Monday, December 11, 2017

Gambia denies signing an agreement with Antone Bakov to establish the "Romanov Empire" within territorial Gambia

Dawda Fadera, Secretary General
In a statement issued today, December 11th, the Office of The President denying claims made by a Russian national that The Gambia had agreed to cede 10 sq kilometers of its territory to Antone Bakov, a Russian national in exchange for $ 60 million.

Mr. Bakov who is referred to as founder of the Monarchist Party of Russia convened a news conference at the TASS press center in Russia a few days ago to announce the deal and to display what he claimed to be the authentic agreement he's entered into with the Government of The Gambia.

According to the press release from Sate House, the statements of Mr. Bakov are false and the documents accompanying his claims are fake.   The signature of the Gambia's Secretary General have been falsified and the document purported to be the agreement was not issued on an official letterhead.  However, the press release was silent on the identity and authenticity of one Modou Lamin Saidykhan who signed the document as the Foreign Minister of the imaginary Romanov Empire.  He is presumed to be, at least, a Gambian national, if not holding a dual Gambian-Russian citizenship.

The official release admits that Antone Bakov was received at Sate House and expressed interest in investing in tourism.  During the course of his visit, he presented an MOU dated 13th November 2017 for the consideration of government.   The proposal, according to the State House release, called for the government to provide Mr. Bakov "with 10 sq kilometers of land to develop an artificial island called BITCITY for an annual payment of $10 million for six years which would total to $ 60 million."
Anton Bakov with Jammeh 
 The proposal was forwarded to the Ministry of Justice for legal advise which opposed the idea on several grounds including the fact that the "Romanov Empire is not a real state" and Mr. Bakov's desire to recreate the Russian Empire.  The Justice Department, convinced that Mr. Bakov's intent was to acquire the land for his own use.   Because Romanov Empire is not a real state, it cannot enter into international treaty for lack of a permanent population, a defined territory etc.

In addition to the objections of the Justice Department which seem to suggest that the proposal from Mr. Bakov was on behalf of the Romanov Empire, the State House press release cited the environmental and financial impact as additional factors that led to the disapproval of the proposal.

The official reaction to the Romanov Empire fiasco concluded with the following that "while the Gambia government wants genuine is aware of dubious individuals and companies who would want to exploit the New Gambia for scam projects."  It concludes by assuring the Gambian people that the Barrow administration "will always seek the best interest of the Gambia for any investment opportunity."

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Banjul is dead, Long live the Port City of Banjul

Photo of "Pa Machine" by Ishmail Sarr 
This piece was first published in September 9th 2013 about our beloved City of Banjul that has fallen on hard times.  Its republication is triggered by Ismail Sarr's nostalgic photographic depiction of "Pa Machine" at Bund Road.

The sight of only little kids coming out to greet Yaya Jammeh as he pretends to be touring the devastation that is the city of Banjul is further reminder that the dictator has lost all credibility, and with it, support of the people of Banjul and the Gambian people as well.  One look at the state of Banjul should prove the devastation of its infrastructure, and with it the city's moral and spiritual fabric.  Although the people of Banjul have finally started blaming Jammeh for their predicament, the slide into the current deplorable state started well before Jammeh seized power.

Unlike the Jawara who attempted to address the urban decay with roads and sewerage projects, Jammeh in fact accelerated the deterioration by focusing an inordinate attention and state resources to the far-flung village hamlet of Kanilai, his home town.  Capital cities generally contribute significantly not only to national incomes, but to the political, social, cultural life of countries.  Kanilai does just the opposite.  It drains resources away from the national treasury, and into wasteful and idle endeavors like the "Futamgpang" and women wrestling matches which, some have argued, have contributed to the promiscuous behavior of our young men and women folk.  Kanilai is not all play.  It has a good and well-maintained access road leading to the village.  Its infrastructure is far superior to Banjul's.

