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Civil Society Associations Gambia thanks the ECOWAS Commission; Reacts to Gambia Government’s Response

By Civil Society Associations Gambia (CSAG)
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His Excellency Hon. James Victor Gbeho
ECOWAS Commission
Abuja, Nigeria December 2nd 2011

Dear Sir,

The Civil Society Associations Gambia (CSAG) is a consortium of civil and human rights organizations founded to champion the restoration of democracy and rule of law in The Gambia. Of the eight organizations that constitute this body, only one, the newest; the Coalition for Change Gambia (CCG) has a physical presence in the country. The rest, operating from across Europe, United States and Senegal, have identified the extremely hazardous political environment and abusive disposition of the regime as the reason for the lack of presence in the country.

The decisions by exiled Gambians to found these rights organizations arose from a dire need to champion the civil and human rights of our fellow country men and women in the face of the brutal repression and endemic corruption institutionalized by Yahya Jammeh and his regime. Sir, CSAG has noted with particular interest the recent action taken by ECOWAS Commission to boycott monitoring of The Gambia's recent presidential elections, and the subsequent lame and ridiculous reaction issued by the Gambian authorities through the Gambian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The denial by the regime of the rationale advanced by ECOWAS is preposterous, lacks merit, and constitutes a delusional attempt to negate the obvious and self-evident truth.

Sir, in light of this, CSAG wishes to congratulate and reassure the august ECOWAS Commission body that the decision taken by His Excellency Hon. James Victor Gbeho on behalf of the ECOWAS member states is, under The Gambia's prevailing political climate, the right one. For the past decade and half, Gambians have undeservedly been subjected to a litany of egregious rights abuses. And today, the military regime has turned the country into another police state; enforcing Yahya Jammeh's grand vision of micromanaging the lives of Gambians for the purposes of their total and complete control.

The CASG wishes to reiterate that the group identifies with and supports the sentiments and rationale expressed by the ECOWAS Commission with regards to The Gambia's untenable political situation. ECOWAS as the regional body has made a truthful and an exact assessment and characterization of The Gambia's operating political environment. The Gambian regime may deny or refute the ECOWAS Commission's position all they want; it will not change the fact that the elections were being held under an entrenched climate of fear that has bedeviled the country over the past decade and half. The Yahya Jammeh regime has imposed a divisive political culture that subjects innocent Gambians to constant threat of arrest and incarceration. Today, many citizens have turned on each other to usher in a new social paradigm fueled by self-preservation, self-interest and sectarian politics. The social and political rifts engineered by the regime, have turned neighbors against neighbors and friends against friends and caused the ruination of generations of social cohesiveness and harmony.

Sir, as ECOWAS rightly observed, the political climate in The Gambia is not amenable to the conduct of free and fair exercise of the electoral process. The political environment in existence is extremely hostile to independent thought and dissenting political opinions. The first major attempt at open political dissention by secondary and high school students occurred in April 10th 2000, when students vented their outrage over the death of a fellow student under police custody. The unarmed juvenile demonstrators were met with brutal force, resulting in the massacre of sixteen more students. And the murder of so many young Gambian school children by security forces on the fateful day is eerily similar to another bizarre massacre that occurred barely five years later; of forty-four innocent Ghanaian would-be immigrants captured in Gambian waters.

Sir, in general, the murders of Gambians which began soon after the coup in 1994, has continued unabated to this day. This year alone, eight Gambians met their deaths at the hands of the regime; two of them strangled, one died from torture wounds and the other five, mere small children, were crushed to death by Yahya Jammeh's speeding motorcades or during the stampede for biscuits Yahya Jammeh customarily throws at fearful crowds lining along his travel routes. The first causality of the regime was the civilian finance minister; Koro Ceesay whose dead body was set on fire in his state issued Mercedes Benz. This tragedy was soon followed by the extrajudicial executions of nine military officers, and the assassination of the late President of The Gambia Press Union; Deyda Hydara. Recently, one of the assassins confessed his role to the Freedom Newspaper in which he implicated Yahya Jammeh as the mastermind of that gruesome murder.

