Saturday, October 29, 2016

Random thoughts on certain aspects of the state of Gambian tourism

Tourism has been and continues to be - to some extent - a significant contributor to Gambia's GDP and thus has always played a central role in the country's economic growth and development strategies.

For at least two decades, The Gambia has been the leading tourism destination in the West Africa region by dominating the Scandinavian, UK and German markets prior to expanding to other European markets.  

The steady growth of the industry was made possible because of meticulous, regular and careful planning and the aggressive marketing of the product.  In addition to providing much needed employment to the local population, the sector provided unparalleled investment opportunities for Gambians to participate in and benefit from a growth industry that held great promise.

Government did not only play a catalytic role in attracting foreign investments to develop tourism and the associated infrastructure, it performed its regulatory function, proactively, as a quality control measure.

That was then.  This is now.  In Yaya Jammeh's Gambia, like other aspects of the economy, tourism suffered from inappropriate policies, general lack of transparency and rampant corruption resulting in a precipitous decline in The Gambia as a tourist destination.  Jammeh has become a major player in the economic life of the country by transforming himself from a leader of a country to the premier businessman he's become, distorting the market and thus prices in the process.

In the public sector, he has hijacked the public procurement system by becoming the ultimate arbiter. He invites private investors as sole bidders and proceed to award contracts without competition.  He's known to even influence the award of contracts on externally-finance projects of the World Bank, African Development Bank and the Islamic Development Bank to name a few.  

Quasi-government institutions are forced to award contracts, invest in dubious and financially unsustainable business propositions as well as forcing institutions such as the Social Security and Housing Finance Corporation (SSHFC) into divesting under the most disadvantageous of circumstances to the public interest.
Sunbeach Hotel

The use of public funds (which probably included workers contributions toward their pension) in the volatile and seasonal nature of the hotel industry,  For example, SSHFC was forced by Jammeh to buy Amie's Beach Hotel, renamed Ocean Bay Hotel with Jammeh reportedly owning equity shares.

We've come to learn that the  Swiss-Gambian-Romanian businessman, Nicholae Bogdan Buzaianu has leased the hotel from SSHFC for 10 years and he has bought nearby Sunbeach (formerly Sunwing) Hotel. We are still investigating the details of both deals.

It must be noted that Gambian hotel workers with several years service and who have been contributing towards their retirement were forced to forfeit future benefits when these hotels changed hands.

The tourism landscape has also been dramatically impacted by 22 years of dictatorship.  The increasing  militarization of the tourism development areas, particularly the beaches and the immediate hotel perimeters in the name of security has turned off a great many tourists and has caused discomfort.  Many tourists have complained about the increasing presence of soldiers in tourist areas that gives the feeling of an occupied city. The ever present present AK-47-toting soldiers on patrol and the numerous checkpoints they are subjected to, and harassed in the process reinforces this feeling.

The state of Gambian tourism is not encouraging.  The number of first time visitors has been going down while repeat visitors have slowed to a trickle for the reasons outlined above. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

How WestWood Company Ltd. and Yaya Jammeh collude to defraud the Gambian people - Part II

Senegalese timber destined for Gambia for re-export to China
The Gambia, the smallest country in continental Africa with only 4,000 hectares of forest, is the second biggest exporter of redwood to China behind Nigeria, according to El Ali Haida a former environment minister in the Senegalese government of Macky Sall.

According to Mr. Haida, almost all of Gambia's redwood exports originated from the southern Casamance region of Senegal where 10,000 hectares or over one million trees illegally felled and smuggled into the Gambia.  It is estimated that The Gambia has earned US $ 238.5 million since 2010.

It was not until the rate of exploitation of the forest products reached unsustainable levels that threatened to turn the lush forest cover of the Casamance into another arid desolate land like northern Senegal that the government decided to take action to disrupt the illegal trade and break up the cartel, Of course, local Senegalese actors had to be accomplishes in the illegal trade to make such a huge operation possible.  In June this year, the Senegalese Armed Forces minister who was accompanied by the Interior and Environment ministers toured the region - the extent of the indiscriminate exploitation of the forest cover by traffickers was "scary and devastating" and, according to him the illegal logging was " destroying the future and the Senegalese economy and that is unacceptable."

Meanwhile, on the other side of the border,  the Gambian leader, who is the principal actor and beneficiary of the redwood export trade reacted by announcing a ban on 'importing' timber  an announcement seen by many as a ploy to quiet down critics of the regime, environmentalists and the Senegalese government.  The illegal logging activities are expected to resume once Jammeh ensures his re-election to a 5th term in December and public attention is redirected elsewhere.

WestWood Company Ltd. which started operations about three years ago is owned by Nicholae Bogdan Buzaianu whom we featured in a blog post that we can find here.  The company's offices are located in a hotel (Ocean Bay Hotel) bought by Social Security and Housing Finance Corporation (SSHFC) a government agency that used public funds but offered the Gambian dictator an equity stake in the hotel the size of which still remains a mystery,

The day-to-day operations of WestWood Company Ltd. rests with Buzaianu's son, Dragos Buzaianu who is based in the Gambia while the elder Buzaianu shuttle between his base in Europe and Banjul where he, reportedly visits periodically in a private jet to transport cash out of the country.  Dragos is assisted by Romanian and French nationals in the export of redwood timber illegally logged from Senegal.

WestWood, like many companies of its kind, does all of its transactions in cash and specifically in US dollars. It enjoys concessions offered by the Gambian dictator among which is the sole legal entity allowed to export timber products, mainly to China with Chinese and Gambian intermediaries acting as middlemen. The monopoly status of WestWood, coupled with being in business with Yaya Jammeh affords it the luxury of being highly influential and thus dictating the terms of its business transactions which are unusually at the expense of the treasury and the public interest.

