Monday, March 31, 2014

Internet censorship will result in computer hacking

Censorship of the internet in the Gambia is causing other potential hazards, not only for the government but for the business community, hazards that will come to haunt them in the future in the form of lower government revenue from the ITC sub-sector, including the internet provider's bottom line.

Since the government's drive to block the extremely popular internet calling and messaging apps, like Skype, Viber and Vonage, there has been a flurry of underground activities, involving mainly young people, in learning the sinister trade of computer hacking. These young men and women have parents and friends who live abroad and they use these applications to reduce the cost of accessing the internet.  Now they see a government they once supported turning against them by making it difficult to access useful application.

Internet censorship disproportionately affects young people because they  use modern communication tools more than their parents or grand parents.  It is incomprehensible that the regime cannot see this, especially when Gambian youth formed the backbone of the ruling party's base support.  That support is eroding faster than ever imagined, partly as a result of what they see as government's heavy handedness.  They are a frustrated group of young voters who are resorting to other measures to have access to the internet and the calling and messaging applications.

Realizing the potential dangers of the new policy, the government spokesperson tried to distance the Jammeh regime from the blocking of Skype and similar applications by suggesting that the idea was the internet operators.  Privately, internet providers are vehemently denying the charge, and are quick to point out that it the very same government spokesperson who denied that there was any blockage of the internet.  As a private operator opined "he (the government spokesperson) speaks from both sides of his mouth, so don't mind him."

Computer hacking is a threat to both government and the private sector.  It is a potential source of cyber criminality, resulting from a shortsighted policy of a government obsessed with controlling information.  The new policy, as we have said in earlier blogs, has unintended consequences with far greater threat to The Gambia than those posed by Syke, Viber and Vonage.  The internet providers, as well as business community in general, are worried about the effects of these futile attempts to block access that requires huge resources in a struggling economy.

  

Efforts to rebuild post-Jammeh

sidisanneh.blogspot.com is proud to invite retired US military officer, Abdul Savage, as guest editorialist in recognition of his service to country.  We are making this first and only exception to our policy to an extraordinary person.
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 Efforts to Rebuild Post-Jammeh
By Abdul Savage


As much as we are spending time fighting the old, I respectfully submit that we must devote, equally as well, some time to plan to rebuild anew. There is an old saying along the lines like “put your money where your mouth is”, or something like that. So, I am ready, willing, able and capable to put my money where my mouth is. But, like many of us, I am not going to put my money where that money is not used for its intended purposes, or misused. Every dollar of my money is hard earned with blood, sweat and tears.

So, this is what I am proposing: I will volunteer to put $10,000 (Ten thousand Dollars), more or less as dictated, to help rebuild The Gambia. This money can be used to form a company here, legally of course, with Articles of Incorporation, and so on. We can call this company Gambia Investments Abroad (GIA), or whatever is deemed appropriate and fitting. And I will personally recommend you, Pa Nderry M’bai, and Fatou Jaw Manneh, to incorporate this company, oversee and manage this company.

The task of this company will be like a dormant mutual fund on standby, ready to invest and help rebuild the Gambia, as soon as democracy and stability are restored there. There must be safeguards as well in the Articles of Incorporation and in the company guidelines to protect investors’ funds should “things fall apart”, and or the atmosphere in the Gambia is not conducive to operate the company for the purposes it was created for.  
     
Now, assuming that democracy and stability are restored in the Gambia, say in the near future, say within few months, or a year or two, how do we go about rebuilding? Yes, true, we will secure and get international funding to help rebuild post-Jammeh, but wouldn’t it be prudent, wise and helpful to know that a band of Gambians, under this company, has taken the initiative to pre-empt the rebuilding efforts? Yes, it would be.

My point is this: once this company is created and headed by Pa Nderry and Fatou Jaw Manneh, they will issue stuff like shares to its “investors”, so that way we can ensure greater transparency and accountability. For example, if Abdullah Savage reports that he invested $10,000 in this company to the public, then he must be able to provide and or show share certificate(s) to substantiate that claim. And if hundred people reported $1000 each in investment in the company within a quarter, and the company in its quarterly publication discloses that it only receives $5000 in contributions, then there is a discrepancy somewhere. Accountability and transparency are the safeguards to this enterprise.

And I must quick to add that out of these company funds is where Pa Nderry and Fatou Jaw Manneh will get paid. They will not, and we do not expect them to do it, for free. This is a venture to help rebuild our country, while simultaneously all of us will continue to do whatever is it that we are doing to further our goal to liberate the Gambia. We can continue to plan, strike and all, while simultaneously we create this company.

So, NOW, since I am willing to put my money where my mouth is, I hereby invite all others, particularly such entities as NRMG, DUGA, GCC, CORDEG, and others to put their money where their mouths are. Let each one of these entities send in to Pa Nderry and Fatou Jaw Manneh, $10,000 or more, so that Pa and Fatou Jaw Manneh can create and develop such a company, poised and ready to invest to help rebuild the Gambia post-Jammeh.

We will write checks and send them to Pa Nderry, and guarantee that these checks will not bounce. Or better yet, we can Western Union or wire transfers such funds.

And so, I invite all to put our money where our mouths are, no matter how little that money is. If people are asked to contribute $10, $20 or so, here and there, why not direct those funds to rebuild the Gambia to one entity, instead of having entities all over the place seeking funds. The struggle in the Gambia and for the Gambia is not a business venture.  People like us, who are now publicly known, can go underground or stay above ground, and launch a movement or counter-attack to remove that despot from power by all and any means. 

Yes, true, many of these entities in the diaspora movement might be currently running at a loss, since they are newly created, and that they are probably yet to secure enough contributions to offset the expenses in terms of time, and resources, already put into them. And if this trend of them losing continues, we will cease to hear from them or about them.

My contention is this: you cannot take from the poor and give to the rich. But you probably can take from the rich and give to the poor. Many of us are fortunate in so many ways than most of the people we are asking to “gofund me”, with $10, $20, $50 or $100, or more or less. And some of these people are living in the Gambia with barely two meals a day, much more three meals a day.

Yes, true, it involves costs to run these entities, but why can’t these leaders take it upon themselves to foot the bill, than seek $10, $20 or more in contributions from people who are probably less fortunate than us? And at the end of the month, they probably wouldn’t even get $4000 in contributions from these people. Accountability and transparency is a crucial and vital part of any entity, be its task is to liberate a nation, or operate a business, or run a movement or manage an enterprise.

Further, I observed that many of us have already started jockeying for positions, fame and glory post-Jammeh. That is all good and well. Some are even saying others would make great permanent secretaries, heads of civil service, media personalities/moguls, and what not. True, this is all good and well, but not at the expense of Gambians suffering.
    
We must not set ourselves up to fail post-Jammeh. Instead of having companies disguised as entities, or movements, why not have “one true company”, to be run, managed and overseen by independent, like-minded and trust-worthy individuals? Of course, if some feel the need, we can have all these movements, but when it comes to funds to help rebuild the country all those funds must be directed to preferable one entity, instead of entities all over the place, competing for funds from people.

The day of rebuilding post-Jammeh will come. There will be lots of jockeying and all for positions. However, if we take a pre-emptive strike in the efforts to rebuild the Gambia post-Jammeh, we will be step ahead of the curve.

We all know Gambia is a consumer market. So, how do we go about rebuilding? We know Gambia has sand, in fact, plenty of it. And we know glass is made from sand. This company, post-Jammeh, will invest millions of dalasis to create and develop a glass company, using our abundant natural resources of sand. Then, you ask, where is the market for glass? We all know that, from the business point of view, sometimes we have to create the market for whatever product we intend to market, and with our some hard-word, dedication and all, we will succeed. And another aspect of this is creating job opportunity and employment, hence contributing to the livelihood of many Gambians. We will have to create jobs and opportunities. I suspect that once this glass company is created, you will be surprised to see private investments beyond what is expected.   

