Thursday, February 16, 2012

Gambia to Host Green Africa Conference

Bianca Griffith
Gambia will play host to an international conference on environment dubbed Green Africa Sustainability Conference slated for April 12-15 at Nemasu eco-lodge.
Green Africa brings together sustainable development practitioners and visionary funders with government leaders and pragmatic industry leaders.
Speaking to journalists ahead of the event, Bianca Griffith, the brainchild behind the conference said there exists a vast number of international conferences dedicated to policy debates on climate change, renewable energy and sustainable development policy.
“Green Africa Sustainability Conference is not one of them,” she said.
She said over the course of the gathering, ripe opportunities to ignite a fresh business framework built for maximum sustainability stakeholder benefit will be developed.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Jammeh Slams US, UK's 'gay rights or no aid’ campaign as ‘new wave of evil’

US and UK’s recent threat to cut aid to anti-gay governments in Africa is greeted met with growing resistance from African governments.
The Gambia’s president Yahya Jammeh, who had previously threatened to behead gays and lesbians in the country on Tuesday joined the list of African leaders, which include Uganda and Ghana in condemning the conditions president Obama and prime minister David Cameroon attached to their countries’ aid to developing countries.
“It’s not in the Bible or Qur’an.  It’s an abomination. I am telling you this because the new wave of evil that they want to impose on us will not be accepted in this country,” he said, renewing his seeming uncompromising stance against homosexuality.
“As long as I am the president, I am not going to accept it in my government and in this country. We know what human rights are. Human beings of the same sex cannot marry or date – we are not from evolution but we are from creation and we know the beginning of creation – that was Adam and Eve.

“Did God make mistake? No! If you think it is human right to destroy our culture, you are making a mistake because if you are in Gambia, you are in the wrong place. Discipline based on our tradition will be enforced to the letter.”
President Jammeh’s remarks came few months after president Barack Obama of US had reportedly instructed US officials to consider how countries treat their gay and lesbian populations when making decisions about allocating foreign aid.
UK prime minister David Cameroon had also threatened to withhold UK aid from governments that do not reform legislation banning homosexuality.
However, Uganda’s presidential adviser, John Nagenda, in response had accused Mr Cameron of showing an "ex-colonial mentality" and of treating Ugandans "like children" when he told them to criminalise anti-gay laws. "Uganda is, if you remember, a sovereign state and we are tired of being given these lectures by people," he’d said. "If they must take their money, so be it."
Also in response to Mr Cameroon’s threat, Ghana’s president, Atta Mills vowed never to capitulate to the demands by UK and US to respect the rights of gays and lesbians.
"No one can deny Prime Minister Cameron his right to make policies, take initiatives or make statements that reflect his societal norms and ideals, but he does not have the right to direct other sovereign nations as to what they should do especially where their societal norms and ideals are different from those which exist in Prime Minister's society," Mills was quoted as saying.

Ghanaian Faces Extradition to Gambia for Drugs Worth $400 m

Ghanaian authorities are set to extradite a suspected Ghanaian drug baron to The Gambia to face trial for drug trafficking, Ghana’s Daily Graphic newspaper has reported.

In June 2010, Robert Yaw Danquah, 54, has allegedly managed to import more than two tones of cocaine estimated at $400 million from Columbia for re-export to The Gambia on a boat, but was intercepted by Gambian security agencies.

He’d reportedly escaped arrest in The Gambia and had since been on the run until he was arrested on Monday 6 February 2012 at his residence in Accra by Ghana’s security agencies.
 An investigation in his saga was conducted after The Gambia’s National Drug Enforcement Agency (NDEA) wrote to Interpol Ghana and Ghana’s anti-drug agency to assist in his arrest.

The Ghanaian’s three accomplices, Robert Roselhamid Gazi, a Dutch, and George Sanchez and Juan Carlos Sanchez, both Columbians, are said to be currently serving a 50-year jail term each in The Gambia.

According to the deputy director of Ghana’s anti-drug agency, Nii Blankson, Mr Danquah made his appearance at the Accra High Court on Friday, February 10, 2012.

He is being remanded in Ghana, awaiting the outcome of the application of a bench warrant made to the magistrates’ court in Banjul by the NDEA, Daily Graphic newspaper quoted Ghana’s top anti-drug official as saying.

Meanwhile, efforts were made for NDEA officials to shed light on the facts attributed to the agency, but as at neither press time, its spokesperson Abdoulie Ceesay nor the executive director   Ben Jammeh could be reach for comments.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Yousou N’Dour Dances, But to the Tune of ‘Dirty’ Politics

For the past 25- plus solid years,  the undisputed king of Mbalax has been signing songs that appeal to the world. That was thought to be his destiny.  He even refused his father’s wish to pursue a university degree.  Today, he is one of world greatest singers. He earns support beyond his country of birth. But in a rather shock move, he changed his gears, plunging into domestic politics. He’d accused President Wade of ‘hearing only in mono, not stereo’, but little did he realise that the instruments that produce appealing tunes in politics are different from the ones he was used to. Now that he is disqualified to run for the presidency, Kissy Kissy Mansa writes that the super star is, but dancing to the songs of other authors…


When Mbalax super star Yousou N’Dour puts his successful music career on hold in response to what he calls a “supreme patriotic duty,” at first, it all sounded like a ‘big joke’.
For Yousou N’Dour had always maintained: “I want to use my music to deliver a political message… but I don’t want to be a politician.”
On January 3, Senegal’s most known person sent shock waves when he declared that he wants to become a force for change rather than just a voice of change.
Certainly, the pull factor was too heavy for him to resist. He entered. His justification: “For a long time, men and women have demonstrated their optimism, dreaming of a new Senegal.
“They have in various ways called for my candidacy in the February presidential race. I listened. I heard. And I responded favorably.”
Even after that declaration, there were misgivings. But those who think that the musician had no political ambition are not better informed. N’Dour was very much involved in politics. He’d campaigned for the release of South Africa’s Nelson Mandela and performed at concerts for Amnesty International. In 2006, he was the only black actor in Amazing Grace, Michael Apted’s film about slavery. As a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF, he has focused on African issues such as the Darfur crisis, broadening internet access and the famine in Somalia. That is political.
And those who think that Yousou N’Dour’s plunge into electoral politics is an unusual move for an African entertainment celebrity, are equally not well informed. Infact, since the end of European colonialism, musicians have often served as voices of conscience and protest in independent African nations, criticising corruption and dictatorship.
The best-known example was Fela Kuti of Nigeria, the main creator of the Afropop style in the 1970s and a ferocious opponent of military rule in his country. Like Yousou, Fela announced planned to seek Nigeria’s top position in 1979 and 1983, but was disqualified both times.
In some other developing countries, especially those in Latin America and the Caribbean, that kind of crossover is more common and accepted, however.
The current president of Haiti, Michel Martelly, was a singer. He was elected last year in a race in which the rapper Wyclef Jean, a friend to Yousou, also threw his hat in the ring, only to be disqualified because he did not meet presidency requirements.
But Africa is a different continent. N’Dour is the undisputed king of Senegalese music, and arguably the most important figure in world music.
He is famous for much more than being famous: the embodiment of the self-made man, he is feted at home as an entrepreneur and job-creator, owning two recording studios, a micro-finance company and a stake in a leading nightclub. He is a media mogul with television and radio stations and the widely read L’Observateur newspaper.
That aside, N’Dour is a member of that country’s most powerful Sufi brotherhood, which would boost his election chances.
But the hurly-burly of domestic politics, is something else. Liberia’s super star George Weah, the former world footballer of the year tried in 2005 to translate fame into votes, but failed.
“But I’m not George Weah…” alerted Yousou N’Dure responded to that comparison. He’d hoped his celebrity brings greater success than it did for George Weah and Fela Kuti.
But the spine-tingling singer, composer, occasional actor, entrepreneur, and political activist could not have realised that he needed more than fame and money.
For the past 25 years, this undisputed king of Mbalax has been signing songs that appeal to the world. Music was thought to be his destiny. Born in Medina in Dakar, Senegal to a car mechanic, Youssou even refused his father’s wish to pursue a degree in law or medicine.
Today, he is one of world greatest singers. He is feted home, earns support beyond his country of birth, Senegal.
However, in a rather shock move, especially to the music world, he changed his gears, plunging into domestic politics.
He’d accused president Wade of ‘hearing only in mono, not stereo’ but little did he realise that the instruments that produce appealing songs in politics are different from musical instruments – the ones he was used to.
He needed political knowledge beyond understanding the requirement of standing as a candidate, but N’Dour does not even have a school certificate. And he does not have a political organisation. He may be a giant in music, but compared to his opponents in the political race, he is a dwarf. Yet, he is determined.
“It’s true that I haven’t pursued higher education,” he had admitted in reaction to his critics. “I have proved my competence, commitment, rigour and efficiency time and time again. I have studied at the school of the world.”
Perhaps Yousou never thought that his innocent intension of emerging as the savior for his chaos stricken Senegal would be crushed the way the Constitutional Council did it on Friday January 26.
Shocked to his throat, he helplessly stared at President Wade appointed strange-looking five people who were to decide on his eligibility. Disqualified, he was declared. Qualified was the man the entire nation did not want. And shattered were Yousou’s dreams.
“I am a candidate and I will remain a candidate,” Ndour however said after the Constitutional Council’s decision.
“Abdoulaye Wade should not even have presented his candidacy as the basic law says he does not have the right to do so.”
He continued: “This is going to create tension. The opposition in its great majority does not support any fiddling with the constitution.”
“We have exposed ourselves to tensions, to electoral problems from the beginning. The die has been cast. From now on, we don’t control anything.”