According to Customs records, 10,000 containers of redwood have been exported by WestWood at US $3,000 per container per exporter netted the company $30 million.  In addition to the $ 3,000, Westwood  collects D 2,800 (approx. $ 60.00) per container as custom duty but surrenders only D 1,000 ( approx. $20.00) to the Revenue Authority (GRA), it is uncertain who benefits from the $ 40.00 that is withheld from the public revenue authorities.

With the ban on importation of redwood from Senegal that came into effect last month,  the timber export business has come to a screeching halt because all of the redwood was coming from illegal felling of trees  from Senegal, primarily from the Casamance region.  The ban is generally believed to be a stunt by the Gambian dictator and once he get re-elected and attention is focused elsewhere, he will signal the resumption of the illegal trade to, once again, threaten the region's savanna forest.  

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Jammeh bars UN from fielding missions prior to December elections

Jammeh at the United Nations
The Gambian dictator has issued instructions to the country's Independent Electoral Commission and Ministry of Interior officials not to "entertain" any United Nations missions connected with the upcoming elections.

It is unclear whether the directive extends beyond the pre-election to include the December 1st presidential elections monitoring activities of U.N. African Union and ECOWAS among other organizations.

It is being reported that an African Union fact finding mission is experiencing difficulty getting clearance fro the government which is consistent with the information reaching us that Jammeh will not tolerate any contact of government officials, especially members of the IEC and United Nations officials.  The same restriction applies to other continental and regional organizations according to our sources.

To bar the international community from fielding pre-election  missions can only add to the uncertainty surrounding the elections, further affecting the ability to conduct a free and fair elections with less than 40 days to go before the December presidential elections.  


Monday, October 24, 2016

Sweden returns Jammeh's 'Baye Faal' to Spain : A lesson for the regime's collaborators

Exiled former Interior Minister, Ousman Sonko 
When the self-proclaimed "Baye Faal"of Yaya Jammeh (or Jammeh's disciple), Ousman Sonko, decided that he has had enough of the killings and torturing of innocent Gambians that he directed, and may have directly participated in some, he abandoned his post and fled to Senegal.

There, it was reported, the longest-serving Interior Minister spent several days debriefing Senegalese intelligence before he was allowed to proceed to Sweden via Spain - a travel itinerary that will later prove to be a fatal error in an otherwise carefully planned escape.

From Spain he traveled to Sweden where he sought asylum.  According to several reports, including Gainako online radio, the request for asylum by the former Interior Minister was refused consideration by the Swedish authorities by invoking an obscure European Union immigration protocol known as the Dublin Regulation that determines the EU Member responsible to examine asylum applications.

The law has undergone a series of amendments, the last of which was approved and came into force in June of 2013 but retained the essential principle that states that " the Member State of the EU where finger prints are stored or an asylum claim is lodged is responsible for a person's asylum claim."

According to knowledgeable sources, the application or request for asylum by the former Minister was never considered by the Swedish authorities.  Instead, they invoked the Dublin Regulation that gives them the power to return him to his first European port of entry - Spain.

In fact, the visa he entered Sweden was issued not by Sweden but by Spain where, presumably Mr. Sonko's fingerprint and personal details are stored.  The former Minister of the Interior in charge of the immigration portfolio and has collaborated with the E.U on immigration and related matter never bothered to learn about and obviously oblivious of the Dublin Regulation which is proving to be a costly omission.

The rationale for the law is that it attempts at preventing asylum shopping or "orbiting" by asylum seekers who previously would have hopped from one EU country to another in search of a country that would take them in. The law will now prevent Jammeh's "Baye Faal" from travelling to any other E.U Member State in search of an asylum heaven.

His application will now have to be considered by Spain should he decide to proceed with his initial plan to seek asylum.  If he decides otherwise, it goes without saying that his options will be restricted to countries outside the European Union.

The lesson to be learned by the experience of Ousman Sonko, the most powerful person in the A(F)PRC regime outside of Yaya Jammeh, is that sooner or later the law will catch up with you i.e. the close collaborators and the notoriously violent agents of one of Africa's reviled dictatorship who kill and torture defenseless Gambians.

The other half of Gambia's problems

This is the first of a dozen blogs on Gambia's First Lady published in December, 2013.  I am inspired to republish it after Gainako's MamaLinquere program on Zainab Jammeh and Fatou Mass Jobe.

First Ladies, like presidents, come in different shades, sizes and shapes, and most importantly different levels of dedication and commitment to the human condition.  Some countries are luckier than others in their share of First Ladies. There are countries blessed with empathetic ones who's interest is to bring voice to the voiceless, be they the poor, the powerless, the young and defenseless.

In short, First Ladies are usually associated with, and lend their names to, the good works of charities and other non profit organizations that exist to compliment, supplement or fill a need otherwise ignored by government.  Some have been very good at publicizing a cause or a set of causes that would otherwise go unnoticed or continue to rest at the bottom of the list of the national priorities list that society and thus government would otherwise ignore.

Proximity to the single most powerful public official in the country and chief influencer of public policy is the single biggest advantage of First Ladies outside of the obvious fact that they are married ( France is a rare exception ) to the head of state or government.  With the right set of values and interests, First Ladies have been known to influence even world events through their spouses even if they are unelected.

At the top of any First Lady's job description is a definable cause which she's committed to and ready to promote and advocate for.  As the Chief Advocate of a cause, she must also possess some minimum level of communication skills to advocate, publicize, help educate the public and lobby for it.  The First Lady must also be prepared to sell her agenda nationally through the media and by interacting with the citizenry using grassroots organizations.

