Below is the interview with Halifa Sallah following his recent mission to Senegal during which he was interviewed at WalfFajr, Sud FM, 2STV and RFM radio stations in Dakar:
Foroyaa: What was Your Mission to Senegal?
HalifaSallah: My mission was simple. It was to demystify the Jammeh administration which is conceived to be so domineering, that not a single soul in the Gambia dares to challenge it. This conception of Gambians as weaklings who are toys in the hands of the Jammeh administration has made life very difficult for Gambians in Senegal. The Gambia is seen as a country with one voice. I went to Senegal to correct this farce.
Foroyaa: How did you conduct your mission?
Halifa Sallah: Many Gambians have spoken over the Senegalese media. People were used to hearing about the arrests, detentions without trial and disappearances and the iron hand with which Gambia is being ruled. Many Senegalese believed that there was no viable opposition in the Gambia and that the Casamance crisis is irresolvable largely because of meddling from The Gambia. Clarity was needed on all these subjects.
DEMYSTIFYING THE JAMMEH ADMINISTRATION
Foroyaa: You said you had the intension to demystify the Jammeh administration, how?
Halifa Sallah: I told them that there are no powerful political leaders in the world; that leaders rely on soldiers, policemen and policewomen and intelligence operators to arrest, detain and kill in order to instill fear in others. This is the might of the state which does not belong to any leader but is entrusted for some time and could move from the grip of any leader. I gave example that when power was in the hands of Jawara, he could have arrested Jammeh without any qualms.
I argued that there are two powers in a country, the power of the state and the might of the people. Hence the way to curb abuse of power is to raise the awareness of the people to enable them to be conscious of their power to put governments in or remove them from office. Once the people know that power belongs to them no government on earth could impose its will on them with impunity.
ON THE ISSUE OF A VIABLE OPPOSITION
Foroyaa: What was your reaction to the opinion that there is no viable opposition in the country?
Halifa Sallah: I emphasised that an opposition party is an alternative voice capable of articulating alternative policies that are viable enough to earn it the merit of becoming an alternative government.
Foroyaa: What policies did you articulate ?
Halifa Sallah: I made it clear that a Government of a sovereign Republic has a duty to guarantee liberty and prosperity to a people.
In the Gambia, government employees like drivers, messengers, watchmen and cleaners earn less than 1000 dalasis or13,000 CFA Francs, a month and cannot buy even a bag of rice or four kilos of meat in a month with their salary. In the same vein 48 percent of the population falls below the poverty line.
I indicated that poverty has not been eradicated because the policies of the government have not led to the development of the productive base of the economy thus reducing the Gambia into a heavily indebted poor country with a Per Capita income of between 543 dollars to 1101 dollars per annum in contrast to Singapore with a per capita income of 78000 dollars.
We have emphasised that for 20 years of the APRC government Gambia has not been able to increase its domestic imports to become a middle income country. In 2013, its domestic exports amounted to 415 million while its imports stood at 12.7 Billion dalasi. Re–exports to the sub-region cushions the low exports and earned the country 3.4 billion dalasi, thus leaving the country with a trade deficit of 8.7 billion dalasi. In 2014, the trade deficit increased to 10 billion dalasi. Instead of building a self reliant economy, the country is becoming more dependent on food imports.
In the same vein, 88 percent of the budget depends on taxes and grants. Despite this fact the government experienced a budget deficit of over 3.2 billion dalasi in 2014.
To offset such deficits, the government has increased domestic borrowing to the tune of 19 billion dalasi. This is why Gambia is a heavily indebted poor country.
It is made clear that while the reduction of grants would lead to greater indebtedness and contraction of public services, the government has been pretending that it could do without foreign assistance. The relation between the EU and the Government is a clear example. The EU claims that it is responsible for half the paved roads in the Gambia, including Barra Amdalaye, MadinabaSeleti, Soma Basse, Trans Gambia Highway, Sofanyama Bridge, BasseWellingara.