Victory against the ‘Four Fold Damocles'

Perhaps because it involves a former speaker of parliament or maybe it involves a government-aligned newspaper. Or maybe because the claimant is an opposition sympathiser. Whatever is certain, the outcome of Mariama Denton Vs. FJC and Daily Observer is a victory for freedom of expression in a country where journalists have no confidence in the courts in the face of restrictive media laws, which late Edward Francis Small, father of Gambian journalism and trade unionism told British colonialists are ‘four fold Damocles intended to kill the media. Kissy-kissy Mansa writes




“If I have to hang somebody, I will hang him and go to sleep using the laws.”
These were the words of Gambian president Yahya Jammeh in a state broadcast in 2006.
Jammeh, who was making reference to the murder of a prominent Gambian journalist, Deyda Hyadara added:
“I don’t believe in killing people. I believe in locking you up for the rest of your life.”
If, as said to be true to his character that, he lives by his words is anything to go by, then President Jammeh did not fail this time round.
 From 2006 to date, about 11 Gambian journalists came under criminal prosecutions for their newspaper articles. 9 of them were nailed-down, convicted and sentenced.
In the case of the remaining two that escaped conviction, it is not because they were not found guilty. Rather, as in the case of the co-publisher of The Point newspaper, Mr Pap Saine, the case was withdrawn whilst Abubacarr Saidykhan, a reporter with Foroyaa newspaper was wrongly charged.
Of course, some 15 years ago (1997) when the constitution of the Second Republic came into being, entrenching the civil liberties including Freedom of Expression and clearly defining the role of mass media, reporters and editors predictably celebrated, and pointed regally to Section 25 (1), assured of being provided with an iron clad protection.
Section 25 (1) reads that every person shall have the right to freedom of speech which shall include freedom of the press and other media.
The Gambia media is more especially called upon to maintain the principles of free discussion. Hence Section 207 reads: “the Press and other Media shall at all times be free to uphold the principles, provisions and objectives of the responsibility and accountability of government to the people of The Gambia.”
Thus looking at these expectations, one can observe that the clear-worded constitution embraces democratic principles by recognizing the important role that the PRESS, acknowledged as the FOURTH ESTATE, plays in building awareness and ensuring accountability of public trustees.
However, these constitutional guarantees have been negated by other statutes that take away the very freedoms given by the supreme law of the land.
These essentially include the Criminal Code (Amendment) Act 2005 - in it the sedition and criminal defamation, the Public Order Act, Official Secret Act and False News publication.
With the co-existence of these inconsistent binding legal forces, which rendered a mockery to freedom of expression in The Gambia, the constitutional provisions that guarantee freedom of expression are not as protective as the media had thought.
Consequently, the courts have repeatedly held that section 25 is not absolute. Thus they are constantly called upon to decide whether actions taken by the PRESS are legally permissible.
But throughout the cases involving, for instance sedition, emphasis was laid on test of criminality and not who is the judge of criminality of the utterances.
This leads to a direction of the law of sedition that makes the test-blame of the government and its officials because it brings into disrepute and tendency to ‘overthrow’ the government.
This is confirmed in the case of ‘The Six Journalists’ when Justice Emmanuel Fagbenle of High Court in Banjul describes seditious publications to mean ‘a crime against society; that it disturbs tranquility and steer up opposition against the Government and bring Government into hatred and disaffection.’
Justice Fagbenle even weighted-down Mr. Sam Sarr and Pap Saine’s view of publishing divergent views of an international standard and in accordance with good governance to favor the decision held in State Vs Lamin Waa Juwara that freedom of expression is not absolute; that it could be restricted for ‘national interest, public safety and national security’.
But common law depends a lot on precedence, and judges and magistrates’ have been relying on earlier bondable decisions. Gambian journalists will now have a decision to rely on. A High Court decision for that.
On Thursday January 12, Justice Mama Singhateh of High Court in Banjul cleared of former speaker of National Assembly cum ruling APRC bigwig, Fatoumatta Jahumpa Ceesay and Daily Observer newspaper of defamation charges levied by Mariama Denton, a lawyer and an opposition sympathiser.
The civil suit came when the former Speaker, in reaction to a comment about the claimant in May 2001 published on Daily Observer newspaper said: “Those UDP women who he [Juwara] praised were the opportunists he was referring to that they are following the UDP because their brothers, uncles and husbands were corrupt and were implicated by the Alghali Commission and other commissions…”
These words, the plaintiff averred were meant to  damage her credit reputation. They did damage her reputation, she told the court.
But here, the nitty-gritty of the saga is not that relevant. What we are concerned here is what Justice Singhateh said as she struck out the case:
“If the alleged defamation involves a matter of public concern, the plaintiff is constitutionally required to prove both the statement’s falsity and the defendant’s fault.”

Maybe because it involves a former Speaker who still has the power to gather all evidences against the allegations. Perhaps because it involves a government aligned newspaper who can equally put up a robust defence. Or maybe it involves an opposition sympathiser, who will find it hard, if not impossible, as it infact turned out, to provide an alibi.
Whatever is certain, the outcome of Mariama Denton Vs FJC and Daily Observer is a victory for freedom of expression in The Gambia.
There is freedom of speech, but the reality is what Galsworthy has to say of press freedom in communist Russia after the second revolution:
“The other day in Russia, an Englishman came to the street meeting shortly after the first revolution had begun. An extremist was addressing the gathering and telling them they were fools to go to war and so forth. The crowed grew angry and soldiers were making a rush at him. But the chair, a big burly peasant stopped them with the words: brothers, you know that our country is now a country of freedom of speech. We must listen to this man, we must let him say anything we will. But brothers when he finished, we will bash his head-in.”
This means the government did not censure speech or word, but punishes as it deems fit after publication. But it may not be all that easy now…

2011: The Year of Living Very Dangerously


In 2011, Gbargbo falls, Ben Ali flees, stretcher-bound Mubarak docked, Ghadafi killed, Blaise temporarily vacates palace, Senegal, Greece, UK and US protest, earth quake strikes Japan and tornado hits US.  With the exception of the royal wedding that serves as a pleasant distraction of the news of unpleasant happenings that apparently make Gambian authorities jittery, 2011 has been an year of living very dangerously. Kissy Kissy Mansa writes…

But that was how Laurent Gbargbo himself came to power. Matter-of-fact, as a then-opposition figurehead, he directed Ivorians to take to the streets. Well, this was after military ruler General Robert Guei proclaimed himself winner of the 2000 presidential polls.
Remember how soldiers loyal to Gen Guei fired shots, but the unarmed demonstrators were defiant, swarmed through the streets of Abidjan and screamed for the General’s resignation.

