On The European Union’s 17 Points Proposed Political Dialogue, Merits and Demerits

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HalifaPresented By Halifa Sallah

At The Social Science Students’ Association of University of The Gambia Seminar

   21st February 2013

Academia is a tool for acquiring the knowledge required to guide the destiny of human beings. I must assert, with all the emphasis at my command, that an unguided destiny is a lost destiny. That is why every issue must be studied in order to have an understanding of how to take charge of our destiny. Human beings must go beyond emotions to start to look at the nature and characteristics of things, social realities and phenomena in order to truly understand them. Without that understanding we cannot truly change reality. The 17 points proposed by the EU for the political dialogue with the Government of The Gambia is indeed topical. However, their origin, essence and significance cannot be fully understood until we comprehend the history of the relationship between the EU and the African states in particular and the ACP states in general. We may now ask: How did the relationship between the EU and African states emerge? What gave rise to the political dialogue between the EU and The Gambia? How did the 17 points proposed for the dialogue emerge? These questions have to be addressed if my deliberation is to be of relevance. Some claim that the 17 points draft from the EU is conditionality while others consider it as a proposal. What is the truth?

Allow me to make some reference to history by way of a relevant and brief summary that could lead me to the major aspect of my discourse. African countries were colonized and by 1957, the right to self-determination and independence had been placed on the historical agenda in Africa South of the Sahara when Ghana was declared Independent. One recalls the major contradiction between Guinea and France which compelled De Gaulle to tell the African countries that they would have to make a choice either to gain total independence or to be part of Franco-African Community. While the vast majority of the African leaders linked to France preferred to be part of the Franco-African community, Guinea chose total Independence. The leaders who articulated the demand for the total independence of the continent saw the continent emerging from colonialism to be too fragile to be completely self-reliant and independent without continental unity. They understood that  individual countries could only have self reliant economies if they produced their own raw materials processed  them into value added manufactured goods  and even build the machinery to do the processing. They realised that at that stage they were not industrialised and were still importing manufactured goods and machinery and could not automatically become self reliant and independent countries. They therefore demanded for African integration to use that as a base to move towards the second and third layer of self-reliance, that of processing value added goods  and the  manufacturing of  machinery. This was why the Ghana- Guinea Federation was established in November 1958 and the Union of African States was formed by Ghana and Congo on 8 August 1960. The Ghana Guinea Mali Union was also formed for the same purpose. History teaches that the unification of the continent did not materialise because of the policies of the majority of African leaders. The project to integrate Africa failed.

On the other hand, De Gaulle also knew that the French economy was linked to the African economies and therefore saw the need to preserve that link through countries that chose to be part of the Franco African Community. Consequently, as countries became independent, cooperation started. What type of Cooperation, you may ask.  In examining the relation between the EU and ACP states we are faced with three types of cooperation framework, that is, North-North Cooperation, South-South Cooperation and North-South Cooperation. First and foremost, the type of cooperation that gave birth to the EU is the North-North Cooperation. The cooperation that gave birth to the African Caribbean and Pacific states is South –South Cooperation. The Cooperation agreement between the EU and ACP states is classified as North-South Cooperation.

The Birth of the EU

The EU as a union emerged to deal with the devastation of Europe after the Second World War, which led to the collapse of industries and the spread of massive poverty. They realised that if Europeans continued to fight each other, the people will continue to suffer and Europe will be among the most backward continents in the World. Consequently they developed the European Recovery Programme supported by the Marshal Plan which started the embryo of a free trade area for the free movement of goods, services, capital and people. The European Recovery Programme, promoted  production of Agricultural goods, linked to processing, energy production and machine building so that there would be industries employing people, with  Agriculture providing the needs of the people for food self-sufficiency. They realised that European economic recovery could only be done at the time by building up North-North trade links, that is, Europeans coming together into one community under a common market. So they started with the European Coal and Steel Community in 1950 and at that time only six countries were involved, namely, Belgium, Germany Netherlands, Luxembourg, Italy and France. These were the first countries which came together and UK did not join the other countries until 1973.

Hence in 1957, when Ghana was becoming independent, Europe was already articulating the treaty of Rome to broaden the integration of Europe . The proposal for African Integration was rejected by most leaders. The irony is that Nkrumah was talking about African integration but was disregarded by other leaders. At that material time Europe was proceeding with integration and did finally succeed in harmonising European economies to make them benefit from the economics of scale despite all the imperfections. It is now time to call a spade a spade and move away from the blame game and accept historical errors.

Africa’s Missed Opportunity

EEC/EU Africa relation is older than the EEC/EU –ACP relation. The Treaty of Rome of March 1957 which established the European Economic Community (EEC) did not only provide a foundation for closer union among the peoples of Europe by eliminating trade  barriers aimed at  improving the living and working conditions of the people, it also sought to maintain the bond between Europe and the overseas territories. The first development cooperation between Europe and the African continent was the Yaounde 1 and 2, which became the cooperation blueprint from 1963-1969 and 1969-1974, respectively. They are the precursors of the Lome Convention and the Cotonou Agreement which gave birth to Article 8 that provides for the Political Dialogue that is now being interrogated in this discourse.

