Saturday, March 10, 2018

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Monday, February 26, 2018

The problem with President Barrow's communication strategy is the absence of one

President Barrow and his Director of Press 
Faced with mounting criticism from supporters and non-supporters alike, at home and abroad, for staying behind the fortified State House and communicating minimally, if at all, at long stretches, President Barrow appeared recently to be surrendering to the public's demand by granting press interviews and addressing an audience of Gambian immigrants during his recent trip to Turkey.

Credit goes to the president for responding positively to criticism, even if the outcome of those press outings were anything but successful.  In fact, his comments and responses to questions produced what can only be described as serious backlash, in social media and on the ground in Banjul.

The Banjulians and the urban dwellers in the Greater Banjul Area were unfortunately on the receiving end of Barrow's public scorning in a foreign country.  Fire was returned immediately and ferociously from those who felt offended by Barrow's Ankara statement and rightfully so.

Our president should be a uniter and not a divider.  He should be the president of all Gambians and not a president of a section of a country or a group.  We maintain our early characterization of Barrow's Ankara speech as ill-advised, divisive and beneath the dignity of the Office of The President of The Republic of The Gambia.

The president's recent encounters with the press appears to be in response to mounting criticisms of his management style and his government's priorities during the transition period - criticism that seems to intensify as he continues to insulate himself further from the public by surrounding himself with relatives, friends and business partners he feels comfortable to be around with but who, unfortunately, have little or no governance experience.

In a recent television interview, President Barrow seemed to take pride in not taking the time to visit Military or Police Headquarters even though he's the, and neither has be visited the Department of Customs and Excise "that collects revenue" for his government.  If we extend his logic to apply to the condition of the nation's health facilities, he will not be visiting the country's doctors and nurses any time soon or the facilities in which they toil daily without electricity most of the time and where the medicine cabinets are empty.  We would like to believe this is not what he meant but that's how his statement is being interpreted. 

Is Barrow uncaring?  We don't think so.  In fact, he is generally seen as a caring person.  His public statements, however, suggest the opposite which points to the need to develop a communication strategy to address the obvious deficiencies in his communication skills.

Listening to critical voices outside of the State House bubble can be a double-edged sword.  It can and does keep him abreast of the concerns of the population to help him govern better.  But it can also contribute to reacting inappropriately, as he has done when he appeared to have dismissed and poo pooed the financial and intellectual contributions of diaspora Gambians, Greater Banjulians and many other non-Gambians across the globe.  There was the expected reaction from the diaspora, correcting the record of their financial and other contributions that led to Jammeh's electoral defeat.

It is now obvious, especially after so many misspoken words of the president, that a communication strategy is needed at the State House to ensure uniformity and consistency in messaging of the true account of the current state of the transition government which includes but not limited to the prepping up of the president before every interview with journalists, domestic and foreign.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

President Barrow must step down in 2019, unless...

The Coalition of 7+1 
The adage that a person is as good as his or her word will be tested in the coming months as President Barrow presidency approaches the halfway mark of the three-year MOU-specified tenure in office, which, in our view, must be respected.

For Barrow to serve beyond December 2019, the Coalition Partners comprising of the seven opposition parties and the independent presidential candidate must reconvene, in a convention-style forum, to agree to extend the mandate prescribed in the MOU beyond the 3-year limit.

During normal times, the issue would find an easy solution by simply referencing the MOU which created the Coalition under certain terms and conditions.  Unfortunately, these are not normal times.  The country is beginning to emerge from twenty-two years of one of Africa's most repressive regimes, the trauma of which is debilitating to both the democratic institutions as well as the human spirit.

The dictatorship also weakened the political parties to the point of rendering them impotent.   The former regime succeeded, as well, in blurring the lines that distinguished one political party from the other.  The resultant effect is a symbiotic relationships between them, driven partially by expediency and political opportunism rather than by shared values and principles.

The blurring of the boundaries occurred among opposition political parties, as well as among political parties' interests and, the personal interests of individual party members that were beginning to converge after the electoral victory of Adama Barrow.  It immediately resulted in the trading of party membership for positions in the civil service.