Of course lives were lost, but eventually, Gen Guei fled for Cotonou, Benin. And Gbargbo was introduced as president. Don’t forget, he built a political capital from opposing Felix Houphouet-Boigny, Ivory Coast’s French-petted founding head of state.

History indeed repeats itself here, isn’t it? As the country where the ‘Millennium Coup’ occurred – Guei’s coup in Dec.1999 – Ivory Coast bade farewell to the first decade of the 21st century with deadly unrests.
The 2010 November presidential election, which was hoped to restore stability in this deeply divided brought about renewed clashes as Gbargbo, a former professor in History, as veteran Gambian journalist Baa Trawally puts it, ‘refused to learn from his own history.’ His failure to accept defeat to former prime minister, Alassane Ouattara thrust Ivory Coast back into the eye of the storm. Diplomatic talks failed. Brutality followed. In the end, like Guei, Gbargbo became the casualty.
He embarrassingly surfaced from his hideout in a Bunka and surrendered to an advancing militia. He was taken hostage to the republic of Rixo Hotel where Ouattara was condemned during the protracted political unrest. Ouattara was introduced as president. Gbargbo now faces trial at the Hague based International Criminal Court for the lost of thousands of innocent lives.
But Gambia government condemns …? Gambia did what! Damn it! Who cares…? After all, Ivory Coast is not Cuba or Taiwan! 
Undoubtedly, the dramatic political unrest that gripped that hitherto economic powerhouse and beacon of political stability in West Africa sets the stage for what would become a dramatic, eventful, but also an year of living very dangerously.
Infact, Tunisians did not wait for the unrest in Ivory Coast to die down to mount a spontaneous uprising that was not sparked by any political leader or movement nor was it an uprising influenced by external forces.

Ultimately, when 26-year-old venerable Mohamed Bouazizi, Tunisia’s modern day martyr sets himself on fire on Dec17, when officials prevented from selling vegetables – his only means of survival – his action prompted nationwide protests, unmasking a deep-seated widespread discontent that has been for far too long masked by Tunisia’s ‘Economic Miracle’.

Similar protests soon erupted in a fellow Arab and North African country, Egypt where political oppression and widespread unemployment was alive and well with the people was it was with Tunisians.

Like Ben Ali, Hosni Mubarak’s regime was brought down to its painful end. He sneaked out of the office he had been majestically stepping in and out for 32-years. The former Egyptian strongman is now stretcher-bound. But no amount of pain he endures would make Egyptians forgive him. He is facing criminal charges for the murder of the peaceful protesters and diverting of tax payers money. His sons are not spared. All in 2011? What an year!!! 

Even before Mubarak fled, the oligarchic regimes of Syria, Yemen, Bahrain and Jordan all in the middle east face the greatest test on their long comfortably-held crowns. They are bound to fall.

The Arab Spring, as the mass revolution became popularly named, spread to Ghadafi’s oil rich Libya, which unfailingly turned out to be the most controversial.

As expected, Ghadafi would not fall easily like his comrades Ben Ali and Mubarak. This was a man who had not only ruled Libya for a life-time 42 years, but had a firm grip on affairs. He enforced his doctrines, and crushed those who challenged his political beliefs.

Unlike Ben Ali and Mubarak, Ghadafi greeted the peaceful protests that demand political reforms with brute. He branded the protesters rats. When he no longer had the loyalty he sought from his military, he resorted to using mercenaries.

But the wind of change that was blowing was much more powerful. AU moribund, but NATO intervened, controlling the air space and the invincible leader was eventually conquered. He was captured in his home town of Sirte while on the run and died in the hands of a mob. For many, that was less than the justice he deserved.
 
The Sub-Saharan Spring

With the mal-governance tendencies that inspired the Arab Spring more serious in sub-Saharan Africa, a number of countries witnessed protests in 2011, though the effects fell short of the Arab Spring.

In Senegal, efforts by defiant Senegalese president to force his son on Senegalese was greeted with widespread protests. Wade survives, so far, but its not all over.

Elsewhere, Burkina Faso’s Blaise Compaore, who has been in power since a 1987 military coup had slipped out of Ouagadougou in the middle of night for his hometown Ziniare as presidential guard members took to the streets, firing into the air in protest against the non-payment of promised housing subsidies.
This was shortly after the 60-year-old leader was re-elected in the first round of an election in November with more than 80 percent of the vote.
Infact, Compaore has faced a series of protests since February 2011, staged first by students, then by the National Coalition against the High Cost of Living (CCVC), an alliance of trade unions, consumer organizations, rights groups and small businesses, and finally by soldiers.

                                                        Europe and US

Europe was not spared by the spate of mass protests as people took to the streets in England, Germany and Greece, over among others, economic hardships. The latter was the hardest hit as its government got cash-strapped, sending the people of this once comfortable nation into scavenging for food.

But who is Europe to expect less, when the world’s economic superpower, who bailed it out through the Marshal Plan after it was devastated by Second World war, was itself feeling the pinches.

Infact, the dramatic events that grab headlines on United States in 2011 were not only the Occupy Wall Street protests, but also a record breaking number of weather disasters.

There was walls of fire burn, Texan farmers lost livelihoods to a record-breaking one-year drought, tornado tore apart towns and massive flooding.

But there have been weather & climate tragedies elsewhere: East African drought has caused the first UN announced famine in Africa in 30 years and heavy floods in Thailand have caused politicians there to suggest moving the capital.

Perhaps worst weather disaster in 2011 occurred in Japan where a 8.9-magnitude earthquake -- the world’s fifth-largest since 1900 and the biggest in Japan in 140 years – struck, triggering a tsunami that is believe to have threatened much of the pacific
The DSK conundrum

But 2011 was not marred by revolutions and weather disasters alone. It witnessed a high profile case of Dominic Strauss-Khan, a former chief of IMF, who was accused of sexually assaulting a Guinean, Nafisatou Barry. The former IMF boss was freed and the table was turned on the Guinean. Also, the embattled Italian prime minister, Silvia Berlusconi, also resigned over sex scandal.

Moreover, fortunately or unfortunately – depending on one’s political belief – 2011 witnessed the creation of the world’s newest country.
Pan Africans would argue that the bisection of Africa’s largest country is unfortunate as came at a time when Africa, more than before needs to fulfill the dreams of Nkrumah and his likes to unite.

Nonetheless, almost a 100 percent of eligible South Sudanese voted for independence. Crowds cheered as Sudan’s national flag was lowered and the new flag of South Sudan was raised.

Furthermore, other dramatic events that caught the attention of the world was the killing of Osama bin Laden, and the pulling out of American forces in Iraq.

Perhaps the only event that serves as a pleasant distraction in the international news media coverage of unpleasant events was the Royal Wedding. Monarchy is no longer famous, but the wedding of Prince William and Catherine was. May be because it was in 2011.
Sweet motherland

Back to sweet motherland, one the of most significant events in  the country’s 2011 calendar was the Nov. 24 presidential elections.
After months of kingship campaign led by chiefs, the Independent Electoral Commission sometime in mid-2011, broke silence, allayed fears, and released the electoral calendar.
 There was a nationwide voter registration exercise using digitalised system. The opposition parties engaged in talks for a united front to create chances of unseating incumbent Yahya Jammeh in a system of first-part-the-post, but failed once more.
Then, there was campaign. Proud president Jammeh made a u-turn, toured the country under the guise of fulfilling his mother’s wish.
On Nov.24, 83 percent of registered Gambian cast their votes. Jammeh was re-elected in a landslide victory of 72 percent. But main opposition-UDP-led alliance dismissed as results as bogus and fraudulent. Independent candidate backed by a coalition of four parties also says the polls were unfair. These was after ECOWAS boycotted the polls on grounds that there was no level playing field.
Yet, president Jammeh was declared winner by IEC. At the time of going to press, preparations are in high gear for his inauguration for the 4th mandate on January 19.
Other dramatic events that caught the attention of the national media was the arrest and detention of a former High Court judge Moses Richards. He would be convicted and sentenced. The Bar would protest. But the former no nonsense judge would be released only after he dissociated himself from the protest and fell on his knees, seeking for mercy from president Jammeh. All in 2011? What an year!
Furthermore, a ban was lifted on a controversial Gambian Islamic scholar Gambian president Yahya Jammeh once slammed: “Even the shoe I wear is closer to Allah [God] than you are.”
 Imam Ba-Kawsu was banned from preaching on the state radio last year following his sharp criticisms of The Gambia Supreme Islamic Council over its decision for The Gambia to observe Muslim feasts of ‘Tobaski’ and ‘Ramadan’ on the same day with Mecca.
The protracted controversy had led to temporal closure of Imam Fofana’s Islamic school that enrolled over 500 students.
  Gambia’s only neighbor, Senegal has also shut doors at it as Senegalese transporters restricted Gambian vehicles entry into Senegal. Then there was the crisis at GNOC over the presidential seat. The saga would be protracted. Sports authorities would intervene, but they would be reprimanded by the parliament. However, parliament would ended up apologising to Gambian president Yahya Jammeh for it. All in 2011? What an year.
The Gambia Court of Appeal has dismissed former Chief of Defence Staff, Lang Tombong Tamba and co appeal against their death sentence in by the High Court in Banjul for treason. In a similar vein, Gen. Tamba and former navy chief, Sarjo Fofana, were convicted of treason. Also, former Gambian information minister Amadou Scattred Janneh, 48, was arrested and is currently facing charges of treason. He denied wrong-doing. The judgement is due this month.