Glass could be produced in the form of windows, mirrors, doors, signage, and many, countless more other glass-related products that could be used in the construction industry, agriculture industry and many other industries. And as we develop this company, the products could be exported to neighboring countries. In a matter of couple years, we will have a dominant glass-making company in the Gambia. 

Also, another investment and job creation opportunity this company can invest in is the milk-production business. Milk products are derived from cows, sheep, and goats, and I do believe these animals Yaya Jammeh has stacked up for us pretty good, so post-Jammeh, why not use this by-product to rebuild?

And milk can be marketed under a brand, in tins, gallons or what not, and sold locally as well as exported to neighboring Senegal and beyond. And believe me, there is already an abundant demand and market for milk products in the Senegambia region and beyond.

So, once again, I appeal to NRMG, DUGA, CODERG, GCC, and others to send in $10,000 or more each to create a company in the form of a fund, created by Gambians for Gambians, ready to help rebuild Gambia post-Jammeh.

$10,000 or more from these entities and me, and funds from many more people or entities in a few months, would translate into millions and millions of Dalasis that would come in handy to help rebuild and develop our shattered economy, and create jobs and other opportunities for many.

Like I have always maintained, the above is my two-cent worth of observation, and so, as such, I now stand ready to take all the criticisms, accusations, insults and all, that are going and will be leveled against me.

Grow up, Yaya

Returning from a humiliating defeat at the hands of his own colleagues in Yamoussoukro,  Yaya Jammeh, in his characteristic style, took to the national airwaves to deliberately distort the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) negotiation process which has been ongoing for over two years.

If you live in The Gambia, you probably have never heard of the EPA process mentioned once by either Yaya Jammeh or any of his cabinet ministers. The reason for this is Yaya Jammeh is in the habit of keeping his people in the dark on everything.

His ministers never discuss issues of national interest, and they certainly do not entertain debate on issue of national import. What is the University of The Gambia, the pride of Yaya Jammeh, for?  Political indoctrination and the art of group think?

The decision by the ECOWAS Heads of State not to put Jammeh's name in nomination is a decisive rejection of the petulance of an African dictator who has refused to grow-up on the job despite 20 years at the helm in Banjul.  His singular achievement during these years is to run into the ground a healthy economy he inherited from a legitimately elected government of Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara who was elected twice to lead ECOWAS.

Jammeh was quoted in gambiaaffairs.com as saying that The Gambia will not sign the proposed EPA with the European Union on the grounds that "the country would not continue exporting raw materials only."  His rationale is that he wants value added in-country to create employment which would have been a valid concern if Gambia had a huge manufacturing base like a Nigeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Senegal.

Gambia's primary product is still groundnut which Jammeh has overseen the sector's decline in the 20-years he's been at the helm.  When he seized power, the annual export stood at 150,000 tons.  Last year, he managed to purchase only 30,000 tons.  We have reported this evening that the Groundnut Corporation has run out of cash to buy a single ton of groundnut three weeks before the close of the season.   The second foreign exchange earner is tourism.  So where is the beef ? Yaya.  This is our first point.

Our second point is that neither the European Union nor members of the ECOWAS community is forcing any one to sign anything, and certainly not during the April 2-4 April Summit or anytime before October 2014.

This blog's Facebook pages have been following the raging national debates that have been taking place in Nigeria, Senegal, Cote d'Ivoire and Ghana.  Even as we write Ghana and Nigeria are still debating the EPA at all levels and among academicians, business communities and ordinary folk.  Why is it that Gambians have not heard about the EPA until his monumental failure in his fail bid to head ECOWAS.  His outbursts designed to muddy the waters in a deliberate attempt to conceal the fact that his agenda is not Gambia's but his personal self-centered and greedy motives to maintain and retain power at all cost.  His colleagues rejected him because of the manipulator of humans that he are, using falsehoods to conceal his real motives. He is considered a trusted partner which is one of the reasons for his rejection in Yamoussoukro.

A third point we want to make is in reference to a quote attributed to him that "the EU must have studied it (the EPA) and discussed among themselves as a continent, and put it to Africa.  Why didn't they (EU) put it to the African Union?"  the most simple answer is the European Union is not a continent-wide grouping.  In fact, until fairly recently, it comprised only of 15 countries, the same number of countries as ECOWAS Members States.  True, the EU has since expanded to 28 Members States to include the newly independent states from the old Soviet block and its satellites.  Even with this expansion, it hardly qualifies as continent-wide organization.

Another reason why it makes sense to deal with regional economic groupings is because the mere size of Africa with varied natural resource endowments and different set of trade issues.  Why do you think ECOWAS has been trying for years to harmonize and rationalize its varied trade and customs protocols among its Members?  Has Gambia not been participating in the exercise over the years? Jammeh should learn to shut up after he's run out of excuses.  Again, his colleagues were right in rejecting him because he is not a team player.  It's like the kid who took his ball and headed home because he was not allowed to score a goal.  We wish Jammeh will grow up and stop throwing tantrums whenever he doesn't have his way.

Jammeh has the tendency of insulting the intelligence of Gambians and the international community.  He thinks because he has absolute control of the Gambian media outlets and the only television station, he can manufacture his own facts with the hope that no one will notice.  If Gambia feels strongly about the issues he's raised during a purported airport interview, and reported on gambianaffairs.com, why weren't these concerns raised - however frivolous they appear from our vantage point - at the appropriate EU-ECOWAS-Africa fora.

As far as we are concerned, this is the first time Gambians have heard of the Economic Partnership Agreement in general and the appropriateness of negotiating with ECOWAS instead of the African Union in particular.  This is from a guy who less than 48 hours ago was 15 votes away from heading the very organization he now thinks is not the legitimate organ for the European Union to negotiate with.  This guy never ceases to amaze.

Jammeh's latest tirade suggests to us that he is preparing the groundwork to bail out of the 4th EU-Africa Summit after his Yamoussoukro experience, and a potential repeat of his UN General Assembly experience last November when a group of Gambian dissidents holed him up at his hotel for two days.  The same dissident groups are travelling to Brussels in the coming days to join forces with the Europe-based dissidents to protests against Yaya Jammeh and his repressive, corrupt and incompetent regime with the worst human rights record in Africa.  We will not be surprised if he delegates his Vice President or his Trade Minister to face the protesters at the appropriately-named Queen Victoria Hotel in Brussels which will be the venue of the EU-Africa Summit.

We will be following developments leading up to and including the Summit.    

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Jammeh lacks cash to purchase farmers' groundnuts

This is the third in a series of reports on the 2013/14 groundnut buying season, Gambia's single most important cash crop, and the main foreign exchange earner of Gambia's fragile economy.

It is a season that started off in what we described then as "an avalanche of confusion".  First by over-riding the decision of, what was known as the Agribusiness Services and Producers Association (ASPA), about the producer price and the official start date of the season.  The Gambian dictator disagreed with the decisions which led to the immediate disbanding of ASPA.

By a stroke of the dictator's pen, Gambia Groundnut Corporation (GGC) was accorded monopoly status, to be responsible for buying, processing and exporting Gambians premier crop.  We warned against the creation of a vertically integrated company out of a bankrupt GGC.  We also warned against the dangers of creating such a market condition that will exclude private buyers from participating in what should be a free and open market.  We called into question the financial viability and/or solvency of the GGC, not to mention its limited managerial capabilities.  After all, GGC was rescued from bankruptcy a few years back.  It is still being subsidized by government is itself essentially bankrupt.  Its domestic borrowing has reached such unsustainable levels that it's been warned several time by the IMF.  The regime's capacity to borrow has been severely limited with repercussions in this year's buying season.

The above was a strong case for a liberalizing the market by allowing private buyers, including the now-defunct ASPA, to participate fully.  Yet, in typical Jammeh-style, he ignored all rational approaches by following his often erred instincts.

During the last season, after restricting the market to ASPA societies and GGC, the restrictions were lifted, midway into the season, when farmers complained that the prices on offer were lower than what private buyers (namely Chinese middlemen) were willing to pay.  Prices on offer rose by 30% - 40% which benefited the rural farming communities across Gambia.  Acting like any rational human, the farmers, this year, withheld their crops from market in anticipation of a change in policy.  When indications were that the regime had dug-in and will not give in to farmer's expectations, the crops were released only for the farmers to start experiencing considerable amount of delays in getting paid for their crops.  When the principal buying agent, GGC, lacks money, it resorts to credit buying.

