The Gambia has a relatively high internet penetration rate compared to other countries in the sub region. With a population of 1.8 million people (2014), it has a penetration rate of about 16 percent. This means that the number of people with access to internet in the country is by far more than the population of its capital city Banjul, which has a population of about 40,000 inhabitants (2014). The Gambia’s telecoms sector is dominated by four mobile networks with four other Internet Service Providers (ISPs). The national telecoms giant, Gamtel is the lone fixed line provider and competes in the mobile sector through its subsidiary Gamcel against Africell and Comium, both with Lebanese backing, and QCell. Continue reading
ARTICLE 19 STATEMENT
ARTICLE 19 condemns Gambia’s adoption of a law which severely restricts the right to freedom of expression on the internet, criminalising online speech. The newly adopted law is the latest attempt by the Gambian authorities to stifle dissent in a country that already has some of the harshest laws on the right to freedom of expression in Africa.
On 5 July 2013, Gambia’s National Assembly passed the Information and Communication (Amendment) Act which creates several new offences for online speech that are punishable by a fifteen-year jail term and/or a fine of three million Dalasis (around 63,250 Euros). Continue reading
The National Training Authority (NTA) on 11 March 2013 formally accredited the GPU School of Journalism to provide journalism education in the country, an unprecedented development in a country that has never had a formal structure for journalism education. Under the terms and conditions of its licence, the GPU School of Journalism is mandated to offer journalism education up to a diploma level within the framework of the Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) in The Gambia. The NTA is the body responsible for the regulation of TVET in The Gambia.
Poor Training Weakens Professionalism
Because of the lack of a journalism school, most of the working journalists in the country are either without a formal education in journalism or professional training. The few who have the requisite qualifications or training have been educated abroad. Newcomers to the media have sporadic opportunities of mastering basic journalism as well as being updated on international developments in professional methods, standards, technologies. The upshot is that journalists in The Gambia are despised as join-the-lists, an epithet that suggests incompetence.
The Turning Point
However, with the coming into being of the GPU School of Journalism, Gambian journalism is now poised to redeem itself and entrench professionalism finally. The school has its roots in a two-year Danida-funded pilot project that ran from 2010 to 2012. Known as the Professional Reporter Programme (PRP), the pilot project sought to raise standards of Gambian journalism up to international level. Under the tutelage of senior Danish journalists and local experts, 12 trainees graduated in February 2012 to rapturous acclaim across the country and beyond. (Please visit http://www.gambiamediasupport.org/?page_id=533)
Unlike other training opportunities that had been offered in the country previously, the PRP provided depth and scope, coherence and system, innovation and creativity in its curriculum, pedagogy and methodology, thus positioning itself as a model for journalism education in the country. Because of its eclectic and practical nature, the PRP was lauded as “a revolution” in journalism education in The Gambia.
A Thorough Education
The GPU School of Journalism naturally builds on the PRP’s pedigree that follows a triple path: teaching journalism and media specialization along with general knowledge, analytical skills and English language skills. The education combines classroom sessions, distance learning and actual journalism production for print and radio on various development issues such as health, climate change, agriculture and poverty, public policy and public administration, the law and the legal system. Students receive a thorough education in:
- Core reporting skills; analytic skills; journalism training skills; English language skills; ICT skills; proactive news reporting; interviewing techniques; research methodology; spot reportage; feature writing; public and development communication; newsroom management, ethical journalism; journalism and society; narrative journalism; investigative journalism; and production skills.
- The education applies media theories to day-to-day practice, teaching how to meet the needs of the readers, listeners, or viewers and to set their agenda. Students specialize in either print or radio, but they also learn core skills in other media such as photojournalism and online journalism.
- Students have free access to a fully air-conditioned state-of-the-art computer laboratory equipped with 15 personal computers and 12 laptop computers with a WiFi facility in addition to a modern studio for hands-on training in radio journalism.
- Students are coached and mentored by a seasoned and dedicated faculty comprising Mr Marcel Thomasi, BA English, MA English (Leeds University) who is the head of the English Department; Mrs Raphina Almeida BA, MA (SOAS, United Kingdom), head of the Academic Section. Others include Mr Samuel Osseh Sarr BSc Hons Mathematics and Physics, Mr Hassoum Ceesay BA, MA History (University of The Gambia), Mr Madi Jobarteh BA Linguistics (University of Ghana), Lars Moller, Peter Kramholf, Flemming Seiersen, and Irmelin Viegas, Jesper Kjems, all graduates of the world-famous Danish School of Journalism.
