The recent resumption of diplomatic ties between Gambia and mainland China continues to generate mixed reactions from people from different walks of life. In this One-on-One interview with journalist Abdoulie John, Essa Bokarr Sey, former Gambian plenipotentiary to France, Russia, Taiwan and the USA, gives insightful answers to the decision taken by the Gambia to shift diplomatic recognition, advocating for China’s ‘One China Principle’. Please read on…
On March 17, 2016, the Gambia resumed diplomatic ties, with mainland China. The move ended months of speculations after breaking off with rival Taiwan. What do you make of this development?
ESSA BOKARR SEY: In my opinion this is not the least strategic instead it is the outcome of an amateurish government or it is another erratic decision from a State whose approaches do always stem from instincts but not intelligence. I have no doubt in my mind that, the ministry of foreign affairs will reserve their last card in these words: “Babili Mansa’s decision stemmed from an “OPEN DOOR POLICY”. True or false, that is what the government in Banjul will try to peg its decision on but the honest truth shows the contrary to that effect.
You see Mr. John, diplomacy is one way or the other based on a “win-win” or reciprocity. Anything short of these two leaves so much to be desired. By the way, using the niceties of diplomatic language and separating desires, emotions or personal feelings from national matters or at best national interest is where many see the way forward or lose track and then end up in stagnation. President Jammeh as a head of state, is naturally, traditionally and diplomatically the steering wheel of The Gambia’s foreign policy. The same way it is the duty of any other head of state anywhere else in the world. However, the difference between a tyrannical regime and a democratic one that (respects checks and balances and or the rule of law) is that the former derives its meaning from the whims and caprices of a tyrant whereas the latter derives its meaning from checks and balances. Ethically speaking, leadership should always bear in mind that, its role is that of a servant but not that of a master. Although logic does not expect that from an autocrat. Diplomacy or anything that is related to good governance should never be ushered by a “flow chart” or a formula called trials and errors, especially where those using the formula keep fumbling in the dark. In light of the aforesaid and also when one reflects on the past, it will become so easy for any person to see the emotional not rational or reasonable side of things, as far as Yahya Jammeh’s modus operandi is concerned. A state that feeds on “treasure hunt” is a state that does not have a plan neither does it have any structure put in place. Simply put, Yahya Jammeh is the very head of State who sponsored and co-sponsored resolutions supporting the Island of Taiwan to separate itself from BIG CHINA between 1997 and 1999 isn’t it? It is when The Gambia was a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council. Today the same person is publicly going against that position? Why? Because Taiwan refused to give him money at a personal level? You know what I read from that? It is simple, what I read from that is Yahya Jammeh does not fit to be the leader of a UN member State in this world of today where conflicts are sprouting all over the place. Regardless of the size or population of a country, one thing should be the first priority of any state, which is; safeguarding the interest of its people home and abroad. So if a head of state is ready to use state machinery to enrich himself means such a character is so irresponsible that, he will never succeed where conflict resolution or crisis management becomes part of the list of demands. Isn’t conflict resolution what we need between Mainland China and Taiwan? Indeed yes. For Yahya Jammeh to say there can be two Chinas from 1995 to 2014 and then turn around in 2016 only to say the direct opposite, shows how disorganized and undecided his foreign policy is! Unfortunately, though, his current minister of foreign affairs does not know any better! Her first speech disqualified her as a diplomat. A minister of foreign affairs beginning her tenure as a news anchor of GRTS? What a strange and incompetent way of being Gambia’s chief diplomat! Worst of all she was directly insulting our development partners. Well, that in itself shows us the people of the land that, Gambia is buried in a stinking bin of incompetence! What does that tell us again? It tells us something else about a leader who is impulsive, erratic and irrational. On matters like diplomatic relations, a President must be careful of misleading his people! As states are based on continuity all rash decisions are taken by the incumbent especially from a diplomatic point of view could have harmful long-term effects. Therefore, whenever a new leadership replaces the current order of the day, it would have so much to rectify before moving forward.
The geopolitical move made by Gambia govt has been described as part of an election ploy. Do you share this opinion?