But none of the above mentioned events appeared to be more shocking than the death of president Yahya Jammeh’s former ally. Baba Jobe, a former majority leader of the national assembly and head of state-backed youth movement called Green Youth died when he was due for an early release from Mile Two where he was condemned for economic crimes after he split with his master Yahya Jammeh in what many saw as a betrayal to the ‘Jarra Mansa’.
The man who helped strenthegend APRC has died after days in hospital. The circumstances surrounding the death are still controversial especially with the lack of a post-mortem.
Gambian Spring?

The Arab Spring has spill over effects, not only in the Arab world, but also in black Africa. Truth to tell, one of the black African countries commentators believed would experience a Spring, if there was to be a Black African Spring, was sweet motherland, The Gambia. Infact, this prediction appeared even more looming after the protests in neighbouring  Senegal.
Talk to anyone and he or she will tell you: ‘ah Senegal has done it deh, when are we having our own Spring? This was not an issue of mistaken identity nor a misplaced prediction. That seemed to be the reality on the ground. For the situations that forced the people of Libya, Egypt and Tunisia to rise up against their leaders are alive and well in The Gambia.
That is, high unemployment rate, rising costs of living while income levels remain unacceptably low, rising hunger and poverty, restrictions on the fundamental rights of citizens, seeming self perpetuating rule and corruption.
Infact, keen followers of events in and outside the country would attest that, at the time, especially during the unrest in Libya, hardly the government would convene a meeting without mentioning the protests.
Imams mentioned it in their sermons and asked their followers to join them in prayers. Those helped by government to escape the wrath of both Ghadafi’s and rebels’ forces have been cautioned against any similar movement.
Whether advertently or inadvertently, president Jammeh himself could not avoid making references to it and threatening to crush it. When he invited the country’s independent journalists for a meeting, for the first time ever in his 17 year-rule, he said: do you think I am moved by what’s going on … This was despite the fact that no one at the meeting made reference to what was going on…
Besides, there were moves made by individual Gambians to stage protests here in The Gambia. The ‘Balangbaa Day, - day of resistance - as they called it was well published in Gambian online newspapers.
Prior to this publication, sites such as Jollofnews and Gambia Eco were accessed, but cyber walls have been put up against them since then.
More revealing evidence was how president Jammeh conducted himself throughout the electoral campaign period. Instead of threatening voters, as typical of him, he preached peace, tolerance and forgiveness. Many wondered whether it was the same president Jammeh. But Jammeh was concerned about the votes. What kept him awake all-night was what elections could bring about. He even threatened that anyone who attempted a protest will never witness it. In fact, according to him, some people have been saying that what happened in Ivory Coast would happen in The Gambia during elections.

The future

2011 has been a king-destroyer year, but whether or not 2012 will be equally brutal on despots will depend a lot on the attitude of governments towards the masses as well as the environment.
Less than mid-way into the first month of 2012, protests have began to grip nations. Senegal for instance have been protesting against Wade and Nigerians seem that have changed their campaign tone from “no to fuel subsidy removal’  to that of ‘Jonathan step down.’
 Whether or not Wade and Jonathan will survive the protests is a matter of time. Surely, time will tell. But if the words of infallible analysts are anything to go by, this is the new world order – a real democracy – a government of the people, for the people and by the people.
The doctrine is a simple one: “Do as we wish or face our wrath. There shall be jobs for us and our rights must be respected.”
With this new world order, heads of state and governments are trapped between a deep blue sea (the public) and devil (military). For the latter was used to suppress the former. Now, leaders have to satisfy both.
But that’s not all, its also: “Leave office like Nelson Mandela and his many likes or Ben Ali and his many likes.” A fair choice for leaders, isn’t it? Yea, civilians too can kick you out for real!  

The Bitter Pill


Two years after the state-backed witch–hunting exercise, the survivors are battling against failing health status to re-build their shattered lives. If president Jammeh believes the science of witchcraft is metaphysical, the method he used to rid the country of evil spells could be criminal. But in a zoo without a ‘Jata-muta-jata’ who will tell the lion his breath stinks? Kissy-Kissy Mansa writes…

