“It is inhumane to take away students’ Scholarship” Former Gambian Foreign Minister

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Sidi SannehBy Sidi Sanneh

The very thought of having to be withdrawn from a University degree course for no apparent reason is devastating enough, much less for a young student thousands of miles from home and away from loved ones. To forfeit a scholarship in the process with no guarantee of it ever being restored is simply an inhumane act; a pain inflicted on reportedly 30 young Gambian students through administrative fiat thousands of miles away from the Indian sub-continent by Sheikh Professor Jammeh without a single student being given the chance to present their case. 

According to the press release from the Office of The President, these students were being recalled for unspecified infraction that was vaguely referenced and attributable to some behavioral anomalies and “manners that have resulted in grave concern to the government… and University authorities.” The release further informs the public that even ” Some students have been reported to abscond.” The justification of the draconian decision to withdraw the entire Gambian student population from the University is purportedly to protect the ” stellar image…hard working Gambian students have laboriously built around the world.” It is for this reason and this reason alone that Yaya Jammeh capriciously rescinded the decision that made it possible for these deserving students to study abroad on scholarship.

In The Gambia, there are, broadly speaking, three kinds of government-managed scholarships available to students (i) government-sponsored (ii) bi-lateral sources and (iii) project-related sources. The first type of scholarship is usually limited to students attending The University of The Gambia and other African Universities that are generally cheaper – a reasonable given the limited local resources allocated in the budget. The majority of Gambian students are recipients of the second type of scholarships, and that includes the Taiwan scholarship program despite the impression given by Jammeh. The Indian scholarship in question most likely falls under this category because of the generous aid program of the Indian government. Therefore to claim that the students are in India “under the generous sponsorship of Sheikh Professor Jammeh” is inaccurate, and thus designed to deceive Gambians. The third category of scholarships is usually tied to the objectives of the project to build capacity where needed, and financed either by a single or multiple donors.

Jammeh did not finance these scholarships, and thus should not have interfered with the administration of the program. It appears from news accounts that the scholarships in question are an integral part of a bi-lateral aid package. If they are, the third party should have a say unless the acts committed by some of these students are so grave that they are a threat to the national security of India or The Gambia or both. If on the other hand, some of them were engaged in acts less than criminal in nature but includes inferior academic performance, they deserve to be punished in accordance with University rules and regulations – with expulsion the severest of punishment.

There is nothing in the official statement of government to warrant any of the punishment prescribed above. Therefore, to cancel the students scholarships and ask students to return home to a land of high youth unemployment and economic dysfunction is as humiliating as it is unjust. These students are being forced to return home without fulfilling your dreams of earning a degree which is a passport to a good job, a decent standard of living and a chance to raise a family is not only inhumane but it has become a human rights issue. The punishment does not fit the crime.

Jammeh’s unilateral action is nothing new. What is new is acting on behalf of an entire citizenry on whose name these scholarships were awarded by the Government and people of India – as I suspect these scholarships are Indian-sponsored – without reference to a compelling reason for such far-reaching decision. This is an insane act by an insane individual acting to inflict maximum pain on kids who do not deserve being abused and humiliated in a manner undeserving a fellow human being.

It seems to me that subjecting these students to national humiliation and scorn for what appears to be as trivial as absenting oneself without permission from the University is misplaced. And not to hear the side of the students from the students themselves is scandalous. Therefore, the decision should be rescinded to allow the students to continue their studies, unless, of course, there’s more to the story than meets the eye. In that case, the Gambian people, as well as the Indian government and the Indian people, deserve to know the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth from the government of Yaya Jammeh.

Sidi Sanneh

 

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