Immigration has become a global phenomenon that has today left few societies standing in their pure ethnic shells and there is no going back on this. Naturally the impact of mass emigration has also left few societies intact. So it is also with emigration. It has left few cultures and societies unaffected. Gambians have a long tradition of travelling, but here we will only deal with modern travelling starting from middle 1950s to the present day Diaspora Gambians spread in the four geographical regions of North America, Europe , Asia & The Middle East and Senegal and the rest of Africa.
If Gambian emigrants dragged their feet in the move out of the country in the immediate post colonial era leading to the end of the 1970s, they hurried in the early 1980s just after the Kukoie rebellion and began stampeding out en mass during the Second Republic. Under this so-called Second Republic Diaspora Gambian communities swelled exponentially as many, who are able to, do so every day. This exodus has left villages depopulated of their young and able sections leaving them shadows of their former selves. For much of the years of the current regime farming has even failed to be a proper means of subsistence for the great majorities of members of the country’s farming communities. Many of them are now storming the urban and peri-urban centres already awash with ever -growing armies of the un-unemployed and under-employed.
So it follows natural market logic that labour goes to where it can be hired and will not want to stay at where it is idle and wasted. But emigration has not been of only woes. It has become the breadwinner for hundreds of thousands of homes and families left back at home in The Gambia, a source of cash and capital inflows that now rivals those from donor aid and Foreign Direct Investment, it keeps hundreds of thousands of boys and girls in school and it is medical insurance for many deprived Gambian families left back at home in The Gambia.
Since the dawn of the new cyber culture about twenty two years ago, Gambian emigrants, especially in the West have been at the theoretical forefront of efforts to dislodge the status quo and restore democratic rule even if little practical results could be seen outside the virtual world of cyberspace. Many of these cyber warriors have become web-weary and are now reconciled to the myth that the task of changing the status quo is not accomplishable. However, a dedicated few have managed to stay on course. There are some who swing with the pendulum and join the dedicated few when the regime commits one or the other of its many atrocities like the April 2000 student killings or the September 2012 extra judicial murder of 9 Mile Two prison inmates, and return to their normal dormancy.
Gambian emigrants have generally got a bad deal from both the government and people of The Gambia. Stories of relatives at home squandering transferred funds meant for building or other family projects are many. But perhaps the worst deal has been that though their contribution to the national cake is by far larger than their numbers suggest they are not allowed to have a say in its share. Though Overseas Gambians’ contribution to the country’s financial and socio-economic development has been relatively immense, they have been denied the right to vote without any much protest from the political parties and civil society organizations on the ground. It is a classical case of taxation without representation! Also it can be said that Gambian diplomatic and consular representation abroad has not been much in protecting the rights and interests of Diaspora Gambians communities.
Despite all these, militant overseas Gambians have consistently been at the core of the struggle for the restoration of democratic rule in The Gambia. These their heroic efforts have made them the target of endless harangues by the regime indicating the potency of their voice. They have several times tried to help forge unity among the divided political parties though some of the parties have complained that resource-support has not matched the intensity of the rhetoric.
Strength: Players in this third Sphere are usually more exposed to the ways of the modern world compared to their peers left at home and are therefore better acquainted with the requirement of good governance and the best practices in public affairs. Being far from the repressive arms of the dictatorial regime gives them a freer possibility to agitate, organize and champion the struggle for democracy and human right and better governance. Some of the most salient strength of this group of Gambians are their financial muscle, their growing numbers and role they play in the struggle and their being outside the orbit of repression of the Gambian regime. Some of them have gone through learning, training and experiences that have given skills needed both for promoting the struggle, giving it direction and, and taking it to its successful conclusion, enriching the plan for post-APRC national reconstruction. Many have the possibilities, through elected
representatives in their host countries to put formidable pressures on the dictatorship at home in The Gambia. Like some have already started doing with United States congress men and women.
As distant bread winners for families, relatives and friends left at home they can sway political opinions and even give political directions.
Weakness: Overseas Gambians are never done blaming the established political parties on the ground for lack of fortitude and inability to forge any durable alliances among themselves . But while this may be true the same goes even more for the Gambian Diaspora communities. There is little of political substance that the Diaspora community has been able to unite around over the past two decades. Like microbes, they seem to grow by division. Others often get dizzy finding their way around their organizations and their tongue-twisting acronyms. The initiation and support of the failed NADD attempt is one of the few “achievements” that overseas Gambians can claim and even that is not without blames and criticisms that they failed to deliver on the promises of financial support they had promised before the 2006 presidential elections.