ESSA BOKARR SEY: Please allow me to differ on this point, I do not see State House’s action or move as anything related to being a player in the geopolitical arena. You see Mr. John, there is what we call bilateral relations, multilateral relations (UN for example) or geopolitical activities crisscrossing the middle of the circle of international relations. That said, Yahya’s decision to restore diplomatic relations with Big China is bilateral. It is between the two countries or two states. Of course, everything is taking place in the global activities of diplomatic relations but in this case, it is between Banjul and Beijing. I remember when Guinea Bissau chose to leave Mainland China for Taiwan. Guess who convinced them to do so? It was Yahya Jammeh! On that note, Taiwan should equally expect Yahya to be the overzealous “born again advocate” of Mainland China in West Africa. Mark my words, Yahya will not hesitate to openly fight Taiwan at the United Nations, ECOWAS and African Union once he “tastes” raw cash from Beijing. President’s office at State House Banjul The Gambia is what I would call the “PAWN STORE OF CHEQUE BOOK DIPLOMACY”. For Jammeh, selling The Gambia at a cheap rate is nothing as long as he can be assured of wire transfers into his joint bank account with his wife Zeinab Souma Jammeh.
The joint communique endorsed by Foreign Affairs Ministers of both countries did reiterate that “there is only one China in the world”. How do you explain this diplomatic flip-flop?
ESSA BOKARR SEY: (Laughter) My brother simply put communique as we both know it, is a noun which means: “…an official announcement or statement, especially one made to the media…”. In retrospect, Gambians have already felt the bitter and or monotonous part of Yahya Jammeh’s endless communiqués over the years, ranging from the general to the specific. Look here my brother, Yahya issued the same communique when he established diplomatic relations with Taiwan in 1995! He, in fact, wrote a similar communique for the “semi-autonomous” authorities in Polisario at the time but it was never made public. He was walked through those paragraphs and then eventually ushered out of that thorny and muddy path by seasoned Gambian diplomats if not we might have ,plunged us into another quagmire again. Let me tell you this brother, hypothetically if Casamance was to proclaim its independence today and then give Yahya Jammeh suitcases of money he would never hesitate to attend any so called installation or inauguration ceremony of a “President” in that area! At this juncture lets quote the exact words of the editorial board of the Gambia government’s official journal being the daily observer, published on the 8th of October 2013. Which was a year before diplomatic ties ended between the Taipei and Banjul.
I quote: BEGIN- “When diplomatic and political relations were resumed between the Republics of The Gambia and the Asian-island nation of Taiwan in 1995, one year after the bloodless military takeover that ended 30 years of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) rule, many people knew little of what the country was to gain from this friendship. But what started as a mere appending of signatures to formalise the resumption of these ties would soon turn into a great political score for the two small nations that shared the core values, that, diplomacy should be based on mutual trust and understanding.”- END
The above-referenced twist was way too soon and shameful an act! That shows you and I and any other person that Yahya Jammeh is definitely a “political pest” and, without a doubt, a misfit within the geopolitical arena.
China’s Foreign Policy is guided by non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries. Could the decision switch recognition to PRC be a salutary alternative to the Jammeh regime?
ESSA BOKARR SEY: You see Mr. John, words like “non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries” have their limits too. China can say so when it puts on its cap of a sovereign nation dealing with another UN member state. On the other hand, China is obliged to fulfill its role as a permanent member of the UN Security council. What do I mean here? I mean China like USA, France, United Kingdom and Russia have two caps when it comes to bilateral and multilateral relations. Take for example the case of Burundi as we speak. How can any UN permanent member refuse to speak up where a sitting president is killing his own people? Lest they want to forget the “blame game” that surrounded Rwanda from 1993,1994, until the early 2000s. Many people around the globe blamed the US and France for not stepping in early enough. What did that produce? Documentaries or movies of horror and sorrow within and outside of Rwanda! Many people were slaughtered. Unbelievable as it may sound within 72 hours the number of deaths in Rwanda was between 700,000 to 1 Million. Which means a number equivalent to 2/3rds of The Gambia’s population today was wiped out in three days! That is what dictatorial regimes create or do to their people when an uprising starts against the status quo. Therefore, China may honour its bilateral position but will never be able to escape the pressure at United Nations when its role as a permanent member is challenged. I personally remember when China threatened to veto the deployment of a UN Peacekeeping force to Guinea-Bissau in 1999 simply because Guinea Bissau had established diplomatic relations with Taipei a couple of years before that. It is when the Gambian delegation spearheaded the formation of a group known as “Friends of Guinea-Bissau” at the UN Building. That group was geared towards influencing certain decisions at the level of the security council. This is one area where I am not the least happy with the way China operates in Africa! They sometimes are so UNDIPLOMATIC when it comes to their “national interest”. Did China not care even if each and every person in Guinea-Bissau died right? That is also why we Gambians would not wait for China to interfere or not interfere when we are ready to change Yahya Jammeh. Another case in point is the former Senegalese President HE Abdoulaye Wade. He restored relations with Beijing and abandoned Taiwan. That indeed did not stop him from being “pushed” out of the Palais Presidentiel in Dakar! Of To conclude, China would care less if Gambians were to rise up and remove Yahya. Especially if they were to promise Beijing that they were to remain with them during a post-Jammeh era! Which is why Gambians have to remain united against a tyrant and avoid him pushing them towards burning bridges with development partners or donor countries. These are nations who establish relations with States but not a person. I can assure you that China’s policy of not interfering in the internal affairs of any given UN member state could be a bigger disadvantage to Yahya Jammeh than anyone else’s inside The Gambia.
