On Thursday 31st March 2016, Gambian President, Yahya Jammeh, finally gathered enough courage to be able to face the National Assembly and, through GRTS television, the nation for his annual State Opening of the new legislative year, 2016. An early sign of his nervousness his mistaken calling of the address as “state opening of the 2015-2016 legislative year,” the de-structured nature of the over three-hour harangue and the forgetfulness. To help ease his eventual unease, bus-loads of cheerers-on from the ranks of his APRC supporters, most of them non-English understanding, had been commandeered in from all over the West Coast and Greater Banjul regions to provide dozens of applauses. In fact since morning musical bands and dancers had swarmed the new National Assembly building chanting pro-Jammeh slogans. The president seemed to have been badly in need of this support to be able to deliver what is a constitutional requirement.
When he attempted to give the address two weeks ago the Gambian dictator seemed to have had an attack of stage fright minutes before the program was to start. The presidential motorcade was seen speeding pass the National Assembly building just before the speaker informed GRSTS reporters that Jammeh was not turning up and that the program had been postponed till further notice. Though many of the invited, members of the Assembly and diplomats had been waiting since 13.00 hours and it was not till after 18.00 hours that they were informed of the no-show, Speaker Bojang neither apologized nor try to explain. Many observers put it to Jammeh’s failing health, both mental and physical. Rumors of his failing health, probably just wishful thinking, have been making the rounds for years though he looked remarkably emaciated and acts and talks more queer nowadays.
The president spent about twenty minutes of his speech on religious matters praising and defending Islam and talking as if he was president of only Muslims and not others. He however condemned Boko Haram and Islamist State who he said do not read the Koran and therefore could not be expected to know anything about that religion. “Islam,” he said, “is a religion of tolerance, love and peace, and Gambians are true Muslims who embody Islam and will continue to live in peace with non-Muslims.” He went on to say that The Gambia would ever remain an Islamic state and that a bill to that effect will be tabled.
Jammeh’s obsession with the West came throughout the more than three-hour speech. So accordingly he said his government will table a United Nations General Assembly resolution on slavery and colonialism and have these “barbaric chapters in human history” declared as “crime against humanity and for nations that perpetrated these crimes to be obligated to reparations and unconditional apologies.”Jammeh also kept on repeating about six times that “the West should leave us alone.” This is usually an indication that Jammeh is being challenged by the West on poor human rights and governance records. It made many observers wonder what threats or actual Western sanctions so torment the Gambian dictator.
He said the West is never done calling African leaders dictators; “yes we are dictators who defend what is good for our countries since we are elected by our peoples. I oppose France’s intervention in Mali as the French troops went there without the approval of the AU or ECOWAS.”
That Jammeh’s anti-Western rhetoric was made at the wrong forum goes to strengthen the now widespread suspicion that the Western sanction are indeed biting.
The forum was a State Opening of the new legislative year and should usually review government performance of the last year and inform legislators which legislations government plans to table in front of them the coming year. Not about Jammeh’s anti-Western disposition. Most Gambians despite this his disposition as it has helped isolate the country very effectively leading to cut off donor support, Gambian travelers having to travel to Senegal, Mali and Nigeria to get visa to visit relatives among the swelling Gambia Diaspora communities. Donation of medication for diabetics, hypertension and other disease are now hard to come by in hospitals and clinics because most of them were donations from the West. School feeding programs long heralded have now been put on the hold. The trans-Gambian bridge construction project has been on the ice for about a year now. The same goes for the Bond Road construction project, the Mile Seven to Bakau swing. Three Islamic Development Bank-funded projects, totaling up to US 100m, including the groundnut sector revitalization project, have all been on the ice. The poultry feed production factory, long completed, with silos and all, stands idle and deserted, to remind everyone of Jammeh’s ineptitude. Several days ago , the groundnut marketing season came to its official conclusion but as a non-event as the season has never failed like this one. The state-owned GGC which was supposed to have monopoly of purchasing the nuts did not announce its intention to buy until mid-January 2016. For over five months now the fishing sector has been on a virtual standstill as trawlers are on standstill because they have not been issued with any license; artisanal fisheries is also severely disrupted by being over-taxed and mismanaged. Over-taxed as the fees foreign (meaning Senegalese fishermen) pay was last year increased by over 500%, so what they now do is fish in Gambian waters but land at Kafunting in the Senegalese southern region of Casamance. Mismanaged as trawlers, all of them foreign-owned, have 10% of their catch confiscated by government to feed animals in the president’s private zoo in Kanilai.In May of 2015 government issued a presidential directive appreciating the value of the dalasi upward against all major foreign currencies against the advice of the IMF. This went on for seven months till January 2016. It is these and other pertinent policy matters that Gambians expected Jammeh to address, not our relations with the West or on Islam.