The Gambia is a very polarized society dividing the formal, westernized and official world of the few from the informal, Latin-illiterate and marginalized world of the many. The world of émigré Gambian communities is also accordingly divided. The great divider of Gambian society is also divided along similar lines. This runs a visible divide among Gambian émigrés the world over. The divide between the Latin-lettered elitist few and the great majority who are not; the formal and informal sectors; the privileged and the deprived; the integrated and the marginalized are all divides that Gambians carry with them wherever they go.
The majority of overseas Gambians today are believed to be residents of the kingdom of Spain. Many also live in France, Portugal and Angola. But they are all considered ignorant and unconcerned. Between 30 to 70% of the Gambian émigré populations in many host countries are political refugees or asylum seekers, real or fake. Many are not dependable in the long term as their pretence to activism is only before their refugee status is regularized.
Coming from one of the poorest countries in the world most emigrant Gambians have desperately poor family members left back at home to take care of and therefore little to spare for national politics or other charitable leanings.
We are at the times of cultural clashes and religious revival and many Diaspora communities have now been de-politicized and deactivated by the thrills and escapist appeal of this revival.
Opportunities: Overseas Gambians have quite a number of opportunities to contribute towards the overthrow of the dictatorship and the restoration of democracy. Most of them live in affluent host-countries where resources needed in the struggle are easier to amass and mobilize. They live outside the reach of the repressive arm of the regime and therefore can participate in the struggle more favorably. They can hunt for the identities of some of Jammeh’s torturers and henchmen, track them down and make formal charges of crimes against humanity in countries where this is applicable, if these sadists ever venture outside the Gambia and have them arrested and tried in courts of countries like Belgium.
Threats: The threats that overseas Gambians may pose to the struggle are not that many. The few identified include the tendency to put loyalty to one’s party of choice above loyalty to the whole alliance; some may renege on promises of material and financial support to the United Front; or fan up ethnic divisions within the movement’; mistakenly leak of sensitive information that may put militants in the country at risk. Life in exile often generates the penchant for polemics for polemic’s sake, perhaps as a form of compensation for the inability to act, one being in far-away-lands where direct action is almost impossible. But polemics for its own sake is not only useless, it can lead to mindless rancour, factionalism and distraction of energies from more productive channels.
A Way Forward: The demography of the Gambian émigré population has changed markedly over the last several decades. While in the 1950s most Gambian emigrants were either students on government scholarship, seamen working on or trying get work on Greek or other foreign ships, or dealers in gold and diamonds, today many of the Gambian émigré communities appear as microcosms modelled in the image of The Gambia they left behind. Before, many Gambians went out in search of greener pastures as herdsmen and their flocks of cattle would, today many flee from the scourges of bad governance.
Politics as far as many Gambian émigrés are concerned is a dirty game of tricks played by men in search of the political office that could give wealth, power and fame. It is, their logic goes, not only worthless for the average citizen, it could be dangerous. The hustle for the survival for self, kith and kin is of paramount importance and priority. Nothing that is seen as furthering the chances is worth paying attention to.
How to convince such people that good governance and proper policies at home facilitate and help the achievement of their paramount goals and aspirations is one of the primary political objectives of the tasks of activists among Gambian émigré communities everywhere. Defining and adopting a program of political activities suiting each community remains the responsibility of the organizers and activists in their respective host countries but we are proposing some as laid out here below:
D. The New York Point-demonstration and the Washington DUGA embassy Occupation are actions to be applauded and encouraged. In fact, where possible, they should spread and be intensified, making it difficult for the regime’s representatives to travel out of the country. They put more and more Gambians to jail, we ought to turn The Gambia into a big jail house for them. But the actions should be done with concrete achievable demands like that the regime must sit and negotiate with the Group of Six over their demands; or that the judgment of the ECOWAS Abuja Court ruling on Ebrima Manneh’s disappearance be complied with; or that government’s promise to reopen the investigations into the Deyda Hydara case be honored, and the same be done on the disappearance of Daba Marena & co; or that the Supreme Islamic Council be disbanded and replaced with an independent, non politically partial; or that Gambian emigrants be given the right to vote, etc, etc.
Such actions give best outcomes when done in synergy. If those organizing an Occupation in the USA U.K., etc, make similar demands, then there would be more pressure on the regime than without it. Hence the need for a structure, like the CORDEG that will coordinate the activities and suggest which demands to be put on the fore, which slogans to use, etc.