Essentially, Yaounde 1 and 2 enabled those European countries, like France that built a Franco-African Community to cement their  links with those countries in Africa that were in their sphere of influence, by introducing  preferential trading arrangements as well as the funding of projects. It is observed that between 1957 and 1974, one year before the ACP states came into being; the former French colonies which remained in the Franco-African Community received the largest share of assistance emanating from Euro-African relations.  That is why countries like Cote D’Ivoire started to develop at a faster pace in comparison to Guinea because foreign direct investment and development assistance went more to those countries, than the others, who were not part of such a partnership.  We must therefore see the unequal relation between Europe and the African states as a by-product of the choice that African leaders made not to found a union that could have harmonised their economies and put them on an equal footing with other continents to enable their countries and peoples to benefit from fairer and freer trade.

The Architecture of Post Colonial Cooperation

 It was clear to the former colonial powers that they could not facilitate the continuation of industrial growth in their countries by continuing the old way of colonisation. That is why it is ridiculous to raise alarm about the re-colonisation of Africa . Those perpetuating this misconception are perpetuating a myth. Pointing at French intervention in Mali confirms all the more that re-colonisation is not a feasible project. France is already counting the billions it is losing by the month in the midst of a welcoming population who felt neglected by governments which are fostering National disintegration and a Continent armed to the teeth just to protect the seats of power rather than the sovereignty of the people. Many African governments are being defeated not by foreign powers but by their own people who they refuse to protect. Countries are weak because of National disintegration due to divisions into religious sects, traditional beliefs and ethno-linguistic groups. The re-colonisation of Africa is inconceivable. Disintegration into warring factions because of impunity is the more imminent threat. Africa appears to be dominated because we chose not to integrate and defend the sovereignty of the people. Africans have no one to blame but ourselves. The colonial system came to an end when it became financially unviable to maintain foreign troops in all colonies to compel the colonised to manage a system of government and economies that allow the coloniser to benefit to their detriment.

Colonialism was defeated because the colonial powers did not have that sustainable military might to maintain colonial domination.  Many billions were spent at the latter part of the colonial order without being able to keep the colonial order intact. It was counter productive to continue the old way. Another form of relation was necessary. Europe chose the route of preferential trade agreements and the funding of projects. It is this form of cooperation which engendered the relation between Europe and the African states from 1957 to 1974 as well as Europe’s relation with the ACP States.

The Emergence of the ACP STATES

African countries emerging from colonialism did not have the banks and billionaires who could invest in the productive base of their economies to own land, mines, oil wells and factories to promote prosperity and employment. They also did not pursue integration to increase shareholding capital and expand capital markets for investments. The state sectors of nominally independent countries continued to be the major economic operators. Hence most countries remained producers of agricultural produce such as groundnuts, cocoa, tea and minerals like gold, copper, iron ore etc and imported most value added goods. Earnings from raw materials always fell far short of expenditure on value added manufactured goods. One could therefore envisage why the trade deficits and the budget deficits continued to increase on the African continent. By the 1970s, the African economies were becoming more and more indebted because of the fact that their single crops or minerals could no longer suffice to support a viable productive base to guarantee general welfare. Fluctuation in prices also eroded earnings from exports and made farmers poor.

Consequently African countries became more and more dependent on aid for infrastructural development. The growth in the number of countries which maintained their economic ties with Europe and the growth of the European Economic Community with the entry of the UK, Ireland and Denmark in 1973 gave rise to the need for a new North –South agreement. Hence, the African, Caribbean and PacificStates, met in Georgetown, Jamaica, in 1975 and ultimately agreed to form the ACP as a negotiating partner to the European Community. This gave birth to the Lome Convention.

The key thing about the Lome Convention was its promotion of preferential trading arrangements so that at least produce like bananas etc from ACP Countries would find easy markets in Europe. At the same time, there were certain contingencies aimed at subsidising the income of agricultural producers so that if the prices of commodities like groundnuts fell in the world market they would agree to subsidise the price to prevent a drop in producer price. This was called STABEX. The same arrangement was made for minerals known a SYSMIN.

The Lome Convention lasted up to 2000 when the Cotonou Agreement came into being. During the period of the Lome Convention, 1976 to 2000, the ACP states and Europe changed beyond recognition. We must understand this change to understand the origin of Article 8.How did these changes come about and why did Article 8 became a feature of the Cotonou Agreement?

CHANGES IN BOTH THE EU AND AFRICA   

It is very common for many of us to claim that Europe tries to impose its values on Africa as if Europe has always been a homogeneous, single entity with uniform values on governance. History teaches us that Europe had gone through a similar trajectory that many governments based on impunity are going through in Africa. Europe had to evolve like all communities.

