UK should help Gambia directly
Tuesday, August 21, 2012
The British High Commissioner’s Bantaba Interview in the Daily Observer was all sweetness and cannot be faulted on diplomatic linguistic skills. Much of what the High Commissioner said last week to the Daily Observer was said to me by High Commissioner Simpkinson back in December 2007 – and he was a rather forthright diplomat (I heard that he once addressed Gambia’s [former]Justice Minister Gomez as “Minister of Injustice”!!).
Aware that in Banjul some were trying to relay to President Jammeh that “Halake is a British spy”, I had discussions before and after the Simpkinson meeting with the Daily Observer Chairperson and Secretary of State, Neneh MacDouall Gaye – and kept recordings of both discussions!
Simpkinson was, like Morley, full of praise for the country’s infrastructure development under President Jammeh’s APRC Government. And truly, objective watchers of the Gambian political scene for the last 17 years cannot fail to accept the tremendous development that has taken place in the area of health, education and road construction. As High Commissioner Morley noted, what I called “The Unity Bridge” in the pages of The Daily News a couple of weeks ago will simply be the celebratory icing on the cake of “Jammeh the Builder”. The contribution of individual Brits and NGOs to the Gambia’s development effort was much lauded by High Commissioner Simpkinson, and by High Commissioner Morley last week – and this was highlighted by Simpkinson and myself (and Morley last week) partly because of the absence of direct UK Government support – except for the much appreciated £500,000 towards the Emergency Food Aid Appeal.
The lack of direct UK Government support is unfortunate if “development aid” is objectively based on “need”. Gambia is one of the poorest countries in the world and needs direct UK support (similar to the support that Taiwan is giving) for that reason alone – to lift the population out of poverty. But “development aid” has always been a political tool and both the UK and US governments have stated that they would use “development aid” for political purposes. It is for this reasons that India gets millions in direct UK “development aid” each year and poor Little Gambia does not (big row in UK papers this week about British aid money in India “funding their space rocket programme”).
Gambia’s “Human Rights deficit”
The Daily Observer under my editorship was very much an APRC paper as it is today, and High Commissioner Simpkinson asked rather cheekily after we had discussed the case of Chief Ebrima Manneh’s disappearance: “When will you abandon Jammeh?”.
Simpkinson was born and brought up in Rhodesia, so I answered: “If things were ever to get as bad as Zimbabwe – which I don’t belief Jammeh will allow”.
In the event Jammeh abandoned me and I live to write a tale or two! The serious point is that inspite of some serious sad cases such as that of Chief Ebrima Manneh, my late friend Baba Jobe and others as listed “disappeared/killed” elsewhere, there are no signs at all that things in The Gambia will ever go the Zimbabwe way.
I think ICC Prosecutor Bensouda’s dismissiveness of the “Jammeh Question” on Aljazeera recently underlines my point – although I am of the view that the ICC should be replaced with an ACC (African Criminal Court) as far as African prosecutions are concerned.
Neverthless, I have to differ with High Commissioner Morley in that I think the downgrading of the British High Commission in Banjul and Visa Processing/DfiD’s relocation is indeed a sign of UK’s disapproval of The Gambia’s recent Human Rights record (apparently High Commissioner Morley was, prior to his Banjul posting; the Alkalo of a tiny 6-huts small island village called “Da Cunha” - or something - in the Caribbean!).
Those interested in the British Govt’s (and therefore the High Commission’s!) true views on The Gambian Human Rights situation would do better visiting the United Kingdom Border Agency’s website for the British Government’s assessment of the situation in The Gambia.
On the website, diplomacy is relegated and matters stated as they are because the UK courts will demand facts when faced with asylum claims from Gambian nationals.
As an example, although our man in Banjul will not comment on the gay issue, “homosexuality discrimination” in The Gambia has been addressed in full by the British Government – because the UK courts will want the full facts when faced with an asylum application based on the applicant’s “sexual orientation”.
There is a young Gambian man in East London who has kept documentary evidence including two front-page copies of the Daily Observer (one says no room for gays in The Gambia and the other is the arrest of homosexuals with pictures of them in handcuffs).
The young Gambian is applying for asylum on the grounds that he is gay and fears persecution in The Gambia. I smiled when I met him and told him he doesn’t look gay or even act gay! He needs to go for lessons on gay mannerisms and etiquette - but good luck to him on his asylum application. (Why did Daily Observer ask the High Commissioner the Gay question?! – reporters are getting mischievious nowadays!)
I would like to end this piece on a positive note in that recently there have been signs/sounds of independence from the judiciary and, with the exception of the recent closure of Terenga FM, there have been few cases of government assault against the press.
The newly created Human Rights Ombudsman may also make a difference – if the Ombudsman is able to demand that no one be detained beyond 72 hours without charge. The Tax Evasion Commission’s report also seems to allow for appeals and stays of execution. And I think the fact that President Jammeh is approaching 20 years in power may (like Jerry Rawling’s 20 year milestone) lead to the rapid liberalisation of the political scene in preparation for a possible democratic change of government. As usual, I remain optimistic.
Happy Koriteh to All,
Author: Dida Jallow-Halake, London UK.