In May 2017, the government announced that President Adama Barrow “donated” pick-ups to GRTS. The news spawned condemnation in and outside The Gambia. Later in the year, when it was announced that the president gave out an extra 50 plus vehicles, the criticism reached a crescendo.
One of the criticisms directed at Barrow was his expressed stance not to disclose the source of the vehicles which cost millions of dalasis.
He later told journalists that the vehicles were donated by Gambian and non-Gambian “philanthropists” who supported him during the 2016 presidential campaign and the ensuing political impasse.
“Nobody asked questions about the vehicles donated during the campaign to remove the former president and also the vehicles I was using during the impasse,” he queried.
“I asked them to help me with pick-up trucks for the National Assembly Members because they are politicians who cannot be asking for rides or joining gelè-gelès to attend sittings at the National Assembly,” he explained.
His spokeswoman further explained: “They were from a philanthropist who supported the president during his campaign. If you can remember, the two vehicles that were given to GRTS were part of the same sets of vehicles. What happens was, these vehicles came in by sets, and when the president got the first support, he said he did not want to give some and deny others. So when everything was completed, that’s the time the handing-over was done.”
Asked about the source of the vehicles, former Information minister, Demba Jawo, said: “I received a phone call from Ebrima Sillah, the director-general of GRTS, who informed me that they were supposed to receive vehicles from the GRA and that I should show up to receive the keys from CG Yankuba Darboe. Upon arrival, I was told by the GRA CG that the vehicles were from President Barrow. I have no idea where the vehicles were coming from. I have no means of confirming it. The president is out of the country…”
Since then speculation has been rife as to the identity of the shadowy “philanthropists”. Senegalese president Macky Sall, Gambian tycoon Amadou Samba, Gunjur-born dollar billionaire Alieu Conteh, Senegalese construction magnate Khalilou Wagué among others were speculated to being the secret donors.
But recently, a group of 11 men who offered personal protection to President-Elect Barrow during the political impasse before they were expelled by a recalcitrant President Yahya Jammeh, have claimed that the vehicles were likely given to the Gambian leader by Harouna Dia, a Senegalese billionaire and financier of Macky Sall’s party.
Speaking to The Standard earlier this week, a Gambian journalist based in Dakar said in a recent exposé in the Senegalese newspaper SOURCE A, the spokesman of the group, Djily Mbaye, claimed Dia chanelled the vehicles to Barrow through Oumar Top whose security outfit had contracted them to offer protection to Barrow after Jammeh’s refusal to step down.
The former bodyguards who include ex-police, gendarmes and soldiers spoke out while venting their frustration at Mr Top whom they accused of owing them back pay and other benefits for their services to President Barrow.
Who is Harouna Dia?
In a rare interview with the Senegalese online portal leral net and L’Obs in March 2012, Dia who is now 65, was described as a “Halpulaar. A son of Wendou Bosséabé, 60km from Ourrossogui, in the department of Kanel, deep in the heartland of Fouta.”
He was introduced as a hydraulics engineer who graduated with a major at the Polytechnic University of Toulouse, France and having worked for the government of Senegal and the American NGO Africare.
In the election that brought Macky Sall to power, he was reported to have bought 35 SUVs and distributed them in the 14 regions of Senegal among 26 communities to further the appeal of his tribesman’s party.
When the journalists asked him about this, he replied: “I do not deny that I contributed to the running of the APR. But where I do not agree is when you want to quantify my contribution. It is not with 35 SUVs that we won the elections. There was more than that.”
Contacted for comment on the matter last night before we went to press, Gambia Government spokesman Ebrima Sankareh stated: “I am hundred percent ignorant of the circumstances surrounding the donation of those vehicles as I was not in office at the time and was not even back in The Gambia at the time. If I understand, this was a year ago or so.”