The stall in the political dialogue and the executive directives to increase the value of the dalasi against other currencies in gross disregard of the market value has led to a loss of 22 million dollars in grants. In fact, the EU alone stopped 16 million dollars worth of grants in 2014.
Hence the foreign reserves of the country have reduced to less than 2 months of import cover. The economy is contracting rather than growing. Development which relies on loans and grants is not sustainable and could never lead to middle income status.
Foroyaa: What alternative policy did you offer?
HalifaSallah: I emphasised that an economy which is to guarantee prosperity to its population must have a productive public, private, cooperative and informal sector. This is the dictate of our times and circumstances.
Hence PDOIS has concrete plans and programmes to ensure the development of the four sectors.
First and foremost, the development of a productive public sector shall be the engine for growth in infrastructural development, poverty eradication and balanced and proportionate rise in prosperity across the board. Like any serious government, a PDOIS administration would spend the first months and year of its administration in prospecting to locate its mineral, energy and natural resources and harness them to promote the accumulation of sovereign National Wealth for investment in our foreign reserves to meet all external obligations, build infrastructure, establish productive public enterprises and other productive sectors such as public/private partnerships and give financial and logistical support to the cooperative and informal sectors.
Public corporations would sign performance contracts and would be left to work without political interference to ensure that they produce the dividend agreed upon to contribute their quota to the accumulation of sovereign national wealth on an annual basis to ensure their viability.
Such accumulation of sovereign National wealth will prevent chronic dependence on domestic borrowing to meet national expenditures which has discouraged private banks from lending to the private sector to promote private sector investment in foreign exchange generating sectors like tourism or the value added chain or industries to generate employment through processing and packaging.
Secondly, PDOIS notes that over 1.6 Billion dollars is traded in the Gambian currency market on an annual basis while our domestic exports earn us just 415 million dalasi annually. This clearly shows that the wealth in circulation is not being channeled into the productive base of the economy.
Hence PDOIS’ major aim is to align private sector banking with private sector investment so that employment could be generated and private sector contribution to revenue generation enhanced without making taxes excessive and decapitating to the private sector.
PDOIS calls for the development of a productive cooperative sector. The reason why the Cooperative Union collapsed both under the Jawara administration leading to the establishment of a commission of enquiry, which was overtaken by the coup of 1994, and suffered the same fate under the Jammeh administration leading to a deficit of 183 million dalasi, is because of its link to commercial banking procedures and the interest rate regime in addition to political interference.
Suffice it to say, an Agricultural Development Bank as proposed by some political parties is doomed to failure as long as it is linked to commercial banking principles with its attendant high interest rates.
PDOIS has the plan to facilitate the establishment of cooperative banks through investment from public enterprises, subventions from sovereign National Wealth Fund and grants to eradicate poverty. In short, just as high income countries provide welfare benefits to the needy, a country moving from a least developed country status under the first Republic and heavily indebted poor country status under the second Republic to a middle income self reliant poverty free economy under the third Republic must rely on production base welfare benefits rather than consumption base welfare benefits. This is PDOIS’ approach to promoting general welfare.
Hence, instead of using 400 million dalasi in corporate Social Security funds to purchase and refurbish a hotel, such funds would be put in a cooperative banking sector which would have production, marketing, processing and consumption units aimed at providing seeds, fertilizer and appropriate farming implements to family farms, horticultural gardens and other production assistance to fruit growers, fisher folks and herdspersons throughout the country.
The marketing processing and consumption units would facilitate the purchase of produce like tomatoes to process them into paste, fruits into juice , fish into sardines, milk into different milk products to generate employment and their accessibility to consumers would be facilitated. This will generate and ensure a balanced and proportionate growth of welfare.
Lastly, those informal sector operators would also have the support of micro financial institutions which would operate on the basis of the grant principle so that high interest would not choke small scale enterprises to death. Individual income would increase and savings for the growth of banks enhanced.