The avalanche of applications that flooded the GPU Secretariat for the 2013/2015 academic session is proof positive of the relevance of this brand of journalism education. At least 100 applicants fought fiercely for only 20 available spots. Through a three-tiered selection process (a motivation statement, spelling out explicit arguments for attending the course; an entrance examination comprising 100 multiple-choice questions, a writing skills test and a analytic test; and then an oral interview), the top 20 candidates (at least eight females) were offered admission to begin their journalism education with zest and faith. While the current students receive full remission of tuition fees because the programme is still funded by Danida, subsequent enrolments will attract a tuition fee to be determined by the governing board in due course.
An Autonomous Board
The governing board of the school is composed of representatives of civil society, the private sector, the media, the government, and is autonomous of The Gambia Press Union. Its chairperson is Mr Almamy Fanding Taal, executive director of The Gambia Chamber of Commerce & Industry who doubles as the chairperson of The Gambia Agency for Management of Public Works. Other members include the secretary general of the UNESCO Office in Gambia (National Commission for UNESCO); the director of Information Services at the Ministry of Information and Communications Infrastructure; Dr Isatou Touray, executive director of Gamcotrap, a women’s rights organisation; the president of The Gambia Press Union, among others.
The Gambia has been hit hard by a weeklong shortage of diesel, the country’s most popular form of fuel among commercial vehicle drivers. The shortage started since Tuesday 26th February 2013, just about a week after the country celebrated 48 years of so-called independence from Britain on 18th February 1965. The current fuel crisis is the longest ever to hit the tiny West African nation and has forced a rise in prices. The official prices have increased from D47.50 to D48.00 per litre for diesel, whereas others especially in the ‘black market,’ where it is much more available say the prices are up to D50.00 (approximately US$1.5). The shortage in diesel has generally slowed down business and so far caused unprecedented lateness among workers and students among other commuters.
“Since last Tuesday (when the shortage began) I find it very hard to go about my usual business rounds and this is very bad for me,” a local currency dealer who preferred anonymity told me. “My business is such that I have to move around to meet my customers in the different parts of the society and so I directly feel the pinch of the fuel shortage,” he added.
“I am really suffering because of the diesel shortage. I cannot visit all my customers as usual in a round and that means getting very much less what I used have in a day and now a week,” Mamadou Jallow, another currency arbiter said. “I have resorted to the Will of God as far as this shortage is concerned. We now wait for the intervention of the Almighty God,” he said, adding that with God everything else become easy.
Local currency dealers in The Gambia generally have ‘fixed’ customers and therefore mostly move around to meet them. The government frowns at the practice and encourages them to register formally with the Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs to make sure they fit in the formal economy. But local arbiters are not the only people affected.
“I earn twice less than what I used to earn before the crisis started. More than half of my goods are highly perishable and the lack of proper storage facilities is equal to adding insult to injury,” a frustrated market woman told me. “Since the shortage hit, I always wake up about two hours earlier than usual and yet at best I arrive at market one hour late. I have to struggle; run after vehicles with my load on my head,” said Mariama Simma who is 42 but looks more like someone in her mid sixties.
The Serrekunda market, “Sandika” is a meeting point for many vendors in the Greater Banjul Area, especially those who sell basic food commodities. Women from every nuke and cranny in the city gather there for their daily economic activities but if there is anything, the shortage in diesel have also hit them hard. This challenge in the transport industry has made life more difficult for a section of society that is barely living from hand to mouth.
For Mariama and indeed many other vendors around the Greater Banjul Area, the shortage in diesel means selling a lot less than what they used to and losing a lot more than what they sell on a daily basis.
The fuel crisis, although is over, many are struggling with the post crisis trauma, which is mostly economical.
Reports from Ghanaian media indicate that the country is set to mount a democracy exhibition in Banjul, The Gambia, dubbed “The Colour of Peace”. The precise date of the event is not indicated but it is said to be part of series of events to commemorate the 57th anniversary of Ghana’s Independence.
A statement to the Ghana News Agency in Accra on Monday signed by Paapa Nketsiah, former Public Affairs Director of the National Commission for Civic Education (NCCE) said the task of promoting democracy under economic and social hardships was enormous but rewarding. According to Paapa Nketsiah the creative team noted that, “Brilliant rendition of colour could render Ghana’s democracy very welcoming to the mass of the people, which could provide a firm foundation for the success of Ghana’s democracy”.
