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On women’s liberation (Who is to decide how women should be liberated today? )

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This conference continued the trend. One panelist, a former UN official, bashed sharia, warning that women’s liberty was under threat from it. The bashing was not the issue, it was that the speaker gave no theological or legal context as to what “sharia law” is – sharia is not a codified, universally agreed upon set of laws – and the term was thrown around, with no explanation of what this would actually mean for women.

The hallmark of liberty is that every woman may be the way she wants to see herself rather than being forced to fit the profile envisioned by others.

 

Futile debates

Another panelist bashed the Muslim Brotherhood, saying that the Brotherhood is bent upon imposing this ominous “law” on “them” – the liberty loving women of the Middle East. While an attempt was made to present all women of MENA region as a singular “them”, the claims rattled hollow. 

But what of women’s liberation? The question that is often missing from debates that follow such “headline” moments relating to women and their bodies is whether liberation translates into a universal truth for every individual. Further, the confusion of culturally specific norms with a misplaced belief in universal liberty results in meaningless debates that end up advancing liberty for no one. 

While the divide within Western liberal circles is significant, even greater is the one between Western-educated, liberal women and conservative women in the Muslim world.

This leads to the second issue, which is again commonplace in feminist activism within the DC-based policy circles, i.e. the conservative section of the societies in question is almost always missing from attendance. The group of 21 women  including minors, sentenced to 11 years in jail in Egypt for supporting Mohammed Morsi, is an example of the missing section in this debate. 

Are these women modern enough to be part of the debate? Perhaps yes, but the problem is that they are not “Western” enough – certainly not with those headscarves. 

When it comes to women’s rights in Muslim majority states, the resultant feminist activism should provoke the question as to whether liberty is a singularly conceived universal truth. The fundamental issue at hand is the extremely problematic association of culture and religion with the idea of liberation.

A chador-donning woman is thought of as nothing but a repressed being in a man’s world – her liberation may only occur if she throws off that black cloth. This seems to be the view from here – from the policy centres of the US. Our standards, or in other words, our metrics for assessing women’s empowerment, are in need of a thorough review.

 

Defining liberation

The outcome of the current approach, which is highly subjective, is that the difference between modernisation and westernisation is lost on most of these conversations. The underlying assumption of this debate, as highlighted earlier, is the existence of a universally recognised conception of women’s liberty. But the reality is that no such thing exists in either the US or in Egypt or any other society for that matter. 

Edward Said, in his writing on Orientalism, exposed the problems with taking a West-centric view of the so-called Orient. Women’s rights are no exception. Said’s words are still as relevant as they were when he published the first edition of Orientalism. 

As I sat for three hours listening to the panelists at this conference discuss the future of women’s rights, I couldn’t help but think of what Said wrote. And I quote:

“[H]istory is made by men and women, just as it can also be unmade and re-written, so that “our” East, “our” Orient becomes “ours” to possess and direct. And I have a very high regard for the powers and gifts of the peoples of that region to struggle on for their vision of what they are and want to be. There’s been so massive and calculatedly aggressive an attack on the contemporary societies of the Arab and Muslim for their backwardness, lack of democracy, and abrogation of women’s rights that we simply forget that such notions as modernity, enlightenment, and democracy are by no means simple, and agreed-upon concepts that one either does or does not find like Easter eggs in the living-room. The breathtaking insouciance of jejune publicists who speak in the name of foreign policy and who have no knowledge at all of the language real people actually speak, has fabricated an arid landscape ready for American power to construct there an ersatz model of free market ‘democracy.”

The problem explicated in this passage from Said was referred to earlier as “cultural anatopism”. This is perhaps the most damaging intellectual mistake which distorts reality and prevents us from developing a well-guided and effective policy. 

The question is, then, who gets to define liberation? 

At the end of the day, liberal feminist activists, the Ukrainian group FEMEN,  for example, all have varying visions of liberating women, but so do the female members of Muslim Brotherhood that were jailed recently for expressing their opinion. How does one judge, on the one hand, demeaning song lyrics, such as that of the best-selling single of 2013 “Blurred Linjes” by Robin Thicke, which promote rape culture, and on the other, FEMEN activists waging a  “topless Jihad”  outside mosques in Europe?

This may be hard to answer, but for the sake of fairness, all of these visions must be sensitive to the multiplicity of cultural norms and values which is part of any social reality, including the Western one. 

It is by all means essential that women gain a status equal to that of men in the societies that are experiencing change. Women are enduring a great backlash as a result of the uprisings in MENA, and are by far more vulnerable than men in a time of transition. 

But the absolutist notions that come with such importations, as free market democracy, must be dealt with some sensitivity to history and cultural norms. This is forgotten time and again, in the form of invasions that are unjust, in suppositions that have proven wrong in the wake of disastrous wars, and in the reality that women of Iraq and Afghanistan are hardly better off today than they were a decade ago. 

There is much work that needs to be done to promote freedom and equality for women, but that freedom cannot be achieved whilst being oblivious to the multiplicity of world views that emanate from within every society. 

The hallmark of liberty is that every woman may be the way she wants to see herself rather than being forced to fit the profile envisioned by others.

 

Talha Jalal is the author of Memoirs of the Badshahi Mosque (OUP, 2013). He currently works as a Research Associate at the Foreign Policy Institute in Washington, DC. Prior to that he worked as a freelance journalist in Pakistan and Oman, and consulted with the Center for International Media Ethics.

Author: Talha Jalal

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Dead journalists and collective responsibility

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Chomsky’s response (and I paraphrase): I’m an American, and what I can talk about is what my government does in relation to the support or suppression of Kurdish rights. It’s for the Turkish people to address what the Turkish state does. He went on to discuss – in Chomsky-esque detail – what the US was doing, but I could feel the disappointment rippling through the room. Many people wanted him to come out and condemn the Turkish government, to make a statement.

While I understood the let-down felt by activists, as one of the few Americans in the room, I also understood what Chomsky was saying, and it has stuck in my head ever since. He was addressing the notion of collective responsibility: the idea that citizens of a given country cannot escape their role (no matter how small) in the actions of their government. 

This goes beyond a responsibility only for the policies of a government one votes for and includes responsibility for every action and policy of a state regardless of personal support. In my own case – as an American –  that means taking a measure of responsibility for the death penalty, Guantanamo, drones, Iraq and Afghanistan; and, asking to what extent I enjoy the right to life, freedom and economic security at the expense of others outside of the US being denied those same rights. It’s a painful question.

These issues, and the lecture by Chomsky, came back to me recently when I heard the news that the Swedish radio journalist Nils Horner had been murdered in Kabul. Horner was shot in the back of the head on a busy street in broad daylight, microphone in hand. Horner’s last report for Radio Sweden was a piece about the upcoming elections in Afghanistan and the possible impact upon the lives of women. 

It was typical Horner: He was well-known for basing his journalism not upon interviews with the social and political elite, but with those at the other end of the power spectrum. Those were the ordinary people whose lives were at the mercy of forces seemingly beyond their control, often ignored in the news, to whom Horner offered a brief-but-human voice.

Chomsky is relevant because Horner’s reporting was often from conflict zones, and he was particularly well-known for his work in Iraq and Afghanistan. Over the past 10 years Iraq has been the deadliest place in the world for journalists to work, with over 160 reporters and 50 media workers killed since 2003. The vast majority of these reporters – 73 percent according to the Committee to Protect Journalists – had “war” as their area of coverage. 