Portugal was ruled by fascist dictatorship until the revolution of 1974.The Portuguese people under the dictatorship were oppressed, exploited, and dominated. They had no freedom of speech and no freedom of association whatsoever. They had to rise against the dictatorship to liberate themselves.

Spain was also under the fascist regime of Franco. It is after his death in 1975 that civil society moved against the dictatorship to establish a democratic system.  European Union ultimately developed as a result of the struggle of the European peoples for democracy and prosperity. Country after country that now combines to constitute the European Union had to evolve and embrace the union. This became evident after the reunification of Germany when the Berlin Wall collapsed in 1989. This gave birth to a new development in European integration which is coined under the treaty of Maastricht which came into force in 1993. It created the European Union proper which articulated a Common foreign and security policy, strengthening of democratic institutions such as the European Parliament and formulating an economic and monetary union.

The Maastricht treaty was further buttressed by the Treaty of Amsterdam of 1997 which elaborated on social rights, economic integration and sustainable development. It elaborated in an unequivocal manner that the Union is founded on the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedom and rule of law which are common to all member states. European Union had to evolve and is still evolving into a larger political entity with its architecture.  What it will become tomorrow is still to be
determined as Britain is even talking about a referendum.

Essentially, we must get rid of this misconception that we have a group of states there in Europe who are united to gobble Africa.That is a mystification. As long as we continue with that ignorance, we will continue to be the victims of blind destiny.

We must study facts and draw lessons from facts.   Africa did also evolve during the period of the Lome Convention 1976-2000. Impunity led to many civil wars but the demand for rights also led to the ratification of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights in 1981. The Lagos plan of Action of 1980 called for the establishment of the building blocs of African integration and the founding of a common market. The Abuja Treaty of 1991 promoted solidarity and collective self reliance and expressed recognition and commitment to the promotion and protection of human and people’s rights. It advocated for the principles of accountability, economic justice and popular participation. It slated the creation of a Pan African Parliament and a Community Court of Justice. In 1994 the people of South Africa defeated Apartheid and thus repositioned Africa for  a new democratic beginning in the 21st Century.

The Birth of the Cotonou Agreement

 The EU and the APC states had agreed to review their Cooperation agreement based on the Lome convention in 2000. Two years before the Lome convention came to an end, the European Union started a process of consultation. They produced a green paper and circulated it to all African, Caribean and Pacific countries for discussion. They sent their technocrats to carry on the consultations. I remember witnessing the holding of one session at the Atlantic Hotel.  They listened very carefully to the reviewers of the green paper and then selected people who held views that could facilitate a more rigorous dialogue. I remember receiving a letter out of the blue inviting me to a dialogue in Ghana. This was followed by another invitation to a dialogue in Brussels.

Those who want policies that are viable must subject them to the litmus test of critical thinking. To my surprise, while the European Union was preparing its negotiating position for a Post Lome Cooperation agreement, I sought and did not find any concept paper prepared by the ACP States. We are always complaining, always in the defensive because we fail to take the responsibility to plan and make projections in advance.

The green paper did make some observations on the state of the African economies in the following words: “food production is chronically inadequate and is likely to remain so. Per capita food production has fallen by 5% over the last 15 years. With population rising fast, it is difficult to see how the food deficit will be filled, especially in the poorer countries, although there is substantial scope for improving agricultural yields in the region. At present, such countries are heavily dependent on food imports and food aid. Exports are still geared to primary exploitation of natural resources; that Sub-Saharan Africa began to lose its market share internationally in the 1970s and continued to do so throughout the 1980s, up to 1993. This part of the world has attracted little FDI, with a few exceptions, and so far has failed to benefit from rising investment in developing countries. In 1995, for example, it captured a meagre US$ 2 billion out of a total of US$90 billion in investment in developing countries. Whereas FDI is becoming a major source of external finance for many developing countries, it represents only 10% of such funds in Sub Saharan Africa. Altogether the region is of marginal importance in the world economy at the moment, accounting for only 2% of international trade and less than 1% of FDI”. “Major macroeconomic disequilibria persist, notably a highly inadequate rate of savings which, allied to low growth, has allowed external debt to expand to unmanageable proportions in some countries. Sub-Saharan Africa is the most heavily indebted region in the world, at 270% of export earnings and 75% of GNP and is chronically in arrears.”

What came out of the Lome convention debate is the Cotonou agreement of 2000. The technocrats of the EU hammered out what they believed should be the architecture of the new ACP-EU relationship. They called on the governments for negotiation and they went and signed the agreement. Nobody forced any African leader to sign it. They did so believing that it was in their interest.

