I was sitting at home minding my business and thought I would grab my routine dose of Gambian News, so I went on reading the local Newspapers. I started with the Daily Observer and I saw a story about our ‘magnanimous’ president ‘negotiating’ the release from immigration detention and repatriation of Gambian Deportees from Angola. $10,000 USD forked out. As important as that story is, it was not as interesting to me as the next.
A January 16, 2014 Daily Observer headline “Ahead of March polls -Bissau authorities begin registration of 35,000 nationals. As I read on, I got to ‘The process that began earlier this week came against the backdrop of a series of sensitization programs by the Bissau-Guinean authorities in Banjul’ and I was already filled with sadness and anger, out of jealousy. ‘Really? Guinea Bissau!?’ I thought. This is not to be disrespectful to Bissau. I am cognizant of the fact that President Jammeh is not remotely close to anything democratic but in all fairness, we have a fairly stronger democratic establishments and/or ‘potential’ considering how the poor West African nation barely have any breathing space in-between their military coup d’états. Plus as ‘young’ as we consider our State to be, we attained independence almost a decade before Bissau. So that was the premise of my comparison. But let me get off that!
The 2007 Constitution of the Gambia: Chapter V (1)(1) clearly states that:
“Every citizen of The Gambia being eighteen years or older and of sound mind shall have the right to vote for the purpose of elections of a President and members of the National
Assembly, and shall be entitled to be registered as a voter in a National Assembly constituency for that purpose.”
I do not know what the constitutional stipulation on voter registration was in the first republic to be able to compare with what we have today; therefore, I am not able to have a take on that. What is a known fact though is that, Gambians in the Diaspora have been constitutionally enfranchised but deliberately marginalized on almost everything, by this regime since its inception. I have not seen any serious attempts by the Jammeh Administration to ever engage Gambians outside the country in any meaningful decision making or undertaking – especially politically. Proportionately (in the continent), the Gambia has one of largest per capita of academicians and professionals who studied and/or practiced their expertise outside its borders. And this is in all spheres or disciplines. Then how comes our Government is not keen on tapping in to the abundant resource pool to enrich our workforce or even entice some to come invest in their country of birth? Instead, we often see the leadership launching blanket attacks and threats, branding this particular constituency ‘failures and enemies’ of the Country.
To put the undisputed significance of the Diaspora Gambians in to perspective, I am going to try highlighting one thing here. From economic perspective, the financial prowess of Gambians abroad over the years has been too impacting that it’s felt in all aspects of the Gambian economy. Since many Gambian families depend on relatives outside the country for sustenance and sponsored projects, Gambians remit significant sums that make a substantive mark on the home economy.
In a West Coast radio interview with Director of Research at The Central bank of The Gambia (October 2013), it was revealed that ‘in the Gambia, remittance as a percentage of GDP, have grown significantly over the last decade from a mere 2.5% of GDP in the early 1990s to nearly 10% GDP around 2011’. That was some 3 years ago. In that interview, Gambians were told that the data compiled by the Central Bank had average remittances from Gambians abroad (through exchange bureaus) between 2008 and 2010 at about 54 million dollars. This number had increased to a whooping $85 million dollars in 2012, and a near 20% of our national GDP in 2014.
As significant as this block of Gambians is, the regime in Banjul has calculatedly disenfranchised diaspora Gambians and REFUSED to make any attempts to allow them have a say in any electoral process. The opposition Group of Six (G6) in their list of demands to the IEC, copied to the President, Attorney General and Speaker of the National Assembly, did include the registration of Gambians outside her borders to participate in the 2016 elections. These demands thus far have fallen on deaf ears. IEC would argue that they could not afford the finances and other logistics to conduct a voter registration of Gambians abroad but we are all aware of the allegations of voter fraud which IEC are an accomplice. Charges of voters transported in to the Gambia from Southern Senegal and have them planted in places recognized as opposition strongholds on election days. I bet the IEC would get funding, if they are keen on registering eligible Gambians in the Diaspora. Senegal, Bissau and many African countries have shown time and time again, the level of political maturity and all-inclusiveness in working together as a people and nation in this area. WHY CAN’T GAMBIA? And it’s regrettable and frustrating that the Diaspora hadn’t really picked up this to vigorously incorporate in our local and international advocacy.
President Jammeh has no motivation or the slightest inclination to commit himself to favoring or strengthening democratic ideals that would diminish his status as a tyrant and weaken is powers as a brutish almighty. He’s been very comfortable taking advantage of the level of political and civic education of our illiterate majority and would never willingly allow Gambians who live outside and tasted any semblance of democracy that has been foreign to us for 22 years, be part of any mechanism that could boot him out. Remember the Information and Communication (Amendment) Act 2012 aka the Internet Laws? Considering the amount of opposition outside the country from Senegal to UK, France to America, any hopes of negotiation to have Gambians abroad participate in the 2016 Presidential Elections is next to nothing. If Bissau-Guinea are able to do this, Gambians must demand their right to vote and choose who represents them. We are a significant constituency and must use our leverage to compel the Jammeh administration recognize and respect us as such. Our pockets are our bargaining chips, so why can’t we use them? This is one of the many reasons that the Diaspora need to put their house in order and graduate from cyber activism and radio fights to claim our rightful position in our politics. We are equal stakeholders and all hands must be on deck.