In developing, as well as developed countries, successful advocacy without employing these methods hardly succeed.  Television extravaganzas alone, including internationally-sanctioned ones Mrs. Jammeh seem to favor, are not enough because television viewing is limited to few urban centers that can boast of few hours of electricity rationing per week.  She must take her message to the people, in the villages, in government and non-governmental agencies, at the State House. Gambia's First Lady is challenged in may of these requirements that makes an effective, supportive and caring First Lady.

Zainab Suma Jammeh is Moroccan.  I am of the personal opinion that nationality of the First Lady should not matter within or without the African context.  What matters, however, is, at least, to have a working knowledge of the official language of the Gambia which is English.  A good or reasonable command of one of the local languages certainly helps.  Mrs. Jammeh is neither fluent in the English language nor does she speak any of the local languages.  She speaks French, and barely.  There lies a major problem.

All of the above deficiencies in her resume as enumerated here would have been been ameliorated, had she shown interest in, and cared about, The Gambia and Gambians. There's no evidence that she has ever retained a Jola or Mandinka or Wolof tutor to help learn the local languages, and neither has she ever been seen or heard in public trying to utter a sentence or two in any of them.  Gambians do feel insulted by it.

This woman has been around almost as long as the Jammeh regime, and yet she is hardly known or seen in The Gambia. The tellers at Bloomingdale's Louis Vuitton store and Nordstrom at Tysons Corner see more of her than the Director of Social Welfare, in charge of children's welfare or the Executive Secretary of the Women's Bureau despite claims that she's interested in the welfare of Gambia's children and women.  Granted, every New Year's she's seen on television awarding a certificate and cash prize to the first baby born on that day sponsored by her "Operation Save a Baby" that she characterized as "a charitable outfit" in a speech purportedly given at the Paris Summit on Peace and Security in Africa.

The truth is Gambia's First Lady has very little interest in and affinity for Gambia or anything Gambian.  Her food is cooked by Moroccans and non-Gambians.  She's driven around Washington and Northern Virginia by Moroccans.  Even her babysitters are imported from the Near or Far East.  All of her business associates are either Moroccans or Lebanese with businesses not in The Gambia but in Rabat, Casablanca, Fez, Conakry, Nairobi and Dubai.

Some of her husband's business associates have been shown to have Hezbollah connections.  She appears to despise anything Gambian and avoids them at all cost. She is hardly in The Gambia.  She's more or less an absentee First Lady.  She shows up, as she did last week at the Peace and Security Summit in Paris, in international gatherings, submits her prepared statement for the record which is then reprinted in the government mouthpiece in Banjul for public consumption before she sets off on her jet-setting ways to the US and the Gulf States.

Instead of Gambia benefiting through her advocacy, it is us Gambians who are subsidizing her extravagant lifestyle.  She has a jet at her disposal to satisfy her appetite for travels to the U.S.  She's in Washington DC every month to shop and for medical treatment for her two children.*  She flies to Rabat and Nairobi to manage an aircraft leasing company whose ownership is still to be confirmed, and when it is confirm will help explain the three planes parked at the Banjul International Airport as hub.  Navy personnel in Banjul have also claimed that some of the patrol boats procured by Taiwan as part of its foreign aid package to Banjul, meant for patrolling Gambian shores have found their way into Moroccan waters and are being operated in private hands.

The Gambia deserves better.  Gambia needs a First Lady who will promote peace, oppose executions including extrajudicial ones, condemn torture and work to stamp out corruption, and not one who is engaged in vanity, conspicuous consumption and in practices unbecoming the First Lady of one of the poorest countries on earth.


* Figures have just been provided on the First lady's travels to Washington DC this year.  She's made 17 trips in all to date with still 3 weeks to go in the year.  In two months this year, she traveled to Washington about thrice in the month with 2 aides and 2 security.  Normally her entourage comprises 17-19 persons.  She travels by private by charter or state-owned jets.          


Jammeh and the IEC do not appear ready for elections

Jammeh and Singhateh, Election Day 2011
Yaya Jammeh who's been known to personally bankroll the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), the body charged with the authority by the Constitution to referee all elections in the Gambia. is reportedly less endowed, financially, during the current presidential and legislative election season to do so.

The traditional donors who played a critical role in past elections, both in supplementing government's financial contribution and well as participating in election monitoring to ensure a level playing field, have been conspicuously low key with a little over a month before the presidential elections scheduled for 1st December.

The silence on the ground has been deafening, as it has been particularly troubling. The United Nations Development Program Representative appears to have been browbeaten into silence by a dictator known to have expelled foreign diplomats.

In 2007, Jammeh expelled the United Nations Development Program's (UNDP) Resident Representative who was also Coordinator of the U.N. Systems in the country for questioning Jammeh's claim of discovering the cure for HIV/AIDS. Three years later, in 2010, the UNICEF Representative was also expelled from the country without the regime providing reason.  Previous to these expulsions, in 2001, the United Kingdom's Deputy High Commissioner was expelled from the country for attending an opposition coalition rally.

With the presidential elections less than 40 days away, the atmosphere in the capital city of Banjul and within official circles resembles more like business as usual than Jammeh's fifth attempt as being crowned president in what will be his most difficult re-election campaign yet.

The Independent Electoral Commission's official website has been out of commission for several months.  Telephone calls go unanswered, inquiries ignored and doors to the Commission's offices are closed on Fridays in observance of a 4-day work week even when it's weeks away from one of the most important elections in Jammeh's political career.  These are all signs of unpreparedness in addition to the Commission's budgetary woes.