So, these dead journalists were there to cover a war, and the aftermath of a war, started by the US. Did US soldiers or US citizens pull all the triggers or set all  the bombs that killed these women and men? No. Does this fact absolve Americans (and citizens of all other nations involved in the occupation of Iraq) from some semblance of responsibility for these deaths, and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians? No.

While we see it as tragic, I suspect that many of us feel a detachment from the killing of journalists like Nils Horner, as we do from the killings in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere. Horner was the victim of a form of violence most people find alien and abhorrent in the name of a cause many people find incomprehensible.

Yet there he was. In that country. In that city. On that street. Doing that interview.

In addition to asking ourselves why Horner was killed, we also need to ask why Horner was there. The answer to the first question is easy to distil: He represented a freedom of expression repressive groups worldwide wish to crush. The answer to the second question, however, requires us to go beyond soundbites and to consider our collective responsibility for fuelling the very repression we condemn.

 

Christian Christensen i

Author: Christian Christensen  

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Ebunjan Theatre to stage play, help students in exams

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The Ebunjan Performing Arts Association is organising a two-day theatrical performance aimed at assisting senior secondary school students studying for the literature in English ahead of their exams in May.  

The play “Women of Owu” is a Nigerian version of a classic play “the Trojan Women” by Greek playwright Euripides. It was staged in ancient Greece in 415 BC and acclaimed as one of the playwright’s greatest works and among the best anti-war plays ever written. 

According to the organisers, the themes are just as relevant today, as they deal with effects of war on women and the strong believes of people that deities control their lives.  Students will watch the play live on stage and understand many facets ranging from theme, plot, settings, characterisation, style and others.

The artistic director, Janet Badjan-Young looks forward to witnessing a play like this for the first time in the country. “’Women of Owu” is truly magical. The students will have the opportunity to see how the story unfolds from the beginning, middle and the ending. They will know how the characters interact,” she said.

“It is a special event because we are going out of our way to help students with their examinations, and for them to love and like each other. We do not want them sitting in their rooms reading the play. They should come out and see the play, discuss it and learn a lot from it,” she pointed out.

Michael Dara, a journalist and a participant said: “There is a difference between reading and seeing the play. In journalism, we talk about visual and audio visual. When you combine audio and visual it gives brighter, better, longer-lasting, more understanding image. These kids, most of them are reading this line (play) do not even know what they are reading. When you see the object, you can relate with the story. Crosscheck the results of those students that will come for this programme and the others. Their results will not be compared with the others,” Monica Davies, an actress, said she was happy to be taking part in play.

 

Author: Alagie Manneh

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US gov’t donates medical equipment’s to GAF

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The donated items presented by the acting US ambassador to The Gambia, Michael Arietti, were made possible thanks to the American NGO, Benevolent Health Care Foundation. This NGO is one of the biggest non-profit organisations in the world that delivers medical supplies and equipment to developing countries. The items were received by the top brass of GAF medical unit.

The donated items include a wide range of equipment and supplies among them admission kits, IV Kits, casting supplies, nasal speculums, lab coats, gowns, goggles, gloves and bed linens. Speaking at the handing over ceremony, Charge d’Affaire, Michael Arietti expressed his hope that The Gambia Armed Forces will find the donated medical equipment items useful as “it continues to deliver health care to its members, their families, and other communities in The Gambia”.

“Statistics show that the HIV prevalence rate in The Gambia’s general population is estimated at 2.0%, with approximately 18,000 people living with HIV. GAF members, however, are exposed when on peacekeeping missions in high prevalence countries,” Mr Arietti told the gathering attended by other top brass of the GAF as well as officials from the US embassies in Dakar and Banjul.

He noted: “The US Department of Defence’s HIV/AIDS Prevention Programme (DHAPP) has been working with the GAF to continue expanding its prevention and testing programme. Over the past three years, DHAPP has built strong partnership with GAF, the National AIDS Secretariat, and the National Laboratory. Through these partnerships, DHAPP continues to accomplish its mission to increase awareness about, and reduce infection rates of HIV.”

The chief US diplomat further stated: “Through the partnership between DHAPP and Gambia Armed Forces, last year a total of 2,000 troops and their family members were reached with a comprehensive prevention messages through 24 sensitization sessions conducted at 13 different military installations, throughout the country. Targeted groups included 611 peacekeepers, 510 potential recruits and two peer health educators.  We look forward to the continuing of this partnership between the US and The Gambia for years to come as we continue to carry on the fight against HIV/AIDS in West Africa and beyond,” he said. 

A representative of the GAF chief of defence staff, Colonel Hina Sambou said the American Embassy had and continues to assist the Gambian army in training her personnel both in country and overseas.

Coonel Sambou said the Embassy has also partnered with GAF on several fronts, ranging from renovation of GAF medical facilities, military exercises and operations in the maritime domain and onshore, adding, “the two have collaborated in multinational exercises and many areas of mutual benefits.”

He assured that the donated medical items will be used in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment and prevention of diseases, and that they will strengthen health care delivery in GAF, GAF family members and to those immediate communities they serve.

Colonel Sambou said the items will go a long way in strengthening government’s efforts and desire to ensure a healthy and capable nation while imploring GAF medical service personnel to run an efficient medical store and equipment accounting and management system.

“We must ensure that there is adequate records keeping especially in updating ledger and dispensing books. We must remember that poor management of medicines and medical supplies may result to the fluctuation in availability of those vital commodities,” Colonel Sambou, the head of GAF’s logistics and administration said.

Major Seedy Touray, chief medical officer of GAF medical service said the donated medical items will build up the capacities of GAF medical service and complement command efforts in providing quality and accessible health care to GAF members, their families and by extension, civilian population.

Major Touray commended the US Embassy and Benevolent Health Care Foundation for the timely donation whileexpressing his hope that the partnership between the three will be further strengthened. According to officials, another container loaded with military equipment will soon arrive for the Gambia Armed Forces.

 

Author: Sainey Marenah

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Gambia affirms intent to boost ties with KSA 

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Heading a high-powered delegation on a four-day working visit to the Kingdom, the Gambian president accompanied by first lady Zineb Zuma Jammeh arrived here on Monday.

Jammeh was received by the crown prince at his palace here. During the meeting they discussed various aspects of bilateral cooperation and issues of mutual interest.“They exchanged cordial talks,” the official said.“With decades of diplomatic ties, Saudi Arabia and Gambia have agreed to work together as sister countries,” a statement issued by the Gambian Presidency asserted.

The two friendly countries reaffirmed their commitment to intensify bilateral co-operation as they discussed the latest developments in regional and international arenas during the high powered meeting, which was also attended by Prince Saud Al-Faisal, minister of foreign affairs, Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz, second deputy premier, Adel Faqeh, minister of labor and Mohammed bin Suleiman Al-Jasser, minister of economy and planning.

Jammeh received Yusuf bin Ibrahim, vice president and managing director of the Saudi Fund for Development at the palace, where he is staying on Tuesday to discuss the ongoing developmental works between the two countries.

Furthermore, the Gambian president and his delegation, which includes a trade mission as well, visited the Riyadh Chamber of Commerce and Industry (RCCI) for a meeting with the RCCI officials, where they discussed ways and means to bolster bilateral trade and commerce.