Recently, we cited the various sentiments expressed across the political divide regarding whether President Barrow should stick with the provisions or principles set out in the Coalition's MOU that requires the Coalition President to vacate the seat after three years or to follow the stipulated constitutional presidential term of 5 years.

The matter may have been a topic of discussion during the negotiations that led to the selection of Adama Barrow as the Coalition's flag bearer.  Whereas there are some who feel that the Coalition partners should stay true to the MOU, there are other voices that favor the stipulated presidential term of 5 years.

Because the National Assembly Members were elected to serve the full 5-year term, it becomes necessary to realigned the president's term with that of the NAMs.  The shortening the term of the NAMs to 3 years would be an unlikely option because it is already consistent and in line with the constitutional provisions.

That leaves open the options of formally extending the term of the Coalition president for an additional two years or not extending the president's MOU-mandated 3-year term which automatically allows the Vice President to assume the presidency for two years.

A convention of the Coalition partners must reconvened sooner than later so as to determine the length of term of the transitional president created by an MOU that is still operational, independent of the standard constitutional provisions and, only if to confirm maintaining the current status quo.  The MOU created the current political dispensation.

The MOU should form the basis for untangling the untidy mess created as a matter of necessity.  It is therefore an absolute and necessary imperative to untangle the mess to allow The Gambia to start the recalibration of the term of office of the President of The Republic with that of Members of the National Assembly.

Friday, February 23, 2018

SEMLEX-produced passports revoked and cancelled

Comoros Islands 

While the Foreign Affairs Minister of the Comoros Island, Souef Mohamed El-Amine, was busy revoking and cancelling - at last count - 170 Comoros passports, all issued by Albert Karaziwan, the Syrian-Belgian owner of SEMLEX, authorities in the Commonwealth of Dominica have raised concerns about the security of their own passports being produced by Semlex. 

In the case of Dominica, as in elsewhere in Africa where Semlex has operated, it is being reported that alleged bribes and kickbacks have been paid for Semlex to secure the contract.  Alarm bells rang when Dominican passports were found in the possession of Syrian nationals which were traced back to a large amount of blank passports delivered to individuals in Morocco. 

Although Dominican authorities denied that any of their passports were unaccounted for, the country was doing business with Semlex owned by "a dody Syrian national accused of major misconduct throughout Africa, according to and as described by a local press outlet.

Meanwhile back in the Comoros Islands, Mr. Karaziwan's Comoros diplomatic passport was being cancelled, together with those of his wife and children, in addition to 170 passports all issued by Semlex.  He was travelling as Ambassador of Comoros and Counsellor to the President of Comoros Islands. 

His appointments as Honorary Consul, Vice Consul, and Investment Counsellor, illegally coonfered on Mr. Karaziwan, were also cancelled by the government of the Comoros.

Mr. Karaziwan was also accused in the Comoros of printing and selling the country's passports to foreign nationals, including the brother of Iran oil sanctions evader, Reza Zarrab, who recently pled guilty in U.S. District Court in New York. 

It is being reported that the Government of Comoros Islands has demanded further information, from Semlex, on an additional 158 passports that were claimed to have been issued and delivered to foreign nationals.  It is not known, according to reports, whether criminal charges will be brought against Semlex.


Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Why is SEMLEX being forced down our throats?

Semlex Hq in Brussels 
The on-again off-again contract between the family-owned Belgian company, Semlex,  and the Gambia government is on-again.  Pristine Consulting, a Microsoft-certified, Gambian-owned biometric company, was first awarded the contract to produce national ID documents, eventually ran afoul of the Jammeh regime that resulted in court action.  In the end, one of the owners of the company went into exile in the U.S. and the other briefly held in custody.

Eventually, it was Jammeh's turn to be sent into involuntary exile after he lost the December 2016 election when the new government of Adama Barrow tried awarding the contract to Semlex without properly engaging Pristine in the process which contravened the open tender process for such projects that involved public funds.  For background history of the Semlex contract saga, read more here, here here and here.

Fast forward to December 2017 when the government decided to invite Semlex and Pristine to re-submit proposals in a limited tender with a January 2018 deadline.  Pristine accepted the invitation and proceeded to submit its proposal accordingly.  Semlex, on the other hand, adamantly refused to participate and thus did not submit a proposal because it felt entitled to the contract and should be "restored" regardless. 