Unlike Jammeh, who has remained silent and away from public sight in 4 months, the opposition parties have been busy in negotiations to form a coalition around a single candidate to face Jammeh in December.  Some of the opposition parties, including the Independent presidential candidate, have even managed to conduct country tours to rally their respective supporters,- all of which have riled Jammeh and ruffled his feathers.

According to sources, the threat of a unified opposition has caused Jammeh sleepless nights.  Sources have also indicated that the surest way of Jammeh to postpone the elections is if the opposition parties succeed in rallying behind a single candidate.  Jammeh has been losing support all throughout his 4th term in office which has accelerated after the formation of the Gambia Democratic Congress by a former member of Jammeh's ruling party.  

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Press Release: Gambia: New Access to Information lobby launched as Presidential polls near

Gambia: New Access to Information lobby launched as Presidential polls near-

Electoral Commission first to be targeted for evidence

Banjul- 20 October 2016- Individuals with professional backgrounds ranging from geology, demographics, economics, international relations, law, communications and academics, have mobilized to form an Access to Information lobby to pressure key institutions like the Independent Elections Commission and other state entities like the Gambia Bureau of Statistics to voluntarily disclose data, statistics, finances and funding models being utilized to conduct the 2016 presidential and 2017 National Assembly elections. 

The Right to Know (R2K) Gambia Coalition stated that the upcoming December Presidential election is being organized against the backdrop of the total personalisation of the state and its institutions by President Jammeh. This, it says, has resulted in increasing abuse of rights and disregard of the rule of law, while state institutions and public enterprises have weakened.

“State and democratic institutions that are supposed to ensure transparency and be accountable to the people, remain under the firm grip of the President who has subverted all democratic processes to serve only his political and commercial interests. Thus the space for popular participation, access to information and freedom of association have been severely curtailed by legislative repression and enforced by military and police brutality,” said a spokesperson for the group.

The group believes that the retrieval of information, which in other countries is normal routine, is actually near impossible in The Gambia, given the heightened levels of illegality by the state, whose actions are often shrouded in secrecy. It is this culture of secrecy, and abuse of regulatory frameworks by a paranoid regime, say the R2K-Gambia, that they will confront.

The R2K fired its first salvo yesterday, 19 October 2016, when it sent a three page letter requesting for information from the Chairperson of the Gambia Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), Mr. Njie, on key issues pertaining to the running of the upcoming elections exercise.  The detailed questions, which totalled 17, ranged from population data, supplementary voter registration results, and utilization of elections Acts to funding, budgets, procurement of the BVR system and gifts received by the IEC and its Commissioners from President Yahya Jammeh.

“R2K has stated from the onset that it is spearheading this campaign in the spirit of partnership and civic duty, it is a non-partisan entity that focuses on rule of law and democracy, good governance, human rights and the principles of access to information,”  said an R2K Gambia spokesperson.

However, there are doubts whether state institutions in The Gambia will heed to the requests likely to come from the R2K in the coming weeks. This has not deterred the group, which states that it is important to get answers to the questions being asked, which it believes is relevant, legal and an obligation from entities approached to respond. 

 “If they refuse to respond to the requests being made by the R2K Gambia Coalition, who are Gambians, then it means that they have absolutely no respect for our Constitution, the ECOWAS Protocol, AU treaty mechanisms and the citizenry. That alone is evidence that something is not right in this election process and therefore they have something to hide.”

The R2K Gambia Coalition has committed to elevate the principles of Access to Information on elections and stated that they will make public all information sent to, and received from, state and non-state entities in the country.  It has already shared the request for information with all Gambian political parties, ECOWAS, AU and UN.

For more information please contact:



R2K Gambia is a made up of a grouping of individuals with professional backgrounds ranging from geology, demographics, economics, international relations and law, communications, and academia.  All members are human rights activists.  We are located in US, UK, West and Southern Africa. We are a non-partisan entity that focuses on rule of law and democracy, good governance, human rights and the principles of access to information.  

Disclosure :  I am a member of the R2K Gambia 

Letter to IEC Chairman from Right2Know - Gambia - Abuja - Amsterdam - Banjul - Dakar - Johannesburg - Washington 

Mr. Alieu Momar N’jie
Chairperson, Independent Electoral Commission
Election House,
KSMD, The Gambia
17 October, 2016

Dear Commissioner Alieu Momar Njie:

Request for information
The Right 2 Know Coalition-Gambia extends its greetings and compliments to you and the IEC. We write in the true spirit of partnership, with the aim of assisting your Commission better deploy its mandate at this critical time, as The Gambia heads for elections on 1st December, 2016.  The R2K Coalition has sought to obtain information on how these upcoming polls are being conducted by your good offices, but has not been successful.  The IEC website is inaccessible and has remained so for well over a year. The Commission’s URL:  is not working and has a message which reads: “IEC.GM is Under Construction. Come Back Soon.”

As the lead agency tasked with conducting elections in The Gambia, the IEC’s awesome responsibility of upholding and adhering to its legal mandate and principles of integrity and fair play, cannot be overstated.  We realize the responsibility entrusted to it by the constitution and the various legislative frameworks that legalizes its existence.   It is in this regard that the R2K Coalition-Gambia wishes to enquire from the IEC several critical aspects of the management of the elections process as we inch closer to the December Presidential elections in 2016 and the National Assembly elections in 2017.