“The mutual discussion covered the economic development of Gambia, especially in the field of infrastructure,” a member of the Gambian trade delegation said on the sidelines of the meeting.

Commenting on the delegation an RCCI official said that it is a trip to strengthen ties with the Kingdom as the representatives from the two countries signed bilateral agreements and a memorandum of understanding to further enhance economic co-operation.

Moreover, Fatou Mass Jobe-Njie, Gambian minister of tourism and culture, who is also part of the high powered visiting delegation to the kingdom, met Prince Sultan bin Salman, president of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities, an SCTA official said, adding that they exchanged their views on bilateral co-operation in the area. Gambian Ambassador Omar Gabriel Saleh could not be reached for comment on the visit.                            (Arab News)

 

Author: Rashid Hassan in Riyadh

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Baby friendly communities: Meeting Gambia’s heroes for children

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Welcome to the primary health care centre in Cha Kunda, in the heart of the Gambia’s Central River region. Almamo Fatty is the village’s voluntary health care worker. We sit down on boxes and he shows us his diagnosis manuals. They’re simple, pictorial guides to the common symptoms for illnesses like malaria – a big threat to children here – and they enable volunteers without formal education, like Almamo, to provide a vital service for families.

He looks tired. As an unpaid health worker, what are his working hours? “I work whenever I’m needed,” he says.

Almamo sometimes travels long distances at his own cost to collect drugs; it’s an unbelievable level of commitment from a volunteer. So what keeps him motivated? “This community trusts me,” he says.

It’s hard to overstate the importance of individuals like Almamo in a country where ‘one in every 10 children still doesnt reach the age of five. 

One big barrier to child survival in the Gambia is the distance that mothers and children often have to travel to reach medical help in an emergency. Yet in Cha Kunda, families have a committed health worker living in the village. And they’re not the only ones. Cha Kunda’s just one of almost 550 UNICEF-supported Baby Friendly Communities here.

As the village health worker, Almamo is part of a larger village support group that promotes potentially life-saving practices like exclusive breastfeeding and handwashing.  These groups, made up of five women and three men, are at the centre of each Baby Friendly Community.

Over time, and with thorough training, these groups become trusted one-stop-shops for all kinds of mother and child health issues, from checking for malnutrition to ensuring that mums know when mobile vaccination clinics are happening. In one village, Tambasansang, in the remote Upper River region, support group members told us that they’d become experts in spotting early signs of anaemia in pregnant women. They’d even created their own community vegetable garden to enable mums to supplement their regular food with iron-rich greens.

During our visit there, one of the women members of the support group introduced us to her one-year-old grandson. You couldn’t hope to see a healthier, chubbier little boy. She proudly holds him up in the village as a living example of an exclusively breastfed child.

But what happens when a child does fall ill in one of these Baby Friendly Communities?

The next day, we stop at the village of Bakadagi, again in the Upper River region. The community health worker arrives on his motorbike and takes us to meet 20-month-old baby Abdullah and his mum.

Just two weeks ago, Abdullah was weak and listless, with no appetite or energy to play. When his mum gave up breastfeeding him at six months, he stopped getting the right nutrients in his diet and as a result became severely malnourished. The village health worker noticed the signs, and Abdullah was quickly diagnosed, and given a course of high-energy peanut paste. When we meet him, Abdullah is impatiently sorting through the sachets of peanut paste on his mum’s lap and greedily tucks into one as soon as she opens it. This little boy is clearly on the mend, thanks to rapid care at village level.

But the village support group is about improving children’s health in the long-term. Since Abdullah’s diagnosis, they’ve helped his mum to understand how to keep vital nutrients in food when she cooks. She’s now expecting another child, and has joined a local antenatal programme to help prepare her.

As we talk with Abdullah’s mum, her mother in-law appears, along with other members of her extended family. That’s when the real benefit of this community-based health care becomes clear: at no point has Abdullah been admitted to hospital in order to receive treatment; the care has all happened in his home. As a result, the whole family knows more about nutrition, breastfeeding and handwashing.

Driving along the dusty, uneven roads of the Gambia’s two poorest regions, we passed dozens of Baby Friendly Community signs. The children in these regions are some of the most disadvantaged in the country, in no small part because on these roads they’re so hard to get to.

At the moment just over a quarter of communities in the Gambia are accredited Baby Friendly, so there’s still a huge challenge ahead to ensure that every mother and child has health care and support where they live. But it’s a massive privilege to meet just a few of the people who are making this aim a reality for some of the Gambia’s hardest-to-reach children.

Author: Isabelle Andrews

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Breaking the omerta: One woman’s recount of her MOJA activism (part 4)

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And the provocateurs?

At first sight, they can cause the revolutionary movement terrible losses. But is this really so?

Due to their help, the police can, of course, multiply their arrests and the “liquidation” of groups. In given circumstances, they can counter the most carefully-laid political plans. They can do away with valiant militants. Provocateurs have often been the direct suppliers of the hangman. This is of course all terrible. But it is also the case that provocation can only wipe out individuals or groups and that it is almost impotent against the revolutionary movement as a whole.” 

Victor Serge, ‘What Everyone Should Know About Repression’

 

So coming from the country-side with Saiks and arriving in Banjul via Barra by ferry, I went straight to my friend Ndura Njie’s home at 11 Dobson street: Family home to Mr ‘Fisco’ Conateh and Police Inspector Wally Njie. Wally is Ndura’s older brother and Ndura is like my elder sister. We were very close. She was married to Star Jallow (footballer) who was then in the US. Ndura’s place was always home. I took a quick bath, changed clothes and was ready to continue home to my grandma in Brikama. As I started to distribute some of the groundnut gifts from the trip so walked in Musa Sey from Basse (R.I.P). ‘Father Mose’ as he was fondly known was teaching at Muslim High School. There and then he told me there was a vacancy at the school as one of the teachers was going on maternity leave and I could apply to teach. I was like, “are you kidding me?” But Musa Sey had confidence I could deliver. He gave me details as to where to send my application letter; in fact convinced me to write it right away and he would deliver it. I did. A week later I was in front of Muhammed Jah (QCell) and his form three classmates as they raise their hands to ask questions or answer them. They were calling me ‘Miss Bah’. That was my first salaried job. 

I taught at Muslim at the same time as Alpha Robinson, but for a shorter period. As I mentioned earlier, we were in our final year in high school when we were groomed to form the Organ of the Revolutionary Students (ORS); a paper that would be fighting for students’ rights. How we were to go about that became a major bone of contention. Was it going to be clandestine or overt? We finally moved the motion that due to fact of the low level of tolerance from the authorities we had no option but to go covert in addressing the issues at hand. Like teachers’ impregnating schoolgirls (Armitage High School was a classical example), abolition of corporal punishment, more GPTC bus services for students, affordable school fees, book bills for poor families, more study hours for students who need extra help to cover their syllabus, freedom of speech. We should be able to voice out our grievances without fear of being arrested, the list went on… Alpha Robinson did not continue with the ORS, but he made history at Gambia High School (GHS). Alpha was the head boy. We are talking 1983 end-of-school-year and the speech day is here. Alpha wrote his speech, well prepared to stand on stage and address his public. When the principal, Mr Hassan Jagne got wind of the contents, he requested audience with his head boy thereby putting in red and omitting the “best” part of the well-written lines. I can still remember an agitated Alpha in front of the grounds of the National Library opposite Marina International School. We had an emergency meeting debating as whether to accept Jagne’s corrupted version or Alpha’s original. You see the guest of honour was going to be His Excellency, the Vice President, Bakary Bunja Dabo. Jagne does not want to be embarrassed by one of his students. The reputation of the school was on the line. True to our sense of a higher call, we unanimously agreed that Alpha Robinson was going ahead and presenting the original masterpiece. And that was exactly what this fearless student activist did! The rest is history!