The repercussions we warned about emanating from the limited capabilities of the regime to borrow locally are beginning to manifest themselves in subtle but far-reaching ways across the country, although we still lack the proof.  But 'FOROYAA', a local opposition party newsletter is reporting of groundnuts being returned to farmers by buying agents of GGC due to lack of cash to pay for them.  It is anecdotal but revealing, and a warning of things to come resulting from the mismanagement of the most important sector of the Gambian economy by a corrupt and incompetent regime.

The newsletter reported that in Sami District of Central River, 5 tons of the crop were returned at the Kuntaur Depot to farmers for lack of cash to pay for it.  In this particular case, groundnuts were held by the GGC for a week before it was returned to farmers who will now have to see if they can sell it across the border in Senegal or retail the crop sale at local markets (lumos).  How widespread is this phenomenon is still to be determined, but all indications are it is widespread because there's simply no money in GGC's coffers.  The regime knew all along that precarious financial position of GGC which is, for all intents and purposes a bankrupt institution that should be dissolved, and privatize the entire groundnut sector.

We projected that the regime will be lucky to purchase 30,000 tons, the amount purchased last year.  We are maintaining our position despite a source in the North Bank who thinks the figure will be matched.  But when we asked whether the regime's target of 40,000 will be reached, he refused to bet on that number.  Maybe, after reading this report, and surveying the North Bank for similar anecdotal evidence as those reported in Sami, he will sing a different tune.  Meanwhile, we are sticking with 30,000 tons for the 2013/14 season

ECOWAS new Chairman's three priority areas

The new Chairman of ECOWAS, President John Mahama of Ghana is wasting no time in setting his priorities for the regional organization as he prepares to start his first term as head of the organization.

He said his mandate will focus on three priority areas :

1. Regional Peace and Security.  The organization will try to consolidate the peace in Mali following a successful presidential elections that saw Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.
  - In Guinea-Bissau, the ECOWAS chairman would work for the return of constitutional order.
  - In Nigeria, the organization will continue to focus attention on the Boko Haram terror group.
  - Youth unemployment is also high on his agenda because without employment there will be no peace

2.  Regional Economic Integration -  He affirms that he will give top priority to the economic integration of the sub-region to ensure that the results is translated in terms of collective economic prosperity.
   - He will also intensify action for the realization of the single currency


3.  Development of Economic Infrastructure - This includes, according to the new Chairman, the completion of the Lagos - Abidjan highway project.


ECOWAS needed a level-headed leader to pursue an agenda that has taken years to take shape.  Most of the Heads of State of the organization share common perspectives and values concerning regional peace and security, the economic integration of the region and the building of solid economic infrastructure.

It is no coincidence that the 4th EU-Africa Summit's theme is "Investing in People, Prosperity and Peace". Jammeh lacks the discipline necessary, and the humility demanded of leaders to guide ECOWAS during the most difficult challenges the sub-regional organization face - challenges that can only be overcome forging strong partnerships with the European Union, United States and other development partners.  President Mahama is, therefore, the right choice to head ECOWAS at this critical juncture in the organization's history.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Sheikh Omar Fye is the new DCM

Sheikh Omar Fye, DCM
Sheikh Omar Fye, who was widely reported to have been appointed Ambassador, reported for work yesterday as the new Deputy Chief of Mission at the Gambian Embassy in Washington DC to replace Mr. B.H.M.Jallow who was "recalled for consultations" few weeks ago.  Mr. Jallow's future within the diplomatic service is unclear at this moment.

The post of Ambassador is still vacant following the rejection of Ambassador Momodou Badgie who is currently serving as Ambassador to Mauritania.  It would appear that the post will remain vacant for quite sometime because of the choppy waters Yaya Jammeh has to navigate after his recent irresponsible tirade against Washington, London and Brussels.

Prior to taking up post in Washington, Mr. Omar Fye was DMC at the Gambian Embassy in Mauritania.  He is a former military officer who has since retired.

Welcome Mr. Deputy Ambassador to Obama's America.

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John Dramani Mahama elected head of ECOWAS

President John Dramani Mahama of Ghana upon taking over from President Alassane Dramane Ouatarra of Cote d'Ivoire
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The 44th Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which ended Saturday in Yamoussoukro, the Ivorian political and administrative capital, elected President of Ghana John Dramani Mahama at the head of the sub-regional organization. 
"I am pleased to announce that yesterday the Heads of State have come together and decide to elect our brother, President John Dramani Mahama, as head of ECOWAS, "said the Ivorian Head of State, Alassane Ouattara. 
Mr. Ouattara, the outgoing Chairman of the West African organization was in a relaxed and jovial mood during his introduction of his Ghanaian successor. 
13 Heads of State of the 15 that make up the ECOWAS participated in the 44th Ordinary Session . 
Cape Verde and Togo were represented by their Prime Ministers.

President John Dramani Mahama was born November 29, 1958 at Damongo Ghana, a communications consultant by profession, he is a product of the ruling National Democratic Congress. Regularly voted member since 1997, he was Minister of Communication of President Jerry Rawlings (1998-2001) before being elected Vice-President of the Republic on 28 December 2008 alongside John Atta-Mills. 

With the sudden death of John Atta-Mills, John Mahama replaced the late President July 24, 2012 for the period until the presidential elections of December 2012, as required by the Ghanaian Constitution.  As candidate of the NDC, John Mahama was re-elected President of the Republic of Ghana on December 7, 2012 and was sworn in on January 7, 2013, despite a legal challenge from the opposition led by Nana Akufo-Addo regarding the constitutionality of Mahama's succession to power, the Ghana Supreme Court confirmed 29 August 2013 of his election as Ghana's Head of State.

Father of 7 children, the 24th President of the ECOWAS faithful of the Church of the Assemblies of God, John Mahama is the third Head of State of Ghana directing the sub-regional organization after Jerry Rawlings (1994-1996) and John Kufuor (2003-2005).
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This article was adopted from the headline piece which appeared in www.abidjan.netLS /APA.
Any errors due to editorial or translation prerogative exercised herein remain the responsibility of sidisanneh.blogspot.com

Friday, March 28, 2014

President Mahama elected ECOWAS Chairman

President John Dramani Mahama has been elected Chairman of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to replace President Alassane Dramane Ouatarra of Cote d'Ivoire.

The position was being sought by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Yaya Jammeh of The Gambia.

Presidnet Mahama was elected at the 44th Ordinary Summit of ECOWAS in Yamoussoukro, the political capital of Cote d'Ivoire.

The election was scheduled to take place Saturday March 29th 2014.  The early results indicate that consensus around Mahama has been building earlier than observers thought.  In short, it was a "no contest" elections probably even before the delegations reached Yamoussoukro.  In these parts, we say it was a "done deal" even before they arrived at the Cnnference Center.

As compared to previous elections, the election of President Mahama as Chairman of ECOWAS was one of the least contentious in a long while.  This may be good for ECOWAS and the region.  But to contender Yaya Jammeh, this is one more rejection in a string of rejections from an organization that he's the doyen, as the longest serving leader who has never held the Chairmanship.

DEVELOPING: More to come.

Jammeh's troubled ECOWAS history

The Gambian dictator's relentless pursuit of the Chairmanship of ECOWAS is puzzling to those who follow the long and troubled relationship between him and the regional organization.

Yaya Jammeh has tried and failed to chair the sub-regional grouping since his 2001 'reelection'.  Frustrations with ECOWAS has grown as a result, and there's some mistrust and animosity between the current and past political leadership of the organization and Jammeh over the Chairmanship.  Jammeh has the dubious honor of being the longest serving leader who has never served as Chairman, and this, obviously he is painfully aware of, and has built up resentment against ECOWAS.   He hardly attend its meetings, except when there's a particular agenda item, like election of a new Chairman that he makes it a point to take part.