The R2K Coalition Gambia is therefore asking the IEC to provide answers to the following questions:

The Gambia has not officially released the 2013 decennial national census. The last census that was officially released was in 2003.  The unexplained delay in publishing the results of what was a well-funded, planned and executed 2013 census enumeration, makes it impossible to conduct any verification exercises against statistics presented by any state or non-state actor on the country’s population, socio-economic and age brackets to mention but a few social segments of the national make up. It is now on record that the voter list has ballooned from 796,929 in 2011 to 886,578 in 2016- an increase of almost 90,000 voters- in a country of 1.8 million. 
  1. What population data is the IEC using in its registration exercise?
2.    What other data is informing the voter register?
The Electoral Amendment Act 2015,  which was presented as a Bill on June 30, 2015, prior to passage of the Elections Amendment on July 7, 2015; and  Gazetted as Act No: 6 of 2015, has been used in the past to  urge political parties to register. 

A deadline of March 31st 2016 was given by the then IEC Chairperson, Mr. Carayol, for all political parties to register.  Notwithstanding the IEC’s use of the Amendment Act, it has, as recently as 6 September 2016, made official pronouncements on the conducting of the polls, in which the Elections Amendment Act was never featured or cited.  Instead the 1996 and subsequent provisions of the constitution and the elections Act were cited.
.      Which electoral Act is IEC using to conduct the 2016 Presidential and 2017 National Assembly elections?
From 14 January to 12 March 2016, voter supplementary registration by the IEC, since the passage of the Amendment Act 2015 was undertaken, the data was as  follows: Banjul: 649, KMC: 5,001, Brikama 13,039, Kerewan 6,245, Mansakonko 2,732, Janjanbureh 9,639 and Basse 7242 respectively.   Janjanbureh, which is the least populated in all the districts listed, had the highest number of registered voters.  It also had the highest number of registered voters, more than Banjul, Mansakonko and KMC combined.
4.    What informed the results of the IEC’s supplementary voter registration of 14 January to 12 March 2016?
On or about January 27th 2016, the previous Chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), Alhaji Mustapha Carayol, confirmed that the development of a biometric voters' registration process will cost the government 33 million dalasi (US$833,000) at the time of calculation.
5.   Who/which company was contracted to supply the BVR technology and was there an open tender process?
6.      Has the IEC finalized the procurement of the BVR?
7.      What was the eventual cost and payment made for the BVR?
On or about 11 February 2015, the previous Chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), Alhaji Mustapha Carayol, explained to the PAC in the National Assembly that IEC spent D40 million in 2011, and said if they are to combine the two elections (Presidential and National Assembly polls) it could go up to 120 million dalasis or more.
8.      What was the budget for 2016/2017 elections?
9.      How much of that budget has been met?
10.  Who are the donors?
11.  How much did each door pledge?
12.  How much did each donor honour and when?
13.  How much is Gambia government financing?
14.  Has IEC or its Commissioners received any gifts from President Yaya Jammeh and what are those gift?
15.Has IEC or its commissioners received any gifts from non-governmental organisations/development partners?
6.  Why is the IEC Website not accessible?
17.  When will the IEC website be accessible?
We now wish to lean on the principles of the ECOWAS Protocol A/SP1/12/01 on Democracy and Good Governance Supplementary to the Protocol relating to the Mechanism For Conflict Prevention, Management, Resolution, Peacekeeping and Security’s Section II- Elections, Article 3: The bodies responsible for organising the elections shall be independent or neutral and shall have the confidence of all the political actors. Where necessary, appropriate national consultations shall be organised to determine the nature and the structure of the bodies; Article 5: The voters’ lists shall be prepared in a transparent and reliable manner, with the collaboration of the political parties and voters who may have access to them whenever the need arises; Article 6: The preparation and conduct of elections and the announcement of results shall be done in a transparent manner; and Article 8: Member States shall use the services of civil society organisations involved in electoral matters to educate and enlighten the public on the need for peaceful elections devoid of all acts of violence;
The African Charter on Democracy Elections and Governance, which came into force in February 2012, which Gambia has not ratified but signed on 29 January, 2008, which states in Article 17, under  Democratic Elections, that:
“State parties must establish and strengthen independent and impartial electoral commissions responsible for the management of elections”; and
The African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption, which Gambia ratified on 30 April 2009, which is in force.  Under Art 9:
“Each State Party shall adopt such legislative and other measures to give effect to the right of access to any information that is required to assist in the fight against corruption and related offences.”

These principles are the corner stone of the R2K-Gambia team’s campaign, which is why we demand access to information that legally must be made available to all citizens as a right.  We hope that the IEC will also embrace these principles and ensure that Gambians, especially in these elections, are afforded the opportunity to be equipped with the right information, at the right time to inform their decisions.  It is also imperative that citizens are afforded the opportunity to cross reference and verify the election process. 

The R2K Coalition is therefore looking forward to receiving feedback on the request for information from the IEC on matters that we deem fundamental in any democracy, and absolutely critical to the delivery of free, fair, and transparent elections.    

R2K Coalition- Gambia



R2K Gambia is a made up of a grouping of individuals with professional backgrounds ranging from geology, demographics, economics, international relations and law, communications, and academia.  But all members are human rights activists.  We are located in US, UK, West and Southern Africa. We are a non-partisan entity that focuses on rule of law and democracy, good governance, human rights and the principles of access to information.  

Disclosure:  I am a member of the R2K Gambia 

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

How WestWood Company Ltd. and Yaya Jammeh collude to defraud the Gambian people - Part I

Nicholae Bogdan Buzaianu,  Gambian Ambassador

The name Nicholae Bogdan Buzaianu may not ring a bell to many Gambians despite being one of Yaya Jammeh's closest and consequential but one of the most illusive business partners.  He is also one of the most illusive who prefers travelling in and out of Banjul in his private jet to supervise his business interest, expatriate physical transporting business proceeds in contravention of Gambian and, perhaps, international law, according to a source in Banjul.

