Mr President Obama,
For many years, I heard Africans in the United States express disappointment that you seem to have abandoned the cause to help democratize the continent and make its rogue-type leaders political dinosaurs. But having followed political events here in the United States, I am acutely aware of the hatred fuelled opposition your administration would face in a country where even the mention of Africa on the airwaves, is severely restricted by a culture that seems to fear and loathe the black person. Moreover, those of us who understand the politics of self-interest know that your allegiance is to the United States of America, which is often divergent with the interest of Africa. That said, I want to re-echo a recent position in which you admonished African leaders’ unconvincing arguments that continue to blame colonialism for the continents dire poverty. The point is; Africa leaders are masterful at assigning blame on colonialism for their horrible leadership failures, which for most African countries, ended sixty years ago. The facts of Africa’s extreme poverty are rather simpler than that. Africa’s predicament rests squarely on the utter greed, endemic corruption, tribalism, nepotism, sheer ignorance and the political paternalism Africa’s leaders continue to perpetuate to this day.
Having said that, I wish to focus on the substance of this letter; The Gambia and Yahya Jammeh, Gambia’s supposed leader. I am sure you are aware of the tyranny Gambia finds itself in, but more specifically, that in the past eighteen years; Gambia has turned into Africa, and more particularly, West Africa’s pariah nation. As Yahya Jammeh joins other area African leaders to meet and greet you in Dakar, Senegal, it is important to note that his presence in Dakar, Senegal, comes more out of fear of the power of the United States and a perceived threat to his regime, from your government. Significantly, it is worth noting that Yahya Jammeh has turned the once peaceful Gambia into a drug lords haven; using the port of Banjul, Yundum Airport and other coastal drop areas, as entry and exit points for illicit Colombian drugs bound for Europe and the Unites States. At the height of the sanctions, after the military coup, Gambians often wondered loudly where Yahya Jammeh got money to waste, and he often told us that it was from “Allah’s Bank,” meaning “Gods Bank.” We now know who is god is; the South American drug-lords. In a show of contempt to US and Europe, Yahya Jammeh befriended notorious political characters; Hugo Chavez, Mumar Ghadaffi, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Russian Arms dealer Victor Bout and recently captured West African drug kingpin Adm. José Américo Bubo Na Tchuto of Guinea Bissau.
But as bad as the menace of illegal drugs import and transshipment to Europe and the United States, and the culture of drug addiction among Gambian youth is, it pales in comparison to the sickening political situation in the country. To date, close to one hundred and thirty Gambians and non Gambians have been murdered by Yahya Jammeh’s regime; some in the open daylight, and intended to create a climate of fear in the country and preempt any attempt to oust him from power. Many others were executed, either singly or en mass, as in the illegal executions of two dozen Mile 2 Central Prison, prisoners. It is also worth understanding that of the nine the regime admitted to executing; one was mentally ill, another’s death sentence was commuted to life by the previous government two decades earlier, and the rest had not yet exhausted their legal remedies. Additionally, forty-four Ghanaians were executed under the pretext that they were planning to overthrow the regime, but a former military officer eyewitness who escaped into exile, and a Ghanaian who survived the executions, are living witnesses that the executed Ghanaians were undocumented immigrants transiting through Gambian waters to Spain’s Canary Islands. Sir, Gambia today is a true example of a police state; citizen harassment abounds, police and military checkpoints everywhere, Yahya Jammeh’s portraits looming menacingly in billboard displays across the country, and any reference of Yahya Jammeh’s name is an offense punishable by arrest, detention and even trial and incarceration.
Dear Mr. Obama, I cannot end without bringing to your notice Gambia’s severely embattled media and the total lack of press freedom in the country. And besides, the Gambia has turned into a country ruled by one man and everything else happens at his pleasure. This became possible only after Yahya Jammeh began stealthily to introduce tribalism in the Gambia; he proceeded to gradually dismiss members of other tribes from senior military and security positions in favor of his tribe. He also formed many youth members of his Jola tribe into Hiati’s “ton ton macoute” type gang of killers called The Green Boys, and let them loose around the country to intimidate and silence opponents. We know all this because former hired killers and collaborators fled into exile and are confessing to Gambia’s exile community in Senegal and abroad. In addition, over the past eighteen years, Yahya Jammeh successfully amassed a vast amount of wealth, which other African leaders can only wish and salivate over. Just three years ago, his wife bought a 3.5 million dollar mansion in a seedy suburb of Washington, DC, but he also owns a glass hotel tower in Guinea-Conakry, and several business ventures in Morocco where the wife’s African parents migrated to years ago. In Gambia, Yahya Jammeh established The Kanilai Family Farm, but his endeavors are not limited to the hundreds of farms established for him around the country. He has a monopoly in several business areas; including public transportation, construction, import and export, banking, food processing, and real estate, among many other areas. Mr. Obama, today, the city of Dakar and Senegal in general are teeming with exiled Gambians, and one was deported to Bamako, Mali, two months ago by President Macky Sall, but he died there last week under mysterious circumstances. And three months ago, two high prominent Gambian dissidents were kidnapped in Dakar, and they have not been seen or heard from to this day.
Finally, President Barack Obama, the creation of Senegal and the Gambia as distinct political entities was an accident of history. In reality the two counties live as one nation and in practice they live as one country in more ways than one, for the intermarriage and other distinctive cultural affiliations have not changed one iota despite centuries of living as different political organizations. The Gambia as you know is surrounded by Senegal and Gambia needs Senegal’s support to help end the nightmare in our country. Most Gambians are unwilling to launch a military effort to reclaim our country, but some advocate a military campaign, which cannot happen without the use of Senegalese territory. As a result, without the use of Senegalese territory to retake the Gambia, advocates of military action believe Gambians are left with very limited options. Be that as it may, the overriding concerns of most Gambians now are to restore democracy and the rule of law in our country, the protection of Gambians refugees in Senegal, and the unconditional return of Mahawa Cham and Saul Njie, both recently abducted in Dakar, Senegal, by Yahya Jammeh’s security agents. Sir, I hope I did not bore you, but this is a matter of life and death for Gambians, and we, therefore, urge you to put pressure on Senegal’s President Macky Sall, to reevaluate Gambia policy and instead put the interest of the Gambian people ahead of that of his new best friend Yahya Jammeh.
Mathew K Jallow
SOS John Kerry, State Department
U.S Ambassador, Dakar, Senegal
U.S Ambassador, Banjul, Gambia