Why is Semlex feeling entitled to the contract? This is a company that is currently being investigated in Belgium and has had both its headquarters and the CEO's private residence raided by the police in search of evidence.  The company has been suspected for engaging in bribery and corruption in several Africa countries where its business record is found to be so appalling that it calls for it to be blacklisted in The Gambia.

Why is Semlex acting so brashly?  Is it because, as it is being alleged, that the brother of the Attorney General and Minister of Justice is the currently serving as Semlex's lawyer in The Gambia?  If true, why is the Justice Ministry managing the procurement process instead of the Finance Ministry?  Why is the Justice Minister not recusing himself from the process because he is so conflicted?

In the words of the Justice Minister, the decision to accorded Pristine the privilege to participate in the limited re-tendering was "for strategic legal reasons", suggesting something nefarious especially when Semlex's refusal to submit a proposal was rewarded instead with the contract that will now include the production of the country's voters card - a very perplexing development.

More perplexing, according to the Justice Minister, Semlex is being awarded the contract to avoid, what the minister concludes, to be, another expensive arbitration judgement he is certain to lose at a huge price to the public treasury.  Says who, and is that sufficient reason to contravene the procurement laws by awarding a contract to a company that refuses to honor government's invitation to a limited tender.  Gambians cannot lose sight of the fact that Semlex refused to submit a bid and is being rewarded with a contract nonetheless.

The conspicuous absence - in public, at least - of the Ministry of Finance is equally perplexing as the ministry responsible for public procurement process.  When the former Interior Minister Fatty led the charge in support of Semlex, the current Justice Minister was dead set against awarding the contract to Semlex.  Now, he's the one championing the Belgian company.  What has changed?

Finally, given all the controversies surrounding Semlex and its dismal record around the African continent, Government should blacklist the company by barring it from doing business in The Gambia, as other countries have done.  If Semlex's public business record is not enough, the fact that its offices and the CEO's private residence have been raided in search of evidence relating to bribery and corruption allegations should be sufficient to raise the alarm bells in Banjul.

Is orderly transfer of power possible in The Gambia?

As the Ukraine government was crumbling under the sheer weight of three months of protests against the repressive regime of Yanukovich in the winter of 2014, we were wondering whether Gambians will be so lucky as to enjoy an orderly and/or non-violent transfer of power.

This was two years before the December 1 2016 elections that saw the defeat of Yaya Jammeh which caught the majority of Gambians and non-Gambians flat-footed.  The violent protests in Kiev looked like an acceptable option for our country as Jammeh became more bellicose in language and reckless in action with the increase use of obnoxious laws that threatened opposition leaders with imprisonment.  This made the Gambia National Assembly an increasingly possible vehicle for political change.

We predicted that an orderly transfer of power was possible through parliamentary action.  Like most, our electoral chances of dislodging Jammeh was next to nil.  We join the many to have been gladly proven wrong by the Gambian electorate. 

This blog post was first published February 23rd 2014.  Enjoy.


We watched in real time as anti-government protesters in Kiev finally overran the city, after three months of protests against a repressive and corrupt dictatorship similar to what we have in The Gambia.  The Ukrainian protesters proceeded to fill the vacuum left by a fleeing President Viktor Yanukovich by occupying the Presidential offices.

The opposition immediately demanded May elections while the Ukrainian Parliament, under the control Yanukovich's party only hours before, voted almost unanimously to remove him from power.  They also voted to release the former Prime Minister who was being held in a hospital ( not in a prison ) who proceeded immediately to the city square to address the jubilant anti-government protesters. Although Parliament is yet to authorize an interim government, the affairs of state appears to be in the hands of its members.

It is obviously too early for the Ukrainian protesters to declare complete victory, given the complex nature of the competing geopolitical interests at play involving Russia, the U.S. and the European Union with Russia's stake being the highest.  Kiev did not only rain on Putin's Sochi parade both literally and figuratively, (the Sochi Winter Olympics just ending), the crisis has the potential of handing the Russian leader a humiliating defeat he can least afford to suffer at the hands of a strategically important ally of the Russian Federation. Equally unaffordable is for the United States to adopt a zero sum strategy that goes for gold i.e. push for total victory by the anti-government forces, assuming that Russia will not react with severe economic sanctions with the option of the use of military force to keep Ukraine within the orbit of the Russian Federation.  A solution that will help Russia safe face is the likely outcome.