A great deal has been said about the reasons, most external, why Jammeh will never be bestowed the leadership of ECOWAS, such as the bilateral partners like the United States, U.K. and the European Union whose relations with Jammeh has been unfriendly or even hostile.  He has heaped insults at the United Kingdom and its exploitative and colonial and neo-colonial exploitative history.  He's used his own form of revisionism to pull The Gambia from the Commonwealth which, from his own interpretation of British colonial history, is an instrument of British exploitation.

Jammeh has accused the United States of trying to impose gay and lesbian life-style on The Gambia as pre-condition for economic assistance.  He has told these tales to his people, and unfortunately the unsuspecting populace have believed them.

Jammeh has treated ECOWAS with equal contempt.  Jammeh has failed to implement two of the ECOWAS Court's decisions that went against his regime.  One was the decision by the Court to compensate the family of Chief Ebrima Manneh, a young Gambian reporter, who was last seen in the custody of the notorious National Intelligence Agency (NIA).  He had since disappeared, and presumed killed by agents of the Jammeh regime.  The case was taken up by the ECOWAS Court that eventually decided that the reporter's family should be compensated the sum of US$25,000. Jammeh has refused to implement the order of the Court.

A second case involving yet another reported named Musa Saidy-Khan who was also tortured while in custody.  He escaped and sued the Jammeh regime.  The ECOWAS Court decided in the reporter's favor and order he be compensated US$25,000.  Again, Jammeh refused to abide by the Court's decision.

During the 2011 presidential elections, ECOWAS was the only external observer that failed to take part in the monitoring of the process by deeming the preparation and the prevailing political environment preceding the vote not to be  considered the reelection of Jammeh not to be free, fair and transparent.

The drama we see unfolding in Yamoussoukro, starting tomorrow morning, is a dictator obsessed with the Chairmanship of ECOWAS, and yet refuses to recognize the legitimacy of one of the organization's constituent organs, the ECOWAS Courts, by ignoring all of the Court's decisions involving cases brought to it by Gambians.

It is also the same ECOWAS that has refused to validate the last reelection of Yaya Jammeh by declaring that the process were not free, fair and transparent thus questioning the legitimacy of the very same Member wishing to be Chairman of the organization.  It is an extremely odd position that both ECOWAS and Jammeh find themselves, each pretending that all's well and that it is business as usual.  All is not well and business is not as usual.  Let's see what tomorrow brings.

Ghana's Mahama, Liberia's Johnson Sirleaf and Gambia's Jammeh in the running for the Chairmanship of ECOWAS

Ouatarra flanked by ECOWAS Commission President and  Compaore
The 44th Summit of ECOWAS opened this morning in the political capital of Cote d'Ivoire of Yamoussoukro chaired by the President of Cote d'Iviore and outgoing Chairman of ECOWAS, Alassane Dramae Ouatarra who has served in that capacity for two consecutive terms.

The Summit will elect a new Chairman tomorrow to close the two-day Summit which is attended by 14 of the 15 Heads of State.  The only one missing is Faure Gnissingbe of Togo.  The reason for his absence was not stated publicly.

Whereas the center of attention is centered on the election of a new Chairman which can be contentious at times because of the likes of Yaya Jammeh, there are very important issues on the agenda.  The crises in both Mali and Guinea-Bissau.

In his opening statement as out-going Chairman referred to the "international respect" gained by ECOWAS and its widely-acclaimed role in successfully managing the crises in Mali which led to the election of Ibrahim Boubacar Keita as its President.  In Guinea-Bissau, "we are", Mr. Ouatarra said, "in the process of re-establishing constitutional order with presidential elections slated to take place in two weeks time."

The Cote d'Ivoire President also highlighted progress made and the main features of the negotiations between the regional organization and the European Union.

Of course, the elections of Ouatarra's successor is a major preoccupation of the delegates at the Summit. A source revealed to us that in addition to Jammeh who has been a perennial candidate for the post, Ghana's Mahama is considered a very strong candidate.  Another name that has surfaced in the corridors of the Summit venue is Liberia's First and Africa's Second Female President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

When her name emerged as a contender, we remarked that Jammeh is toast.  If he had any illusions of being the next Chairman despite the eight reasons we advanced as to why he will never lead ECOWAS, they should have faded some what with these two strong and highly respected Anglophone candidates.

The female candidate is not only qualified in her own right - without reference to her gender - her election to the post would be a fitting tribute to the two-term President of Liberia, an investment banker and former Director of the UNDP's Regional Bureau for Africa.  What a way to cap a carrier of someone who is on her final term as President of a country that is slowly emerging from a civil war had destroyed many lives, ravaged the economic infrastructure and sent hundreds of thousands, if not millions of its citizens into exile.

We hope she's elected the next Chairman of ECOWAS.  Mahama will have his turn, assuming Ghanaians will reelect him their President.  As for Yaya Jammeh, he should take his cue from Ouatarra's opening remarks about the hard-earned "international respect" enjoyed by the regional organization, and refrain from further embarrassing himself by insisting on throwing his hat into the ring, year after year with no success. It doesn't seem that he's good at taking a hint either.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Eight reasons why Jammeh will never chair ECOWAS



Speculation is rife, once again, about the possibility of Yaya Jammeh being elected Chairman of the Economic Community of West African States, commonly referred to by its acronym, ECOWAS - a name attributed to Gambia's own Hon. I.M.Garba-Jahumpa as the originator of the coinage during his tenure as Finance and Trade Minister in 1975.

The fact notwithstanding that a Gambian politician coined the name, here are some of the reasons why Yaya Jammeh will never be elected Chairman of the regional body :

1.  His name : His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhagie Doctor Yahya A .J .J .Jammeh.  No serious person will take a name like that seriously.

2. ECOWAS relies heavily on cooperation partners in the West and we know how Jammeh feels about the neocolonialists Britain, France and imperial America.  He'd prefer collaborating with Hezbollah.

3. Jammeh has never been invited for a State visit to any of the key capitals that is essential to the success of ECOWAS.  He's never been invited by the two previous Prime Ministers of Britain, and the likelihood that PM Cameron will break with tradition is zilch.

4.  If Britain is a no go area, his chances of extracting a State invite from the Elysee Palace is equally unlikely.

5.  President Obama will be last of the important capitals to invite Jammeh.  The American President doesn't think Jammeh is a serious person to be invited as guest of the State, to discuss what? gay and lesbian rights? What about same sex marriage?  Jammeh would rather have the heads of gays and lesbians heads chopped off instead.

6.  The buffoonery associated with the image of Yaya Jammeh is the last of the distractions that ECOWAS needs to be taken seriously.  Jammeh is capable of burning all the bridges built, and good works by ECOWAS since 1975 in a single term.  A Head of State once cited this as one of the reasons he will oppose to Jammeh's candidature as long as he was President.  He's no longer the Head of State but his successor is equally allergic to Jammeh.

7.  Without these capitals, and the United Nations, which is also within the sphere of influence of the the West, ECOWAS will be starved of resource, both financial, intellectual and otherwise to proceed successfully with its ambitious program in the areas of economics, finance, trade, security and general governance matters.

8.  As if all of the above are not enough barriers to Jammeh's Chairmanship of ECOWAS, try Presidents Alassane Dramane Ouatarra and Goodluck Jonathan of Cote d'Ivoire and Nigeria respectively, both of whom are no fans of Jammeh.

This speculation should therefore be put to rest as long as the above roadblocks hold, and there is not one single reason to think otherwise.

The saga of the 'floating coffins' continues

The Gambia Ports Authority (GPA) is assuring a despondent population and daily users of the ferry service that one (Johe) of the two rickety ferries dubbed "the floating coffins" is under repairs.  The second ferry "Kanilai" is also not in service, effectively isolating the northern half of the country from the southern portion. The economic impact of such an isolation is significant enough to warrant a study to assess the economic impact of such an isolation as a result of incompetence and high level corruption within the Jammeh regime.

