Building vibrant and tolerant democracies
It is well documented that the Gambian capital, Banjul, is known in the Western world as one of the premier destinations in Africa for tourists seeking male sex workers. This practice it is so entrenched that it now forms part of the cultural menu that the Gambia offers to tourists – with older European citizens coming to realise some of their sexual dreams (or fetishes) by employing the services of young, usually muscled and dreadlocked youths for sexual activities.
You cannot escape seeing them walking hand-in-hand in the streets of the Senegambia area as if they were genuine couples or suggestively dancing in the city’s filthy night clubs. This anomaly shocks first time visitors but the longer they stay, the more they get used to the sight of old and fat ladies ‘adopting’ younger men. It’s ironic that the Gambia’s official motto is ‘The smiling coast of Africa’, as these old timers are definitely happy there.
However, recently, the focus has shifted to the antics of the Gambia’s young (although he has been in power for a long time already) and rather lunatic President, who is officially known as His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr. Yahya Abdul-Azziz Jemus Junkung Jammeh Naasiru Deen. A former coup leader, Jammeh is on record claiming that he can cure AIDS. But it’s his harsh treatment of critics, dissenting voices and homosexuals, which is increasingly coming under the spotlight.
Late last year, his pseudo-electoral process, which confirmed him for his fourth consecutive term in office, was dismissed by Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) as not free and fair because of the high level of “intimidation, unacceptable level of control of the electronic media by his the party, the lack of neutrality of state and parastatal institutions, and an opposition and electorate cowed by repression and intimidation”. The sad thing about the Gambia is that there is little room for alternative views and leadership to emerge as long as this dictatorial regime continues to lead the country.
It is ironic that in the Gambia, the topic of human rights is only discussed when there is an African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) session. But it is not there to discuss human rights in the Gambia but on the rest of the continent. Indeed, the Gambian government does not give a damn about the Commission – illustrated by the fact that the host nation has not submitted its State party report for the past 6 years, even though this is a basic treaty obligation. But the same Gambian government is happy to religiously offer the Commission a traditional welcome banquet as part of their good will in hosting the body.
Contrary to a segment of civil society that believes that the Commission should move its headquarters to another country because of the Gambia’s appalling human rights record, I believe that such a move would be a disservice to the people of Gambia as they would be further isolated and left entirely at the mercy of the dictator. The Commission needs to stay in Banjul to provide solidarity to the people of Gambia and to allow human rights in general to be openly discussed in the Gambia for a few weeks at least – and just for the sake of annoying the dictator.ShareThis