Greetings John, my most professional colleague at the DO. Glad to see you are well, and I suppose you are with the family in Dakar. Drop me an e-mail. I will be in Petit Yoff this Summer and will visit that lovely bookshop at the bottom of Cheikh Anta-Diop Avenue … At the Fann end.
As for the topic, in terms of the National Interest of The Gambia, I am sure the diplomatic tie with China is correct. As for the Taiwan Dance, the “Ambassador” knows much more than us – after all he was one if the main choreographers of what he calls “The Pawn Store of Cheque-Book Diplomacy” … which infact was a GENIUS move by Chairman Lt Jammeh at the point when the infant Military Regime was about to be strangled by the USA and the EU. Taiwan enabled the AFRPC to survive.
I am sure the Ex-Ambassador did his bit to make Taiwan happy while in his post – before he moved as Ambassador to USA to deal with the Diaspora Gambian Rebels!
Of course, as a Leftist I always thought Chairman Mao was the man and that Sun Yat Sen was a reactionary and a US puppet – which his Taiwan still is.
Correction: “Sun Yat Sen was a reactionary and a US puppet – which his Taiwan still is” … I meant to say Chiang Kai Shek (brother in-law to Sun Yat Sen)
Luntango, I doubt if a long lasting foreign policy can be entirely base on short term opportunism only. Over the years, I don’t know who are our friends or foe. Though the slogan “no permanent friends and enemy but permanent interests” emanates from the US, the US more than any country in contemporary term, has mastered the art of nurturing long lasting relationships with countries that matter to them strategically.
Accepting our deficiency in relation building, I would enjoin that we start with our own backyard. Ensure that our only land borders remain open for trade and integration.
Indeed Kinteh, US only copied UK once US took over from UK as The Empire.
It was UK’s Imperial Prime Minister Lord Palmerston who in the 19th Century coined the phrase “We have no permanent friends, only permanent interests”.
But of course Palmerston did not include the Anglo-Family Rulers in Canada, USA, Australia and New Zealand in such dismissiveness – even today the Anglo-Family is called “Five-Eyes” (Google).
As you suggest it would be great if Gambia, Senegal, Mali, Bissau and Conakry could become our “FIVE EYES” and look after each others backs as closely as the Anglos do. Ghana has apparently said that all Africans are free to enter the country without a visa … although if my memory serves me right they kicked out a million Nigerians overnight some 20 years ago.
Oh come on! We don’t mean the likes of Essa Bokarr Sey when we talk about diplomats. We mean well trained and seasoned diplomats. Essa Bokarr Sey was only an ambassador by accident.
Good to restore relations with mainland China, but is the APRC dependable for any lasting relationships..?
The People’s Republic would definitely not be splashing the cash, like the desperadors of the socalled “Republic of Taiwan”.Would that endanger this new “collaboration and friendship.?” Only time will tell.
It may have been expedient and “smart” for the AFPRC to substitute Mainland China for Taiwan, but it is a decision they (the council members) may greatly regret in any new political dispensation in the future, if they are still around.
The corrupting influence of Taiwan, through the transfer of millions of hard cash in USD, is what wet the appetite of malnourished Lt.Jammeh and thus, the very consequence of the greed we see today..Back then, it is reported that millions were received in hard cash and either shared immediately or deposited at the Central Bank, with members having open cheque book.access to it..
Former Council Member and then spokesman, Capt. Ebou Jallow, has once revealed on Freedom Radio, how a suitcase filled with 5M(USD) cash (part of a $35M loan/grant from Taiwan ) was shared between them…
Former President Jawara also corroborated the Junta’s receipt of $35M from Taiwan in a BBC interview around the time, and alleged that it was shared between them..So switching to Taiwan could be regretted in future..
China’s bilateral relations in many African countries is as unhealthy as radioactivity.