For over five months now the fishing sector has been on a virtual standstill as trawlers are on standstill because they have not been issued with any license; artisanal fisheries is also severely disrupted by being over-taxed and mismanaged. Over-taxed as the fees foreign (meaning Senegalese fishermen) pay was last year increased by over 500%, so what they now do is fish in Gambian waters but land at Kafunting in the Senegalese southern region of Casamance. Mismanaged as trawlers, all of them foreign-owned, have 10% of their catch confiscated by government to feed animals in the president’s private zoo in Kanilai.In May of 2015 government issued a presidential directive appreciating the value of the dalasi upward against all major foreign currencies against the advice of the IMF. This went on for seven months till January 2016. It is these and other pertinent policy matters that Gambians expected Jammeh to address, not our relations with the West or on Islam.
The only thing resembling a review of the past year that Jammeh mentioned was that, “Following the sluggish growth of the economy in 2015, the year 2016 is expected to perform much better.” He also disclosed that. “The economy is expected to grow by 4.7% compared 0.9% in 2014.” Jammeh went on to explain that, “The growth is mainly attributed to a rebound both from the agricultural sector and the tourism sub-sector following delayed rains and a spillover effect from the regional Ebola crisis respectively.” Since we still have a rain-fed agriculture and the rains can be delayed in 2016 as they were in 2015, where is Jammeh’s optimism based on? He never said it. Also as he was speaking in the Assembly reports of Ebola rearing its head again in Guinea were coming in, who says it cannot again scare tourists away in 2016?Doubling growth rates more than fourfold from 0.9% to 4.7% is no easy task for any nation’s economy, much less one of resource-poor nation like the Gambia and led by an inept kleptocrat like Yahya Jammeh.
Remember Vision 2016 that Jammeh has been sloganeering about since 2014? Well this is 2016 but there was not a single mention of that vision. He seemed to have forgotten about that day-dreaming vision that would turn Gambia into a country self-sufficient in food by the end of this year.
As for this new legislative year, Jammeh has a lot in store for the legislators.The Gambian dictator promised that a total of eight bills affecting four sectors will be tabled in front of the rubber-stamp National Assembly this year. Three will be for to “support the implementation of the new Education Sector Policy 2016 to 2030.” They are the Basic Education Bill, a University of The Gambia Bill and a Tertiary Education Bill aimed at revising the current Education Bill. He said the new thinking has its center piece as putting entrepreneurship as the key element in education.
The fourth, fifth and sixth bills will be intervening in labor affairs aimed at “making sure that current labor legislation is updated to be in line with international and best practices standard.” The Labor Act 2007, Factories Act and the Injuries Compensation Act are targeted for review, the Gambian dictator promised. He also disclosed that a minimum wage and occupational health safety regulations are being developed and will be completed before the end this legislative year.
The rest are two bills, a Forestry Bill and one, “to make sure the Gambia’s will remain for good and Islamic State.”
Few Gambians will take this introduction of new bills seriously. The government itself is not serious about its own bills. Many bills have been passed in parliament only to be shelved and forgotten. Let us flash back at a couple of bills passed since 2013: the National Enterprise Development Initiative Act, 2013. Not one action of enterprise development has emanated from this Act. Single Window Business Registration Act 2013. This has been forgotten as soon as it was turned into an Act. Though business registration offices were opened in municipalities and Area Councils, the windows are far from being single. One is still compelled to go to the Gambia Revenue Authority (GRA) for tax clearance and to the Ministry of Justice where the Memorandum of Association will be certainly rejected and re-written at a huge sum that is not receipted. His Sexual Offences Act 2013 which has not helped anyway in reducing the prevalence of sexual violence, has not increased the severance of punishments in court and has just been nothing better than a dead letter. The Gambia National Petroleum Corporation Act 2014 which has not helped anyone to become wiser as to who really owns the corporation and its assets. The National Aids Council and Secretariat Act, 2015 and its sister legislation HIV and AIDS Prevention and Control Act, 2015. The fact that these legislations were tabled by a witchdoctor who claims to have been mandated to “cure the disease,”tells it all. It is not that we are saying that legislations on the areas Jammeh promised to introduce are not needed, no, but we all know they are merely for window dressing, not in earnest.
The educational system, labor, forestry and governance are all sectors that do not only need reviewing, they are in dire need for complete overhaul