Thursday, January 17, 2013

Gambia-EU Political Dialogue In Disarray

President Jammeh seems less likely to rescind his decision to withdraw from the Gambia-EU dialogue despite warnings from the EU (Photo Credit: AFP/Nov/2011)
The proposed discussion on reforms between the European Union (EU) and The Gambia Government under the EU Article 8 Intensified Political Dialogue is apparently stumped after locally organised protest against the EU at the weekend.

The EU’s 17-point reform plans set for the Government of The Gambia to adopt, include upholding a moratorium on the death penalty, revision of laws on freedom of expression, lift the ban on independent newspapers and radio stations, revision of draconian media laws on sedition, libel, and false publication, and provision of information regarding the recent executions of 9 death row inmates.  

At an emergency meeting in Banul, the capital, Gambia’s President Yahya Jammeh on Jan. 8, 2013 called-off the proposed dialogue initially set for Jan. 11, saying it is “insulting and unacceptable”.

On Friday, a spokesperson for the EU’s chief diplomat Catherine Ashton said “the EU attaches importance to its partnership with the Gambia and hopes that the Government will allow the resumption of the political dialogue as soon as possible.”

But the Jammeh-government look less likely to rescind its stance after it endorsed a street protest against the EU’s proposal on the same day.

Thousands of Gambians were mobilized to march a few hundred meters against the EU from the Arch 22 to State House in Banjul, with banners like this one saying: “No to EU demands”.  

President Jammeh says the move was that of “patriotism”. He said: “I am very grateful that 99% of Gambians are patriotic and they are behind this government and they are God-fearing. Only the Almighty Allah we obey; only the Almighty Allah we worship; and only our country we love, the rest we don’t care.”

He promised to “die for Africa, die for The Gambia and die for dignity.”

But the EU expresses regrets that the political dialogue with the Gambia has been suspended by the Yahya Jammeh-led government. It warns that if it proves impossible to discuss the issues with Gambian authorities, there are other provisions of the Cotonou Agreement, which apply to situations where dialogue on important commitments is no longer possible.  

The warning open room for speculations as to whether the EU would decide to punish the Gambia over this stalemate.   

Concerns over human rights and governance forced the EU, the main aid provider to Gambia with a total of 65.4 million euros of grants allocated for the period 2008-2013, to cancel 22 million euros (over $26 million) in budget support to Gambia in 2010.
On January 11, the EU said it remains concerned about the deterioration of the human rights situation in the Gambia, including the whereabouts of Imam Baba Leigh who disappeared allegedly in the hands of state intelligent agents on Dec. 3, 2012.

A spokesperson for the EU’s chief diplomat Catherine Ashton (Pic) warns: "There are other provisions of the Cotonou Agreement, which apply to situations where dialogue on important commitments is no longer possible."
“The EU underlines its continuing availability to discuss with the Gambian authorities on all aspects of EU-Gambia relations in a constructive dialogue based on shared commitments made under the Cotonou Agreement,” the spokesman for EU’s  foreign affairs chief Ashton said.

“The EU supports certain international values and commit ourselves to certain standards. So does The Gambia. We should both respect what we have committed ourselves to,” he added.
Meanwhile, the tiny West African country’s main opposition said “the concerns raised by the EU should not be brushed aside by the Gambia Government that is imbued with any modicum of respect for democracy and human rights.”

"What the EU wants is to create a situation of instability in this country or create a puppet government that will give them the resources of this country because they know that we now have oil," president Jammeh said.

But the United Democratic Party, UDP, described his statements as “very unfortunate” and “misguided”.

“Most of the issues put forth by the EU are the same demands that the opposition in The Gambia have been fighting very hard to get the government to address,” the party said.

Written by Modou S. Joof

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