Kiev protesters serving riot police sandwiches

Of course, conditions in Ukraine is far more complex that involve Russia, U.S and the European Union. The strategic importance of Ukraine cannot be compared with Gambia's, but there are lessons that can be drown from the events unfolding in Kiev and around Ukraine.

The protesters at the center of Kiev are yearning for the same things Gambia opposition parties are yearning for - freedom of association, of expression, of assembly, human rights, the rule of law and a government free of corruption. Within a federated Russia, even Ukraine's residual power appears to have been usurped by Putin and his cronies.  Yanukovich was part of Putin's team, but so was the Parliament until it decided, ultimately, to switch teams and join those demanding democratic space and the freedom to decide their own destiny.  They want closer ties with the European Union and the West. Russia, of course, wants to maintain the status quo.

Ordinary Gambians have been deprived of their liberties for twenty years by a repressive and corrupt regime.  The regime has found a dependable ally in the National Assembly that rubber stamps every law that originates from Yaya Jammeh, regardless of the impact of the law.

For example, and by way of illustrating the pathetic state of affairs within Gambia's parliament, the National Assembly passed a law that gives the president the power not only to expel a member from the party for breaking party by-laws but from Parliament as well, even though parliamentarians are directly elected by the people whose interest they are to serve and protect in the National Assembly. We have tried to look for a comparable law under similar circumstances in any country without success, not even in Ukraine.  Gambian parliamentarians have the unique distinction of voluntarily surrendering their mandate to the Gambian dictator who has routinely exercised his extraordinary powers against parliamentarians.

Is a Parliament that is composed of men and women of the caliber that readily surrenders its power to a dictator capable of putting the interest of the Nation ahead of that of a dictator like Jammeh?   Does the Gambia's National Assembly have the capacity to emulate the Ukrainian Parliament by deciding to put the national interest ahead of personal, individual interest?  When the protests persisted for over three months with increasing violence and mounting body counts, and the prospects of civil war staring members of the Ukrainian parliament straight in the face, they decided to abandon their individual interest in favor of the national interest.

Anti-government protesters in improvised Medieval armor - Kiev   

Gambia's National Assembly has been in the clutches of the Gambian dictator for so long that members seemed to have developed the Stockholm Syndrome.  Despite this, it is still possible that the National Assembly can, and with the right conditions will put the interest of the country ahead of individual and/or parochial interest should matters come to a head.  The conditions that exist in the Ukraine as they relate to individual and collective freedoms are similar to those that obtain in The Gambia.  The economic conditions and mismanagement are worse in The Gambia than in the Ukraine, leading to the threat of total collapse of the country's economy. Corruption continues to be rampant and unchecked.  In fact, it has gotten worse.

Our optimism and faith in the National Assembly to put the nation's interest ahead of Jammeh's is based entirely on recent trends observed in the proceedings of the National Assembly's Public Accounts and Public Enterprise Committees (PAC and PEC).   Over the past year, individual parliamentarians, few as they may be, have been unusually vocal.  Some have even ventured to veer away from the official position and toward the public interest at the cost of their membership in the party and in the National Assembly.  But there are still some in the national Assembly who are capable of leading a revolt by first voting to rescend the law empowering Jammeh to expel them as members of Parliament thus restoring their full parliamentary powers.

Parliamentarians have been particularly vocal about the lack of proper groundnut marketing and extension support to farmers, contrary to the regime's official pronouncements. To cite specific instances beyond what we've said here will only expose the concerned parliamentarians to political pressure from Jammeh and his ruling party.  There appears to be the desire to break loose from Jammeh's stranglehold.   With growing recognition of the failure of Jammeh's policies combined with an increasing level of corruption that is threatening the social order, some parliamentarians are ready and willing to side with the interest of Gambia and Gambians.  Of course, the opposition parties must provide the spark necessary to set the stage for a massive protest against tyranny.