Without bidding farewell to her garden, 82-year-old Satou Badjie rushed home, leaving behind an unfinished job of quenching the thirst of her vegetable crops. But she did not know she was not coming back; that her crops would never smile at her. Not in this world.
Like most women in her native Makumbaya village in the West Coast region of The Gambia, the octogenarian set out on her routine economic activity when the last star were still visible on Wednesday morning of 25 February 2009. She paved her way through narrow, shadowy paths to the horticultural garden.
Alongside other women gardeners, she however urgently returned to the village after information reached her that Gambian president Yahya Jammeh had sent an envoy to deliver important information to the villagers. Every elder was to be present.
On arrival, she found a gathering of some armed men believed to be from The Gambia Armed Forces, four so-called witch doctors, government sponsored youth group called the Green Youth and some villagers, at the village square.
Put at gun point, she was ordered to embark a waiting bus; that she possessed some evil spirits. She was to be treated.
To the shock of the villagers, Satou Badjie and other abductees were then piled in a bus and whisked away to a compound believed to belong to late Mr Baba Jobe, a former parliamentarian and ally to President Jammeh.
There, some slippery liquid was poured over their bodies with their clothes on. That was the preliminary ritual. The old woman and other abductees were forced to drink hallucinogenic concoctions. She went unconscious.
“After regaining my consciousness a day after I drank the concoction, I became ill and they returned me to the village,” Foroyaa newspaper quoted her as saying in its 17 April, 2009 edition.
When the old woman was released on February 27, she was immediately hospitalised. She died on March 2 at Royal Victoria Teaching Hospital, the country’s main referral hospital in Banjul, the capital.
Virtually non existence, abduction is illegal in The Gambia. There are no available data on it, though sporadic reports emerge in the newspapers.
As in murder, every abductor has a motive. Late Satou Badjie was abducted in a three-month-long apparent state-backed witch-hunting exercise in which an estimated one thousand elderly Gambians, 65 to 70 percent women, were taken away from their families, against their will on suspicion of possessing evil spells.
The belief in witchcraft is widespread in The Gambia. For those who believe in it, all witchcraft is evil and typically female, ranging for extraordinary beautiful women to old, haggard women.
In Gambian tradition, ‘buwa’ or ‘doma’  is a vampire-like mythological creature that inhabits the bodies of ordinary people.
However, it is believed that, over the years, the inroads of both Islam and Christian influences in the country have helped push the witchcraft ideology into the back ground.
Besides, the 1997 Gambian constitution entitles every person with the right to enjoy and practice one’s belief.
Section 32 of Gambian constitution says: “Every person shall be entitled to enjoy, practice, profess, maintain and promote any culture language, tradition or religion …”
Yet this constitutional provision could not protect hundreds of Gambians from being forcefully taken away by people who claimed have been on a mission to rid the country of evil spells.
The witch doctors, four of them clothed in mysteriously red garments, with charms all over their bodies, droved into Gambian villages, accompanied by Gambian security forces and government sponsored youth movement, Green Youth.
In respect of Gambian tradition, they would consult the village headman, who would deliver his people to them, according to Foroyaa, the only local news media outlet that dared cover the exercise.
Elderly women were dumped in a room without sleeping facilities. Undressed half-naked, they claim, they slept on bare floor.
As if that is not enough, some were reportedly beaten and forced to drink herbal potions, which made them unconscious. They crawled and rolled over and urinated on themselves. They were forced to confess being witches.
As if the vicious cycle of inhumane and degrading treatment and general exposure to harzardous health conditions were not enough, some abductees claimed that they raped.
“I personally saw 3 women who were undressed by the witch hunters and raped by them at a time when they were unconscious,” an abductee from Makumbaya village told Foroyaa
A 35-year-old market vendor from the same village said, she was raped during the second day of abduction by a very young man.
“While I was in detention, this young man who was so rude asked me to take a bath and while I was taking the bath, he stood and watched me.
“When I went to the toilet, he would insist that he would accompany me. One of these times, he wrestled me to the ground and raped me, with force,” Foroyaa quoted her as saying in its March 20, 2009 publication.
Three of those subjected to such degrading treatment died shortly after their abduction while the survivors are baffling with failing health status to rebuild their lives ravaged by the exercise.
One such person is visibly weak and frail Manjiki Cham, a 70-year-old woman in an-out-the-way village of Jambur in West Coast region of The Gambia.
Conventionally unlettered and without any formal business skills, the old woman was also a farmer in a country that is agrarian.
“I was a good farmer,” she boasted during a recent visit at her home in Jambur village.
However, ever since she was released after spending a night in the hands of her abductors, the strength in her that kept her socially and economically active has waned.
“I haven’t been to my farm for two years,” she says. “And our farms are what we depend on for survival.”
Matter-of-fact, in a typical Gambian household, the three square meal a day is a non-negotiable right. Manjiki Cham however does not have two good ones after the incident.
Aside from the earnings from the farm she is deprived of as a result of the incident, she is as well unhealthy.
“I cannot even eat up half a loaf at breakfast now,” she explains. “I developed constipation and I routinely visit the health facility, yet my health status has not improved.”
The 70-year-old woman is not alone in this predicament. Many other victims interviewed are in a similar state.
A human rights activist, who prefers anonymity, says unless justice is done; unless compensation is made to victims and unless a deterrent effect is put in place, the state-backed mission of ridding the Gambia from evil spells will remain a bitter pill for Gambians to swallow.
He adds:“If it is true, as it has been reliably reported that the so-called witch doctors are citizens of Guinea, they could not have had the audacity to abduct Gambian women in broad day light?”
However, there are overwhelming evidences linking Gambian president Yahya Jammeh to the act.
When Halifa Sallah, an opposition politician visited the affected villages, he was arrested, and tried for among others, sedition. Those charges were dropped to be replaced a new set of charges, which indicated that the ‘screening of witches’ was a government policy. These charges were never filed and Halifa was freed in the ‘interest of peace’.
Besides, President Yahya Jammeh on May 2009 told a gathering in Foni that he sent the witch doctors to cleanse them because they were responsible for the lack of development in the region.
According to an unnamed Gambian human rights lawyer, if Gambian president Yahya Jammeh believes that the science of witchcraft is metaphysical, the method he used to kill evil spells could be criminal.
But in a zoo without a ‘wanjanlanko’ (the real king of the jungle) who will tell the lion his breath stinks?

Mecca Sneezes, Gambia Catches Cold

With the GRTS Friday Dec.2 evening broadcast that Sunday Dec.4 would mark ‘Yawmul Ashura’, Mba Fatoumata Jabbi Ceesay, 40, was put to her feet up.
A wife to a civil with whom she had six children, Mrs Ceesay, like many Gambian women, cultured to accept her role of carrying out domestic chores in her household, is always required to be a sophisticated Gambian wife.
She knew that ‘Yawmul Ashura’ better known as ‘Tamharit’ was another feast. And unfailingly, another hectic moment, more especially for a responsible married women like her.
And on this occasion, the 40-year old woman living in a typical Gambian household – extended family where she is the eldest of his husband’s three wives, as well his husband’s younger brothers’ - did not kill time to set out to do her task in giving such a feast its meaning.
“I woke up earlier than usual the following morning after the announcement by Supreme Islamic Council to make preparations for the ‘Tamharit,’,” she told KISSYKISSYMANSA
The ‘tamharit’
Like the conventional calendar, the Islamic calendar has 12 months. It begins with Muharram and ends with Zul Hijjah as decreed by Allah in the holy Quran.
Like other godly religions such as Christianity and Judaism, Muslims worldwide observe a number of annual feasts.
For instance, the month of Ramadan is observed by fasting. Every adult Muslim is obliged to keep away from food and water and other pleasures from sunset till sunrise. The month of Ramadan ends with a feast called Koriteh.
This is followed two months later by Tobaski, the bigger feast in terms of extravagancy amid abundant food and brand new cloths to wear.
Tobaski marks the day Allah saved prophet Ishmael from being sacrificed by his father, prophet Ibrahim.
And the observance of ‘Yawmul Ashura’, an Arabic term translated as the tenth day (of the month of Maharram) is justified by many historical events.
According to Islamic history, it was on the tenth day of the month of Muharram that Adam, the first human being sent on earth was created by Allah.
Moreover, it was on the tenth of the month of Maharram that prophet Ibrahim was saved from the blazing fire he had been thrown into by his own idol worshipping people after he axed down their idols.
Furthermore, prophet Musa was saved from the wrath of the despotic king of Egypt, who goes by the title the Pharaoh on the tenth of the month of Maharram.
In addition, it was on this day that Prophet Yusupha was rescued from a snake infested well he had been thrown into by his brothers, who envied his closeness to their father, Yakubu, also a prophet.
And according to scholars, it was on the tenth day of month of Muharram that prophet Solomon, who is said to rule over human beings, gins and even animals climbed to his throne.
The controversy
However, events on the Islamic calendar, unlike the conventional one, are difficult to predict. A month begins at the sight of a new crescent, which appears either on the 29th day or the 30th.
Scholarly opinions are divided on whether Muslims worldwide could observe the feasts such as Tobaski or Yawmul Ashura on the same time given the different geographical zones.
For instance, a night in United States of America could be daytime in The Gambia.
Over the past several centuries, Gambia has been generally accustomed to observing Muslim feasts upon sighting the moon in the country or neighbouring countries such as Senegal, as dictated on one hand of the divided view points.
On the other hand, however, it is argued that the sighting of a crescent by a credible Muslim in any part of the world should suffice Muslims worldwide.
The latter view point was by and large unendorsed by a greater number of Gambian Muslim scholars and thus, its apparent imposition on Gambians by the Gambia Supreme Islamic Council has damaged the council’s credibility and diminished its moral voice.
As the umbrella Islamic body, the Council is receiving criticisms on two grounds:
That it has succumbed to the dictates of the Gambian president Yahya Jammeh to tag along the Mecca calendar to avoid division. But the results yield a grander division.
And that the decision of following Mecca is a form of Islamic colonisation. As imam Ba-Kawsu Fofana, a firebrand scholar critical of the Council would quiz: Is it Mecca’s moon of everybody’s?
With this critical review of what the Council otherwise deems more appropriate and rubbishes claims of political influences, division within the Gambian Muslim community in observing such feasts has, for the past three years, become an unfailing recurrence.
Infact, the last time Gambians unvaryingly observed the feast of Koriteh was in 2008 - the year the current Imam Momodou Lamin Touray led executive took over office.
In spite of Gambian president Yahya Jammeh’s threats, yet a larger number of Gambian Muslims continue to observe the feasts upon sighting the moon, instead of SIC’s insistence on tagging along the Mecca calendar.
But even so, the Islamic Council has a degree following. Because it is seemingly slanted, politically, towards the incumbent government in a country with multi party politics, certain people who never want to defy the authorities that be even on a wrong cause and those who feel threatened by virtue of their position, have been abiding.
This has been manifested, resulting in the resignation of an imam, who refused to give in to the demands of the village headman and some villagers to lead prayers on a SIC declared date for Tobaski. This, however, does not say that all those who defy the council’s position are opposition sympathysisers.
Ahead of this year’s ‘Tamharit,’ some Muslims communities have already planned to observe the feast on Monday Dec.5, as per their calculations, though the likes of Mrs Ceesay were doing a ‘wait and hear’ from the Council.
On Friday Dec.2, when it was announced over GRTS that SIC has got information from Saudi Arabia that Sunday Dec.4 would mark ‘Tamharit’, she rushed to the market the following day early morning to do the necessary shopping.
Like Koriteh and Tobaski, in observing this Day, Muslims in Gambia prepare what is more than enough food for the family, and had to dish out neighbours and loved ones and even the needy so that no one would miss out.
Preparing special dishes on such occasions is a norm, and eating beyond capacity marks a fundamental pillar of ‘Yawmul ashura’ in The Gambia.
Kids, more especially would be threatened by elders to take in more than they could contain else a haggard old woman would come after them at night.
And expectedly, Mrs Ceesay shopped more than what was normally more than enough for the consumption of her household.
“I bought coos at the market, milled it and prepared coos-coos on Saturday Dec.3,” she told Kissykissymansa at her residence, which is not mentioned here because she prefers so.
The coos coos, locally called ‘futo’ as in Mandinka and ‘chere’ as in Wollof was to go along with cassava leaf soup, she says.
She then looked forward to a Sunday ‘Tamharit,’ but to her disappointment, the Islamic Council made another announcement on Saturday that Monday Dec.5 would instead mark the feast.
According to said press release, the error occurred on the part of the Saudi Arabian authorities the Council insist relying on.
Unfortunately, this sneeze by the Meccan authorities has caused a cough here in Gambia for the likes of Mrs Fatoumata Jabbie Ceesay.
The ‘futo’ or ‘chere’ she spent money, time and energy could not wait till Monday. Residing in an area where there is not electricity, she has no preservations means like a refrigerator to prevent it from getting spoiled.
And she did not wait till Monday to realise that the coos coos the family was hungrily looking forward to devouring was no longer edible.
Furious and disappointed, she cursed herself and then the Supreme Islamic Council.
“They have caused this damage,” she lamented, referring to the Islamic Council. “Had they not brought about this controversy, this would not have happened.”
Still determined to give the feasts its taste, she settled for rice, which is not the most preferable on an occasion like ‘Yawmul Ashura’ when people would like to do a dish renaissance.