Before the diplomatic break-up between Banjul and Taipei, the government of Taiwan announced through it Ambassador in Banjul that it is providing four new'Man" engines and propulsion and steering systems for the "Kanilai".  Gambians were told that these parts were for "Johe" and "Kanilai".  It was revealed during the presentation that similar number of engines (this time "Caterpillar" engines) were already delivered to the GPA for "Johe".   This was November 2013, a couple of weeks before the abrupt decision of the Jammeh regime to severe diplomatic ties with Taiwan.

During the presentation by the then Taiwanese Ambassador Samuel Chen disclosed that the funding of the four ferries amounts to US$1,625,384.80.  The Ambassador revealed that half of this amount was advanced to the Jammeh regime back in December of 2012.   He proceeded to hand over a check in the amount of US$728,153.92 which he said represented the second payment of 40% "of the four engines project" with the promise that the final payment of 10% will be paid after delivery of all four engines and their subsequent installation.  The check was handed over to the then Secretary to Cabinet one Noah Touray.  It is not certain that the 10% was ever paid since the diplomatic relations was severed soon after the presentation of the check.

The fate of the project is unknown following the diplomatic fall-out between the two former friends.  What is evident is that the repairs of these decrepit ferries have taken longer than necessary.  This is not the time time the public is being assured that repair works are underway.  A similar announcement was made back in December when services halted for several days.  Gambians are being assured again that repair works on "Johe" has started in earnest and when completed the General manager of the Ferry Services, Nuha Gassama, assures Gambians that the Banjul - Barra crossing "will not exceed 30 minutes" compared to the current 4 hours.  

Gambians have suffered, especially those who live on the North Bank and work in Banjul.  The general travelling public, including government officials who must travel the length and breath of the country are equally constrained by the lack of regular ferry service who are forced to venture to travel in very unsafe fishing canoes daily.

A government that cannot manage a regular ferry service between a 7 nautical mile stretch across the mouth of the River Gambia should hardly be expected to manage the lives of 1.7 million Gambians with any degree of success.  This explains the misery Gambians face as they go on about their daily lives in an environment of corruption and incompetence.

We are again encouraging the Taiwanese government to collaborate with Gambian civic organizations who are very much interested in accounting for the loans and grants contracted by Yaya Jammeh in the name of the Gambian people.  Let us start with The office of the President and the GPA's "four engines project." Gambians would like to know.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The BULLDOZER : Jammeh's weapon of choice

The bulldozer is associated with progress,with a society on the move, building infrastructure for present and future generations.  It is generally true that wherever you find a Caterpillar, John Deere or heavy equipment dealership or agents, there you will find a massive development projects in progress.

The above was true then until recent developments in that tiny sliver of a country called The Gambia that the image of the bulldozer or earth mover takes on a different meaning.  The Gambian dictator has found a more sinister use of this noble equipment of progress.

Jammeh has been using the equipment to bulldoze retirement homes of Gambian expatriates who've worked their entire lives outside the Gambia, saved their money and use their retirement benefits to build their dream retirement homes, only to see it razed to the ground because Jammeh claim ownership.  He doesn't have to give reason nor proof of ownership.  It is his word against yours.

Houses of Gambians with limited means but have worked abroad in the tomato fields of Spain to save enough to build houses in their homeland only to forfeit it to Yaya Jammeh.

Jammeh has bulldozed the retirement homes of European expatriates and other nationalities because he claims to own the land the houses once stood, and Gambians keep wondering why there are no foreign investors.  No investment is safe in The Gambia because of a single person named Yaya Jammeh whose appetite for corruption has reached legendary proportions.

In his quest to continue to terrorize ordinary Gambians, Jammeh unleashed the bulldozers on women who eke a living in selling tourist souvenir to put food on the table and educate their kids.  These hard-working women were accused of evading income tax, a claim that was proven to be incorrect.  They have been paying rent and license to the state.  Yet they were almost victims of the bulldozers that were at the ready to bring down their stalls.

THE BULLDOZER, the new weapon of choice of Yaya Jammeh, the dictator of that tiny sliver of a country named The Gambia.

What we have in Banjul, is a sick regime that must be removed at the earliest.  Jammeh must be uprooted.

Banjul Tourist Market : Round One goes to the women

These women work harder than those Gambia Revenue Agency (GRA) agents.  These women are, certainly, more honest than those very same agents who use bulldozers as weapons to intimate ordinary law-abiding citizens, women, no less.

The bulldozer has become a weapon of choice of this regime.  It is from these small stalls that they make an honest living, put food on the table and provide education for their children. Yet, they have become the soft target of a regime ravaged by corruption and incompetence that has resulted in government bankruptcy.  A regime that will stop at nothing to extort from unsuspecting and hard-working citizens.  These gestapo-styled tactics must stop.

Yesterday, we reported on the horrifying incident when agents of the regime stormed the Banjul Tourist Market and threaten to bring down stalls for non-payment of income tax, covering the period 201- -2013. This allegation was disputed by the women who claimed to have paid all of their obligations to the state, in the form of license fees and rent.  They claim to have been making payments to the Gambia Tourism Board (GTB).  At no time were they assessed for income tax.

The stall owners were taken to HOLGAM facilities in Kanifing to be interrogated about the incident and also the claims that they owe income tax which they were asked to pay immediately or have their stall bulldozed.

When they arrived at HOLGAM, their cell phones were taken away from them.  You can tell, this is a very insecure regime.  Why take away their cell phones?  The phones were returned to them to place calls to family to post bail on their behalf but not before the Minister warned the agents  against the use bulldozers.  It was not clear whether the Minister in question was Finance or Tourism who took the decision.  The same Minister also instructed the agents not to proceed to the other Tourist Markets in the Greater Banjul Area, according to our sources.

Despite all the apparent concessions from the side of the regime to the stall owners, they were still assessed D 3,500 each, the basis of which is nebulous and arbitrary at best.  They could not have determined the annual turn-over of these women to base their assessment.

All the same, realizing the explosive nature of this and similar incidences of the past, further concessions were made to the stall owners by suggesting that their Market Committee will represent the entire group instead of requiring the entire group to be present in negotiating terms and conditions of the payment of the D 3,500.

This regime failed to realize the anger and frustration that have been building over the 20-year dictatorship.  It will take just a spark to get the entire population rise up against a tyrannical, corrupt and incompetent regime. People are tired, and we believe the Minister who stepped in to step on the fuse realizes that to allow the problem to fester will result in bigger problems for this regime.

We will continue to follow developments in this and other cases.   

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

All's not well at the APRC: A civil war in the offing ?

Banjul's Mayor Lie Bah
The selection of Mayor Lie Bah as a delegate to the APRC Congress, scheduled to have taken place from March 21-23 2014 is causing a near open revolt within the rank and file of the ruling party.

Originally, the Congress was to have been fully financed by Yaya Jammeh.  He later decided to solicit the contributions of private businesses.  When the contributions were not forthcoming, he decided to look for other means of financing the Congress now that all private sector options have failed.  It now appears that government will end up footing the bill through Social Security and Gamtel/Gamcell.  It is no coincidence that the Gambia Revenue Authority (GRA) has stepped up its tax collection operations, using extreme measures to meet its collection targets.

However, as an observer opined recently in what he referred to as the post-Boubu Na Tchuto era. the cash-strapped Jammeh has curtailed his extravagant life-style, and it appears the APRC Congress is a casualty. The party extravaganza without an official announcement and no new dates.   The size of the delegates have been reduced from 5,000 to 1,000 delegates thus leaving a lot of the grassroots out in the cold.

The Banjul Mayor who won elections under the Independent banner has, as since his election as Banjul's CEO, successfully maneuvered his way back into acceptability within the high echelon of the party. Or so he thinks.  The party base in Banjul and the Greater Banjul Area seem to have a different agenda - to get rid of Lie Bah whom they see as an opportunists.  The disgruntled APRC supporters who turned against their party in favor of the Independent Lie Bah are equally determined to make his political life miserable.  He's getting it from both ends of the political spectrum.