We have left the army out of the Gambian equation because it will be last institution to join any popular uprising given its composition, and the corrupted command and control structure designed to make it difficult to act effectively under any command that is not led by Yaya Jammeh. That said, if a parliamentary revolve similar to Ukraine's should take place in the Gambia - it is within the realm of possibility - with politicians from the opposition and the ruling APRC joining forces, Gambia will succeed where many African countries have failed in the transfer of power from dictatorship to a new democratic dispensation with little or no bloodshed.

Are we engaged in wishful thinking?  Perhaps.  But it is also something the APRC parliamentarians should ponder over the next several days or weeks; to convene the National Assembly to remove Yaya Jammeh from power for the abuse of power.  To avoid a vacuum being created as we are are witnessing in Ukraine, the National Assembly should also pass a law ordering a transition government be formed to prepare for fresh, free, fair and transparent elections.  The international community, and especially the regional bodies, will be less hostile to this scenario than your run-of-the-mill military coup d'etat.


Monday, February 19, 2018

The rigged electoral calendar and President Barrow's 3-year term limit need to be revisited

This blog post is exactly a year old, but the issues raised therein are are pertinent today as they were then.  In fact, they have become more urgent as we approach the 3-year term of the Transition Government of Adama Barrow.  A reprint of the February 19th 2017 issue. 
President Barrow taking the Oath of Office 

Gambia's electoral calendar was tailor-made for Jammeh at his request, to benefit him and him alone.  The recently concluded presidential elections, the results of which were announced in favor of candidate Adama Barrow, took another seven weeks or 51 days before the incumbent vacated State House.  And he did so under threat of ECOMIG forces who were left with no option but to deliver their ultimatum: leave now or else we'll forcibly remove from from State House and into Mile II prisons.

The parliamentary elections are yet to be held. They are schedule to take place a clear four months (in April) after the presidential elections were conducted that transformed an opposition candidate as the new president who must inherit a parliamentary majority of the party that dominated Gambian politics for 22 years.  The new president is not only inheriting a hostile parliament but he is saddled with a budget that was prepared, approved and executed for, at least, the first two months of the new administration, by the outgoing regime.  It could be legitimately argued that budget execution is still in the hands of those whose allegiance is to the defeated Jammeh regime.  At least, until he departed on 21st January 2017, Jammeh has full control of and directing the levers of power, including the ability to execute the budget to his advantage.  A supplementary budget can be submitted to address some of these issues.

Realigning the electoral calendar to address the unacceptable gap between the presidential and parliamentary elections is an urgent issue that must be addressed.  The conduct of the presidential and parliamentary elections must be on the same day based on solid financial grounds.  Every effort must be made to utilize scare financial resources scrupulously.  Gambia couldn't afford it then and, certainly. it cannot afford it now, to conduct separate elections for the Presidency and  the National Assembly. Of course, adopting same day elections will also remove the undesirable gap between the expiration of the presidential term and that of the National Assembly to prevent a repeat of what Gambians were put through between December 1st of last year and January 21st of this year.

This brings us to the 3-year term of President Barrow as called for in the MOU of the Opposition Coalition 2016, which are a set of conditions agreed to by the seven opposition political parties plus one independent presidential candidate that made it possible for the candidature of Adama Barrow as the Coalition's presidential flag bearer.  We have no doubt that all aspects of the MOU - including every clause - that support the strategic objectives of the Coalition are negotiated in good faith and with every intention of being honored by all parties.

However, the extraordinary circumstances confronting the Coalition of Adama Barrow warrant a revisit of the terms of the MOU, particularly as it relates to presidential term.  As it stands presently, President Barrow is required to vacate the presidency in January 2020, two years before the end of term of the National Assembly that will be elected in April of this year.  If the 3-year term limit is maintained as well as the 5-year term for the National Assembly, it will create a nightmare scenario that will prove impossible to manage and will make programming of development funds almost impossible.  Government must bring its budgetary programming schedule/cycle in line with both domestic and external actors by ensuring that the lives of both the presidency and national assembly are in sync.

Of course, reducing the term of the incoming National Assembly members to correspond with that of President Barrow's is an option but it will not address the programming issue that a shortened term for the Coalition presidency will pose for Gambia's domestic partners.  It is, therefore, neater and easier to extend the term of President Adama Barrow by 2 years to 2022 instead of 2020.