Mr. Buzaianu is a naturalized Swiss citizen of Romanian origin who was involved in a gold scam worth $ 7 million that was seized by Zambian drug authorities in 2007.  The late Zambian president Michael Sata implicated the Swiss businessman which led him to threaten to sue the government of Zambia and the Zambian press for $100M.  The threat was never carried out.

Returning to Switzerland, Mr. Buzaianu focused his attention on restoring what he saw as a soiled reputation from the gold scandal that was widely publicized in the Zambian press by engaging in environmental causes.  He immediately declared war on plastic bags as an environmental hazard - an effort he said should be replicated in Africa because of his Zambian experience.

Although he never returned to Lusaka, he took his project to The Gambia where he was able to convince the Gambian dictator to put a ban on plastic bags without providing the general population with environmentally-friendly bags as sustainable alternative.   For a more elaborate and dramatic narration of how he got in the environment business, visit his blog post here.

Saving the planet one plastic bag at a time was not the surest way of getting rich.  So Mr. Buzaianu's primary business interest in this slither of a land in West Africa was the limited natural resource endowment that Yaya Jammeh was prepared to illegally supplement Gambia's limited forest cover with a relatively larger supply of timber in neighboring Senegal.

Mr. Buzaianu formed the WestWood Company Ltd. several years ago (precise date unknown) but has been exporting forest products, primarily African mahogany and keno for the past three years, according to shipping records.  Because Jammeh granted WestWood Company monopoly power to export wood products to China, it became a brisk and profitable business which, in turn, accelerated the exploitation of the forest resources, primarily in the Casamance.

A former Senegalese Minister of the Environment raised the alarm at the unsustainable rate of exploitation of southern Senegal's forest cover which he attributed primarily to traffickers operating from Gambian territory.  One million trees have been felled by loggers illegally, according to the former Senegalese Minister who claimed that at that rate Casamance will lose all of its forest cover by 2018.      

Mr. Buzaianu may be a Romanian-born naturalized Swiss national but he became Gambia's Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in 2014 which should make him a Gambian citizen as well, flying around the world with Gambian diplomatic passport.  According to, he presented his letters of credence to Abdoullah bin Mohammed bin Butti AI Hamed, Under Secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  The Swiss businessman is also listed as Consul of The Gambia in Monaco.   Before he fell out with the late President Sata of Zambia, Mr. Buzaianu was also Zambia's Ambassador to the UNESCO suggesting he has a special affinity to diplomatic assignment to go along his African business ventures.  we wonder why.


Part II will look at WestWood's operations in the Gambia and how the public treasury is losing money as a result of the monopoly status and other export concessions accorded to WestWood by Jammeh.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Fears of retribution as excuse for continued APRC support are without basis

As the coalition talks intensify among opposition parties for a unified leadership to contest the scheduled December presidential elections against the Gambian dictator, increasing chatter clutters the online media advancing all sorts of theories attributed to primarily supporters of the newly-formed Gambia Democratic Congress (GDC) relating to what it would take for them to join and remain in an opposition coalition.

According to several sources, key members of the GDC have been quoted expressing concern in the event of a UDP-led opposition coalition victory over Jammeh and his ruling APRC.  They fear retribution in the event of a UDP-led win in December - a fear that has its origins in the anti-UDP propaganda machine of a dictatorship that has tried to exploit the delicate tribal balance to his advantage.  As part of his intricate plan to cling on to power, Jammeh unfairly and incorrectly labeled UDP a Mandinka party and proceeded to accuse its members, a good number of whom are non-Mamdinkas, of being tribalists who are driven more by the desire to exact revenge should the UDP ever gain political power.

The fear of retribution or settling of scores in the event of a UDP victory is without basis and runs contrary to the national character.  That said, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission or something along those lines must be established in addition to Judicial Commission to look into the crimes committed by Yaya Jammeh and members of his regime spanning the 22 years of the dictatorship unless Jammeh can reach a negotiated safe passage as part of a negotiated settlement package.

The general sense today is there must be justice for the thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of victims of the regime to obtain closure for those who have been killed, maimed, tortured and those who have disappeared and still unaccounted for.  Families must have closure.

Because most, if not all, of GDC support base is presumed to be composed of disgruntled members of the APRC, reportedly disenchanted with Jammeh's style of leadership, they find solace in the Mamma Kandeh-led GDC who logged a 20-year stint in the National Assembly under the APRC banner before his expulsion from the party.  It appears, at least, some elements within the former APRC members in the GDC, are trying to associate a UDP-led opposition successor government to the inevitability of the settling of scores demanded by the accumulation of grudges during Jammeh's dictatorship despite the lack of evidence.

As we have stated in  previous blogs on the issue of tribalism and despite Jammeh accusing the UDP of being a tribal party, The Gambia is still one of the few countries where tribal affiliation plays little or no significant role, either in the daily lives of Gambians or their politics.  Of course, there are few odd balls - the crazy uncle syndrome - everywhere, and The Gambia is  no exception.   Jammeh is the exception.  He has adopted tribal politics and has used it, with minimal degree of success, to divide Gambians for the purposes of retaining power.

It is obvious that there are members of the APRC who are utilizing the tribal card in a futile attempt to divide an emboldened opposition both at home and abroad. Leaders of the GDC must be mindful of this fact and to guard against being used to advance a failed ARPC regime that is on its final death throes.

Our advise to Mamma Kandeh, Yusupha Jaiteh and the rest of the executive of the GDC is to hop on board the opposition train while it is still on the station.   Only a unified opposition can defeat Jammeh.  