With over 400000 young people joining the labour market every 12 years we need a productive base to absorb them.
Foroyaa: Apart from Economic issues, did you address any other concerns?
HalifaSallah: They asked whether Jammeh’s imposition of political might is not making it impossible for the opposition to exist in the Gambia. They expressed what they have heard from Gambians that the opposition parties operate under what they considered to be a climate of fear. I told them that politics is partly psychological warfare. Hence, if one goes about lamenting how one is strangulated by one’s political opponent, one is bound to be seen to be a weakling under his tutelage. This amounts to surrendering before one commences a battle.
I emphasized that a viable opposition party must be ready to carry out a battle under all types of weather to win victory. Hence, as far as PDOIS is concerned, all obstacles put on our path are taken as challenges to overcome. I emphasised that the ruling party is afraid for PDOIS’ convincing ideas to reach the public. Hence the Jammeh administration does not allow access to the state media to debate national issues. Hence, while we call for the opening of the media to divergent views, we do not hesitate to put out ideas in cassettes and tour the country to enlighten the people to know that power belongs to them and they could exercise it to change Governments.
Foroyaa: The Relation between Senegal and Gambia did feature in the discussions. Could you elaborate?
HalifaSallah: They did mention the unpredictable nature of the relation between the two heads of state.
I made it clear that PDOIS cannot be a mouth piece of the existing governments. Our duty is to become an alternative to the present government in The Gambia.
I emphasized that there are three possible relations between sovereign states and sovereign peoples, namely, state to state, state to people and people to people.
I explained how many villages share borders and have already established cross border market days, trade and economic relations such as barter. There are intermarriages and resettlements and reciprocal use of social amenities. I emphasised that if PDOIS was in a position of leadership we would work out a common decentralization project which would lead up to the twinning of our border villages in development so that whatever development is being undertaken in Senegal would also be undertaken in the Gambia, vice versa, so that there will a balanced and proportionate development of our border villages. We will also work in unison to raise the awareness of villagers so that they develop democratic and Republican values and have a common standard of citizenship and rights in their respective countries. This would enhance state to people and people to people relation.
It was further highlighted that state to state relation would be enhanced by calling on the Senegalese Government to come to an agreement to establish a commission of jurists to work out common constitutional instruments and common standard of jurisprudence to guide common standard of governance and justice system.
Furthermore, a PDOIS government would propose joint plans and projects to develop the two countries at the state, private, cooperative and informal levels. An example was given that when the European Union decided to assist the Government of the Gambia to construct the Barra Amdalaye road, if we were in office in the Gambia, we would have encouraged the Senegalese Government to utilise the same avenue to simultaneously construct the Karang to Dakar stretch to facilitate movement in the Sene-Gambian area. Businessmen and women would be encouraged to form joint stock companies and so on and so forth.
Hence, state to state relation would foster people to people and people to state relation.
Foroyaa: The situation in Cassamance did feature in your discussions in Senegal.
HalifaSallah: Most of the questions were in fact leading ones. It was observed that people in Senegal are of the opinion that Jammeh’s hand is in the Casamance crisis. What is expected is for me to state the obvious which is already in the Senegalese press. Everybody saw the Secretary General, Office of the President delivering a speech at the invitation of Salifu Sarjo during the release of Senegalese security personnel who were held prisoner by MFDC. In the same vein, when the Sall administration was established after the 2012 elections, Gambia was the first country he visited and he entrusted the Jammeh administration with the responsibility of finding a solution to the Casamance crisis. Senegalese generally believe that Jammeh could make the problem to worsen or be solved.
It is common knowledge that the porous borders of the Gambia and Guinea Bissau have been used for illegal trafficking of drugs, logs, firearms, thus transforming certain places in Casamance into hideouts for all manner of people making illicit gains.