The Cotonou agreement was signed in 2000 and is reviewed every five years. It was reviewed in 2005.It was reviewed in 2010.Gambia did not submit any proposal for amendment all these years and now in 2013 demonstrations everywhere. Now we have liberators everywhere, real African patriots who are ready to fight imperialism. Academia has  zero tolerance for mediocrity. The mind of the educated person must speak the language of facts and figures. It must be a scientific mind. Let us proceed to the political dialogue. What is its origin?

What gave rise to the 17 points submitted by the EU for the political dialogue? What are the details? Did they merit the actions taken by the Government? What are the implications of the suspension of the dialogue? What is the way forward? These are questions of Fundamental importance.

Allow me to state right away that the source of the political dialogue is the Cotonou Agreement negotiated and concluded by the EU and ACPStates. The agreement is a comprehensive document which deals with general principles and objectives, the creation of joint institutions, the identification of areas of cooperation in the economic, political, social, cultural, financial, development and humanitarian sphere.

The principles of the political dialogue are clearly stipulated under Article 9 of the Agreement. The objectives and essence of the Dialogue is stipulated under article 8 of the Agreement

THE FUNDAMENTALS OF THE DIALOGUE

 Fundamentally Article 9 States:

 “Cooperation shall be directed towards sustainable development centred on the human person, who is the main protagonist and beneficiary of development; this entails respect for and promotion of all human rights.”

The Gambian executive claims that if it had known it would not have been a signatory to such an Article which states the principles of the Political Dialogue. Which government on earth would be oblivious to the provisions mentioned and still claim to have the interest of the people at heart?

Paragraph four of Article 9 proceeded to state the principles of the dialogue in the following words:

“4. The Partnership shall actively support the promotion of human rights, processes of democratisation, consolidation of the rule of law, and good governance. These areas will be an important subject for the political dialogue. In the context of this dialogue, the Parties shall attach particular importance to the changes underway and to the continuity of the progress achieved. This regular assessment shall take into account each country’s economic, social, cultural and historical context.

These areas will also be a focus of support for development strategies. The Community shall provide support for political, institutional and legal reforms and for building the capacity of public and private actors and civil society in the framework of strategies agreed jointly between the State concerned and the Community.”

Has anything been stated in article 9 that offends the sensibility of any student who has lend me his or her ears?

What then did Article 8 say about the political dialogue that justifies   proposing an agenda and time frame by either party to the agreement?

Article 8 states:

“1. The Parties shall regularly engage in a comprehensive, balanced and deep political dialogue leading to commitments on both sides.”

This is the first point. The dialogue should not be an empty chatter. It should lead to commitment on both sides implying that both have equal rights to express concerns. The second paragraph gives explanation on how the commitment of the parties to the principles would be registered. It states:

“2. The objective of this dialogue shall be to exchange information, to foster mutual understanding, and to facilitatethe establishment of agreed priorities and shared agendas,  in particular by recognising existing links between the different aspects of the relations between the Parties and the various areas of cooperation as laid down in this Agreement.”

Paragraph 2 has made it clear that the dialogue should lead the parties to establish agreed priorities and shared agendas. You would agree with me that an agenda is a concrete programme of activity and priorities are time bound activities. Hence in plain language Article 8 calls on the parties to agree on a concrete programme of commitments that are to be made within agreed time frame. This is incontrovertible. Since both parties must agree on the agenda and priorities as required by article 8 the agendas and priorities that emerge from either side could only be an initial proposal and not an imposition, if the Government truly understand its powers under the agreement.

It is important to bring to your attention that I did see the 17 points as proposed by the EU. This document should have been a confidential one that the EU would have never revealed to the public as presented. However, the document was released to the National Assembly for public consumption. One National Assembly member even read the word “Draft” which was put in bold letters at the top of the front page of the document. One does not have to open a dictionary to find out what draft means. Hence what is presented as an ultimatum is in fact a draft for discussion that could lead to the undertaking of commitments on any party’s volition. This is the first observation on the document. Secondly, after stating the proposed agenda, it stated the following words just adjacent to it, “proposed timeframe.” Here again what is passed on to the Gambian population as an imposition is a proposed time frame which could be accepted, reviewed or rejected in a political dialogue if one has any legitimate or convincing basis to do so.

One may now ask: Did the content of the proposed agenda fall under the issues that could be raised under Article 8?

The issues that could be raised under Article 8 for the political dialogue are as follows:

“3. The dialogue shall cover all the aims and objectives laid down in this Agreement as well as all questions of common, general, regional or sub regional interest. Through dialogue, the Parties shall contribute to peace, security and stability and promote a stable and democratic political environment. It shall encompass cooperation strategies as well as global and sectoral policies, including environment, gender, migration and questions related to the cultural heritage.

“4. The dialogue shall focus, inter alia, on specific political issues of mutual concern or of general significance for the attainment of the objectives of this Agreement, such as the arms trade, excessive military expenditure, drugs and organised crime, or ethnic, religious or racial discrimination. The dialogue shall also encompass a regular assessment of the developments concerning the respect for human rights, democratic principles, the rule of law and good governance”

Now, let us proceed to look at the 17 points to find out whether they fall within or outside the provisions of article 8. We will also examine whether the issues are the exclusive concerns of the European community or the Gambia people or are the common concerns of both.