Sir, to date, in addition to still not fully uninvestigated and haphazardly settled massacre of forty-four Ghanaian immigrants massacred by Gambian security forces, nearly hundred Gambians met their untimely deaths at the hands of the regime through strangulations, extrajudicial shooting deaths and in one instance, a military Sergeant was chased through a crowded market and shot multiple times in broad day light. Up to date, close to a hundred more Gambians have died of starvation, lack of proper medical care and diseases in the notorious and over-crowded Mile 2 Prisons situate two miles north of Banjul. But in addition, nearly twenty more Gambians have become victims of forced disappearance, most since 2005, and all are feared murdered. The witch-hunting exercise, ordered by Yahya Jammeh in the spring of 2009, in which thousands of poor, innocent villagers were rounded up around the country and forced to drink some herbal concoctions, which took lives of ten elderly and hospitalized close to two dozen, is still fresh in our minds. It also recently came to public knowledge that a Senegalese national was remanded for fourteen years without ever being charged of any crime and the Gambian judiciary admitted to the gross lapse in the execution of its duty, but the fact remains, many more detainees are under the same predicament; forgotten by the powers that be and with no one to fight for their rights.

In The Gambia, the entire civil service, which significantly consists of many barely literate Gambians, has fallen into dysfunction and disarray, and during the campaigns, the military regime admonished Gambians in no uncertain terms that if they fail to vote for the ruling military regime, they will be denied both passports and benefit from state funded development projects. And just a day before the polling, Yahya Jammeh told a crowd in Bakau, a town eight miles south-west of Banjul that the voting cards were biometric and anyone who failed to vote will be discovered and repercussions would follow. He threatened to order the Independent Electoral Commissioner to display the photographs of all who failed to cast their votes. This clear intimidation was published in the regime's mouthpiece; The Daily Observer Newspaper. Besides, barely three months before the elections, a caravan of ruling military party personnel headed by the party's campaign manager, toured the length and breadth of the country for three weeks campaigning on behalf of the regime. This was soon followed by Yahya Jammeh's two weeks campaign tour of the country, yet the opposition was denied the opportunity to do the same. As a matter of fact, the campaign manager of the main opposition UDP party was earlier tried and incarcerated for a year for using a hand-held loud speaker at an opposition meeting. The constant arrests and detentions of opposition politicians, which has become the norm, have created a situation where self-censorship, timidity and outright fear of freely expressing their political views in public have become the standard operating procedure.

In conclusion, CSAG wishes to reiterate its unreserved support of the ECOWAS Commission's position and hope more attention will, moving forward be paid to the atrocities being perpetrated by the regime. As we speak, eight members of the civil society organization, Coalition for Change Gambia (CCG) are being tried for treason and sedition for merely exercising their Constitutional rights to dissent. At the heart of their Kangaroo trials is the printing and distribution of T-shirts bearing the political slogan: Coalition for Change Gambia–End Dictatorship Now. The group has never been a clandestine organization as the regime tries to characterize it, even though its members have worked with some Senegalese authorities to only try to secure permission to establish an FM radio station, Radio Free Gambia, in Senegal's second capital Kaolack, not far from the Gambian border. The reason for this is that several independent radio stations in Gambia were torched and others critical to the regime were ordered closed and their operators fled the country for fear for their lives. Radio Free Gambia was intended to empower opposition political parties by providing an alternative medium of communications with Gambians in the run up to the just ended presidential elections, since the state run media has been out of bounds for the opposition for the past decade and half.

But today, the Senegalese that facilitated the acquisition of a permit to operate Radio Free Gambia on Senegalese territory are being falsely cast as complicit to an attempt to remove Yahya Jammeh's regime. The fact of the matter is that from the very beginning, CCG's activities were known to Gambians through radio broadcasts, public lectures in the Gambia itself, and the establishment of an Internet Website, a Face-book Account, a Twitter Account, and media press releases, all of which are in the public domain, easily be accessed by anyone, anywhere, with the mere click of a computer mouse. For the past two months, however, Dr. Amadou Scattred Janneh, a member of CCG, a former Information and Technology minister in the Yahya Jammeh regime and former professor of Political Science at the University of Tennessee is with eight other CCG members, falsely standing trial for “conspiracy to overthrow” the regime, a ruse the regime has used all too often against enemies real and perceived.

Sir, for this madness to end, Gambians are appealing for the indulgence of the international community, in particular, ECOWAS whose representation carries the necessary international weight to overcome the power and madness of West Africa's last remaining dictator; Yahya Jammeh.

Banka Manneh
Ndey Tapha-Sosseh
Secretary General
Prof. Oumar Ndongo
General Secretary
West African Civil Society Forum
ECOWAS Chairman, President Jonatrhan Goodluck, Abuja, Nigeria

Senegalese Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dakar, Senegal

African Union President, Addis Ababa
The Commonwealth Secretariat, London, UK
State Department, Washington, DC
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Abidjan, Ivory Coast

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of Civil Society Associations Gambia (CSAG) and do not necessarily reflect those of The Nigerian Voice. The Nigerian Voice will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."