I’d written this back in 2014 and with a little tweak to reflect our current situation in the election year, I thought I’d reproduce.
I was sitting at home minding my business and thought I would grab my routine dose of Gambian News, so I went on reading the local Newspapers. I started with the Daily Observer and I saw a story about our ‘magnanimous’ president ‘negotiating’ the release from immigration detention and repatriation of Gambian Deportees from Angola. $10,000 USD forked out. As important as that story is, it was not as interesting to me as the next.
A January 16, 2014 Daily Observer headline “Ahead of March polls – Bissau authorities begin registration of 35,000 nationals. As I read on, I got to ‘The process that began earlier this week came against the backdrop of a series of sensitization programs by the Bissau-Guinean authorities in Banjul’ and I was already filled with sadness and anger, out of jealousy. ‘Really? Guinea Bissau!?’ I thought. This is not to be disrespectful to Bissau. I am cognizant of the fact that President Jammeh is not remotely close to anything democratic but in all fairness, we have a fairly stronger democratic establishments and/or ‘potential’ considering how the poor West African nation barely have any breathing space in-between their military coup d’états. Plus as ‘young’ as we consider our State to be, we attained independence almost a decade before Bissau. So that was the premise of my comparison. But let me get off that!
The 2007 Constitution of the Gambia: Chapter V (1)(1) clearly states that
“Every citizen of The Gambia being eighteen years or older and of sound mind shall have the right to vote for the purpose of elections of a President and members of the National Assembly, and shall be entitled to be registered as a voter in a National Assembly constituency for that purpose.”
I do not know what the constitutional stipulation on voter registration was in the first republic to be able to compare with what we have today; therefore, I am not able to have a take on that. What is a known fact though is that, Gambians in the Diaspora have been constitutionally enfranchised but deliberately marginalized on almost everything, by this regime since its inception. I have not seen any serious attempts by the Jammeh Administration to ever engage Gambians outside the country in any meaningful decision making or undertaking – especially politically. Proportionately (in the continent), the Gambia has one of largest per capita of academicians and professionals who studied and/or practiced their expertise outside its borders. And this is in all spheres or disciplines. Then how comes our Government is not keen on tapping in to the abundant resource pool to enrich our workforce or even entice some to come invest in their country of birth? Instead, we often see the leadership launching blanket attacks and threats, branding this particular constituency ‘failures and enemies’ of the Country.
To put the undisputed significance of the Diaspora Gambians in to perspective, I am going to try highlighting one thing here. From economic perspective, the financial prowess of Gambians abroad over the years has been too impacting that it’s felt in all aspects of the Gambian economy. Since many Gambian families depend on relatives outside the country for sustenance and sponsored projects, Gambians remit significant sums that make a substantive mark on the home economy.
In a West Coast radio interview with Director of Research at The Central bank of The Gambia (October 2013), it was revealed that ‘in the Gambia, remittance as a percentage of GDP, have grown significantly over the last decade from a mere 2.5% of GDP in the early 1990s to nearly 10% GDP around 2011’. That was some 3 years ago. In that interview, Gambians were told that the data compiled by the Central Bank had average remittances from Gambians abroad (through exchange bureaus) between 2008 and 2010 at about 54 million dollars. This number had increased to a whooping $85 million dollars in 2012, and a near 20% of our national GDP in 2014.
As significant as this block of Gambians is, the regime in Banjul has calculatedly disenfranchised diaspora Gambians and REFUSED to make any attempts to allow them have a say in any electoral process. The opposition Group of Six (G6) in their list of demands to the IEC, copied to the President, Attorney General and Speaker of the National Assembly, did include the registration of Gambians outside her borders to participate in the 2016 elections. These demands thus far have fallen on deaf ears. IEC would argue that they could not afford the finances and other logistics to conduct a voter registration of Gambians abroad but we are all aware of the allegations of voter fraud which IEC are an accomplice. Charges of voters transported in to the Gambia from Southern Senegal and have them planted in places recognized as opposition strongholds on election days. I bet the IEC would get funding, if they are keen on registering eligible Gambians in the Diaspora. Senegal, Bissau and many African countries have shown time and time again, the level of political maturity and all inclusiveness in working together as a people and nation in this area. WHY CAN’T GAMBIA? And it’s regrettable and frustrating that the Diaspora hadn’t really picked up this to vigorously incorporate in our local and international advocacy.