The 17 points could be broken down into five thematic issues:  Freedom of Expression, on execution of the death penalty, Prison Conditions, ratification of UN Conventions and their Optional Protocols and the establishment of a Human Rights Commission. Let me emphasise before going any further that none of the 17 points dealt with the issue of same sex relationships or marriages. This point may have been utilised just as a propaganda ploy against the EU proposals.

On Freedom of Expression and the Media

The EU asks that the Government confirms its commitment to allow the free operation of the Independent media in the Gambia. This should reassure media stakeholders that as long as the media adheres to the laws of the Gambia , the Government guarantees that they will not be arbitrarily closed and that any closure  will be notified by court order as required by law. The dialogue is supposed to encompass a regular assessment of the developments concerning the respect for human rights, democratic principles, the rule of law and good governance. Nothing is more important to these principles than freedom of the media.

All Gambians are aware how Taranga FM, The Daily News and The Daily Standard were closed down. There was no court case or court order. None of the proprietors could truly explain who closed the media houses down. All claim that individuals claiming to be state agents asked them to close down and the state has never disowned the agents. The request for the Government to give commitment that it would not arbitrarily close down media houses is in the interest of many Gambian people who were benefiting from the information published or broadcast by the media houses like Taranga and the two Newspapers which were arbitrarily closed down. I would say without any fear of exaggeration that most Gambians appreciate the work that Taranga Fm and the other paper s were doing. Suffice it to say, the EU proposal has not departed from the provision of the Constitution when it included an agenda aimed at giving commitment to facilitate and protect the free operation of the media. Section 207 Subsection (1) of the Constitution states that: “the freedom and Independence of the Press and other information media are hereby guaranteed.”  Why would any Government of the Gambia find it offensive to be asked through a peer review exercise to give guarantees that it would adhere to the provisions of its own constitution?

Secondly, the 17 points included a request for the government to be committed to the removal of restrictive barriers, monetary /regulatory, to registration and licensing of the media.

Is this commitment relevant to the promotion of free expression in the Gambia? The answer is in the affirmative. Media practitioners in the Gambia have highlighted that the bond required to be executed and registered at the Office of Registrar General used to amount to D1000 Dalasi. In 1996 it was increased to D100,000 Dalasi by Decree 70. In 2004, the Newspaper Amendment Act increased it to half a Million Dalasi. This means that if one does not own landed property valued at half a Million dalasi or receive the backing of a person who owns such a property one cannot establish a Newspaper in the Country. It is obvious that the half a Million Dalasi bond is a monetary barrier which restricts the registration of a Newspaper. It is important to point out that the imposition of monetary restriction is not a revenue measure. The bond is just a pledge in words and not in cash. What is the rationale for increasing it from 1000 Dalasi to half a Million Dalasi? This should be a matter of concern to all those who understand that freedom of expression and the right to the media are tied together as fundamental rights entrenched in Section 25 1 which states: “every person shall have the right to  freedom of speech and expression, which shall include freedom of the Press and other media.”

Freedom of the media is at par with freedom of association and assembly. Establishing a bond amounting to half  a million to establish a Media house is the same as establishing the same condition for one to establish a trade union  or acquire a permit to  hold a procession or use an instrument for the amplification of sound to address a rally.

Needless to say, the EU also sought for commitment for the government to undertake a review exercise of the criminal code that allows for prosecution on the charges of sedition, libel, false publication or giving false information to a public servant which imposes prison terms and high fines.

In democratic and free Media tradition, any information published that is not true could be refuted by a rejoinder. If the information is considered to be injurious to the reputation of a person, he or she could go to the courts and claim for retraction, apology and damages. This is considered adequate checks and balances on the media to promote the publication or broadcasting of the truth in good faith in the public interest.

In the Gambia, the penalty for false publication is a minimum fine of 50,000 Dalasi and a maximum fine of 250,000 dalasi or a sentence to not less than one year term of imprisonment or both fine and imprisonment . For example, some people have been saying that same sex marriage is part of the seventeen points raised by the EU for the dialogue. This is of course false information. If this is published it would constitute false publication. Which right thinking Gambian would support the arrest, detention, prosecution and sentencing of a person to a fine of 250,000 dalasi and a prison term of not less than one year for such false information? How many supporters of the government would have been fined and sent to jail for spreading such false information.