The Indepenedence day celebration speech, written by the Secretary General, and delivered at moments notice as by 'The Lord Mayor of Banjul' was, according to a source, the "opening salvo of an outright war" against what whom they see as an opportunist.  The fact that Lie Bah stumbled over the speech in an embarrassing fashion was gleefully greeted by the grassroots as further sign of his unfitness to be Mayor of the capital city.

Lie Bah's apparent rapprochement with Jammeh, and the blanket amnesty or pardon extended to all Independent candidates who ran against the official candidates of the APRC seem to have renewed his confidence and strengthened his courage to pointedly criticize the GRA and blamed it for the city's eroding revenue base.  This is a calculated move on his part because he is counting of Jammeh's support, a support that will not come because the GRA is the new tool in the armory of the dictator - it performs the dual role of collecting the much-needed revenue and doing do using intimidation to keep the populace in check.

KMC's Mayor Yankuba Colley


Supporters, as well as opponents of the Mayor did not lose sight of the fact that he accepted the pardon extended my Jammeh, and in doing so he was admitting that he was a member of the APRC, a membership he's denied in the past.  The new partnership between Jammeh and Bah is seen by the rank and file as one of convenience at their expense.  Breaking up the marriage appears to be the intent of those we were able to talk to.  One of these disgruntled grassroots operators promised to "strike back' without elaborating further.

The publication of this piece was delayed, in part, because we were waiting for the other shoe to drop.  It did drop with the publication of Mayor of KMC's interview complaining about the same GRA and Gambia Tourism Board (GBA), as the Mayor of Banjul.  He is also accusing the two agencies of usurpation of powers vested in the Banjul City Council, the KMC and other Area Councils by the Local Government Act.

These two Mayors have committed grave errors in criticizing the GRA, a creation of Yaya Jammeh to bloster a sagging revenue base for both the government and for Jammeh's pockets.  never mind that revenue collection has increased but at great expense to business expansion.  In fact, the gestapo-style tactics employed as the one we saw against the women at the Tourist Market has succeeded in driving  many businesses into bankruptcy.  Others have fled to neighboring countries.

True to form, as this blog post was being written, the GRA was busy threatening threaten to bulldoze stalls at the Tourist Market in Banjul.  Going after these women with bulldozers is not only draconian; it is insanity.

Now that the two Mayors are on record criticizing the GRA, they have landed themselves in trouble with the dictator, opening the likelihood that both being sacked through a vote of no confidence by their respective APRC-dominated Councils.  Knives have already been drawn by the grassroots.

Banjul Tourist Market threatened with bulldozers - DEVELOPING

As we write this piece, there's a source on the phone reporting that agents of the regime are at the ready, armed with bulldozers, threatening to bring down tourists stalls of hard-working Gambian women at the Banjul Tourist Market.

The reason advanced by these agents, who appear to be from the Gambia Revenue Agency (GRA), was that these hard-working women, and some men, who eke out a living in these difficult and lean years, have outstanding tax arrears.  It is a claim that these women have disputed.

The stall-keepers were confronted by GRA agents who claim outstanding tax arrears covering the period 2011 - 2013.  According to the tourist market women, they have been paying rent and license fees to the Gambia Tourist Board (GTB) in accordance with current law.

The stall-keepers refuse to pay any income tax because they've not been officially assessed by the competent authorities and they have never been notified of owing income tax.

As at this moment, the women and the agents in tow, are on their way to the GRA and/or GTB offices to verify the claims.  This problem is the flip side of the "double taxation" problem that Lie Bah, Mayor of Banjul and yankuba Kolley, Mayor of Kanifing complained about which will land both in trouble soon.

Gambians have come to dread the GRA as the National Intelligence Agency (NIA).  Within its short history, the GRA has developed a terrible reputation of using gestapo-style tactics that resembles the NIA.  In face, the GRA is now to business and economic development and the NIA is to human rights.

These two agencies have become synonymous with repression of the human rights and the free enterprise kind with both succeeding in driving the best people Gambia has on offer and investors (both foreign and domestic) out of the Gambia and out of business.  Both of these agencies should be dismantled at the first opportunity in a new political dispensation.


Monday, March 24, 2014

BREAKING: All's not well at the APRC

The newly anointed APRC Secretary General in olive green
There are rumblings within the ruling APRC. Details will follow.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Internet censorship costing service providers

"Our revenue losses are great and will get greater" says an internet service provider in response to a question we posed to him this evening via VONAGE.

During our interview with a senior official of one of the biggest internet companies in The Gambia, a desperate and disgruntled sounding businessman warned that if the "current system" is maintained for any extended period of time, "I venture to say" the official opined, "it will have a devastating effect on many of us".  When asked what he meant by "us", he responded by saying he was referring to "all internet companies without exception" by further stating emphatically that there is not a single internet company that can withstand the precipitous drop in revenue that they have experienced in the past week of service suspension and constant interruption since service resumed.

Equipment damage is a major concern to service providers which will have long-term and long-lasting impact on future service delivery and their bottom line.  It is, therefore, imperative that the regime restores service immediately so that customer confidence can be restored.  Otherwise, an irreparable harm will be inflicted in a young and important industry in the economic development of The Gambia.  

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Internet, VIBER blockages : MORE TIPS


                     

                       MORE SOFTWARE-BASED VoIP SERVICES AND APPLICATIONS


Gambians continue to experience intermittent  internet service and other connectivity issues this morning after 48 hours without internet service.  As we wrote last night, the interruptions were self-induced, as a desperate regime tries to deny access to information to Gambians.

Internet censorship is the last resort of a regime that promised " transparency, accountability and probity" when it illegally seized power from a legally elected government some twenty years ago.  The regime have tried blocking some of the most popular of the software-based VoIP services and applications such as SKYPE and VIBER with limited success, and at great cost, materially, to all  government and private sector internet service providers.

Their list continues to grow as more apps are being discovered by a population hungry for information that is not propaganda from a failed regime.

The interruptions to the services you are experiencing late last night and this morning are due more to equipment failure than to the success of the regime to block these software-based VoIP services and applications.  But all the same, we have additional VoIPs for you.  Pass it on.

Here are a few more softwares that your loved ones and you can download for free to have free access to these VoIP services.

GIZMO - launched by SIPPone.com is more or less like SKYPE with both a softphone and service

VoIPStunt  - is similar to Skype and Gizmo with the difference of offering free calls.  Its rates are quite low and another competitor to Skype.  The application can be downloaded free at www.VoIPStunt.com

YEIGO   -  This is what most consider to be the best VoIP service for mobile phones thus far.  Read more about it at : http://voip.about.com/od/voipsoftware/p/Yeigo.htm

PeerMe - is a service that offers classic free calls.  Check it out at www.peerme.com

In addition to the above there are countless others like Fring, iChat, Jajah, iCall, X-Lite..and the list goes on.

For a more comprehensive list and detailed descriptions of each of the above and more, go to :http://voip.about.com/od/voipsoftware/a/SoftphoneList.htm

Together, we will defeat dictatorship in all its forms in The Gambia

Friday, March 21, 2014

Gambia without internet service for 48 hours

Attempts by the embattled regime of Yaya Jammeh to block Gambians access to the internet has begun to seriously impact the bottom line of private internet providers, as well as the government-owned Gamtel and Gamcell.

Gambia has been without internet connection for almost 48 hours, and it was not until an hour ago that service resumed for many Gambian customers.

The reason for the interruption has been, as we warned recently, the servers at both Abuko and State House have developed problems because of the excessive load placed on them to block Viber and other VoIP internet-based messaging and phone services.

The blocking of these services is taking a toll on the telecommunications equipment resulting in widespread service interruptions.  These two factors have started to be a very expensive financial proposition due to the paranoid reaction of the dictatorship resulting from an increasing public awareness of a repressive and corrupt government.