In 1999 when I met President Yaya Jammeh for the second time after he seized power, he reminded me exactly of this scene. The weird thing was I could not for the life of me remember Yahya Jammeh being a part of that discussion group. But he gave me a detailed description which only a person present could recall, for example the route we took and ending up exactly at the beach in front of the State House… The ORS started going to print and its first publication/distribution was like a tsunami! It shook the educational establishment to its core…

My Father never wanted me to attend formal school. He truly and sincerely believed I would grow up a better daughter and a good Muslim if my brain cells were nurtured with writings from the Holy Qur’an and hadith. He wanted me to read and understand the Divine Scriptures: to strive to excel in the straight and narrow direction of Siratul Mustaqim. Attending school he thought would corrupt that dream and transform me to all that is diametrically opposite the compass facing qibla

My Father hails from Guinea, a place called Timbi Madina. A direct descendant of Almamy Timbo. I started reading the Holy Qur’an before I enrolled in school. Learning the holy verses continued until in September of 1983, the year I finished high school. My father was a businessman. He traded in cattle; lots of cattle, herds of cattle. His business took him from Darsilami, Kombo, to Ziguinchor in Casamance. Twice he threatened to get me married to one of his younger business partners, but appeals from my mother, family and friends rendered the threats futile. Yet my father loved me dearly. He called me Neneh-galleh and everybody followed suit. Reason: I was named after my maternal grandma. In Fula tradition, you cannot call your in-laws by their name. Neneh-galleh means “Mother of the compound”; (the guardian of the threshold) a sign of respect.                       

It was a lot of pressure not to let down my parents. Every progress report in school, every achievement was cause for my father to call to question how long was I going with “ngol jangu gol?” meaning “this education thing?” The more my efforts were questioned by him, the higher I raised the bar in moral discipline and peak performance in school. He was respectfully referred to me as ‘Modi Sulaymana Bah’ (Mr Sulayman Bah).

I took my teaching job at Muslim High School very seriously and put my soul into delivering the best I could to all my students. Even though I was just a few years older than most of them, they showed much respect and were attentive and eager to learn. . I was teaching three form three classes. I remember one of the late Sherriff Mustapha Dibba’s sons was also a student in form three at the time as well as then minister, Omar Jallow’s (OJ) wife’s sister called Matty Saine; a  very sweet and hard-working student. Matty was staying with her sister and OJ in Serekunda. She once invited me to their home to braid my hair. She not only did a great job with my hair but when I was leaving OJ pulled D30 (thirty dalasis from his pocket – newly printed notes) and handed them to me. That was a lot of money then. It was not a bribe but a symbol of appreciation for teaching Matty. OJ has always been a generous man, one of the secrets behind his success as a politician.

Teaching is a challenging career, yet a much fulfilling and very respectable job. You have to be on top of your game all the time. You cannot deliver half-baked theories or answers and be taken seriously. For me it meant becoming a student one more time. Doing more research and making sure I had the correct and most logical conclusion to questions. Sometimes you have the Teacher’s Aid to furnish you with the answers at other times you have to work out solutions on your own. I wanted to avoid embarrassing myself in front of my students and surprised myself that I enjoyed every second of my stay at MHS. Mr Pi was responsible for stationery and Mr Njie was the Vice Principal. As I noted earlier, this was the era with chronic rice shortages, but as a teacher at MHS I was lucky to have a bag of rice on credit. That brought much joy to my grandma.

As my time at Muslim drew to an end, Mr. Njie wanted me to extend my contract and continue teaching but I had already written an application letter to The Gambia National Insurance Corporation (GNIC) briefly explaining that I was on temporary employment as a teacher and expressed with sincerity how much I wanted to work for the Company. I pledged that I would do my best if accepted. The application turned successful. This was a job that I got by my own initiative. I was so happy with their reply that I could not write back to the GNIC to retrieve my application letter and accept Mr. Njie’s generous offer. So, as soon as my term ended at Muslim, I visited my parents over a weekend in Farafenni to inform them of changing jobs and on a Monday morning I reported at work and clocked in. They have just introduced the system. 

 

Author: By Jainaba Bah, Sweden

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A tale of two soldiers – Mali’s past leaders called to account

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Twenty-one years later, in 2012, ATT was forced from the presidential palace in an improvised coup by junior officers from the Green Berets wing of the army. The officers were aggrieved by what they saw as a national army in collapse and a series of humiliating defeats by insurgents in the north. Despite elections and a return to civilian rule, ATT remains in exile in Senegal, facing accusations of “high treason” for his failure to defend Mali adequately against Tuareg separatists and Jihadist militants.

In the 1990s, ATT was repeatedly called a role model for African leaders. He presided over a critical 14-month transition period during which Mali held the ground-breaking National Conference to map out its future; authorities and Tuaregs signed a national pact to resolve problems in the north; and elections were held in 1992, won by Alpha Oumar Konaré, with ATT pointedly declining to stand. Outside of Mali, ATT’s reputation was enhanced by his mediation efforts in the Great Lakes and the Central African Republic. He was associated with high-profile campaigns to eradicate guinea worm and promote children’s rights. 

ATT became president in 2002, after facing few serious challenges. But the 2007 elections were notably stormier. According to political observers in Mali, by the time of the coup in March 2012, ATT’s base had diminished substantially.

 

Reputation versus reality

According to Kadidia Sangaré Coulibaly, president of the National Commission of Human Rights (CNDH), ATT’s reputation abroad was overblown. “I used to attend conferences and come away embarrassed,” Sangaré told IRIN. “I was always being told that our country was the model democracy, so strong on human rights. But ATT would not even meet our organization. He only wanted people bringing him good news.”  Sangaré is dismissive of the “consensus” style of politics associated with ATT’s presidency. “It meant there was no opposition, no criticism, no debate, and that can’t be good in a democracy.

“Power is not something you cut up like a cake and hand out to people you like. He forgot that competence is what counts when choosing people. We were left with a clan running things.” For Sangaré, the coup was no surprise. “I felt like saying to people who admired Mali: ‘Ha! Look at our model democracy.’ I have to say the coup was bad in its way, but necessary for the greater good.” But Mamadou Samaké, an academic attached to the environmental ministry, says nepotism and massive corruption are only part of the story.

“It is legitimate to talk of ‘high treason’ here,” Samaké argues. “Never in 53 years of enjoying our own sovereignty did Mali sink so low.” Samaké says ATT’s negligence in protecting the north could be considered complicity with the enemy. “It’s certain, at some level, there were deals being cut with Islamists on the release of hostages, the division of ransoms, cocaine. All this must be investigated.” 

