Gainako congratulates Nana Grey Johnson on his appointment as minister of information, technology and infrastructure which did not come as a surprise to many. We are not necessarily celebrating his appointment with optimism but rather recognizing that as a human being if that is what he regards as a personal achievement in his life, then it is befitting to congratulate him on his success.
While he is fresh in his ministerial position busy shifting through the rubble of
his numerous predecessors’ records or lack thereof, we would like to remind the new minister that he did not get to this position by accident. That his long history of contribution to Gambian media and as veteran Journalist and writer is what earns him this recognition. Although this may have been triggered by recent reports of him authoring a book on President Jammeh’s development in the last eighteen years, the underlining fact is that being a seasoned journalist and famous writer is what comes through in this appointment even though President Jammeh will never admit that is the reason for choosing him.
Minister Johnson may want to remember that this ministerial position has been semi vacant for several years for reasons known to all of us. The last media personnel who served in this position was Dr. Amadou Scattred Janneh who’s story and ordeals we are all too familiar with during the last several years. The other two ministers who came after Dr. Janneh were Bala Gaba Jahumpa & Ngogu Bah who were only appointed as caretakers while the President continue to look for a trusted experience media personnel to serve this critical ministry. There is certainly no lack of experience media personnel in Gambia who could effectively serve this ministry if accorded the independence and respect to freely execute their service to the nation.
Minister Johnson, you took over this ministry at a time when the Gambian media and journalists are experiencing the worst assault from a sitting government in the history of the media. As you take your oath of office, two newspapers and a community radio station are recently arbitrarily closed indefinitely by the Jammeh government. Two journalists Abdoulie John of the pro government Daily Observer and Baboucarr Ceesay were arrested and detained. No reasons as usual were given for their arrest and detention.
Mr. Johnson your one time colleague and confidant in the media the distinguished Deyda Hydara was murdered in cold blood few yards from a police station allegedly for his criticism of the Jammeh government’s heavy handedness on Gambian media and Democracy. To this day government refused to investigate or allow credible investigations of his murder. Chief Ebrima Manneh a young vibrant reporter of the Daily Observer was arrested by government agents since 2006 and to this day he is nowhere to be found. Over one hundred young and seasoned Gambian journalists have been forced into Exile for simply exercising their freedom to report and write about news and events in and around Banjul.
Mr. Johnson your appointment couldn’t have come at the worst time in the history of the Gambian media. Perhaps this would be a blessing in disguise and a divine intervention for you to break the deadlock and assault on Gambia’s fourth estate. As the saying goes everything happens for a reason and you may either be the man who finally brought meaningful dialogue between the media and government or another professional who turns against his own profession and colleagues. History is already recording your chapter and it shall judge you too as you attempt to execute your duties for nobility or towards oppression.
However, Mr. Johnson, President Jammeh has openly declared war against the media and has branded Gambian journalists as “illegitimate sons and daughters of the Gambia”. He seems to have no respect whatsoever for the work of journalists even as he exploits the positive aspects of two media houses; the National Television (GRTS) and the pro government Daily Observer to boost his own image and promote his propaganda. It is therefore obvious President Jammeh needs the media as much as the media needs him to contribute to socioeconomic development, education and democratic agenda in the Gambia.
Our first challenge to you Minister Johnson is to let President Jammeh and his government understand that Gambian Journalists are not enemies of the State and nation. That evidence of the work of the late Deyda Hydara; the professional and relentless contributions of Sam Sarr of Foroyaa, Pap Saine Cofounder of thePoint, the patriotic consistent contributions from D.A Jawo, the educational literature from Dr. Baba Galleh Jallow, Alagie Yorro Jallow, Madi Ceesay of the Dailynews and the leadership of Ndey Tapha Sosseh and Emil Touray of the Gambia Press Union and several young and older Gambian Journalists clearly exemplifies patriotism and love of nation and peace. The writings from these citizens have no seeds of enmity or hatred for either President Jammeh or his government, but rather a call for decency, openness, equal treatment and freedom to live with dignity, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all Gambians.
Our second challenge to you Minister Johnson is to open a dialogue and line of communication between the government of the Gambia and the independent media, in efforts to promote harmony and understanding between the state and the private media. Evidence has shown that when Fatou Camara former State House Press Secretary conveyed a meeting between President Jammeh and the private media at the very least it led to a reopening of the Standard newspaper. All media chiefs at the time openly welcomed the idea of an open dialogue with the State leaving many to believe that such a dialogue can only go a long way to promote peace and stability in our nation.
Another challenge for you sir is to have a regular meeting with media houses and the press union to help breach that negative perception of distrust between government officials and the private press. This session should include ways and means of obtaining information from government authorities on matters relevant to the population without media houses resorting to speculation and malicious charges of giving false information. This will fulfill President Jammeh’s earlier pronouncements that government officials are free to speak to the media.
Together with the media houses you should come up with a plan to negotiate with the government to repeal draconian media laws that puts undue hardship on media organizations and journalists to register newspapers and to report the news freely without fear of charges of passing false information among others. You must also begin to recognize that a vibrant online media currently exist outside of Gambia and it is a force to be reckoned with in informing and educating Gambians and the rest of the world about events in the Gambia. Granting an interview to the online media would be in order without fear of government backlash on government officials.
The last but not the least, Minister Johnson, you must convince this government to fully investigate the killings of Deyda Hydara and to bring to closure the disappearance of Chief Ebrima Manneh by either producing him or accounting for his whereabouts and compensate his family for the lost.
Mr. Johnson we realized that these may be noble goals but a steep mountain to climb. However, this is what is expected of you as Minister from the media fraternity and should you move in this direction with or without success, you would have done your part to represent your profession and worked towards making the conditions of the media better. On the contrary, failure to go this direction or your own ways and means of brining dialogue and harmony between government and the private media, then you will equally go down in history as a failure in taking the opportunity to put a stop to the assault. Now while we recognized that these are enormous challenges for you, we must warn that we have little confidence in your government’s ability to accept common sense dialogue with opposing views. It is an opportunity to prove us wrong and get the government to listen to you as the new kid in the block.
Editor’s note: This editorial was first published in March with the minister was appointed. 8 Months later he is fired from his position. Just food for thought.