians are residing there.
Meanwhile, the pro-democratic protest in Libya is among many that are sweeping in the Arab world, unseating two heads of state, Ben Ali of Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt.
Self entrenched leaders of Yemen and Jordan are also struggling to keep their heads above the tie of the wave of protests for democratic reforms.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Rebels at The Centre

The three-decade long unrest in the southern Senegal, Casamance, has been at the crux of decades of thawing relations between Senegal and The Gambia. However, both countries have once again moved to mend cracked fences. But aware that this would be impossible without, firstly, collectively dealing with Senegal’s independence-seeking rebels, ensuing bilateral talks had led to the agreement to mount a joint operation against the rebels. Kissy-Kissy Mansa reports

The Gambian delegation led by Dr Isatou Njie-Saidy, the vice president recently embarked on a three-day official visit to Senegal where they held a joint consultative meeting with Senegalese counterparts.
Top on the agenda was the promotion of ties between these sisterly neighboring countries whose relations have been volatile, often triggered by the unrest in Southern Senegal, Casamance.  
Also discussed was the revival of the Senegalo-Gambian permanent Secretariat. This bilateral dispensation was set-up in 1965 to coordinate bilateral engagements. But it later gave way to the formation of a confederation in 1982. The confederation was short-lived.
The promise to revive the secretariat was among a series of bilateral commitments, including establishment of a Joint Ministerial Commission and Joint Border Committee, both countries made last year when President Wade undertook a two-day working visit to The Gambia.
Although bound by common traditional values, ties between Senegal and The Gambia have been marred by tensions, especially for the past decade with President Wade and Jammeh in power.
Today newspaper Editor in Chief, Gbola Adiomoh is right that tensions between border countries are common.
However, it must be noted, as observers say, no two countries are as linked as Senegal and The Gambia. 
Wade’s visit last year came amid tense relations following allegations by Gambian authorities that Wade was conspiring with ‘Gambian dissidents’ to overthrow President Yahya Jammeh’s regime.
And the latest bout of diplomatic row erupted in the wake of the impounding of controversial arms shipment in Nigeria from UN-sanctioned Iran. The 13 container shipment of arms was bound for The Gambia, according to Iranian officials. The Gambia denied it.
Concerned about the three-decade unrest in its Gambia-bordered Southern region of Casamance, Senegal had pursued the matter amid renewal of allegations that The Gambia is sponsoring Senegal’s independence seeking rebels.
Reacting to mounting allegations in Senegal linking The Gambia to the arms shipment and sponsoring of the rebels, Gambian authorities accused President Wade of engaging in a smear campaign against The Gambia, branding him enemy.
 “Blinded by his hatred towards The Gambia, Abdoulie Wade has addressed a letter to the UN accusing The Gambia of buying long-ranged rockets and other sophisticated weapons from Iran,” says The Gambia’s secretary general Dr Njogu Bah, in a statement read on behalf of The Gambia government.
He added: “Since 1994, we [Gambians] have always been working for the socio-economic development of our two people. Unfortunately, this has never been reciprocated by our Senegalese counterparts from former
president] Abdou Joof to [current president] Abdoulie Wade. This is worst under Wade who bears nothing but hostility towards The Gambia.”
Wade is yet to respond, but the Senegalese Prime Minister Madicke Niang said Senegal has no intention of pursuing exchanges with Gambia, noting that the matter is a sub-regional problem and Senegal is interested in unearthing the truth.
Moustapha Guirassy, Minister of Communication of Senegal slammed the criticisms as “excessive” and “exaggerated”.
However, both countries have expressed their resolve to permanently put an end to decades of diplomatic mistrust following The Gambian foreign minister, Momodou Tangara’s day-long working visit to Senegal at the invitation of his Senegalese counterpart.
And according to the communiqué minister Tangara was also received in audience by President Abdoulaye Wade to convey a special message from President Jammeh, but details of the special message are yet to be unveiled.
“Both countries pledged to make every effort towards the establishment of the Senegalo-Gambian Permanent Secretariat by end of February 2011,” the communiqué reads.
It says the foreign ministers of both countries expressed satisfaction at the progress being made so far and pledged to pursue efforts aimed at accelerating the implementation of the recommendations of the 5th Joint Ministerial Commission, especially those relating to the establishment of a network of Senegalese and Gambian women entrepreneurs and experience sharing in the areas of hydrocarbons, domestic fuel and renewable energies.
“The two sides also decided to cooperate and work on initiating joint projects in all areas, especially: In the area of Health – to promote experience sharing in
the form of twinning, particularly in the health districts located in border areas; Electrification of cross-border areas by power companies and rural electrification agencies of both countries, based on existing funding opportunities at ECOWAS; and Education- With respect to the Consultative Commission, the two Ministers reiterated their commitment to making this institution, a forum for dialogue and consultation to monitor, in the interest of both countries, issues related to their economic and social development,” the communiqué states.
The results of Minister Tangara’s visit to Senegal have been hailed by analysts in The Gambia who criticised the Gambia government. 
It laid bare that there should have been diplomatic solutions sought before such comments are aired out to the people. Seeking Diplomatic solutions is the best way to mend thwarting relations.
The visit of Dr. Tangara to Senegal has proven this right with the outcome of the end of his visit which we believe is a by-product of diplomacy.
The latest visit to Dakar last month by the vice president saw the governments of Senegal and Gambia agreeing to undertake joint and permanent patrols along their border to counter the Senegalese separatist rebels and to deny them the ability to carry out military incursions in Senegal and then revert to Gambia to seek refuge.
In the statement following the meeting on Thursday, the Senegalese government announced that a joint secretariat to establish and implement the border surveillance and patrol will be set up by 30 April this year and will go into effect immediately after that.
“This trans-national surveillance institution will prevent incursions into Senegalese territory and dissidents seeking refuge in Gambia. We hope this will be the end of the confusion between Senegal and Gambia,” the statement said.

Chiefs Unrelenting about Kingship

Paramount Chief Demba Sanyang

Traditional chiefs are unrelenting in their campaign to crown president Jammeh as king, despite the widespread condemnation.
Demba Sanyang, the paramount chief and Lamin Queen Jammeh, the chief of Upper Nuimi Wednesday held talks with the National Assembly on the issue of kingship.
Speaking over the state television, Lamin Queen Jammeh hesitantly unveiled the main reason for their visit, saying they have discussed with the Speaker, Abdoulie Bojang on issueshe described as  “concerning the governance of the country.”
Chief Jammeh insinuated that elections brought about chaotic situations. He said culture should be the crux of any sustainable development, noting that our culture should be the bedrock for our mode of governance.
According to him, years of development in some countries have been destroyed within a day [because of elections].
Meanwhile, the campaign to transform The Gambia into a kingdom, which began last year has not only attracted widespread disapproval, but it is denting the image of the president and the ruling party.
For instance, some strong APRC supporters in Kiang and Sami who defected to the opposition-UDP based their reason for defection on the need to preserve the country’s democratic culture.
However, even the deadly uprisings sweeping across Africa and Middle East for democratic governance reforms seem not to alarm the paramount chief and co about the need for even swifter democratic reforms.