As we have indicated before, the Gateway is a U.N facility which cannot be interfered with by the Jammeh regime.  From the Gateway in the Brufut/Sukuta junction, the fiber cables run to the 'traffic lights', down Pipeline to the Serekunda Exchange where the television studios of GRTS used to be located.  CCTVs are located all around that particular junction because of this Exchange.  From here, cables are run to Abuko station and to facilities State House under the direct control of the dictator.  All of the private internet providers like Netpage, QCell and AfriCell are served from the Serekunda Exchange.

Public perception of a regime that is openly hostile toward the internet and related services has begun to have a direct bearing on Gamtel and Gamcell - the two Government-owned communication companies.  Because they are seen as government, and more likely to easily give in to government pressure to act as government spy agents, the private carriers stand to benefit as more customers shift private companies - a shift that is likely to be more permanent than the regime would like because of the increasing distrust (some would say dislike) of the private operators of the regime.  Of course, the private sector operators are equally susceptible to government pressure but insiders say the public tend to give these category of companies the benefit of the doubt which, in turn, translate into more customers.  Another unintended consequence of a censorship program destined to fail.  

The situation as it stands this evening as follows:  internet services have been restored, and we were able to send and receive messages using FreePP.  We have also registered two missed calls from the same app. suggesting that the regime is still unsuccessful in fully blocking access.  What they have been successful in accomplishing, however, is a damage to equipment, service interruption lasting almost two days and a heavy cost to internet service providers, especially the government-owned Gamtel and Gamcell.

Meanwhile, we will continue to provide the readership with tips and more apps to circumvent the futile attempt by a despotic regime to deny access to information to its citizens.  As we have suggested in our Facebook page, when the regime is in a permanent state of defense, they are losing the game.



 

VAT is still a sham

The regime's mouthpiece is out trumpeting, what it claims to be, at the minimum, a tacit endorsement of Jammeh's disastrous value added tax (VAT) by the International Monetary Fund's local representative, Mr. Gaston K. Mpatswe.

The euphoria in Banjul hinges on the observation by the Fund's representative, and reported by the Daily Observer that the new tax reform "has the potential to create greater revenue."

A regime that is on the ropes or, more appropriately, drowning in its own bad policy choices will clutch onto anything, including straws.   Of course, the VAT has the potential to create greater revenue but so does any other form of taxation.  That's what taxes are for and designed to do -  raise revenue for government.  The VAT has the potential of raising revenue but so does income, sales and other category of taxes.

The 'fairness' of each of these various forms is usually measured by its progressivity (income tax) or its regressivity (sales tax).  Our criticism of the VAT was not based on its appropriateness even though we could made strong argument for deferral. But because VAT was a component part of ECOWAS's regional effort to harmonize regional member's trade policies, we opted for critically looking at its implementation.

Everyone will agree that the introduction of the VAT was disastrous.  The Gambia Revenue Agency (GRA), charged with the administration of the VAT was woefully unprepared.  It turned out that they had no clue about the new tax, and they lacked implementation strategy.  Gambians were told that the VAT is replacement of the sales tax.

We noted six months into implementation that the 15% sales tax is still being charged in addition to the 15% VAT.  This claim was disputed by government - a government whose credibility is zero.  This is a government that deliberately lies to the very people it's supposed to serve.

When we checked again, indeed the sales tax is still being charged.  The VAT is supposed to be a one-time charge as point of entry but we have shown, time after time, that multiple charges are been leveled at each transaction point down to the tomato woman at the Serrekunda Market.

We encourage Mr. Mpatswe to go and tell those market women that VAT did not add to the increases in local food prices.  Urban dwellers are starving in The Gambia and people are dying of malnutrition.  As for rural folk, they are being stiffed at both ends, including the raw deal they are getting from GGC for not offering them fair prices for their groundnuts.  To add insult to injury, GGC buys some of these nuts on credit.  The claim that VAT has contributed to the recent spike in prices cannot be dismissed simply by brushing it off.  The IMF chief in Banjul must do better to convince us otherwise.

One last observation, tangentially related to the subject, on Gambia being a hub for international trade. Banjul had enjoyed this status since the mid 1980's, particularly after the Economic Recovery Program (ERP).  The comparative advantage (shorter turn around times, lower custom tariffs etc.) that the Banjul Port had over Port Automone de Dakar was squandered by the present regime because of high level corruption and incompetence - a combo that proved deadly for a once thriving cross-border (re-export) trade which would have formed the solid foundation for Banjul to be the regional hub for international trade.  These corrupt and incompetent soldiers are harming Gambia and they MUST GO.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Zeinab The Mule

We are certainly not referring her as a cross between a male donkey and a female horse which is what a mule is.  We are, instead, using the term as used in the drug trade as someone who is used to smuggle something illicit across borders.

In the case of Zeinab Jammeh, she has been the carrier of Jammeh's loot to safety abroad, a role she's perfectly suited for.  She's non-Gambian, never mingles with Gambians and the few who know her say she despises Gambians.  She doesn't speak any of the local languages and doesn't care to learn during her 15 plus years of marrying to the Gambian dictator.

Unlike many First Ladies, this woman  is not involved in any known national or continental cause, except setting up a prize for the first baby born in the New Year. Although the prize bears her name, she is hardly around to present the prize herself.  Her interests lie elsewhere; say in Rabat, Paris, Washington, Guinea-Conakry, Nairobi and Casablanca.  Morocco and Guinea, the preferred African destinations to stash Gambia's meager resources because she's of Moroccan-Guinean extraction.  She owns and runs a shopping mall in her native Morocco, apartment and commercial buildings in Conakry and a $3.5 million mansion in Potomac, Maryland.

It is alleged that she's also CEO of a charter airline operation based in Nairobi.  Little else is known at this stage of our inquiries. This is how close we've come to explaining the three to four jets parked at Banjul International Airport.  The probe continues.

However as the international noose begins to tighten around her husband's neck, The Mule, has switched gears.  Her twice a month visits to Washington DC have been curtailed significantly.  She has not been seen in the area in two months, which must be a record.  The tracking of her movements in and out of Washington DC has been excellently handled by a local group of dissidents based in the American capital called Democratic Union of Gambian Dissidents or DUGA which in the Wollof language, and  for the benefit of our non-Wollof speakers including Zeinab Jammeh, means "to enter."   DUGA seems to specialize in haranguing the Jammeh family.  It was the same group that held the dictator in a mid-Manhattan hotel for several days resulting in him missing most of his U.N. General Assembly engagements last year.

With all the problems Zeinab and her husband face in Washington, Paris now seems to be the preferred destination of the Jammeh's, where we are told, they have bought another mansion.  The French capital is also where Jammeh receives his medical treatment, with Washington still the place where the Jammehs take their two kids for medical treatment, including regular immunizations shots.  Us natives, we have the Francis Small Teaching Hospital all to ourselves with the empty medical cabinets to go with it.  All this from a guy who staged a military coup d'etat because the former President took commercial flights to London on official missions and holidays, considered extravagant but sees nothing now with owning 4 jet aircrafts, all privately-owned but state maintained and operated.  We've asked the regime on numerous occasions as to why Jammeh and his wife are sticking us with the bill,  We have yet to receive a response.

The day of reckoning is not far when Gambians will demand an accounting of all of our limited resources shamelessly being smuggled out by Zeinab The Mule to Morocco, Guinea-Conakry, France and the United States.
-------------------------------

Note:  I have tried to stick with what we refer to in the vernacular as "ndeyi mbilami" but I have to get this off my chest.  This lady, apart from Isatou-Njie Saidy, is the worst to have happened to the Gambia after Yaya Jammeh. Now that I have said what I wanted to say about her for the longest, I am back to, you know who.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Petrol tanker movement in and out of Banjul Port.

In an earlier blog, we reported that there is currently a vessel at the Banjul Port ready for discharge of much needed fuel for The Gambia - a commodity that is currently in short supply.

We also reported that the supplier is demanding foreign exchange, the international currency of transaction, from the importer, Gam-Petroleum, which is the monopoly created by Yaya Jammeh and his Lebanese and Hezbollah affiliates.

The initial blog report triggered swift response from the blog's followers with deep knowledge of the petroleum industry and maritime-related issues and based in Europe who provided us with the official vessel movements.