Victory in the Air

Gambians, oppressed, hungry, witch-hunted, and persecuted, are going to the polls tomorrow to elect a president. Yet, the man at the centre of all these human-made miseries is touted the favorite over two so-called united opposition fronts. But politics can make strange bed-fellows. This race for State House, therefore, is not over until the last vote count. And even then, it is not all over, KISSYKISSYMANSA writes


Hamat ‘Tamit Magana’


The three presidential aspirants in the Nov.24 polls have since the endorsement of their candidature on Nov.10, girded their lions, campaigning hard to grab the country’s top job.
Ruling APRC’s Yahya Jammeh, main opposition UDP’s Ousainou Darboe and independent Hamat Bah are the men in the decisive show-down for the State House.


This isnt's about journalists, its our right


Madi Jobarteh of TANGO
In a country where the press is muzzled, ordinary citizens are not spared by the tyrannical clutches of state authorities who hide under the pretext of ‘national interest’ and ‘state security’ to suppress people’s god-given rights. In spite of this, however, the crusade for freer Gambia has been left for journalists alone to shoulder. KISSYKISSYMANSA reports on GPU’s recent move that seeks to woo the civil society to join the crusade that has already claimed the lives of some of its men and exiled many while those who remain in this tiniest country in mainland Africa, Gambia, continue to come under mounting attack.

Perhaps when Mr Babanding Fatajo uttered that neighbouring Senegal will attack The Gambia, he had never thought he would be arrested for just thinking aloud to a fellow trader in his market stall.
The trader’s ‘ordinary market gossip’ came in the wake of The Gambia government’s claim that Senegalese president, Abdoulie Wade is an ‘enemy’ who bore nothing, but hatred towards The Gambia.
The Gambia government’s allegations followed reports in Senegal that alleged Gambia-bound controversial arms shipment from UN-sanctioned Iran seized in Nigeria’s Lagos seaport was in fact bound for The Gambia for onward delivery to three decade long independence-seeking rebels in southern Senegal, Casamance.
Offering his legitimate opinion in a typical market gossip over an issue that was the most topical in town at the time, trader Fatajo was arrested and detained for days before he was put on trial on bogus charges of ‘breaking the peace.’
After months of legal battle at the magistrates’ court in Banjul, he was convicted and sentenced with a fine, which a friend of him paid into the coffers of the state and saved him from going jail.
But Mr Fatajo, who is a trader at Albert market in Banjul, the capital, happens to be just one in the line of many ordinary Gambians who though in the exercise of their right to discuss issues of legitimate public concern, nonetheless fell victim of their harmless utterances.
Even a mere petition to the Gambian president by aggrieved citizens has landed many in the courts of law. Majority of the petitioners never come out clean at the courts.
Yet the campaign to create the right environment in which every Gambian will enjoy his or her god-given constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of speech has been largely left for journalists to shoulder.
It is seen as a matter for journalists, who have already lost some of their men and money to the struggle while the civil society and the broader Gambian society played indifferent even though none is spared.
“Freedom of speech is a fundamental human right. It is not a matter that is primarily for journalists. It concerns all of us,” says Mr Madi Jobarteh, deputy executive director of TANGO, the umbrella association of NGOs in The Gambia.
Madi Jobarteh was addressing about 30 civil society activists drawn from various Gambian civil society bodies during a day-long consultative forum between The Gambia Press Union (GPU) and NGOs recently.
With the technical support from Article 19, UK based international rights body that has its regional bureau in Dakar, Senegal, and funding from European Union (EU), the meeting seeks to drum up support from the civil society to join the crusade to promote freedom of speech in The Gambia, who currently occupies one of the rock bottom spots in media freedom index.
The meeting could by all means be rated successful. The participants have undertaken commitments to: include thematic of freedom of expression into their agendas, challenge any violation of freedom of expression and form a block of freedom of expression advocates to operate as first line of promotion and protection of breaches of the right to freedom of expression in The Gambia.
But this was not before ‘pragmatic’ Madi Jobarteh wooed them on why the civil society in The Gambia must not continue to be indifferent to the unabated stifling of people’s right to speak on issues that affects their lives.
“Imagine you make your annual newsletter and you are charged for false publication because your highlighted the level of poverty in Central River region or the level of gender based violence in North Bank region of The Gambia.
“If you are not familiar with the laws of The Gambia, there are possibilities that you can be charged and convicted for doing just that. But if we don’t do these evaluations, how do we know there is progress or otherwise,” Mr Jobarteh rhetorically quizzes his fellow civil society activists.
For him, freedom of speech has a direct linkage with the work of development workers. For without it, there is no way that they can contribute in determining the manner of governance.
“So freedom of speech is our interest. It concerns us, too,” he says, noting that “It is about time that TANGO sees GPU as an integral part of the civil society.”
He went on: “Imagine GRTS is closed, The Point newspaper is closed, The Daily News and Foroyaa and all those media outlets are closed down; can you imagine how that society would be?
“When we talk of freedom of speech, freedom of media, it is not primarily about journalists, it is about the citizenry.
“We know the problems The Gambia media goes through and for most of us, we take it as problem for journalists. But it affects us too.”
Bai Emil Touray, the president of The Gambia Press Union shares Madi Jobarteh’s view.
He said: “Freedom of expression as enshrined in the country’s constitution is fundamental for everyone to enjoy. But this is misconstrued by many as an issue entirely for media practitioners. And this is a wrong notion.”
Meanwhile, for Madi Jobarteh freedom of expression goes beyond the right to speak freely on issues of public concern. It also has to do with accountability.
“WANEP for instance, should be able to go to The Gambia Armed Forces or the police to get information about the incidence of armed robbery and they would be bound by law to provide the information. But we all know the problem of getting data in The Gambia.” Here, Madi is talking about lack of access to information.