Banjul is a dead city.  Like the city of Detroit, once the pride of America and the home of Ford, General Motors and Chrysler, Banjul has been abandoned by the very people who once profited from its strategic location as the seat of government and the hub of commerce.  The decline of Detroit was slow and painful but avoidable.  And so is the decline of Banjul.  Some urban planners suggest that the decline of the Motor City started in 1967 with the worst race riot in U.S. history which saw 42 people killed, mainly African-Americans by National Guard troops.  This led to White flight to the neighboring suburbs thus depriving the city of tax base necessary to provide services and the maintenance of the city's infrastructure.  The decline in the share the world market which started with the competition from Japanese autos led to the bankruptcy of GM and Chrysler.  The financial melt-down provided the coup de grace until the Obama administration stepped in to save two of the Big Three.  .
If a similar inflection point in Banjul's good fortunes is to be suggested, I'd venture to say it is the advent of Gambian tourism of the mid-60s which quickly accelerated in the 70's and 80's.  What was once the outback of the Kombos soon was dotted with tourist hotels and other amenities, including access roads, never seen before were springing up everywhere from Cape Point to Kotu and beyond.  City dwellers who did not venture much outside the city limits, except for an occasional Sunday trip, were now venturing out to enjoy the night life that the tourism paradise around the Cape Point, Fajara and Kotu corridor had on offer.  Night club operators in Banjul moved to the Kombos to cater for the tourists.  Other businesses along Wellington Street followed suit.  Then you have Pipeline, a once residential street soon turned into the business center of the Kombos.  Fuelling all of this was the land use policies of the Jawara era which is a separate subject of interest.

Banjulians abandoned the city in droves for the Kombos.  In heading for the hills ( some have argued that the legendary Banjul mosquitoes contributed to the exodus ), they deprived the city of much needed revenue.  Instead of an expanding tax base, Banjul city administration was also collecting less in rates, some of the money found their way into the notoriously corrupt rate collectors.  For the first time in the city's history, entire compounds, some even of historic significant ( especially those along Clarkson Street ) were being abandoned as well. These newly-transformed 'Kombongkas', including yours truly, did not only deprived the city much needed revenue, they also posed another problem for not only the city but for central government as well.  They clung on to their "kerr chosan" even when offered compensation to make way for the Port Expansion Project.  They eventually succumed but not before the right of eminent domain was likely to be applied by the State which would have abrogated their right to negotiate for a fair market price.

Jammeh's contribution to the acceleration of Banjul's decline is what Daniel Patrick Moynihan would refer to as "benign neglect".   Banjulians supported the coup and Jammeh.  In return, he engaged the Banjulians in frequent 'celebrations' at the July 22nd Square and beach parties and barbeques in the beach front of the State House.  The support for Jammeh was founded on the basis that the Jawara regime neglected the city in spite of the numerous externally funded projects with 10% contribution from government.  There were more urban development-related projects under Jawara than under the current regime.  The drawback to the efforts were that some of these projects were poorly designed as well as poorly implemented.  The SOGEA sewage project comes to mind.  Some of the current pollution problems relating to the raw sewage that has been found in the flood waters in Banjul is partly attributable to this project because a good number of the toilets in compounds were not connected to the system for various reasons, but primarily financial and technical ones.

The devastation did not start with the floods.  It only aggravated it and spot-lighted the plight of those trapped inside what can only be described as a hell-hole.  Bond Road, the ring road connecting Half-Die to the main road out of Banjul is impassable.  The Pumping Station or "Pa Bokis" that pumps the water to keep Banjulians from drawing in flood waters has been out of commission for years.  The gutters along Albion Place that empties into the Box Bar stream are caked because of solid waste, and as a resident of the city told me the other day is that the cutters are so caked in the dry season that you can skate on them.  Now, I am told there is/are crocodile(s) inhabiting those gutters suggesting, in a horrifying way, that the drainage system has completely broken down.  Banjulians will not have to contend not only with the legendary Banjul mosquito but they are like likely to be eaten by crocodiles right in the middle of the capital city.

Drastic decline requires equally drastic measures.  Whereas the problems of the two cities i.e. Detroit and Banjul share some similarities, the solution that I am suggesting for Banjul is different.  I will not suggest that Banjul be under an Emergency Manager or receivership which I oppose in the case of Detroit.  Instead, I am suggesting that Banjul be transformed into a Port City which would require that almost the entire city be leveled.  Of course, it doesn't mean that bulldozers descend on the city tomorrow and start levelling everything in site.  The feasibility of it should be carefully studied.  It may turn out that a better option is to have half of the city, say up to Allen Street, be converted into an industrial complex relating to port operations and other industrial activities.  A site for a new political capital would have to be considered as well.  Which ever option is finally opted for will take massive investment which I envisage will come from private capital.  However, you cannot attract private capital with a corrupt and incompetent government.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

"The Commission of Inquiry enjoys the full support and confidence of the Barrow administration", says a State House source

President Barrow with Commission members

Over four months of eye-popping deliberations to date, the Commission of Inquiry into the illicit wealth of ex-dictator Yaya Jammeh has conducted itself - individually and collectively - with dignity and decorum reflecting the high moral and intellectual caliber of its members.