Based on this valuable piece of information, it appears that there is no petroleum-carrying vessel at the Banjul Port.  At least there's no tanker that fits the description or name of vessel listed on the schedule of movements of vessels in and around Banjul Port.

Vessel : "Lubersac" IMO: 9515981, is the next vessel scheduled to arrive at the Banjul Port on Sunday, 23 March at 12:00.  

Vessel: "Cielo di Milano" IMO: 9241815 is a chemical tanker with current position in Dover Strait.

The last tanker to call at the Banjul Port was vessel:  "Conti Benguela"  IMO: 9391373 which is a combined chemical and oil tanker that arrived February 25 and sailed February 26.

It is still conceivable that another vessel may have changed course and was diverted to Banjul.  But we are told that this scenario is highly unlikely since such changes in movements are reflected, almost instantaneously, in schedule of movement of vessels. as we one reported here.

We leave the rest to our readers, especially those in Banjul who are intimately involved in petroleum business and/or in the retailing of petroleum products.

The situation clearly is dire and the blame rests entirely on the shoulders of Yaya Jammeh and his incompetent and corrupt regime.


Petrol shortage continues to plague The Gambia

The petrol shortage that has hit The Gambia in the last couple of days has actually been in the making for a very long time.  What Gambians don't know is that there has been rationing of petrol in The Gambia for the past one month.

Gampetrol, the sole importer of petroleum products in the Gambia, has been supplying 20,000 liters per fuel company, alternatively, for the past one month.  In other words, Total Oil will receive 20,000 liters today, the next day Jah Oil, Elton, Galp and so on. This gave Gampetrol's Mr. Waidat cover to deny that there was any shortage of petrol in The Gambia when The Standard newspaper asked him few days ago about the problem.

Faced with a highly combustible situation, both literally and figuratively speaking, Gampetrol was busy pumping the last drops or what is known in the trade as 'dead stock' which is dirty fuel that 'kills' engines. Gambia is thus currently running literally on fumes until the next consignment of fuel is due in Banjul port.

Although there are reports that a vessel has arrived, it is not yet clear that any discharge will take place anytime soon.  Reports have it that the importer lacks the foreign exchange needed to have the petrol off-loaded.  We have officials on the ground who are in the position to know to provide us with up-dates.

 When Yaya Jammeh seized power, he found in place a system of procurement that encouraged cooperation and competition between the then major players - Shell, BP, Amdalaye Trading and Elf.  Shell being the biggest was the primary importer but others were encouraged to import, through the Balance of Payment Support Program of the European Union.  Shell always provided storage at its Half-Die facility.  This was the system in place after the ERP to address the endemic problem which plagued The Gambia then. 

Jammeh dismantled the system and created Gampetrol.  He then decreed the company monopoly right to import petroleum products.  Until and unless this unfair business practice is abandoned in favor of an open market system whereby anyone with the means can import, this problem will continue to plague The Gambia which, in turn, will continue to impede economic growth and development. 

Meanwhile, we will monitor the situation to see if Gampetroleum will come up with the necessary foreign exchange needed for discharge to take place.  If Mr, Bazzi cannot come up with it, no delivery will take place and the ship will continue on its Atlantic journey.  

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The deplorable state of the Embassy in Washington

Gambian Embassy in Washington, contrary to public perception, is as neglected as Gambian Embassies elsewhere.  Because it is Washington, one would expect that the creme of the creme of Gambian diplomacy, like any country that maintains an Embassy in the U.S. capital, would form the staff.  Unfortunately, this is not the case. Instead, the Embassy is without an Ambassador since the previous holder, Alieu Ngum, left on secondment to join the African Development Bank as Executive Director, representing the constituency that comprises of Gambia, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Sudan.


Although a replacement was found in Ambassador Momodou Badgie who is currently serving in Mauritania, the U.S. State Department apparently turn down Jammeh's preferred candidate.  Perhaps, the Americans have had enough of these half-baked folks Gambia insists on sending to one of the most coveted diplomatic postings in the world.

The acting Ambassador Mr. B.H.M.Jallow has been "recalled for consultations", according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' letter to him.  He's left behind his entire family, and given the history of a regime that is in the habit of letting his diplomatic linger in Banjul for months, there's no indication how long the Embassy will be without a regular diplomatic staff.

This brings us to a troubling and ghastly affair of another staff member who is currently at a Washington hospital with a terminal diseases.  He's HIV positive.  He has liver cancer.  He's contracted tuberculous, and has been freely roaming the streets of Washington and the corridors of his office with a highly contagious health condition. This same staff had been at Gambia's diplomatic mission in Cuba for over 10 years and had not bothered to seek treatment.  The troubling aspect of this case epitomizes the carelessness and irresponsibility of Yaya Jammeh and members of his regime.  How many members of the public has this person come in contact with, intimately or otherwise.  What of his wife and three kids?  What's Jammeh reaction to all this - recall the fellow who is on his death bed with multiple terminal ailments.  Where's Jammeh's empathy for his fellow Gambian.

The severe budgetary problems resulting from high level corruption have resulted in under-staffing of all of the Embassies.  Most of these are Embassies are in name only, because they lack the basic elements that makes it a functioning entity.  Jammeh has successfully drained The Gambia of the best the civil service has on offer.  What he's left with are those who have limited options, and must, thus, stay to face the music by tolerating the nonsense that's going on in Banjul.

Finally, since this is about Washington DC, and also since its been two months that Zainab Jammeh last visited the Nation's capital, we wondered why.   Apparently, the American authorities have been extending and expending a disproportionate amount of resources on one single lady who seem to have no other reason to visit Washington but to shop.  Diplomatic courtesies have been severely curtailed which may have had the desired effect.  We hope she stays away, and limits her travel to save scare Gambian resouces in the interest of the Gambian people.

Unintended consequences of trying to block VIBER


FREE MESSAGING AND INTERNET CALLING APPS TO EVADE  CENSORSHIP POLICE
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We reported earlier in the month about attempts by the Jammeh regime to block access to Viber, the free messaging and internet calling app.  The growing popularity of these internet-based communication facilities is the dictator's nightmare.  Just ask Yaya Jammeh, the Gambian dictator.

In his attempt to block Viber, Gambians were directed to download VPN or virtual personal network which allows the user to be assigned a random IP address which changes every time a call is made using Viber.  It is a pleasure to report that Gambians can  now access their favorite online newspapers like Freedom, Hello Gambia, Gainako, Gambia Echo, Maafanta, Senegambianews, Kibaaro and Kairo and make phone calls abroad without any problems.

In addition to VPN, there are similar applications which provides additional ammunition to Gambians to evade attempts to block access to their favorite sites or prevent them from placing calls to loved-ones and friends abroad.

In the government's futile attempt at blocking internet access, they have succeeded in opening up other avenues for Gambians to access the internet. LINE.COM, TALK.COM, ICQ.COM and FREEPP.COM are a few of the new apps that can be used to evade the Gambian internet police.

Governments attempt at policing the internet is a futile exercise.  In its attempt to block access, the servers at Abuko Stations and at State House are both slowing down because of the addition functions they have to perform.  It is also proving to be costly because of the additional performance the servers are expected to perform, using capacity that would have otherwise been made available to the other telecommunications company.

You will recall that we had warned that the IT 'experts' being used are actually "amateurs who will succeed in damaging their servers."  It has happened.

Jammeh has also made it difficult to trace hackers to his system because of the increasing use of VPN and similar downloads because of its ability to assign random IP address from anywhere in the world, every time a call is made.  For example, the caller/hacker could be in Kanilai, using an assigned IP that's in say New Delhi, while attempting to hack into your system.

It now appears that the only option left with Jammeh is to interfere with the Gateway at Brusubi which is United Nations-funded facility and thus, so far out-of-bounds to the dictator.  We expect the U.N. to stand up to Jammeh in the event he tries to meddle with the Gateway.

The only practical solution, and option available to the regime in Banjul is to allow for an unfettered access to the internet rather than trying to block access.  We hope the regime will heed our advise.