Monday, October 10, 2016

Jammeh still holds the disqualification card

IEC Chairman, Alieu Momar Njie
As the opposition parties immerse themselves in negotiations to forge an alliance of the willing in time for the scheduled December presidential elections, Jammeh is also busy planning on how to swing the advantage in his favor after his party's apparent loss of support primarily to the new formed Gambia Democratic Congress of Mamma Kandeh.

The swing of the pendulum in the opposite direction is noticeable enough to warrant the summoning of the APRC Yayi Compins, some of whom were accused of being part of a larger conspiracy to weaken the ruling party by delivering supporters to GDC, according to a source.  When some felt verbally threaten. they decided to leave the country.  This is how seriously Jammeh has taken the erosion of his support base.

If Jammeh can threaten women who have supported him throughout his 22-year dictatorship with jail time, he will not spare opposition leaders and their supporters.  Every attempt will be made to stymie any of the opposition's effort to construct a viable united front with a singular leader  to head the ticket in the scheduled December presidential elections.

Jammeh is not going to go down without a fight.  He's also fully aware that a united opposition is the surest way of defeating him at the polls, and with his dwindling support across the country, an opposition victory is more likely than not.  He will therefore try to prevent the opposition from coming together by sowing the seeds of discord - an effort that is a already under way.

If he succeeds in preventing the opposition parties from coalescing around a flag bearer, individual parties will be highly vulnerable to the dictates of Jammeh, especially those tempted to complete individually at the presidential elections.

At the instruction of Jammeh, the IEC Chairman can declare individual party leaders ineligible for nomination based on the flimsiest of reasons without repercussion, unlike declaring a single presidential candidate of the opposition ineligible which would be unimaginable to declare ineligible. If he does, he'll have to go to the polls unopposed - a highly unlikely outcome, one more incentive for the opposition to coalesce around a single leader. Besides, no single party can defeat Jammeh and no single party - big or small, new or old - is immune from being disqualified under these circumstances.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

As the opposition inch towards a single flag bearer, a worried Jammeh decides to go on provincial tour

APRC women in ashobi 
The venerable Imam Baba Leigh drew our attention to the fact that Jammeh has been uncharacteristically silent and away from the limelight for over four months for good reason..

Apart from a brief end of Eid message to Gambians, Jammeh has stayed away from the political scene and for good reason.  He has nothing good or positive to report to the Gambian people about.

The economy continues to slide and with it the living standard of the majority of Gambians, the unemployment rate, especially of the youth is going through the roof resulting in a mass exodus of the country's young in rates never seen before. Meanwhile,  the country's isolation from the rest of the world continues to deepen to pariah state levels, thanks to the belligerent mannerisms and style of governance Gambia is facing increasing threats of sanctions from development partners that can only make matters worse for ordinary person.

As Jammeh shuttles between Banjul and Kanilai, he has his finger at the pulse of the opposition - to see how they respond to the challenge before them of forming a unified front by selecting a single flag bearer to contest the scheduled December presidential elections.

Jammeh was and still hoping that the opposition parties will fail in securing a unified front.  But because significantly noticeable progress was registered during the two successive meetings of the opposition, Jammeh is sufficiently worried to instruct the APRC party stalwarts to get ready for a campaign tour.  The entire civil service/government machinery is being activated for the campaign because of the oppositions successful efforts thus far in unifying behind a single candidate.

According to our sources, the tour could start as early as tomorrow (Monday October 10th) but a more reasonable date would be later in the week or next week Monday.  Regardless of the date, we continue to implore the opposition to coalesce around a single candidate as the only way of ridding the Gambia of the cancer that is Yaya Jammeh.  We continue to encourage all opposition leaders to build on the successes registered thus far.          

Friday, October 7, 2016

Failure to unite is not an option

Gambia's Opposition Leaders 
Failure to unite under a single leadership, this time around, to contest the scheduled December presidential elections is not an option for the leaders of the opposition because a  majority of Gambian voters and non-voters demand it.

With the ghosts of 2006 and 2011 still hovering above their heads, the opposition leaders cannot afford another disastrous outcome at a time when the stakes are higher than ever before.

The mishandling of the economy continues unabated under Jammeh, especially since the last presidential elections leaving a trail of dismal growth rates, the lowest average rates in decades). Unemployment remains high, and youth unemployment is at an all time high despite the massive exodus of the young towards Europe.  The human rights environment is increasingly getting more hostile for the general population as well as the political class.

As testimony to this  truism,  Solo Sandeng, youth leader and executive member of the UDP lost his life while under the custody of the National Intelligence Agency. As we speak, Ousainou Darboe, the titular leader of the UDP, together with the entire party executive committee members, together with dozens of other officials and supporters are presently serving three-year prison terms for simply exercising their constitutional right to peacefully protest against what they saw as unfair laws.

22-years of one of Africa's most horrid dictatorship has taken its toll, not only on the rights of Gambians and the economy, but also on the international reputation of a once respected country, internationally, transforming the country into a pariah status.

We are not being hyperbolic when we say that The Gambia is on a slide down a slippery slope that threatens not only the security of the country but the region's security as well.   And as long as Jammeh stays in power, threats will become existential in nature.  Jammeh must, therefore, be peacefully removed  through the ballot which cannot be accomplished by any single political party.

All of the opposition parties must coalesce around a single standard bearer if there is s slither of a chance that he is defeated.  Our position has been no elections unless there is comprehensive electoral reform.  Realistically, this is not possible unless the elections are postponed for at least six months which is the precise length of time between amending the electoral laws and the elections as per ECOWAS protocol.  It is for this reason that we are supporting the efforts of the opposition parties at trying to forge an electoral alliance against Jammeh.