Beyond the Moon


If Allah had condemned Adama and Awa to earth for eating the forbidden fruit in Heaven, are Gambians punishing their Islamic religious leaders for crossing the forbidding border line? KISSYKISSYMANSA quizzes?

When Abdoulie Fatty, imam of State House mosque reacted to a newspaper story on Iran’s threatening of The Gambia over alleged Gambia-bound controversial arms shipment from UN-sanctioned Iran, one wonders whether he got a new cabinet assignment. Or better still appointed press secretary.
On numerous occasions, when this learned imam makes certain political statements in favour of Gambian president Yahya Jammeh, the fear that he would replace the chief propagandist of ruling-APRC is indeed justifiable.
Imam Abdoulie Fatty, one of The  Gambia’s most revered religious leaders was once popular among Muslims in The  Gambia and beyond for his uncorrupted stance on Islam.
But like many religious leaders in today’s Gambia, he seems to be carried away by islamically questionable patronages of certain individuals. He focuses more on glorifying them than what Allah and His messenger ordain be glorified.     
One of imam Fatty’s recent bombshells came when took a big risk by vowing, in Allah’s name, that our retired military lieutenant cum head of state, who got married only after assuming the high office, never had a girl-friend.
Of course, under the circumstances, it could be seen as way-too-risky for anyone to come-out public to debunk the venerable imam on this particular issue. Nonetheless this could be suicidal for a religious leader. How could he go that far?
But forget for now imam Abdoulie Fatty. The reality is that every stratum of Gambian society looks up to one man in the person of President Yahya Jammeh for their survival. And The Gambia is apparently transformed from an ‘aid country’ to a ‘beggar country.’ Everyone is reduced to civilize beggar.
Musicians – local and international - have ignored the burning social issues in the country – grinding poverty, rising prices of commodities and undue restrictions on fundamental rights and freedoms. They build their songs around the person of the president.
Writers write poems, novels among other literary works, praising and glorifying him even when some of them do not buy in the content of their own works.
Some medical doctors have left their field of study to settle for something different even when patients are dying of diseases they could treat.
Lawyers have turned to him for mercy even when they had denied any wrongdoing.
Patients and their families have turned to him looking for sponsorship for overseas medical treatment even when it does not cost a fortune to provide those medical equipment and facilities in our hospitals.
Footballers turned to him for support even though they are yet to convince the fans that they worth supporting.
Poor subsistence farmers offer assistance in his highly mechanised farms even when grasses outgrow the crops in their own farms.
Soldiers display unreserved loyalty even when alleged attempted military coups are commonplace.
Of course in a country where this ‘survival in the system’ even if you do not support the system and its projects has become a way of life, religious leaders are apparently not left behind in the grand scheme of deception and betrayal of public trust.
In fact, in today’s Gambia, the temptation of religious leaders becoming obsessed with political power and influence and by extension to show support for a particular politician or political office against even innocent critiques is quite distinguished.
In 2010, when the Supreme Islamic Council joined the president’s nationwide tour team, its president, Momodou Lamin Touray, perhaps aware of the apparent disapproval, was quick to defend his council’s integrity.
According to him, the Council had planned to embark on a nationwide tour to meet with Islamic religious elders on pertinent issues pertaining to the religion. But, then they were informed about the president’s constitutionally required annual dialogue with the people and decided to do it together to save cost.
But now that he and his executive members deliberately attend meetings that are political in every respect, make biased political statements; one would wonder what would this time be the excuse.
However, as musicians have their albums unsold for ignoring social issues, writers have their books unread, the religious leaders, too, have lost their following for abandoning God for Man.
This does not say that the theory of separation of the mosque or the church and State does mean the separation of the mosque or the church from the broader society, of which the mosque, the church and state are integral parts. How they relate to each other within that context is the real issue.
In fact, religious leaders should cooperate with the state in the promotion of the common good, but they should refrain from donating money, travel or other material support for political purposes and neither should they receive similar gestures for political purposes.
Unfortunately, what seem to exist in The Gambia is that our religious leaders risk undercutting those values thereby diminishing their moral voice since they failed to transcend partisanship and align themselves with one side of the political divide.
They have blurred the lines between what should be rendered unto politics and what to render unto God. No less than self-aggrandising religious leaders, they pompously meddle in the political realm as a boastful powerbroker thereby diminishing their moral authority and integrity.
Perhaps this explains why the Supreme Islamic Council is confronted with a daunting task of unifying the country’s Muslim community under one umbrella especially during Muslim feasts.
For instance, the council had declared that the country will follow the Mecca calendar to observe Tobaski on Sunday Nov.6, but a greater number of Gambians observed the feast on Monday.
While adherence to a different, but equally authentic Islamic teachings is a ground for many Muslims communities’ failure to observe the feast on supreme Islamic council declared dates, there is also no denying that the controversy is beyond the sighting of the moon. It is not just about the moon, but a crisis of credibility and integrity the council is faced with.

Things Fall Apart: Darboe Explains

 Juwara is irrelevant
In spite of his shocking political u-turn, Lamin Waa Juwara, leader of dormant ruling-party-aligned opposition-NDAM never misses out in the country’s political debate. He jumps at every chance to chastise his former opposition allies for his own political failures, in particular and that of Gambian opposition in general.
He would not forgive them, especially Mr Ousainou Darboe, leader of main opposition-UDP, for the disintegration of alliance of opposition parties called NADD, ahead of 2006 presidential election over the selection of a presidential candidate.
With yet another failure of opposition unity talks initiated by his former party, UDP, ahead of this year’s presidential polls, the firebrand politician, who knows no ceasefire, is at it again. He shoots at any soul that moves in the opposition camp.
However, for Ousainou Darboe, a soft-spoken astute lawyer cum political figurehead of UDP, his former chief propagandist turned political enemy is no longer relevant in the country’s political equation.
“As far as Juwara is concern, I would not respond to him. I respond to people who matter,” Darboe told KISSYKISSY MANSA at his Pipeline house on Friday during an exclusive interview on a range of issues ahead of the decisive Nov.24 presidential election.

 
NADD still haunts
 
But generally, when it comes to the hot issue of Gambian opposition’s failure in forming a united front against self perpetuating Gambian president Yahya Jammeh, views and opinions vary as wide as those who present them - it ranges from greed to lack of interest of the country at heart.
For instance, following a deafening clamor for opposition alliance ahead of 2006 presidential polls, Gambians in Diaspora invited all opposition parties to a forum in U.S where they have agreed to unite.
But according to Darboe, when a proposal for a party led alliance was put on the table, representatives of PDOIS, PPP and NDAM opposed it.
“I cautioned against the formation of another political entity because individuals can come together to form a party, but registered political parties cannot form a political entity,” he said.
“I suggested that the party that has the larger support should infact provide the candidate. When it comes to parliamentary, we look at the strength of various parties in various constituencies and support the party with bigger support in a particular constituency.”
The UDP leader explained that while negotiations were ongoing, two bye-elections emerged.
He went on: “In the Jarra West bye-election there was suggestion for independent candidate, but I said my party will not support a candidate on an independent ticket. After all, that is a UDP stronghold. We ended up fielding   in a UDP candidate and he won.
“A similar one was proposed for Sareh Ngai and I told them I would not commit my party’s funds for independent candidate. That area was a PDIOS stronghold and the reasonable thing to do is to put up a PDOIS candidate there.
“That was the state of affairs until in April 2005 after signing MoU for the establishment of NADD; some insisted that NADD must be registered. I told them if you do, you will run into some constitutional problems because an individual cannot belong to two parties. The result of the registration, we all know,” Darboe explained.
Of course, the results was catastrophic as UDP and NRP unceremoniously quit NADD and joined forces, leaving smaller parties such as PDOIS, PPP and NDAM after Darboe’s bid for a party led alliance did not have the support of others, save NRP.
Both alliances suffered embarrassing defeat to the incumbent. But ahead of this year’s presidential polls, Darboe’s UDP mustered the courage to convene a meeting for all non ruling party aligned political parties for a possible united front.
Although the meeting did not achieve its intended objective, Darboe believes he had done what was expected of him.
“We all talked about it in the media, but I mustered the courage and took the initiative in the honest believe that what we all say in the papers is what we mean. But I never thought the issue of selecting a flag bearer would be a problem,” he said.
UDP leader however said he is neither disappointed nor surprise about the outcome of the talks because half way through the discussion, he knew it would not be an alliance of all parties.
“The convention was suggested and I said, convention takes place with people in the same party,” he said.
He pointed out, as in NADD, the idea of a convention it is the same, but with different approaches those that refuse to rally behind him are still holding firm.
“The most pragmatic thing to do was a party led alliance. If you do a convention in a presidential, when it comes to parliamentary will you do the same for the 40 plus seats.