Under the Chairmanship of  Mr. Surahata Janneh, it is our view - one shared by many - that the proceedings have been fairly conducted, up to this point, with a degree of professionalism and decorum that holds great promise for a country emerging from 22 years of one of Africa's most brutal, incompetent and corrupt dictatorship.

The three members of the Commission have been competently served with equal professionalism and unmatched dignity by Mrs. Amie Bensouda  in her capacity as lead counsel.  Despite this or in spite of it, as should be expected, there are criticisms, legitimate as well as unfounded ones, recently, including accusations that the lead counsel is conflicted in the case of the sale of the Kairaba Beach Hotel.  It has also been implied during the course of the deliberations that she may also be a potential witness in other cases that may come before the Commission. 

As a result of these criticisms and despite Mrs. Bensouda's public assurances that she has never acted on behalf of the former president or any of his close business associates, and if there is any appearance of a conflict, she will be the first to bring it to the attention of the Commission members and Gambians and to recuse herself. 

In anticipation of further use of this strategy as a means of discrediting or intimidating the Commission, as implied by Mrs. Bensouda's statement that she will not be intimidated, in response to the witness counsel's accusations, we reached out to a State House source who in response to our inquiry assured Gambians and the general public that "the Commission of Inquiry members and the lead counsel, Mrs. Bensouda, enjoy the full confidence and support of the government of President Adama Barrow."

The State House official went further to suggest that if any person has objections to anyone sitting on the Commission or serving as counsel, the proper and prudent measure to take is through court action; let them challenge any individual's fitness to serve in a court of law.  Character assassination and any form of peddling false accusations will not wash and can only strengthen our collective resolve to hold accountable those responsible for squandering the nation's meager resources that brought the Gambian economy to its knees over the 22 years of Jammeh's dictatorship. 

Similar appointments to previous Commissions, the source continued, have been challenged in the past before the courts.  It was none other than Mr. Fafa E. Mbai who challenged the appointment of Justice Aboagyi to a Commission by Sir Dawda at the Supreme Court.  Hon. Hamat Bah, leader of the NRP also challenged the appointment of Justice M. A. Paul to preside in their sedition case.  His took place at the Court of Appeals.  It is not for lack of precedent to resort to the courts for redress.  Amadou Samba or any other witness before the Commission can do likewise.

Conversely, this may have been the reason why the Chairman had the cause to remind witnesses before him that the Commission is not a court of law but a fact finding inquiry into the financial dealings of the ex-president where normal court procedures do not necessarily apply.

The task before Commission members, though challenging, is not insurmountable if the public continues to provide the necessary input and support by refusing to be party to a concerted effort orchestrated by vested interests - from within and without - whose main aim is to muddy the waters and to deflect the attention of the public away from the evidence being generated by the probing questions of Commission members and Mrs. Amie Bensouda.  The important work of the Commission must neither be impeded nor derailed.

Paradise Papers exposes powerful African politicians

In SOUTH AFRICA, an Isle of Man trust linked to former president Nelson Mandela has emerged following a legal battled waged over the trust's million dollar bank accounts after Mandela's death.

Separately, major retail, medical and mining companies, including some with ties to South Africa's Vice President Cyril Ramaphosa, came under scrutiny for using offshore structures.

In NIGERIA, a civil society organization urged the country's Code of Conduct Bureau to investigate Senate President, Bukola Saraki, for false declaration of assets.  He is accused of not disclosing his interests in a Cayman Island during his political career.

In NAMIBIA,  the "Namibian" newspaper reported that the country's finance ministry was already investigating tax evasion in the fishing industry following reports about a mackerel company Pacific Andes.

In UGANDA, the powerful foreign minister and brother-in-law of President Museveni, Sam Kutesa, responded to revelations that he set up a trust in the Seychelles.  "I thought you could avoid, not evade, taxes but I found it was not practical." He said he did nothing with the company.  This is the same guy implicated in the Cheikh Tidiane Gadio's bribery and money laundering case in New York.

In ANGOLA, the opposition called for a parliamentary probe into the country's sovereign wealth fund after revelations from the Paradise Papers that the fund's investment manager moved millions of dollars offshore.

We have added the Paradise Papers to our continued investigations and campaign to trace the source and the finance destination of the $900,000,000 against an account of a company registered in The Gambia and China under Amadou Samba's name. 

We have so far found no Gambian or Gambian-registered companies in the Paradise Paper.  What is shown in the Panama Papers is the cross-referencing of the AMASA Company owned by Amadou Samba.

* This blog post is based entirely on the product of the ICIJ or the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists headquartered in Washington D.C.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

The barbarism in Libya must cease

African migrants being sold in slave markets across Libya 
The European Union, the United Nations, African Union, ECOWAS were all slow in acting and the results have been catastrophic for hundred of thousands of African migrants who have been held captive, confined in small spaces fit to pack sardines, tortured, killed and maimed. 

