15 January 2013

Gambia: Views of Gambians On The17 Point Demand of the European Union

Following the announcement of the 17 point demand made by the European Union (EU) in respect of the Article 8 Political Dialogue Agreement and the subsequent respond of the Government of The Gambia on Tuesday, 8 January 2013, the Foroyaa has, over the weekend, conducted a 'vox pop' on the opinions of the people on this development and the issues raised.

Mr. Momodou Njie, commenting on the issue, said it is an obligation for the Gambia Government to abide by the 17 points raised by the European Union since the demands are within the framework of the agreement it has already signed. He said agreements are meant to be honoured and that the Gambia agreed to all these demands in order to get support from the EU. He said the ultimatum is only being given because the Gambia failed to honour its part of the bargain.

When he was told that the response of the Government of the Gambia is that it is a sovereign and Independent country and as such should be treated with respect and not to be dictated upon through the issuing of ultimatums, Mr. Njie disagreed with this position, arguing that the government should not have entered into such an agreement in the first place if it is its conviction that an Independent country should not be asked to respect its commitment which, he said, these 17 points are all about.

He warned of devastating consequences if the Government does not fulfill the demands in accordance with the ultimatum, adding that it is the people who are going to suffer if the EU stops supporting the Gambia as it is one of the country's leading development partners.

"As far as I am concerned the government has no option but to agree to the demands which in any case are out to serve the interest of the Gambian people as they are talking about the rule of law, respect for the human rights and dignity and media rights," said Mr. Njie.

He concluded by calling on the government to address all the demands for the interest of the Gambian people. He also cited the issue of Imam Baba Leigh and the incidence of unlawful arrests and detention as a case in point and which, he said, are some of the issues that these demands have come to address.

Mrs. Haddy Sanneh, a middle aged woman, said she welcomes the intervention of the EU, describing it as something that is even coming very late. She said the Gambia Government should accept the 17 points raised by the EU and provide answers to them in order for the country to continue benefiting from the support being given by EU which, she added, is numerous.

Commenting on the claim of the Gambia Government that these ultimatums are a demonstration of disrespect and an insult to the country, Mrs. Sanneh also asked the question "whether asking a government to allow freedom of the media, freedom of expression, improve prison conditions to make them decent places of detention, stop arbitrary arrests and detentions constitute a sign of disrespect and disregard of a country's sovereignty?" She said this EU intervention is even helping the country to improve its image in the area of human rights and rule of law which is negatively perceived around the world.

"I am urging the Gambia Government to accept these 17 points and provide immediate answers to all of them within the shortest possible time for its own good image and the interest of the Gambians to live as free and dignified people."

Mr. Alieu Jallow, who is 50-years old and residing in Faji Kunda, said even though if the Gambia has signed the Political Dialogue Agreement with the European Union, the EU should have been more diplomatic in its approach as it is dealing with an independent country, adding that the ultimatums issued are unacceptable. He said EU should have entered into negotiation with the Government of The Gambia to resolve the matter in a non-acrimonious way rather than this open fallout which, according to him, would not serve the interest of both parties.

When Mr. Jallow was reminded about the main issues raised in the Article 8 agreement which the EU is demanding that Gambia should honour and further asked whether he disagreed with them, he concurred that of course we need rule of law and human rights in the country. "My only concern is that any disagreement between the government and the EU is going to have very serious economic consequences for the people. I am therefore urging for more dialogue between the two in order to save the relations."

Lamin Colley, a middle aged man in Tallinding, commenting on the development, denounced the EU demands as unacceptable and a travesty of Gambia's independence and sovereignty. He said they want to impose on the Gambia what is unacceptable. He described the EU demands as meddling in Gambia's internal affairs.

When asked what in the EU demands are unacceptable and undermines the Gambia's independence, Colley said "They want to impose on us foreign imports which are unacceptable to our culture as we are Muslims and Africans. They should not tell us how to rule this country."

When it was explained to him that the EU demands are talking about the freedom of expression and the media, civil and political rights, improvement of detention facilities etc and how he views these issues, he responded that "we are Africans and would not accept any foreign culture to be imposed on us."

Asked whether the deterioration of relations between the two partners would not have any negative consequences, Colley said "If they want they can stop the support they are giving us if it is tied to what they want to impose on us. We believe in Allah and would rely on him for survival."

Isatou Ceesay of Latrikunda Yiring'anya said she does not understand what is going on and the furore among the government officials. "Although, I have seen President Jammeh and his supporters on television condemning the Europeans but for what I don't know."

It was explained to her that the Government of The Gambia has signed an agreement with the organization representing the European states called the EU for the country to respect human rights and democratic good governance in order to get financial support for its programmes and projects; that the support has already started and the agreement requires the two parties (Gambia and EU) to be regularly engaging in political dialogue on the situation in the country; that following the arrest and disappearance of Imam Baba Leigh in December 2012 and the closure of three media houses which happened earlier, the EU wrote to the Gambia Government to remind it of its commitments under the agreement; that this recent development came in the wake of this earlier reminder as the two parties were about to meet again on the issues; that the EU is now asking the government to abide by the agreement with a 17 point demands and has put varying timelines (ultimatum) on each of them to be addressed; that some are immediate, some in a month's time, while others are given six months and one year; that this is what has infuriated president Jammeh and his government and who are calling it interference and disrespect and disregard for the country's independence and sovereignty.

Commenting on the issues, Isatou said "I don't see anything that is wrong about asking the government to protect the rights of the people. Nowadays, we are very scared as some people can be easily picked up from their homes and not seen by their family members again as has recently happened in the case of Imam Baba Leigh. No one knows where he is for weeks now and no one also knows what he has done to be snatched just like that. So if someone is asking that this disappearances should be prevented I think the government should welcome it."

Mr. Allasan Saine, a resident of Wellingara, on his opinion regarding the European Union statement, said the Government of the Gambia should comply and address the 17 seventeen points raised by the EU as it was the one that signed the Agreement in order to get financial support from them. He said all the issues raised in the statement are legitimate and in the interest of the Gambian people. He said given the deteriorating situation of human rights and media freedoms in the country such as the rampant unlawful arrests and detention of people and closure of media houses, this intervention could not have come at a better time. He said the country would stand to lose so much if the government does not fully comply with the Agreement as it is very much dependent on EU financial support to run many government projects and programmes that are benefiting the people. "They are not dictating the Gambia at all as some would want to make us believe. What they are telling government is that: honour the Agreement we have entered into and which you have signed so that we will continue to support you. And after the entire EU is really benefiting The Gambia with financial assistance to programmes like PAGE, roads and many other projects."

Mr. John Gomez, for his part, acknowledged the fact that the agreement was signed by the government but added that this does not mean the EU should impose conditions on the Gambia.

On his opinion on the development, Ebou Jobe said some of the issues being raised by the EU are provided for in the 1997 Second Republic Constitution but are not respected by the government. "The freedom of expression and the media and respect for human rights are all enshrined in our Constitution and what the EU is simply asking is respect what is in your laws. What is wrong and disrespectful about this?" he asked.

Fatou Touray, a young lady in her late twenties, for her part, welcomes the development. She said the government should accede to the demands as they are the basic prerequisites for any country that calls itself a democracy. "I am urging the National Assembly to encourage the government to accept and make reforms because if the EU is to stop supporting the Gambia it is the people they are representing who will suffer the consequences. I understand that many projects are benefiting from EU support."

She also envisages the increases in taxes and prices of basic commodities as consequence of the cessation of EU support.

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