E. Émigré Gambians should not be expected to take the back seat in the drive towards victory just because they happen to be outside the geographic confines of our country. Nor also should they be treated as mere cash-bags and nothing more. They hold equal rights and responsibilities in the struggle. Gambians need not only their monetary or material support but also their commitment and dedication in efforts to take back our country.
F. The exposure, waylaying and arrest of known Jammeh torturers should be a center-piece in the politics of Diaspora militants, organizers and activists. The names of persons known (not merely suspected) but alleged to have been torturers in sworn evidences in court) to have participated in torture of detainees at the NIA, NDEA, Holgam or anywhere in the country should be registered, compiled and targeted for the following measures:
i) Surveillance of their movements in and out of the country for possible arrest in countries where this is legally possible. List of countries with such legal instrument should be identified, possible legal aid available in the respective host countries should be harnessed in preparation for any named torturer. Here for instance are the names of some of such alleged torturers: Two NDEA officers, Lamin Simma and Lamin Kabou alleged in court and under oath that they were tortured by the following NIA officials: Edrisa Jobe otherwise known as Alhagy Morr; Lamin Darboe, Ebrima Drammeh otherwise known as Jim Drammeh ; and Omar Jammeh known as Boy Boots. Also in May of 2012 former IGP Essa Badgie, testifying under oath in a Banjul court, also alleged to have been severely tortured by NIA agents Pa Omar Cham and Mam Matarr Secka. The convicted former police chief claimed they put a plastic bag over his head, though is was not clear if
this was an attempt to suffocate him or to stop from seeing the faces of the torturers.
Major Kuluteh Manneh, in June of 2012, while being tried along with Lang Tombong Tamba. Alleged, in court and under oath, that he was one night collected from his Mile Two prison cell by NIA agents, Boto Kieta, Jawo Kieta and Balo K. Jobe , drove to the NIA headquarters in Banjul for a whole night torture by Omar Cham, Edrissa Jobe (alias Alhagy Morr) and Modou Sillah.
ii) This information can be verified in the internet. This means we have six names to investigate collect data, contact details on them and their family, friends and relatives. They can themselves be called or sms to threaten them without using any foul language.
iii) When information is available that they are seeking visas to visit countries sympathetic to our course or committed to defending human rights, the embassies or legations of those countries should be petitioned so that they deny their applications.
iv) Contact details of the alleged torturers are sought and compiled for repeated calls to warn their brother-torturers of the threat of arrest actions, naming and shaming and possible reprisals once the regime falls.
NB: Such may look trivial, but they can be made to be a factor to reckon with by both the dictator and his hatchet-men. They make them share some of the fear their victims get for them, helps demoralize them and raise the moral and confidence of activists at home.
G. Campaigns, based on concrete and particular demands can be waged on emails sent to State House in Banjul, calls made on BBC Focus programme and on the Jammeh Facebook site; with sms messages to randomly collected list of cellular phone numbers of owners resident in the country.
H. In the wake of elections or by-elections in a given area, attempts ought to be made to identify original natives of those constituencies living in their midst abroad try to get them call their folks at home to advise them for the Front, its members or against the regime. Activists should also try to get those numbers and to call the local folk directly with the same advice and messages
I. Diaspora Organisations calling for changes in The Gambia are many and varied, even tending to the fractious. having at least three from the Group of Six as initiators and members. CORDEG must leave no stones unturned to be as all-inclusive as possible. Those in areas were there are too few concerned Gambians to partner with can build their own open, clandestine or semi-clandestine group lets of three to as many people sharing the same neighborhood, work places, schools or enjoy each other’s company. These group-lets can then meet and decide on which of the listed program of activities to adopt for implementation and even ad in their own choice of activities not listed herein.. The group-lets must be practically oriented, aiming to do more work than talk so there is less risk for discord. The groups are autonomous until a congress of all known group-lets can be identified and called to a general constituting congress in each of the four
zones, Gambia, Senegal and the rest of Africa, Europe North America, Asia and the Middle East
J. Activists and organizers in the émigré communities should also try to court the solidarity and partnership of non-Gambian citizens and residents of their respective host countries to join them in the Occupations and Point demonstrations and into forming Free Gambia Solidarity Groups in all the host countries.
K. Diaspora activists must cultivate relations with émigré Gambian organizations, daaras and individuals in Spain, France, Portugal, Italy and Saudi Arabia. Visit them, exchange ideas with the aim of bringing them into the fold of the movement.