In all Republics, the Heads of state are no longer sovereign. They could be removed from office and to campaign for their removal by mobilising the people to remove them are legitimate political activities which are no longer seditious. That is why the crime of sedition is removed from the statute books of many republics since all violent acts that could result in public disorder are already covered by other provisions against destruction of life and properties. During the first Republic, the maximum fine for sedition was 1000dalasis .Now the minimum is fifty thousand and the maximum is 250,000 Dalasi or a sentence of not less than one year or both. Is it rational to send someone like Lamin Juwara to prison for simply saying in an interview with The Independent Newspaper that he would march to state House on a charge of sedition when he could stand on a political platform and say we want Jammeh out of the state house after election and nothing will happen? This is why there is need to review such laws. The Government of the Gambia has already agreed to a governance programme which has a journalist and Media component amounting to 26 Million dalasi. In fact before the 17 points were formulated a validation workshop was held under the auspices of the EU which brought government officials, media practitioners and NGOs together on 1 November 2012 to look at the journalists and media component of the governance programme.

The recommendations include: ‘to encourage an inclusive national conference dedicated to the media industry (public and private sector + print and broadcast)  where all issues affecting its development will be discussed. Experts (national and international) can be called upon to facilitate such talks with a view to setting up clear guidelines which will enable the existence of a vibrant, free and truly independent media sector.

 

To the government – To enable a conducive and free environment where journalists and media houses can work independently without fear of reprisals and where the business sector can feel encouraged to invest in media businesses
– To initiate (or accept to be part of) a national, comprehensive committee in charge of discussing the reform of the media laws, the development and empowering of the public and private media sector, which need to align with international standards,

– To encourage and accept the creation of a strong and “independent” regulatory body for the broadcasting sector whose mission will be to oversee the respect of the country’s broadcasting policies (licences, regulation, content, complaints) and which will handle all major issues related to the development of the broadcasting sector.
– To accept and support the creation of a strong independent, self regulatory body for the print media exclusively run by media professionals and where government, civil society and other stakeholders can provide support if needed.
– To establish a media fund, with the support of international partners, which will be used to subsidise directly or indirectly media companies, to support training programmes for journalists and to encourage the production of relevant and high quality content, etc.

– To lift the de-facto ban on broadcasting local news in national languages; to allow press reviews in all languages, to allow the resumption of activities for all suspended radios and newspapers, to create a conducive environment to allow the return of senior exiled journalists and guarantee their safety and security.

To the media owners/managers

 To organize themselves into interest groups which can engage government and other stakeholders; to defend the common interest of the corporation and to be at the forefront of the negotiations regarding press freedom and the right to access information

– To reorganise and professionalise the media houses to reflect high standards of quality and a better image of the profession and of its leaders –

To adhere to ethical principles and respect the rights of employees who deserve to be put in good working conditions; where possible to work with more qualified staff and if necessary in smaller numbers to ensure quality rather than quantity

 – Where possible to work at mergers which will bring together all the small publications or media houses and create stronger media groups which have more chances to be sustainable and attract investors.

 To the media professionals (reporters/editors)

–         To learn more about journalism ethics and codes of conduct and accept to abide by these codes –

–         To engage in serious training programmes to be better equipped professionally to face a new competitive media market

–         – To create strong groups which can engage talks with media owners and media managers to improve working conditions –

–         To be involved in any initiative to improve professional standards and to defend press freedom and right to access information


To the civil society and professional association

– To serve as a broker between the media, the government and society at large to allow the emergence of free, independent media houses

– To empower citizens through media literacy programmes for a better understanding of the role and place of media in society

– To keep the media houses accountable to citizens and society To help create a free and conducive environment where the media and all stakeholders can generate debates on all issues of national interest

To the University of the Gambia

 – To accelerate the process of setting up a media and journalism faculty to ensure the future generations of Gambian journalists are well and properly trained both with the necessary academic knowledge and the practical skills

– To partner with renowned journalism schools especially in the other commonwealth countries to have the best curriculum possible before starting the launch of this institution

In the interim period, use the existing partnership programmes to send Gambian graduate students interested in journalism studies to universities in the commonwealth countries or in Anglophone West African countries’’

I dare say that nothing has been stated in the EU 17 points regarding freedom of expression that has not been recommended by Gambian stakeholders. Let me move to the second item, namely, the executions.

The EU recalled the Commitment made by the Gambian Authorities to the International Community and therefore proposes the following actions to be undertaken:

“that the Government maintains the reinstated de facto moratorium on the use of the death penalty”.

How could a proposal that is already stated as Government policy be seen as an imposition? I have made it very clear in one of my interviews that in 2010, during the Universal Periodic Review, the Government sent 12 officials to Geneva led by the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Marie Saine-Firdaus. The report they gave stated among other things that:

The right to life, for which no derogation is permitted, is guaranteed even during times of public emergency. The death penalty, an exceptional punishment intended only for the most serious crimes, is applicable but is limited to murder and treasonable offences resulting in death. Furthermore, Gambian law prescribes that procedural guarantees, including the right to a fair hearing by an independent tribunal, the presumption of innocence, the right to defence and the right to review by a higher tribunal, must be observed before the death penalty can be imposed and carried out. In addition, the right to seek presidential pardon or commutation of sentence is guaranteed under the Constitution. Since the reintroduction of the death penalty in 1995, many accused persons have been convicted and sentenced to death, but no executions have taken place. Instead, all of those persons are serving life sentences.”