Why the failures?

And when KISSYKISSYMANSA challenged Darboe as to why for several years, after several attempts, Gambian opposition parties can’t get united, his response was swift.
“It all depends on our views on how things should be done because there are differences in our views on how things should be done?” he said.
And KISSYKISSYMANSA’s follow up question was as well swift: “So, you can’t compromise those sacred views for the interest of the people?”
But Darboe believes that his party has compromised virtually everything, yet to no avail. He said: “It is unconstitutional to prevent anyone from contesting elections and from supporting a candidate, but UDP agreed to the proposal that a presidential candidate who wins under a UDP-led alliance would become neutral after a five year transition despite the fact that transitions are for countries emerging from a state of conflict or military overthrow.
Nonetheless, Darboe, who declined to comment on the details of the convention for fear of representation, as well refused to apportion blame for the failure of the talks.
“I had told them, if we had succeeded, it would have been a mutual success. But now that it failed, as the convener, I take the blame.
“But I think I would have had a bigger blame, if I had not taken the initiative because everybody was looking at me as a bigger party.”

Can’t blow own trumpet?

The most common practice in forming an alliance against the incumbent is that a bigger party leads and others follow. This does not say that this majority principle is unbendable, but why is it not applicable to The Gambian situation.
And I asked Darboe: Is it that those opposing a UDP led coalition did not trust him or that they don’t believe that a UDP led government will provide a better leadership.
“That question should be properly addressed to those that have been refusing. It will be wrong for me to assign any reason for them,” he responded calmly.
“But will a UDP led government cater for all their needs?” I asked further. “We will cater for the needs of all Gambians,” Darboe replied.
He then went into his well-known undisputed profile: “All my life I have fought for justice. That has been my trademark. Infact some people believe I have been running a human rights organisation that has not been formalized.
“I have taken the former regime to the courts on its excesses and I have been taking the current regime to the courts on its excesses. I always stood by the weak and the poor and this is what I have been fighting for and this is what has landed me for the first time in detention during the former regime before I even got into politics.
“I have lost certain privileges because of my stands and I will continue on that. In 1996, I could have stayed away and do exactly what a lot of my colleagues are doing – amass wealth. I am not a very good lawyer, but I put efforts in my works.
“If anybody can not have faith in me there is nothing I can do about that, for I will not climb to the mountain top and blow my own trumpet.”

Hoping against hope

Apparently, the UDP-initiated talks for a united front ahead of this year’s polls have so far yielded no desired results, but concerned political parties have expressed the need and desire to try unity, again and again and again until such time that is late.
Darboe re-iterated this stands: “We hope that before the nominations, there will be some changes of heart. I just received regulations from IEC that candidates can withdraw even after nomination, but not later than Nov.17.
And he is hoping against hope that come Nov.24 there will be only two candidates running for presidency - one from opposition and one from the ruling party.

‘Ke-kendo'

‘Ke-kendo,’ is a flattering remark in local Mandinka language used to compliment a person for a job-well-done. But journalist Dodou Sanneh has been made to have a different understanding of this accolade. For him, ‘Ke-kendo’ is of an irony and a quirk of fate.
A day he was called ‘ke-kendo’ by his former boss, he was to spend a night in detention at the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) in Banjul, the capital. And the next time in the same year, he received the compliment ‘Ke-kendo’ from his same former boss, his services were to be terminated for good.
Mr Dodou Sanneh, a former reporter at The Gambia Radio and Television Services (GRTS) is facing a charge of giving false information to a public officer at the magistrates’ court in Banjul, the capital.
He pleaded not guilty.
The trial came about when, a few years after his dismissal, he petitioned the state media to the Office of the President on claims that the termination of his engagement in 2006 by the state broadcaster was wrongful.
But both the director general of GTRS, Momodou Sanyang and a senior staff, Mr Kebba Dibba had denied journalist Sanneh’s claims when they testified against him. Their take is that journalist Sanneh was fired as a result of unbalanced reportage when he was assigned to cover the political activities of main-opposition-UDP in the run up to 2006 presidential elections.
On Thursday, when it was his turn to explain, he revealed how it all began, how he was deceived by his former boss up to the time he petitioned, which is the subject matter of his current trial.
“Whilst in Baddibu covering the campaign, I received a phone call from my senior, Ya Abbis Njie, who informed me that Mr Pierre Sylva was coming to take over from me.
“I asked her what the matter was, but she only told me that GRTS DG asked her to inform me to come back.
 “The following day, I was taking bath when I received a phone call from Mr Kebba Dibba, a senior staff, who asked me to go to his house.
“Upon arrival at Kebba’s house, he told me that DG Sanyang asked him to inform me to give him the balance of the emergency fund.
“I then left for work and on arrival at GRTS, I met with Momodou Sanyang, the director general, who praised me in Mandinka (a major local language) ‘Ke-ken do’.
“Momodou Sanyang told me that my reports were very good and that he made a mistake by sending all the experienced reporters in the field and that the reason for re-calling me was that there were some important programmes at the office, as well.”
It was after this meeting that he was asked by Momodou Sanyang to do him a favour; to go to Banjul and collect a letter for him, Dodou Sanneh testified at the magistrates’ court in Banjul on Thursday as he put up his defence.
“Upon reaching Banjul, one Mr Saine directed me to the NIA. When I reached at the NIA, I was detained from 9 am till the following day, at the NIA conference room,” said journalist Sanneh, who had his engagement with state media terminated without any stated reason. At the NIA, he was questioned about his relationship with boss Sanyang, which he said, was cordial.
He said, he was also informed by NIA personnel that he had indicated that 250 ruling party supporters had defected to the opposition party, but he told them that that was a piece of news to him. And he was handed his termination letter at NIA following which  he was released and he returned home.
Later in September 2006, he received a letter from Mr Kebba Dibba, who informed him that Momodou Sanyang wanted to have audience with him.
When he reported, he said, his boss told him to collect an annual leave letter from the personnel office as that would ease down the controversy. He was however warned not to grant interview to any media, local or foreign.
“On November 15, 2006 whilst I was at home [on the annual leave], DG Sanyang phoned to inform me to cover a visit of the Senegalese Chief of Defence Staff to Gambia.
“After the broadcasting of the event, I received a call from the former CDS, Lang Tombong Tamba, that the report was good and that he wanted copies of all the programmes,” he added.
That was the next time that journalist Sanneh was called ‘Ke-ken do’ by GRTS boss Sanyang, who he said, even came into the newsroom and gave him a tap on the back.
According to him, Sanyang further informed him that former CDS Tamba wanted copies and the ‘Big Man’ (likely president Jammeh) requested a rebroadcast of the programme.
Sanneh said, when he arrived at work the following morning prepared to go to Basse for another assignment, he was directed by the director general to see Adama Mboob, who to his surprise, handed over his termination letter, without any reason.
He went on: “Whilst in my village on November 27, 2006, my wife phoned to inform me that two persons came to my house requesting for my papers, which they went along with.
“When I came back, DG Sanyang called me and said that he was trying to liaise with the ‘Big Man’ for me to be reinstated.”
He explained further that Momodou Sanyang then referred him to the accountant’s office to collect an advance payment. But this, according to Sanneh, was to make him keep quiet and not to talk to journalists.
“I later lodged a complaint at the Ombudsman’s office for wrongful dismissal. For four years on, there was no result. That was what warranted me to write a petition to the Office of the President,” he concluded, but the trial continues.