 

“Ingratitude and hypocrisy”

But Bouba Fané, who runs a business promoting cultural and sporting events in the capital, Bamako, says the campaign against ATT is politically motivated and unfair. Fané is now involved with the civil society movement, ‘Mouvement Lumière’, which has warned strongly against ATT’s extradition and prosecution.“ATT was the first victim of our political crisis, and he should be listened to as such,” Fané argues. “There was no reason for the coup against him, and it was an event that dishonoured the image  of our country. There is a lot of ingratitude out there, a lot of hypocrisy.” 

Fané says ATT’s achievements should be considered against the stagnation and repression Malians experienced during Moussa Traoré’s 23 years in office. “That was when corruption became established in Mali. That was when enterprises were closing down, when it took three days to go from Bamako to Dakar by road. With ATT, you think of things like the roads that were built, the affordable housing, the campaigns against malaria and polio.”

Fané says ATT’s role as a protector of Malian democracy was made clear in March 1991 and vindicated by his refusal in April 2012 to get involved in a counter-coup. “All the journalists that write against him, they should remember that he helped create the freedoms they enjoy now.” Fané rejects charges of military negligence, arguing that “ATT would never have let an armed enemy into Mali”.

He argues instead that political rivals conspired with insurgents on the timing of the rebellion, and says that France’s then-president Nicolas Sarkozy gave the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), the Tuareg rebel movement, both a green light and weaponry in northern Mali as they came out of Libya. Several analysts have backed this claim. Fané also argues that ATT paid a high price for his past support of former Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi. For Fané, the national assembly’s interest in bringing ATT to justice is heavy-handed. “MPs are trying to act like judges,” he argues.

Legal observers say Mali does not have the mechanisms in place to stage such a trial and that any such court action would come only after a commission of enquiry. Fané sees courtroom action as unhelpful, arguing that a full, open discussion on Mali’s past is the best way forward, with surviving presidents   among the participants and a full review of events going back to the era of Modibo Keita, who was president in the 1960s

 

The captain who came from nowhere

General Amadou Haya Sanogo, then a virtual unknown, became the public face of the March 2012 coup. As the leading figure in the junta, he was briefly head of state, but quickly forced by international pressure into sharing power with interim president Dioncounda Traoré. Sanogo was promoted to the rank of four-star general in August 2013, but just over 100 days later, he was in detention, accused of involvement in the abduction of Red Berets, who had been detained and, in some cases, allegedly tortured and killed after trying to stage a counter-coup in April 2012. 

Press reports have regularly focused on Sanogo’s alleged wealth and his attempts to secure a generous pay-off for services to the nation or for going quietly. The rumours at one stage included voluntary exile to Cuba. Sanogo and his associates now face accusations of engaging in vicious inter-military feuding. 

Current President Ibrahima Boubacar Keita, known as IBK, and his defence minister, Soumeylou Boubèye Maïga, have stressed that ending a climate of impunity in Mali means pursuing enquiries and following the evidence, no matter how influential the target. Justice Yaya Karambé, tasked with investigating the Red Berets killings, has pursued General Yamoussa Camara, the former defence minister, and General Sidi Alhassane Touré, the former state security director, among others. 

Karambé and local authorities have been directed to mass graves and other burial sites – not only of Red Berets but reportedly also of dissident Green Berets who staged a protest on 30 September 2013, demanding pay increases and promotions they had allegedly been promised by Sanogo and his entourage. 

 

Defending the General 

Etienne Sissoko, head of the political party External Relations for the African Solidarity for Democracy and Independence (SADI), is among Sanogo’s defenders, although he says he has never met Sanogo in person. While some parties opposed the coup and others came to an awkward accommodation with Sanogo’s National Committee for Recovering Democracy and Restoring the State (CNRDRE), SADI was explicitly in favour.  “The coup was necessary,” Sissoko emphasises. “It was for the well-being of our population. Did they have food? Was their security guaranteed? Did they have the means to educate their children? No.” Sissoko says the international condemnation that followed does not bother him. “The coup opened up our eyes.” 

He accuses ATT of destroying the army and misrepresenting Mali as a viable democracy to naive or cynical donors. But Sissoko is equally critical of the new administration, arguing that IBK has brought back discredited politicians and is now engaging in political witch-hunts. Sissoko accepts that coup leaders made mistakes, but says that the coup itself had been an accident. He says the Green Berets-versus-Red Berets story has been exaggerated, and argues that Sanogo had wanted primarily to bring cohesion to the national army. 

 

Sissoko acknowledges that if atrocities were committed, they must be investigated, but says that the counter-coup attempt had political backers and that members of the current and previous political elite have questions to answer for as well.  “If they want Sanogo to stand trial, what about IBK, Dioncounda and ATT?” Sissoko asks. “Everyone has things to explain.” 

(IRIN)

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In Njogu Bah abuse of office trial (DPP and Defence lawyer clash)

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Lawyer Mboge threw this challenge yesterday during his cross-examination of the witness at the Banjul courts before Magistrate Hilary Abeke after the state prosecutors presented their evidence against Mr Bah, who also served as the minister of presidential affairs.   

Bah is already serving a two-year jail term along with the former Justice minister, Lamin Jobarteh and solicitor general, Pa Harry Jammeh, after they were found guilty by the Special Criminal Court in Banjul last year. 

With regard to the current litigation, Mr Bah is battling another charge for abuse of office for posting Jainaba Jobarteh to the UN, a charge he denied. 

Lamin Ceesay who claimed in his evidence that he was a security officer but did not disclose to the court which security agency he belongs to, told the court in his evidence that he obtained statements from Njogu Bah in the presence of an independent witness and later a charge for abuse of office was leveled  against him. 

In his bid to discredit the state witness, Mr Mboge demanded the witness to tell the court where he got his evidence that his client had abused his office by posting Jainaba Jobarteh to the UN as indicated on the charge sheet.  “Where did you get the evidences that my client has abused his office by posting Jainaba Jobarteh to the United Nations?”  

However, the director of public prosecution, Hadi Saleh Barkum, raised objection to the line of questioning, arguing that “evidence or no evidence, it was was a matter of law that cases are proved by establishing the ingredients and that such ingredients could only be appreciated by a legally-minded person”. 

The state chief prosecutor pointed out that what was expected from his witness to say in court was to say what he could remember, stressing that it was the duty of the court to determine a particular case. “This act by the defence is like hijacking the duty of the court…” she queried.  

The magistrate ruled in favour of the DPP but Mr Mboge persisted that his question was relevant and material to the case. He submitted that the witness had admitted in his evidence that the charge sheet was written by him and his client was cautioned but denied the charge. He elucidated that the duty of the prosecution was to prove their case while the duty of the defence was to discredit it, adding that the court was also there to adjudicate and he urged the court to admit his question. 

The state witness further testified that upon completion of their investigation of the case, the accused was charged with abuse of office but he could not justify whether there was any legal opinion issued on  the case.

“On what basis did you charge the accused upon conclusion of your investigation for abuse of office?” the defence inquired. At that juncture the DPP rose to object the question and  the question was overruled by the court. Hearing resumes March 31.

Author: Baba Sillah

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Gambian wins gold medal for top prize from Indian university

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He is one of the students who were part of the Pan African E-network Projects, an African Union – India distance learning programme to assist Africa in capacity building by way of imparting quality education to students in various disciplines from some of the best universities in India. More than 40 African universities from Madagascar to Niger, including the University of the Gambia, UTG, registered with this distance learning programme.