President Jammeh has no motivation or the slightest inclination to commit himself to favoring or strengthening democratic ideals that would diminish his status as a tyrant and weaken is powers as a brutish almighty. He’s been very comfortable taking advantage of the level of political and civic education of our illiterate majority and would never willingly allow Gambians who live outside and tasted any semblance of democracy that has been foreign to us for 22 years, be part of any mechanism that could boot him out. Remember the Information and Communication (Amendment) Act 2012 aka the Internet Laws? Considering the amount of opposition outside the country from Senegal to UK, France to America, any hopes of negotiation to have Gambians abroad participate in the 2016 Presidential Elections is next to nothing. If Bissau-Guinea are able to do this, Gambians must demand their right to vote and choose who represents them. We are a significant constituency and must use our leverage to compel the Jammeh administration recognize and respect us as such. Our pockets are our bargaining chips, so why can’t we use them? This is one of the many reasons that the Diaspora need to put their house in order and graduate from cyber activism and radio fights to claim our rightful position in our politics. We are equal stakeholders and all hands must be on deck
This article is the most inspiring and on the spot facts that we the diaspora Gambians should should concern ourselves with. This reminds us of the arrogant rantings and disdains that Yaya Jammeh always shouts to us in the most disrespectful manner, you can:” Go to Hell”.
There are at four nationalities resident in the Gambia that regular vote in their presidential elections: Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Guinea Conakry and recently Guinea Bissau. The amount of remittances these nationals resident in the Gambia send home is nothing comparable to the amount we the Gambians in the diaspora send home. Yet their countries accord them the respect and the rights they deserve as citizens of their respective countries.
Yaya Jammeh is even tired of telling us that he owns the Gambia and that we are his slaves. The ball is in our court, now what?
Thanks Pata PJ for raising what ought to be our main priority.
“…. This is one of the many reasons [that] the Diaspora need to put their house in order and graduate from cyber activism and radio fights to claim our rightful position in our politics”. Thank you.
Chey Gambia! May ALLAH [SWT] save us. Is it because an idiot like Yaya Jammeh from nowhere has been ruling the Gambia for the past 21 years without uprising, meaning anyone else could also rule us without hesitation? All this nonsense I’m hearing from left to the right made me sick!
Pata , you hit the nail on the head . Diaspora engage in misplaced priorities . Majority don’t care as long as they are living comfortably in the west . Whether if anyone support jammeh or not , engaging in political process and having a voice in decision making process of our country is a constitutional rights of every citizens wherever you live . But it is sad to see our fellow citizens acting as if nothing serious is happening . Majority of diaspora feels that the most important thing is to get papers while we ignore political process in our native country . Diaspora engagement in political process can be a tremendous help to reduce the burden of sending Constance remittances to the families back home because when we have good government in place , it will bring economic development and prosperity . Today the evil regime has enabled thousands of citizens including their own families to flee and look for security and economic opportunities elsewhere . Majority Gambian diaspora lack sense of nationalism and patriotism just like our elected officials . In The Gambia , from the president , Vice President , opposition leaderships , businessmen and prominent or influencial citizens all have their children in the west who are disenfranchised and are not Involve in political process . No body seem to care about the country because we are all busy trying to relocate our families in the west . Ninety-nine percent of the sons and daughters of elected officials , prominent and influencial leaders , and businessmen don’t go to Gambia because of the advise from their parents about political instability and military dictatorship . Gambians are their own worst enemy . The ruling party and the dictator is destroying not only the future of poor farmers’ children in across the country but they are also destroying the future of their own children who are silently sitting in the west without the ability to engage in political process . Example Vice President Isatou Njie saidy has send all her children to settle in USA and never allow them to engage in political process , she should understand that she is engage in self destruction because those children futures are far important than her current position . Any decision taken by the Vice President to support military dictatorship has serious consequences on her children future . it is very important for every Gambian or those in diaspora to engage in political process and we must demand from our leaders the right to be involved in political process which is right to vote . Diaspora must take this lead and demand it .