Many people do not know that the Jammeh administration does want to be seen to have a hand in Casamance and that it holds the key to any settlement. I helped the Senegalese people to understand that the Casamance crisis is older than the Jammeh administration and that the right steps are yet to be taken to solve it. I gave examples of how warfare among the MFDC combatants in 2010 led to bullets flying over the roof of Gambian villages who also witnessed dead bodies being dragged and weapons being stored in their gardens. The border had therefore been very insecure for every one irrespective of origin. To Gambians at home I would like to recall the brutal killing of Wuyeh Colley and Enor Colley of Karunorr which is a clear testimony that the border area is a jungle away from the guards and fences of law and order. Hence solution to the Casamamce crisis is important to both countries in order to reduce the climate of insecurity. The people in Casamance must not continue to be hostages without the protection of law.
May I now add that the first consultative meeting of the Movement of the Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFDC), which was approved by the Joof Administration, was held in Banjul from 21st to the 25th June 1999 at the Atlantic Hotel. Even though, Sidy Badgie, the former head of Atika, the fighting forces of MFDC, was there but Salifu Sarjo was not present. The Joof administration thought that the Jammeh administration would find a solution.
We all know what eventually happened to Alexandre Djibi, who was the goodwill ambassador of MFDC until his arrest and detention.
Hence, as far as PDOIS is concerned, the solution to the Casamance crisis is still illusive because the ground rules are yet to be drawn. If PDOIS was in office, such ground rules would form the basis of solving the crisis.
Foroyaa: What ground rules did you recommend in Senegal?
HalifaSallah: When African countries began to attain self determination and Independence, they agreed on the principle that the boundaries of colonies will serve as the boundaries of Independent countries.
In PDOIS’ view in the long run an African Court of Justice should preside over cases of demands for self determination and Independence of groups like MFDC on the basis of the agreed principles.
As for Casamance, academics and policy makers of Gambia, Senegal, Guinea Bissau and MFDC should meet to examine the content of the agreement of 10 August 1889 between France and UK which established the boundary between Gambia and Senegal. The agreement of 1886 frequently recalled by Reverend Diamacoune when he was alive and the agreement of 1888 between France and Portugal which established the boundaries between Senegal and Guinea Bissau should also be examined.
Once the colonial boundaries are established all heads of state should respect the boundaries.
Secondly, all citizens of Independent states should enjoy equal Sovereignty and should be entitled to equal rights and equal access to services. Heads of state of the Gambia, Senegal and Guinea Bissau could best promote peace in the sub-region by promoting democratic and Republican values among their citizenry and signing peer review mechanisms which will enable them to counsel each other to protect the rights of their citizens. Once the person in Casamance has the same protection from a republican security force, receive the same service from the teachers, nurses and civil servants of the Republic, enjoy the same rights to be elected president, National Assembly member or councilor, then the basis of secession is negated. This is the way forward which was mapped out. I am quite sure that once the ground rules are accepted any leader who violates would be taken to book. Combatants could be trained in some area of knowledge or skill., others could be assisted to become entrepreneurs who would establish legitimate logging businesses for their own benefit rather than being tools of outsiders.
Foroyaa: Was that all?
HalifaSallah: The issue of arrests, detentions and disappearances came to the fore. Apparently, many Senegalese think that such issues are not talked about in the Gambia. I emphasised that we have documented all arrests without trial and all disappearances without trace in a daily Newspaper called Foroyaa; That our office is like a social clinic where people come to report arrests without trial and disappearances.
I emphasised that we publish everything worth publishing and that we do hold the government accountable to the public, contrary to the views expressed that one has to leave the Gambia to be able to say the truth.Gambians who do not want to give us credit and who go about saying that abuses are not exposed are helping the Jammeh administration, since visitors are simply asked to read Foroyaa to prove them wrong. The truth is that the Jammeh’s administration is developing a thick skin for exposures. What it should do is to be sensitive to them and amend its ways for the better.
Finally I did held meeting with the leadership of many parties. They are to report to their parties and we will eventually sign the required memorandum of understanding and make it public.
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