In his gold medal citation, Amity University described Mr Jobe as: “a bright student whose thrust and thirst for knowledge is unquenchable. ‘Determination, ambition, zeal, motivation, perseverance and discipline are just some of the qualities representative of the student with the highest cumulative grade point average. With sustained efforts the student has earned the respect of his contemporaries and raised the bar for every future students.” 

Asked for comments on his award, Mr Jobe said he was not surprised because he never stopped working for academic excellence in his quest for the golden fleece. He said he has been studying French for the past quarter-of-a-century, taking him to England, Algeria, Senegal and France. 

Speaking at a recent convocation ceremony beamed on the Internet live from India and monitored at UTG’s MDI campus recently, the UTG vice chancellor and his deputy congratulated the graduates and paid tribute  to President Jammeh and the Gambia government for building the UTG, which enabled Gambians to benefit from the Amity University E-network project. “It is gratifying and most pleasing to celebrate a great academic achievement right in your own country instead of traveling the long distances and spending a lot of money. What is more, your degrees and diplomas are well-earned and respected as others, if not more and you have not moved an inch from your work, your family ” an excited VC Kah told the graduands. He said the objective of the UTG is to provide an opportunity to Gambians of whatever age to take the initiative to epitomise themselves and realise their dreams in education.

 

Author: Lamin Cham

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US DIPLOMAT RAPS ON CHALLENGES IN GAMBIA-US RELATIONS

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“If we see problems, we have an obligation to identify them. It may be seen as criticism but I think the way it should be looked at is that it is a potential area of cooperation. I have suggested to the officials of the Gambia Government that we should sit down together; the representatives of Government of The Gambia and United States, to discuss those areas that we identified and which need attention,” Mr Arietti, a career foreign service officer who served as ambassador to Rwanda, dilated when asked to comment on the recently released ‘US 2013 Human Rights Report’ which highlighted rights issues in The Gambia.

He explained that the reports are mandated by the US Congress and periodically look at all the states in the world. “This is not something only for The Gambia and countries in Africa. We do it for everybody; we do it for France; we do it for Japan, we do it for Brazil. In that, we try to evaluate the degree to which the country is meeting its international [human rights] standards, not American standards, for the protection and promotion of human rights. 

“We feel that it is critical for human rights standards to be set by the Government of The Gambia; and legislations are respected and protected.  And that really is what we try to do; we see it as a cooperative programme not a programme that is only intended to criticise,” he maintained. 

Asked what areas the US intend to work with The Gambia in relation to the 2013 Annual Human Right Report, Ambassador Arietti said: “Number one, it first requires an agreement on the side of the Government of The Gambia to have this type of cooperation with us. I think we can look at areas like administration of justice. I have worked in many other African countries, and one of the most productive programmes we have is police training because sometimes you hear reports of abuses by police which might not be intended but require training. 

“And we have many programmes where we can work with the police force to improve professionalism of the police. The same can be true for the court systems.  There is a real challenge in the management of the court system. You have cases where people are accused of crimes and it takes very long time for courts to deal with that. So this is a matter of efficiency and may be, computerisation of some of these programmes  [will help]. I think there is a lot in our scope for cooperation… but it will require willingness on the part of the representatives of government to work with us in these areas.”

Author: Sainey MK Marenah

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Stopping the division in Islam

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But it seems like a fantasy to call for unity within the Muslim world now. With various sects around the world all claiming to be the saved group or the only guided ones. Sects who all believe in one Lord and one Prophet, fighting each other and creating strife and turmoil all over.  They are in fact breaking a major Qur’anic injunction. The Qur’an says: “…and do no mischief on the earth after it has been set in order: that will be best for you, if ye have Faith.”  

So what’s happening in the ummah today, whether it is the Shia-Sunni conflict or the Sufi-Wahabi endless arguments, have never been from the spirit of the prophetic call. The companions of the Prophet Muhammad have never in their era – which was the best and most authentic period in Islam- disputed or fragmented into sects. Yes, they did differ and went to battle but that quickly subsided, as both parties knew what was to be done. They enacted the teachings of the Qur’an and sunnah to its highest levels. They united under the banner of the Prophet and this led them to build an empire of faith that lasted centuries.

It’s a fact that we had and still have differences of opinion between our scholars, but these differences are what the prophet referred to as “the differences of mercy” in a famous tradition. The creative spirit of the legal luminaries have always resulted in varying opinions regarding the same subject, which gave birth to the different schools of law and theology. Sheikh Ibrahim Niasse, the famous West African scholar of mysticism, law and theology sums it up beautifully:

“The differences of scholarly opinion are a [divine] mercy. What is discouraged and disliked is sectarianism, not differences of opinion. A human being is bound to have an understanding of something which another person does not, but this is not what is discouraged and blameworthy. What is discouraged and blameworthy is the feeling in ones heart [which says one is ‘right’ & one is ‘wrong’].

 

There existed differences of opinion among the companions as well as the caliphs, but if you investigate these differences, you will find them to be minor. But when satan and the ego involve themselves, they turn these minor disagreements into major ones and cause sectarianism among people. Likewise, the enemies of Islam find these minor disagreements among the Muslims and they also cause (or exploit) sectarianism. ”

So the differences of opinion within the rank and files of the scholars should never be used as a pretext to create sects into a faith that was once known for accepting diverse opinions and differing positions without going to loggerheads. The sects that existed from the earliest times and still exist need to come to terms with the clear cut teachings of the revealed texts, and strive to work on healing the fractures of an Ummah that’s falling apart. The scholars also have to step up and quell the ranks of their followers. Teach them the proper manner to deal with those they differ with. 

The responsibility lies on each and every one who declares faith in the religion that was sent down upon Prophet Muhammad 1,400 years ago.  Because all of these extremism and fanaticism which have reared its ugly head before us now, can only be confronted with the unification of the orthodox and traditional Muslim community. We owe it to our world and generations yet unborn to unite and stop the madness and show the world, what it means to follow a religious tradition steeped in unity, harmony, balance and moderation.

“And obey Allah and His Messenger, and do not dispute with one another lest you lose courage and your strength depart, and be patient; surely, Allah is with those who are patient.” —The Qur’an.

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Tapha Manneh is new U-20 coach

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The duo have been acting as caretaker coaches for the squad since it started training last month ahead of the African Youth Championship qualifiers which The Gambia begins with a match against Liberia next month. 

It was also disclosed that the contract would last one year, covering the period of the qualifiers and possible participation in the tourney that would be staged in Senegal next year.

Also at the news conference, the GFF revealed that the final list of the squad has been drawn and it includes players from both home and those playing abroad.