Relationship between Ghana and The Gambia had gone a bit frosty following the alleged murder of some Ghanaians in Gambia in July 2005 under controversial circumstances.
In July 2009, The Gambia and Ghana signed a Memorandum of Understanding to put their estranged relationship to rest and renew friendly ties following a joint UN/ECOWAS Report that ruled out Gambia’s complicity in the deaths and disappearance of Ghanaian nationals in Gambia in 2005. President John Atta Mills and President Yahyah Jammeh of Gambia reaffirmed their condolences to the bereaved families after the signing ceremony in Sirte, Libya. The two presidents were attending the 13th Ordinary Session of the African Union and the asked the issue to be put to rest for the two countries to forge ahead.
President Jammeh said the issue was the greatest accusation he had faced since his assumption of office. “This is the craziest accusation I have ever faced,” he said.
Through years of political instability and hardship, a lot of changes have occurred in Ghana. The huge pool of professionals in Ghana coupled with the slow pace of economic growth has led to the need for the export of Ghanaian talents. One hot spot for the hosting of Ghanaian professionals is The Gambia.
Statistically, the Ghanaian population in The Gambia is relatively high with some estimating to be over 20,000 Ghanaians, both skilled and unskilled.
There is a whole town named Ghana Town where most Ghanaians in The Gambia live, work and earn foreign exchange for Ghana through their remittances. Ghana Town has a community, with Ghanaian chief as well as Ghanaian spiritual leaders. On the other side, there are about 1500 Gambians in Ghana.
Ghana gained independence from Britain in March 1957 and became the first sub Saharan African country to attain independence. The Gambia followed suite 8 years later in February 1965. And now the few questions I ask is whether Ghana is set to export her democratic credentials to The Gambia. If so, will Gambians warmly receive it? Even if the general population is willing to accept it, President Jammeh is not likely to buy the idea because for him, The Gambia is already democratic. But certainly he will prefer it to the European Union’s demand for political dialogue at least for now.
Central Bank of The Gambia (CBG) has on Monday 21st January 2013 closed down Prime Bank (Gambia) Limited. The closure comes as a result of the bank’s failure to meet the minimum capital of D200 million for commercial banks in The Gambia.
The CBG has increased the minimum capital for commercial banks in The Gambia from D150 million to D200 million, the equivalent of about US$7 million, by end of December 2012. CBG has argued that the increment is “in order to strengthen the country’s banking system”.
The Gambia, which used to be serviced by less than four commercial banks until a few years ago, has in recent times been affected by the phenomenon of an upsurge in the number of banks registered here, mainly from Nigeria.
According to local media reports, at the end of the 2009 financial year, The Gambia’s banking industry recorded a total loss of about 45 million Dalasis. Ten of the banks declared losses.
The Gambia’s President has dismissed European Union delegations proposals for dialogue as “insulting, unacceptable and not up for discussion”. In a televised Cabinet meeting on Tuesday 8th January 2013, President Jammeh also warned ministers against what he described as “serving foreign interest”. “You either work with me to serve the Gambian people or you leave and go serve them because the Gambia is too small for the two or three of us to fit in,” he told ministers who applauded at the end of his over-one hour introductory statement.
Jammeh read out the sixteen bullet-point proposals one by one with the proposed deadlines, which appeared to have angered the Gambian leader the most when he said: “…nobody gives me deadlines…” He further alleged that the EU is trying to destabilise the Gambia and blackmail him “with chicken change.”
The EU among others proposes that the Gambia government improve on its commitment to a free and vibrant independent media, unblock online media, and revise the media regulation laws such as the licensing and registration processes, freedom of expression laws such as libel, defamation and sedition.
The European Union delegation proposals further note that the Gambia government uphold its pronouncement on the moratorium on the death penalty; that the national assembly review the death penalty; that the government of the Gambia ratify the optional protocol on the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the optional protocol on the Convention Against Torture (CAT) and finally establish a human rights commission under the purview of the Commonwealth.
Cabinet ministers commended Jammeh on what they described as his “bold move” and promise to stand in solidarity.
The EU is yet to respond to Jammeh’s allegation but the European Union in 2010 cancelled 22 million Euros in budget support to the Gambia due to concerns over human rights and governance.
The European Union remains the leading aid provider for Gambia, with a total of 65.4 million Euros of grants allocated for the period 2008-2013.
By: Demba KANDEH