By Kemo Cham
Outspoken Gambian opposition leader, Omar Jallow (OJ), has rubbished Yahya Jammeh’s frequent sacking of ministers and other government officials as a nonstarter for stemming graft in the country.
‘‘Constant reshuffling is not the solution to the ongoing graft or ineffective ministers. He has already sacked over 120 ministers in 15 years and he has never given reasons for sacking ministers,” O J said.
For many of Yahya Jammeh’s supporters, his continued popularity among Gambians, as expressed by his constant retention of power in every election since overthrowing a democratically elected government in 1994, has to do with his stance of fulfillment on deliverance on election promises. For others, he manages to stay on only by rigging elections. And still for a few others, he is simply destined to lead the country to its destiny.
There are even those Gambians who think that Jammeh’s divine backing by Allah, coupled with his mystical powers, as in his claim of entitlement to cure HIV/AIDS and a horde of other diseases, is the most important issue here. And Jammeh’s characteristic pronouncement of Qur’anic verses, his constant references to Allah, his past proclamation of Allah being his World Bank, among others, have all definitely helped spurred the latter argument.
But, undoubtedly, there are political tactics the Gambia’s ‘political genius’ of 15 year experience has which hasn’t been highlighted before. His frequent sacking of ministers appears to have helped a great deal in not only diverting attention from the shortcomings of the government, but also garnered empathy and support for him from among the masses. This is a point Omar Jallow (OJ), the head of a faction of the former ruling party, the Peoples’ Progressive Party (PPP), referred to in his interview with the Voice of America (VOA), recently.
When Jammeh fires his ministers no explanations are given, this leaves not only ordinary Gambians but also independent political observers to conclude that these sacked officials are either guilty of corruption or they generally failed to live up to expectation. Jammeh himself has in the past come close to indicating that his sackings are about stamping out graft.
“If you want to make money, make money legally; that is your salary and what is your entitlement,” Jammeh was quoted as saying in an interview in June 2009. “I am not saying nobody should make money. You should make money legally. You must earn it and respectfully,” he said, while discussing the reason for his frequent sacking of ministers.
Speculations went rife that the then speaker of the National Assembly, Fatoumata Jahumpa Ceesay, popularly known as FJC, was involved in some shady deals, and Jammeh actually set that off when said, just after sacking the former speaker, that a particular lady had been going around extorting money from Gambians using his name.
But it is no surprise that it baffles almost everyone among Jammeh’s opponents that these people are never taken before the court of law to account for whatever they may have done.
“These are all white-washing policies because I didn’t see any effective means that he [President Jammeh] is using to eradicate corruption because if he wants to eradicate corruption, the ministers who are sacked have to be investigated and taken before the court of law,” OJ told VOA.
President Jammeh’s accruing ministerial portfolios have also been a wider subject of chatter. Apart from his highly demanding presidential duties, coupled with his self assigned cure of HIV/AIDS, Asthma, Diabetes, Hypertension, etc, etc…, he some times holds as many as five different portfolios simultaneously. The Gambian leader presently holds the portfolios of Defense, Energy, Agriculture, and Works and Infrastructure, all thanks to his frequent firing.
According to OJ, Jammeh only deliberately fires ministers to avoid the formation of any rival power base. In other words, to avoid taking the blame for their poor performance, thereby giving any chance for the opposition to query which could result in the latter gaining support from the masses.
“I think Gambia has become the country that will go in the Guinness book of records as the country that has sacked more ministers in 15 years than any country in the world,’’ OJ said, describing the situation as a policy of this government since 1994.
‘‘And I think if he [Jammeh] is determined to eradicate corruption what he should do is if he suspects anybody he should not only sack you, but…investigate you and if possible take you before the court of law,” VOA quoted OJ.
The US based media also quoted Jammeh’s recent remark in a recent GRTS broadcast that he [Jammeh] was fed up with hiring and firing ministers, and that ministers should either “deliver or get kicked out”.
To this, OJ said that the constant reshuffling is not the solution to the ongoing graft or ineffective ministers.
“He has already sacked over 120 ministers in 15 years and he has never given reasons for sacking ministers,” the opposition politician said.
Freedom of expression
The Gambia government’s highly criticized antipathy for an independent press and freedom of expression is also an issue OJ delved on. He charged that the government has created an “uncomfortable” political environment for the opposition.
‘‘The independent press should be given its place as the fourth estate. Gambia has seen the most hostile environment for the independent press, I think in the whole of Africa for the last 15 years,” OJ said, adding ‘‘the good step of good governance is to allow the opposition parties to take their rightful places in Gambia. But this is not happening.’’
By Kemo Cham