The Minister told the whole world that there is a De Facto Moratorium on the execution of the death penalty even though it was restored in 1995 after its abolition in 1993. Despite the assurance given by the Minister the death penalty was executed in 2012. The EU is simply asking the Government to reinstate the moratorium it already told the world that it was upholding, since the restoration of the death penalty, up to the execution of 2012.

Furthermore the EU did propose that  the government gives  commitment to review the provision of the death penalty as elements of the Criminal Code and other laws for most serious crimes. Is this a necessary proposal? The answer is in the affirmative. The Minister has indicated that the death penalty is an exceptional punishment for crimes of treason and murder that result in the death of a person. However in the criminal code death penalty is also linked to crimes that are not associated with the death of a person. Such penalties need to be reviewed. This is what the EU proposes.

The next proposal of the EU on the death penalty indicates that “the government provides information regarding the recent executions, including the location of the place of burial to the families of the victims,” Praying for the dead is in line with Gambian religions and customs. What is wrong about the request for the identification of the burial ground of the executed?

The EU further asked for commitment “that a full and transparent review of the death penalty by the National Assembly takes place as required by the Gambian Constitution. Depending on the review by the National Assembly, propose to introduce a De Jure moratorium on the death penalty”

Here too the EU is simply restating what has been provided for by Section 18 Subsection (3) of the Constitution which gives the Command that “The National Assembly shall within ten years from the date of the coming into force of this constitution review the desirability or otherwise of the total abolition of the death penalty in the Gambia:. The Gambian authorities honoured this provision with disregard. The EU is simply saying that they should undertake commitment to do the review and if the National Assembly endorses a permanent ban a De Jure moratorium on the death penalty should be introduced. Clearly, if the National Assembly members could convene an emergency meeting to discuss the 17 points of the EU it should not be oblivious to a proposal asking them to find a constitutional avenue to do a review that should have been done within ten years of the coming into force of the Constitution in 1997.

The third aspect, deals with the prison conditions. Here and there, the public is informed of the congestion at the remand wing, deaths of prisoners  and even prison riot and court cases. The EU proposed for the government to make commitment to conclude an MOU with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to allow them access to prison facilities on regular basis as well as “Provide regular and timely access for diplomatic corps” and “Present coasted proposals to improve prison detention facility”. The execution of some foreign nationals may have been averted if their diplomats had frequent access to them. Why would any government be opposed to a review of the standard of its detention facilities by the International Committee of the Red Cross? Obviously such review would provide the government with an opportunity to know the strengths and weaknesses of its prison system and seek support to improve on the facilities.

The fourth aspect of the 17 points deals with International Conventions and protocols. The EU stated that there is indication that the Government has ratified the UN Convention against torture on 6 June 2006 but has noticed no record of the development in the UN website and proposed for clarification to be made.  EU proposed for the Government to make an undertaking to sign and ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture.

Section 21 of the Constitution of the Gambia has abolished torture. It states in absolute and categorical terms that “no person shall be subject to torture or inhuman degrading punishment and other treatment.”  No law could be made in the Gambia justifying torture under any circumstances. There is no basis for hesitating to ratify any convention against torture or any Optional Protocol to the Convention against torture since it is banned by the Gambian Constitution anyway.

Thirdly, the EU proposal called on the government to sign and ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. This protocol deals with abolition of the death penalty. What prevents the Government from stating its position rather than suspending dialogue?

The fifth and last aspect of the 17 points deals with the setting up of a Human Rights Commission. The EU proposes the establishment of a Human Rights Commission as agreed with the Commonwealth Secretariat.

It is important to emphasise that the issue of establishing a human rights commission is already a matter of discussion at the level of the National Assembly of the Gambia . Firm promise had been given to members of the National Assembly that a bill to establish it was being considered. It goes without saying that the ECOWAS Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance has a section on Rule of Law, Human Rights and Good Governance.

Article 32 states that “Member States agree that good governance and press freedom are essential for preserving social Justice, preventing conflict, guaranteeing political stability and peace and for strengthening democracy.”

Article 35 adds that “1. Member States shall establish independent national institutions to promote and protect human rights.

2. The Executive Secretariat shall take measures to strengthen their capacities. The institutions shall be organised into a regional network.

Within the framework of this network, each national institution shall systematically submit to the Executive Secretariat, any report on human rights violations observed on its territory. Such reports and reactions of governments shall be widely disseminated through the most appropriate means.”

Hence the EU is not promoting the establishment of any institution that the Gambia has not already committed itself to establish. This is the incontrovertible truth.