For the individual opposition parties leaders, they must step up to the plate, put their individual political interest aside in favor of the national interest by selecting the best candidate among themselves to lead them to the December presidential elections.  We will be addressing the much neglected but extremely important parliamentary elections which should form part of the negotiations at the appropriate time.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

It's time to abandon ship !

Sidi Sanneh  
The imposition of a visa ban by the United States on "employees of the Gambian government" is the latest in a series of recent developments that serve as reminders that the 22-year dictatorship of Jammeh is coming to an end.

The ban extends beyond government employees to include "employees of certain entities associated with the government, and their spouses and children."

Managing Directors and members of senior management of quasi-government agencies like Gambia Ports Authority, GNPC, NAWEC GAMTEL/GAMCELL, to name a few, are all affected by the ban.  And so are all locally-registered private entities, including consulting companies that do business with the regime of Yaya Jammeh.

Ousman Sonko,  Jammeh's former Interior Minister saw it coming and consequently  planned his exit several months ago.  He has escaped to Sweden where he is seeking political asylum.  Unconfirmed sources have also reported that Justice Basiru Mahoney, who served as Attorney General and Minister of Justice has resigned his post but not before he reached the safe distance of London in the company of some family members.

There are also many others in key positions in the security forces who are preparing the way to abandon a regime that is faltering and increasingly losing its way. Gambia's youth are leaving the country in droves, sapping the youthful vitality that the country must have to achieve a strong and balanced growth and development.

Base on UNHCR's figures, The Gambia is considered one of the "fastest emptying countries" in the world behind Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq Nigeria and Eritrea, The high rate of out-migration which is caused by bad economic policies coupled with the regime's increasing use of repressive measures to control the population is unsustainable and will prove to be a formidable impediment to future growth and development of Gambia's economy.

To accelerate the demise of the 22-year dictatorship, key personnel must take to the exits because Jammeh is making things worse and not better, making future recovery a difficult task if not an impossible one.

The damage to the economy, and not to speak of the national identity, has been so extensive and comprehensive that it will take generations to put things back together.  It is time to abandon a regime that has proven to be repressive, corrupt and incompetent.  The sooner the regime is in Gambia's rear view mirror, the better.      

Monday, October 3, 2016

Municipal and Area Councils verbally directed by Jammeh's APRC to finance campaign activities

Participants at the Basse jamboree 
The ruling APRC party organized an all expense paid national youth jamboree in Basse to kick off the 2016 December presidential elections at the expense of Gambian taxpayers. .

The jamboree billed as the National Youth Rally was financed by Municipal and Area Councils.  The official mouthpiece of the regime, The Daily Observer's account of the "pomp and fanfare" can be accessed here.  The act is illegal and contravenes the electoral laws, further tilting an already uneven playing field in favor of Yaya Jammeh and his party.

According to a source, verbal directives went out to all Municipal and Area Councils from the APRC Bureau instructing them to finance the mobilization costs in their respective administrative areas - a directive that will further aggravate a dire fiscal position these Area Councils have been in for decades.

These Councils are for all intense and purposes bankrupt entities that struggle on a monthly basis to meet payroll, much less provide basic services to area residents.

It is reported that thousands of APRC Party delegates comprising of mainly youth and women from all over the country are being transported, housed, fed and entertained by local councils at the expense of the tax and rate payers who are primarily farmers who are struggling to make ends meet in an increasingly hostile economic environment.

To quote our source, "all (8) Councils were issued with a state directive to foot the bill" which is not only "a gross misuse of public funds but unfair to the opposition parties.

It is the duty of the opposition parties - individually and collectively - to draw the attention of the Independent Electoral Commission and other interested parties by lodging formal complaint about these gross violations of the electoral laws.  Since it is the rates and taxes that farmer pay that are being abused, opposition parties should also highlight them during their political rallies and also disseminated through community radios across the country.  

Saturday, October 1, 2016

U.S. imposes visa ban on The Gambia Government

The United States has imposed a visa ban on The Gambia, effective 1st October.
According to the Washington Times, "Gambia refused to accept nearly 2,000 people the U.S. is trying to deport, so the Obama administration has finally decided to pull the trigger and will deny visas to some Gambians hoping to visit the U.S. the State Department said on Saturday."

A State Department official said they've informed the Gambia government of the move today, Saturday 1st October, 2016

"As of October 1, 2016, the U.S. Embassy in Banjul, The Gambia has discontinued visa issuance to employees of the Gambian government, employees of certain entities associated with the government, and their spouses and children , with limited exceptions,"a State Department official said.

A Gambian official identified as Hamba Manneh, counselor at the Gambian Embassy was quoted as saying that the backlog of Gambian deportees still in the U.S. are as many as 1,800.  He proposed that the United States Government pay for the travel expenses of immigration officials to come to the U.S. to review their cases.  He also insisted that The Gambia is trying to cooperate.

It is reported that the move by the Obama administration is the first time it has used Section 243(d) of the immigration code at the insistence of both Democrats and Republicans for the U.S. to get tough on countries that refuse to take back their citizens.

The Gambia, according to reports, is ranked 11th on the list of countries whose citizens are awaiting deportation.

The Director of the Center for Immigration Studies cited a major huddle facing both The Gambia and the United States and that is most of The Gambians awaiting deportation have been released - including hundreds with criminal records.  To rack them down would be difficult.

Senator Grasseley of Iowa was the first to reveal the move against The Gambia, yesterday, Friday who said it was about time the administration targeted someone. The 83-year old 5th term Senator is term seeking a 6th term which is facing an uphill battle to retain his seat in an election year that immigration is front and center, thanks in part to Donald Trump, the Republican Party's presidential candidate.