Those who survive the inhumane treatment are sent to slave markets were they are sold at slave auctions for as little as $ 400 per human being.   The United Nations have declared the actions of the Libyan slave traders as crime against humanity whose perpetrators must be stopped, arrested and tried. 

But first, countries whose nationals are being traded as slaves must - individually - take proactive measures to put a halt to the barbarism being meted out by the various factions controlling individual regions of Libyan since the toppling of the Libyan dictator. 

Collectively, the African countries must act in concert with all the relevant regional bodies, including ECOWAS and the African Union, to apply diplomatic pressure on both the European Union and the United Nations to consider all options, including military action against the Libyan renegades. 

The United Nations, meanwhile, should station investigators on Libyan soil to apprehend the rogue criminals who capture and imprison African migrants for ransom - a human trafficking trade that has been going on for as long as the human wave of migrants started several years ago. 

The United States should have been a logical partner in this exercise, since they led the military action that toppled Qaddafi but because of the current occupant of the White House, it will be a pure waste of energy to attempt at bringing in the US into the fold.  Trump will simply not be interested in saving African lives.

The challenges facing the international community have grown complex because the signs and warnings of these horrific acts of inhumanity have been ignored for years by the European Union whose main preoccupation was protecting their borders and deporting those who made it through the treacherous journey across the Mediterranean.

The Gambia, the smallest of the African countries, is the second highest per capita exporter of migrants to Europe through the Sahara Desert-Libya route.  Despite this proportionally high number of Gambians exposed to these dangers, its initial share of the $2 billion is a $4 million grant earmarked for the resettlement of 1,500 irregular migrants to be repatriated from Libya to the Gambia. 

In as much as the reentry program is an important component of the migrants' problem, their safety and humane treatment in Libya is paramount at this juncture.  Every African government, whose nationals are stuck in no-man's land, must have, as its top priority, their extrication to safety.  They cannot do it alone.  They must do it in collaboration with the European Union and the United Nations.         

Gambia to market offshore Blocks A1 and A4; challenges APC to commence arbitration proceedings

Gambia's Justice Minister, Ba Tambadou 
Gambia has recently announced plans to market two offshore oil blocks that it revoked from African Petroleum Corporation.

The two blocks in question are A1 and A4 that were initially licensed to APC by the previous regime of Yaya Jammeh.  The license was twice revoked without public explanation, the last revocation took place few months before the Gambian dictator was defeated in last December's presidential elections.

The new government of Adama Barrow has decided to put the blocks in question back on the market which led to the London meeting which took place earlier this month with prospective investors.  You can find the relevant block post here.

The African Petroleum Corporation has threatened to initiate arbitration before, the latest threat was as recent as August this year.  Given recent developments and reports of promising potentials of FAR's Blocks A2 and A5, their is renewed confidence on display by new government in Banjul to a have a clean break with APC.

At the London meeting, the Justice Minister Mr. Tambadou was quoted by Reuters as saying his government respects APC's choice to initiate arbitrating proceedings but it is his government's right also to market its blocks and that includes A1 and A4, thus calling APC's bluff.   We'll see what APC's next move will be. 

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

1.1 billion barrels estimated by FAR in Blocks A2 and A5 in The Gambia, offshore

An Australian Securities Exchange listed oil and gas exploration and development company known in the industry as FAR Limited says that it has identified 1.1 barrels of resources in its two blocks offshore The Gambia i.e. blocks A2 and A5.

The resources are in the two prospects known as "Bambo" and "Samo".  According to company sources, operations are already underway to prepare for drilling in late 2018.   Industry sources also observed that it will be the first time that drilling is done in offshore Gambia since the adminsitration of Sir Dawda K. Jawara in 1979.

Blocks A2 and A5 cover 2,862 sq km within the Mauritania-Senegal-Guinea Bissau (MSGB) Basin and lie about 30 km offshore in 50 - 1,500m water depth.

From the 3D seismic data, FAR was able to identify the Bambo and Samo prospects.  Despite the quality of the seismic data available, FAR opined that more work needs to be done to improve its understand what's at stake and to further reduce the risk.

According to FAR, the opportunities in Blocks A2 and A5 "represent a huge prize, if successful."  And based on FAR's experience in its drilling operations in neighboring Senegal, the geological chance of success in the key reservoirs in the Samo prospects is "high for a frontier exploration well".   Success in the Samo well would be "truly transformational" for The Gambia and FAR, the firm says.