 

Below is the full list of the squad members:

 

1. Bubacar  Trawalley, Real de Banjul

2. Yusupha Sarr  – Young Africans

3. Buba Sanneh  – Real de Banjul

4. Samper Mendy — Gamtel

5. Mass  Manga —— Hawks 

6. Ebrima  Tunkara,—– Biko

7. Musa Touray  –Biko

8. Saikou Conteh ——–  Bkio

9. Bully Drammeh   Brikama United

10. Famara Jarju– Real

11. Alieu Jatta———– Brimaka United

12. Ebou Kanteh  –Brikama United 

13. Lamin Jallow   –Real

14. Salieu Krubally  –Real 

15. Madi Fatty —-Real 

16. Yusupha Bobb —- Hawks

17. Edrissa Badji— Interior 

18. Musa Bangura- Hawks

19. Lamin Kande ——— Interior

20. Abdoulie Bah——– GPA

21. Bakary- Njie   Wallidan 

22. Modu Badji– Samger

23. Sulayman Saho—Brikama United

24. Assan Njie —–Samger

25. Ebou Sanyang—– Interior

 

Foreign based Players

26. Alieu Sowe—Italy

27. Hamza Barry —- Malta

28. Sulayman Marreh — Spain

29. Bubacar Sanayang—- Liberia

30. Saloum Faal—-Senegal

 

Author: Lamin Cham

 

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And then she said: (By Alieu A Bah (Immortal X))

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And now here we are talking to God

Like He is one dwelling amongst us 

Our eyes filled with cold tears 

We weep for anyone who cares

Who know what it means to love 

To believe in the faith of adoration 

That’s why we kneel at the threshold 

Of these theological misfits and rebels 

Preaching a theopany of the Divine 

Within the realms of the mundane 

Here we stand like we did years ago 

Mourning the death of the tasting 

Of the realities the ancients preached 

Then it hit us hard that they listen not 

Then again they never did listen 

Yet we pray the Lord forgive them 

For this our people 

This our tribe 

This Our race 

Know not. 

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Ex Ocean Bay manager to sue SSHFC

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Mr Odenwald who resigned from his Gambian job after handing over a letter to his employees last year, said his decision was prompted by his inability to work with the senior management staff of the five-star provided to him by SSHFC. Shortly afterwards, he returned to his native Germany.

But speaking to The Standard, he claimed: “Social Security however owes me up to D1.5 million and the money is my bonus payment and my two years employment contract benefits. I turned that hotel from D20-D30 million losses to D6 million profit”.

He said he has contracted the services of Ida Drameh for the purposes of the litigation. He said he will be seeking the payment of his D1.5 million claim as well as costs and damages.

Following the receipt of this information, we contacted the managing director of Social Security and Housing Finance Corporation, Mr Edward Graham, for comment. But he declined saying he cannot make any immediate comment on the matter “until further notice”. 

Ocean Bay Hotel owned by the Gambia national pension fund corporation is located in the idyllic setting of the Atlantic Ocean bay in Cape Point, Bakau.

 

Author: Kebba Camara

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EU to give West Africa €6.5 billion

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According to a statement issued by the European Commission, the funds will greatly enhance trade and investment flows to West African countries, thus contributing to their development, sustainable growth and poverty reduction. The PAPED is an essential element of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) negotiated with West Africa, and will provide funding for projects linked to trade, industry, transport and energy infrastructure in the region, as well as through support to civil society.

“This substantial new commitment from the European Commission and the EU Member States, demonstrates EU’s continuous support to West Africa’s regional integration, which is the most advanced of the African continent,” the statement underscored.

Commissioner Piebalgs said: “EU’s commitment responds to the needs expressed by West Africa and will allow the region to take advantage of all the opportunities of the Economic Partnership Agreement. The implementation of the EPA will be instrumental in creating favourable conditions to boost trade in the region and stimulate growth and job creation. The development of the region will also contribute to increase peace and stability in West Africa.”

In 2010, the EU already pledged to provide €6.5 billion to support the PAPED for the period 2010-2014. This pledge was eventually increased and the EU has funded projects worth €8.2 billion (through the European instruments, member states’ bilateral cooperation and the European Investment Bank).

The region of West Africa includes The Gambia, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cap Verde, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Togo and Mauritania.

In the Foreign Affairs Council conclusions, the European Union acknowledged the importance of the PAPED developed by West Africa during the negotiations of the EPA between the 16 states in the region and the European Union.

 “The PAPED is an essential step in the process towards the implementation of the future EPA. The EPA represents a new kind of partnership between West Africa and the EU in the sense that although it is a trade agreement, it has a specific development objective. It is designed to strengthen West-African economies via the production and export of a wider range of goods, and by increasing trade between the countries in the region.

The negotiations for an Economic Partnership Agreement between West Africa and the European Union have recently been concluded and endorsement at political level is expected in due course.

 

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Tatadinding quashes rumours of death

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Speaking to The Standard at his family homestead in the Brikama ward of Sanchaba last evening, the scion of the Bai-Conteh/Malamin Jobarteh kora dynasty said: “Yes, I hear people are saying in town that I passed away, I even had to go to our community radio in Brikama, FMB, to clear the air. I am not dead as you can obviously see. Well I don’t know why they are saying this but I am here recovering from my illness and my doctors are taking care of me. I am on the final stage of medication and I will soon be on stage by the grace of God. Please, let the people calm down, the rumour is not true.” 

The popular kora player, affectionately dubbed ‘Dinding Jali’ by his fans, has been ill and bedridden for four months now. Consequently, he had cancelled all his concerts and temporarily handed over his Salam Band to his younger brother, Pa Bobo. 

Although the exact nature of his sickness has not been publicly revealed, it is said to affect his legs which have swollen. Tata however, told this paper that apart from taking local herbal treatments, he has been to the Edward Francis Teaching Hospital, Serekunda Hospital and MRC clinic.

“I also want people to desist from asking for donations on my behalf. All what I need now are prayers and not financial assistance. People also have to be sure before uttering that someone has died as this can bring confusion to the general public. Nonetheless, I thank all the people who have expressed great concern with my health,” he concluded.

 

Author: Kebba Camara

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4 win first ‘Gambia Leadership Award’

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Reacting to the award, the university vice chancellor, Professor Kah said: “I am deeply honoured and humbled to be the recipient of His Excellency, the President of the Republic of The Gambia and chancellor of the University of The Gambia, Sheikh Professor Dr Yahya AJJ Jammeh National Leadership Award. I return gratitude to Allah for giving me the opportunity to serve my country as the first Gambian born to head our highest citadel of learning- The University of the Gambia and also to be the overseer/Principal of the Gambia College, where we are preparing students for the socio-economic development of The Gambia and beyond.

“I thank His Excellency, our chancellor for his bold vision in establishing the University of The Gambia and for having confidence  in my ability to lead my colleagues and put in the UTG on the path to becoming a world-class university. One person cannot build an institution and certainly, not this Vice Chancellor, thus I thank the hard working men and women at UTG and the Gambia College, who have joined hands with me to implement our chancellor’s vision… 

“I received this award that came to me with total surprise and appreciation. This coveted award potentially represents an aspiration that all can aspire to attain and means a lot for all. You have the Mo Ibrahim Abraham Award and now we have these two potential annual awards.”

Muhammadou Kah is a professor of Information technology and communications at the University of The Gambia. He has been recently appointed as the vice chairman of the National Committee on Science, Technology & Innovation by the President of The Gambia.  Prof Kah is the third vice chancellor of the University of The Gambia and was involved in the pre-dawn of the UTG.

 

Author: Sainey Darboe

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Family planning programme in Senegal drawn into conflict with religious leaders

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“It’s like we expanded from one family to three,” Diallo, a 76-year-old village leader, said of his own three wives and expansive brood. “With 30 children, some can go to the field, some can deal with the cattle, some can go abroad. It’s a lot of money you can have with this size family, so that is a lot of power.”

The Diallos have a time-tested definition of success in which a large family plays a central role. But that model is clashing with a government program to increase contraceptive use and reduce family sizes. Largely financed by international donors, the program is part of a global campaign that aims to give 120 million more women around the world access to contraception by 2020.

