Gambia’s Internal Security Minister, Mai Ahmad Fatty is standing out as the country’s new “action man” and lauded for taking strong positions during the impasse.
But his critics are now warning of a strongman showmanship by the minister, who often gives sharp warning to anti-government protesters and alleged mutiny plotters.
Six months into coming to office, Fatty has earned himself a reputation as a no-nonsense security minister but his attempt to stand out is backfiring.
At least one person died, Haruna Jatta in Kanilai during clashes between opposition supporters and West African troops. No findings have been presented.
Riot police in Bakoteh and Manjai arrested protesters and used tear gas to disperse demonstrators leaving several people injured over the forceful reopening of a dump site by Fatty, who stationed police officers there.
According to the Gambia Bar Association, Fatty is one of the new senior government officials replicating the dictatorial behaviors of the regime of the ex-autocratic ruler, Yahya Jammeh.
Fatty, even before being sworn-in came under scrutiny for labeling a journalist as a member of a political party he had disagreements with.
The journalist was assaulted by his supporters at a press conference he was attending. No charges were brought against them but Fatty apologized to the journalist, Kebbe Jeffang.
Fatty’s ministry of interior banned the driving of non-factory tinted glass vehicles, except for senior government officials, and bank chiefs, a decision that has seen many private citizens harassed by the police.
No reseasons were given for the ban and the union of attorneys in the West African country say the requirement for tint clearances are illegal.
The regulation issued by the Minister of Interior under the Motor Traffic Act requiring tint clearances does not exist making the requirement for tint clearances illegal.
Fatty is now being accused of abusing his power. Many people decried that the regulation imposed on motorist have led to many police officers taking bribes and those that refused to pay risked having their vehicles impounded.
“Instead of reversing this, the new Minister of Interior has sought to tighten the noose. The public may have found such an announcement palatable if security reasons were given for the protection of civil servants,” said Yassin Senghore, Vice President of the Bar Association.
“Why must the servants of the public who are bound to transparency hide behind tinted glasses while tax paying Gambians who fought for freedom cannot freely tint their cars within the limits of roadworthiness.”
Fatty, who is always seeking to remain a news headliner has accused journalists of misinforming the public regarding an “agreement” to have a $48 million forensic lab in the West African country.
He had first announced that it was an agreement between The Gambia government and a Senegalese company, Diagnostic and Research Center for Molecular Medicine.
Concerns were raised and Fatty said instead: “The forensic lab we are coming to build is at no cost to the Gambia government. The funding is coming from our international partners.”
However, at a press conference, Fatty insisted it was a private investment by a company and the Gambia’s government only gave land to the company to have the lab established.
Fatty is already facing corruption allegation, taking a bribe from a Belgian company and living flamboyant, accusations he has strongly denied.
“There is nothing that we are hiding and there is nothing to be hidden….. There are those who do not want to hear the truth. Tell them and they will go back and distort it and they will spin it around,” Fatty retorted.
Fatty has moved his office to a new building with new furniture and he apparently does not know the cost involved in renting the new property. He urged journalists to go to the Vice President’s office to seek answers.
His critics called his claim to not knowing the finances involved in moving to a new office building and rental “irresponsible.”
“Why would he leave where the interior ministry is right now? What is wrong with that place and why move to a more expensive building at a time the economy is suffering,” they said.
“He wants to show off like Jammeh. He is the only minister with a Mac computer and a MacBook on his desk trying to show he is sophisticated.”
But Fatty’s supporters say he is just being attacked for doing his job well amid security threats to the country, which has emerged from decades of dictatorship.
An intelligence brief leaked to the press indicated that some 300 Gambian soldiers loyal to ex-President Yahya Jammeh have deserted the army and plotting to attack the country.
Fatty has brushed aside the threats until last week, when his Permanent Secretary, Bully Dibba said the external armed opposition changed the nature of threats to the country.
In responding to his critics, Interior Minister Fatty said he would not allow a few people to stand in his way of delivering what he pledged to Gambians and ensure the security of the population of fewer than two million people.
Fatty still enjoys some popular support, although it is dwindling. He has pledged to hold a monthly press conference to engage the public and journalists on the working of his ministry.