L. Honest debates and friendly but frank exchanges of ideas must be encouraged among all the structures of the United Front. It should however always be remembered that the front is not a party political organization and does not as such have a manifesto or a political ideology or a blue-print for the coming post-Jammeh reconstruction work. All the Front needs to have at this material time is program of actions leading to the regime’s ouster and a limited term transition programme leading to multi-party elections and referenda.
M. Some select Diaspora activists should be assigned with the task of monitoring and exploring all the online news outlets on Gambia and be making short comments to educate, inform and agitate while avoiding to get involved in futile polemics, crypto-personal
N. Militant both at home abroad online or hard copy, should avoid empty polemics, pointless debates, trivial or emotive exchanges while on Front work, when speaking or writing on behalf of the Front or when they can be identified as members. The good name and image of the United Front must be upheld at all times but it should not be
O. It seems to be as big a problem unifying the various political Diaspora Gambian groups to come together, so this initiative ought to convince joint the front in group, retaining their names , line of activities and recruiting into the Front of their individual members ought to be discouraged. Let members stay their ground but try to get their group link with the front. CORDEG and all the other known groups like STGP, DUGA, Sidat Jobe’s, Bakary Darboe and Ablie Bojang’s, group, Ablie Jobe , Dr. Janneh and Sidia. Bayo’s groups, etc, etc, others unnamed due to poor memory,the online journals together with other willing Gambian émigré political organizations should open contactable special websites, mobile numbers, Skype, Viber lines where cases of torture and corruption cases can be anonymously reported. Information thus gathered must be verified before being exposed or assumed to be true.
P. Last but not the least is kick. starting of discussions to explore means of forging greater unity among both Diaspora Gambian political and rights organization in a conference somewhere in Europe or America. We can call the Re-unification Conference One. Then organize another for the home-based political parties somewhere in perhaps Senegal, Guinea Bissau or Mali. The purpose of this Re-unification Conference Two.
Q. The main method of gathering funds has been the collection of hand-outs from fellow countrymen and women. It is perhaps time for us to look at other ways of diversifying the sources of funds. The following may fit to be put under consideration: lindestinely
I The institution of a voluntary Patriots’ Levy of 1% on all remittances sent to Families ,relatives and friends in The Gambia
Ii The establishment of an money transfer services in partnership with an accountable outfit in The Gambia clandestinely set up and controlled by Sphere One.
ii)Setting up of another outfit for the export of fish, cultural foodstuff to Europe, North America. Another items like mangoes for Dubai, Saudi Arabia,etc
iii. To consider the setting up of a committee for the control of finance at each Sphere for the proper coordination of the business activities.
Iv The holding of fund- raising parties, musical concerts, Food Festival, ,etc
By way of conclusion this proposal is addressed to all Gambians and friends of the country concerned enough about the rapidly deteriorating situation in that place to be ready to sacrifice time, efforts, material and financial resources and even personal tribulations for remedies. But to say this is also saying like it is addressed to no one in particular. It is to preempt this that I decided on addressing it to the newly formed CORDEG. We am aware that the émigré Gambian communities are as divided and fractious as Gambian society itself and that there may be other rival organizations and groups who may not be included under the CORDEG umbrella. They should also feel included as addressees of this proposal. It is the work of Sphere Three to bring about broadest form of unity of émigré Gambian political organizations and individuals not that of a mere individual like my self. If the circulation of this document, its serious study and vigorous
criticism can spark a lively exchange of views can help mould us closer together to act so as to get nearer the goal of dislodging the autocracy and restore democracy then it would have met the purpose of being sent.
Anyone or ones who feel they have been wronged anyway by this proposal, must forgive and not let it come as any thing personal. The proposal does not claim to have exhausted the facts or truth, and it is with this in mind that criticisms and contributions are sincerely and warmly welcomed.
In fact as this document is being developed events overtake each other around the dictatorship. In Paris émigré Gambians both for and against the regime clashed. In Tanji UDP young militants staged a successful new type of gathering a cocktail of dancing and politics at the Community center. Organizers defied police and the UDP Youth leader Ebrima Solo Sandeng was arrested and released when party leader Mr. Darboe intervened. The Deputy Inspector General of Police who apologized for the police behavior was himself fired when the Dictator returned from Paris. Mr. Sandeng was again picked up by NIA agents. Also as the document was being developed the NRP appears to be having some fresh problems with colleagues in Sphere One. These events tend to confirm the validity and viability of some of the points made in this proposal while questioning others. But this is a secondary problem. The whole set of proposal can be dismissed but let it please be replaced
with a planned sequence of activities that can channel our energies on road to victory. If we do not plan and act then we are planning to fail
Thank you all for making time for this tortuous reading.