For supporters of the program, the benefits of contraception are clear: better health for women and children, economic benefits and smaller families.

This last justification, smaller families — and so smaller populations — has drawn the women’s health program into conflict with religious leaders and rekindled suspicions about the motivations for international aid.

For Diallo and his son Ibrahima Diallo, who is an imam, their large family is not only an economic boon, it is also a moral imperative.

“If Europeans say the population is too large so we need to limit births, Islam can’t agree with that because God says, ‘You are my people, multiply,’ and it is the duty of God to take care of the family,” the younger man said. “It’s not for Europeans to bring family planning and say, ‘You have a large population, you will have consequences.’ ”

Senegal, a country of 13 million, is 94 percent Muslim, and the views of imams such as Diallo are deeply respected.

West Africa has one of the lowest rates of contraceptive use in the world. And while some local activists have been pushing for family planning for decades, much of the current programming is funded by international donors.

A Senegalese women’s rights network called Siggil Jigeen has been advocating family planning for nearly two decades, and program director Fatou Ndiaye Turpin is frustrated with its dismal progress. The biggest hindrances, she said, are Islam and rumors about side effects of contraception.

“If religion allowed it, there would be no problem,” she said.

Siggil Jigeen regularly works with imams to find ways to promote theological justifications for family planning, such as highlighting sections of the Qur’an that emphasize preserving women’s health and spacing children. “It’s always men who come and say this is forbidden by Islam,” she said. “Women don’t know what’s in the Koran.”

Turpin said she has been criticized for promoting what many here see as an international agenda that goes against Senegalese values. “Some people understand our mission, but some think this is an invasion that came from outside the country because they give us money,” she said.

At a global conference on family planning in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in November, numerous sessions focused on explosive population growth. West Africa and the region were highlighted as particularly vulnerable. By 2050, the region’s population could triple to 300 million, worsening an already palpable food crisis.

The United Nations projects Senegal’s population to reach 58 million by 2100, largely because of the high birth rate. Women here have an average of five children; in rural areas such as Mereto, the average is 6.3.

At the Ministry of Health, Bocar Daff, the director of reproductive health, said that his role is to “improve the health of the population.” A lower fertility rate would “affect the development, security, school, electricity, it’s clear,” he said, “but if we go to the population, I don’t think that’s the strategic way” to present the issue.

But at the financial ministry, Lanfia Diané, who works in the population and development planning division, was more direct.

“The population should be at the heart of all development,” he said, “Five children per woman? No country in the world has developed themselves with this rate.”

In the Diallo courtyard, such macro-level analyses are discounted as culturally inapplicable. “In Senegal, we have solidarity; you can take your child to. your brother’s house for help,” Imam Diallo said. “We can have even a bigger and bigger population, but with solidarity we won’t have problems.”

Family planning activists often point to the economic strain of a population with fewer workers than dependents. But religious leaders worry that the focus on family size ties contraceptive programmes with population control, something most imams see as un-Islamic.

“Family planning is not reproductive health, is not space between babies; it’s not health of women, it’s to limit births,” said Imam Ahmed Ndiaye, an outspoken critic of family planning programs and a frequent guest on television programs in the capital, Dakar.

But little by little, Senegalese women are turning to family planning themselves as they learn about contraception from each other, community health workers and government radio announcements.

In Koumpentoum, the district where the Diallos live, only 4.7 percent of women used family planning methods in 2013, according to the health centre. And midwives say the tiny minority who use contraceptives often hide them from their husbands.

Yassin Diouf, 40, who lives across the village from the Diallo family, has had 10 children, though only six survived. She has used contraception in the past and plans to use it again.

“No more, this is enough, thank you, thank you, God. God help me to stop here,” she said, cooing to her suckling 4-month-old baby. “Maybe it’s forbidden by Islam, but women are so tired of giving birth.”

Allyn Gaestel reported from Senegal with support from the International Reporting Project.

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Saints surrender crown, Bottrop joins fray In ever groovy schools sports

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Jubilant Gambia Senior Secondary School athletes returning from Farafenni yesterday told The Standard they won because they were well prepared and were not bothered with problems of running on bare ground or the scorching heat from the sun in rural Gambia.

“We have always wanted to dethrone them since, but last year there was not Competition so we continue to prepare and waiting,” one of the athletes said.

At the close of the championship late Sunday evening, officials declared Gambia Senior the first ever winner of the regionally staged event with 293 points,  60 more than former champions Saints who took third behind second place Bottrop who had 283.

A top class national athlete from Saints told The Standard that they lost their crown due to their poor showing in the girls’ event. “Our girls’ results have been rather poor and the loss of those early events swung the tide in favour of Gambia  Senior Secondary, but they are still behind us when it comes to male events,” he bragged.

In another development, officials yesterday praised the impressive performance of Bottrop, describing it as the emergence of a third powerful force in schools sports. The Brikama-based school grabbed second place with terrific displays in sprints events. “Soon the dominance of the two big names will be over,” a top GAA official noted

 

Below are the full results:

 

Senior Secondary Schools

1. Gambia High School 293 points

2. Bottrop School 283

3. Saint Augustines 233 points

4. Bansang  211 points. 

5. Mahaad Senior Secondary 189 points

6. Muslim Senior 146 points

7. Tahir Senior 100 points

8  Berending 59 points 

9. Sifoe and Aji Fatou Bojang, both with 53 

11. Nusrat 39 points

12. Daddy Jobe 27 points 

13. Saint Francis on 24 points

14. Kuntaya and Charles Fowlis ,both 23 points

16.  Kalagi and Nyoro Jattaba, both, 22 points

18. Essau 16 points 

 19. Farafenni 12 points 

 20. Kotu senior school on 11 points

Bureng, Saint George’s and Niamina on 10 points

 Ngen Sanjal Senior and Fatima Senior on 9 points. Mindaw 8 points, Amaad 6 points. Davinci senior and Ndows both on 5 points, Diabugu Senior, Sibanor Senior and Nyakoi Senior Secondary School all on 4 points. Armitage and Kerewan Senior Secondary School both on 3 points

 

Junior Secondary Schools Results

Latrikunda Sabiji 270 points 

Barra Esau 152 points

Brikama Upper 125 points 

Talinding Upper 110 points

Greater Banjul Upper 81 points

Gunjur Upper 77 points

,Bakoteh Upper 74 

Sitanunku Upper 54 points 

Saint Francis and Bansang both on 42 points, Kiti Junior secondary 42 points

Jamisa and Latrikunda (LK) both, 41 points, Presentation 37 points, Abuko Upper 31 points, Kombo Kerewan and Kuntaurm both 30 points. Kudang Upper 28 points. Saint Michaels and Saint Therese’s Upper both on 27 points, Kabafita New Govinance 24 points, Saint Edward Upper 20 points. Saint Mulumbas and Pakalinding, both 18 points. 

Sololo Upper 17 points, Soma and Bakalar Upper 16 points. Penyem Upper 14 points, 

Berending and Saint Augustine Upper Basic School 12 points and Kanifing East 11 points, Janjanbureh and Sinchu Njago Upper both on 6 points, Njoren Upper Basic School 4 points, Karantaba and Mbulum Upper Basic School 3, Pakaliba, Ndungu Kebbeh and Medina Serign Mass Upper, all on 2 points. Chargel Upper 1 point.

 

Author: Lamin Cham

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