Thursday, January 24, 2013

The EU-Jammeh Conundrum - This is About Presidential Pride, Not Patriotism

With President Yahya Jammeh’s denunciation of the EU, thousands of Gambians, save not even National Assembly members, collapsed into a froth of blind nationalist frenzy. Obligingly, the protesters took to the streets in what was widely seen as stage-managed demonstrations.
Like President Jammeh had earlier done at State House, the activists led by senior government officials, whose ranks were swelled by rank-and-files, condemned the EU for 'busy bodying in the internal affairs of sovereign Gambia’.
From Banjul, the protests spilled over to all the local administrative regions. They marched in solidarity with the Gambia leader's defense of tiny, monetarily-poor Gambia's sovereignty against the mighty EU’s intrusion.

One wonders whether this macabre of fuss is necessary, when the EU had only rightly advised the Gambia government to carry out democratic and governance reforms for the benefit of Gambia and her people.
Given the nature of the demonstrations, it came as no surprise to me that the entire episode was replete with embarrassing blunders. For instance, a National Assembly member in full view of the TV could not pronounce the word slander, and kept saying 'salanda'. When he meant to say "...plunge to country into chaos", he said "...plunder the country into chaos".
Also, an activist who read out the petition during the rally in North Bank made similar blunders. When he meant to say "...our unequivocal condemnation of the EU", he said: "...our ‘unequitorial’ condemnation of the EU".
This, as the cliché goes, is just the tip of the iceberg. For the activists were as well making serious factual errors. Can't these folks take a pause and remove dust from their eyes in order to take an uncorrupted view of what is before them?
Too sad it is that the Gambia continues to experience unfortunate dramas under the current Yahya Jammeh-led regime. Definitely, many actions of the government are too bitter a pill to swallow, sometimes too childish or crude to expect of a 21st Century government.
The country marched up to the end of the year 2012 in a wild controversy which resulted from the killing of nine prisoners in the name of execution. This festering subject remains touchy, as details of the execution are still shrouded in a mystery.
Ahead of the New Year, progressive governments around the globe were making renewed promises to opening up more democratic space for their people. We in Gambia however, bade farewell to the year 2012 engulfed with heartrending circumstances surrounding the fate of one of the most well-known Islamic scholars, Imam Baba Leigh.
The whereabouts of the respected scholar is now a subject of national concern. Yet the government, whose agents purportedly whisked him away from his home since December 3, is in typical denial.
The Imam's family is traumatised. The public is outraged. And there is fear not just over what has happened to the imam, but also because, apparently, every member of the public is a potential, if not prospectus victim of what has become a vicious cycle.
As if concerns over these are not enough for the Jammeh administration to lose sleep over and turn a new page in its dispensation of the affairs of the nation, the regime appears to be having an insatiable desire of creating one controversy upon another. In all, it is clear that the interest of Gambians is rarely served and collective approach to decision making in government is almost lacking. Only the thinking and interest of one man seem to matter. 
The latest of such, which is the subject of my write up, is the EU's 17-point dossier proposed to the Gambia government for the latter to embark upon some crucially-needed reforms in its political, human rights and media landscape.
If the dictates of diplomacy are anything to go by, one is without doubt that Gambian and EU diplomats had been disappearing into diplomatic bunkers for talks before the dossier was released.
Besides, this proposal was subjected to further discussions by the EU and the government, as agreed by both under Article 8 of the Cotonou Agreement. Similar engagements are in existence in many other countries around the world, especially in Africa. The Cotonou Agreement largely defines the EU's relations with Africa, Pacific and Caribbean countries. 
Looked at with an unblinkered eye, the 17-point dossier is not controversial. The EU neither acted out of bounds nor had it acted in bad faith. This perhaps explains why despite the Gambia government's rather undiplomatic reaction, the EU remains purposeful, insisting on the government's cooperation.
Needless to say the issues raised by the EU in its 17-point proposal constitute some of the basic constitutional rights of the people of the Gambia. The EU did not suggest any reform that had not been on the lips of well-meaning Gambians. Political and media reforms are overdue. With or without the EU's say so, the Jammeh administration's heavy-handedness is untenable. In the interest of the peace and stability of the country, reforms therefore are a matter of must.
Yes, one may be tempted to ask: Why would the EU poke its nose in our business? After all, the primary benefactors of any positive democratic reforms in Gambia are the Gambia government and the Gambian people, not the EU. Let us bear in mind however, that entry into the community of EU itself comes with its conditions. That is why there are countries in Europe opting for EU membership, but are disallowed because they have failed to measure up to the EU's democratic standards.
If the EU can truly refuse to compromise universal values, such as good governances and human rights in its dealing with countries in Europe, who is the Gambia government not be challenged to rise up? After all, the EU is the biggest foreign donor to the country. The European Union Community is currently sponsoring a wide range of life-changing projects worth millions of dalasi.
For the period 2008-2013, €70.6 million (D3258 million) is allocated to the Gambia. Thanks to the EU, a good number of villages have access to clean water, thousands have food aid after last year's disaster and major road networks are improved, new ones built. The list of the EU's gesture cannot be exhausted here.
How dare therefore, President Jammeh describe such as chicken change? Should he not at least show some degree of gratefulness to the EU? Why did President Jammeh choose to bite the finger that feeds him? What is the blackmailing President Jammeh is claiming in calling him to respect the rights of the Gambian people? 
As far as the EU-Gambia government relations are concerned, it is not about putting your money where your mouth is, but rather it is about ensuring that the money given to the government on behalf of the public is put into good use. A government - an executive government run by political animals - no matter how responsive and responsible should not be entirely left on its own with the tax payers’ money.
Furthermore, a government - democratic or otherwise - needs to have in place institutions and structures that would ensure transparency and accountability. For the EU, it is not just enough to pump in money. It concerns her that the people benefit. This cannot be entirely confirmed by the politicians account. Independent reports, such as that of independent press, as well matters. Which cannot be ensured if the press is not allowed to operate freely and if independent news media outlets are arbitrarily closed down, as it is happening in Gambia.
By brushing aside the EU's genuine demands, which reflect the unequivocal wish of Gambians, President Jammeh has clearly manifested he has lost touch with reality.  By whipping up thousands of people into a froth of blind nationalist frenzy, the government has failed to realise that it is playing stale politics. This is the 21st Century and it is quite baffling to see our politicians behaving like the 20th century greedy African politicians.
It is about time President Jammeh is called to order. Presidential pride, not patriotism or nationalism, is costing the country a lot of billions of dalasi. The ordinary Gambians are bearing the brunt because the President and his cohort will always have bread on his table.


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