These constitute the 17 points, nothing more and nothing less. The demonstrations were just diversionary tactics that prevented the people from dealing with substance and focused on fiction. The diversionary tactics continued at the level of the national Assembly where a debate was conducted without a single APRC National Assembly member referring to the text to give a point by point interrogation of the merit of the EU proposals. Only one person, the Minority leader dealt with the substance .So that is history.

Let me come to the conclusion that this is what the 17 points is all about. Leaders have the duty accept their mistakes, correct them and build countries  that can be examples in the world so that their peoples could  stand anywhere and share standards of better practice  with  others rather than being  indicted for bad practice. To suspend the political dialogue has implications. What are the implications? What is the way forward?

THE IMPLICATIONS OF SUSPENDING THE POLITICAL DIALOGUE

The agreement between the EU and the ACP has stated what should happen if a country refuses political dialogue. Article 96 of the Cotonou Agreement has elaborated on the essential elements of the procedures that should be put in place as appropriate measures to deal with alleged violations of the principles of the agreement regarding human rights, democracy and the rule of law. Both the EU and the Gambia have agreed under article 96 to exhaust all possible options for dialogue under Article 8.

If a party suspends political dialogue and continues to engage in serious and flagrant violation of one of the essential elements referred to in paragraph 2 of Article 9, that requires immediate reaction its attitude would merit  “ special urgency and appropriate measures could be taken that is proportional with the violation and consonant with International Law. Suspension of the agreement and all benefits attached to it could be a matter of last resort and would be revoked once the affected party accepts to remedy the situation.

On the other hand if political dialogue takes place and one of the parties considers that the other Party fails to fulfill an obligation stemming from respect for human rights, democratic principles and the rule of law referred to in Article 9(2), it shall supply “the other Party and the Council of Ministers with the relevant information required for a thorough examination of the situation with a view to seeking a solution acceptable to the Parties.”

In that regard it shall invite the other Party to hold consultations that focus on the measures taken or to be taken by the Party concerned to remedy the situation.

The consultations shall be conducted at the level and in the form considered most appropriate for finding a solution.

The consultations shall begin no later than 30 days after the invitation and shall continue for a period established by mutual agreement, depending on the nature and gravity of the violation. In no case shall the dialogue under the consultations procedure last longer than 120 days.

If the consultations do not lead to a solution acceptable to both Parties, if consultation is refused, appropriate measures may be taken. These measures shall be revoked as soon as the reasons for taking them no longer prevail.

Hence, it is clear that the political dialogue cannot be washed away by suspension and silence. The EU is bound to invite the government for consultation on the suspension with a view to resuming the political dialogue. If this consultation is refused, Article 96 is likely to be put into effect.

The EU is a major trading partner with the Gambia and the country is a major tourist destination for the EU Community of citizens. “The tourism sector is dominated by Scandinavian, British, French, Spanish, German, Dutch and Lebanese investments.” Development cooperation between EU and the Gambia is extensive.  According to a publication issued by the EU Delegation to the Gambia the current NIP for The Gambia, following the completion of the EDF Mid-Term Review in 2011, amounts to €65.4 million. These resources are primarily allocated to two priority sectors: Infrastructure and regional interconnectivity (€37.8 million) and Governance (€13 million).

EU development cooperation covers governance, rural development, infrastructure, water and sanitation. The Gambia also stands to benefit from projects of a regional nature under the auspices of ECOWAS. In fact “the Regional Indicative Programme (RIP) under the 10th EDF allocates a total amount of €598 million for regional cooperation in West Africa.”

The Gambia Government has the duty to make decisions that would not undermine the liberty, dignity and prosperity of the Gambian people. It should therefore open up for a national debate on its position and accept to go by enlightened public opinion which is the resource that Academia should provide for a Nation.

The Way Forward

No Country is an Island.  Gambia could send troops to Mali; take a position on Guinea Bissau and other matters in Africa and the world because of the principle of collective sovereignty which arise by voluntarily fusing countries into regions, continents and the International Community. Every Nation on earth is under scrutiny. All leaders are being taken to task. Anyone who does not want to be scrutinised by the international community should not accept the mantle of leadership. The state is too powerful a machinery to be driven by one person without scrutiny by all stake holders. The only good government is one that humbles itself to public scrutiny from any quarter, national or international. This is why African leaders introduced the Africa Peer Review Mechanism; Political dialogue is nothing more than a Peer Review Mechanism. The Government could have utilised this opportunity to facilitate the release of Imam Baba Leigh and all those in detention without trial by asking the ex-officio prison visitors to visit all prisons and release all those who are not supposed to be there. It could have removed the unilateral ban of the three media houses and begin dialogue. It could have even gone beyond the 17 points of the EU to begin political dialogue with the opposition. This is how political will to promote good governance is demonstrated.

The time has come for Africa to have governance right. That is the time we will earn respect. Bad governance leads to mediocrity by peddling fiction as facts.

NOTE

This paper is already developed into an 80 page book with references for publication.

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