By Modou Lamin Age-Almusaf Sowe
I first met Madam Fatoumatta Bah-Barrow, First Lady of The Republic of The Gambia at the ECOWAS Forum of First Ladies and Ministers, held purposely to strengthen the political commitment in the fight against Female Genital Mutilation. The event was held at the Palace Du Congres in Niamey, Republic of Niger, from 2-5 October 2017. She was accompanied by Madam Fatoumatta Tambajang Jallow, former vice president of The Gambia. This event coincided with my exile and teaching in Niamey at the African Development University (ADU); where I worked as a university librarian and teaching assistant to Professor Dean Manuel Nunez and Prof. Meredith Sagal from Harvard University.
Having heard about my stay in Niamey, I was approached by the Gambian citizens residing in Niger, to write a letter for them to be presented to the former vice president. To put it into its right perspective, the Gambians residing in Niger could not unite for a very long period of time to form an organization that can acquaint government to establish a consulate in The Republic of Niger. As a result, I voluntarily helped them have a constitution and reunited all those candidates wanting to be counselors of The Gambia in Niger. As the spokesperson of the Gambian delegation in Niger who was learned amongst them, I told the former VP and First Lady that in order to control irregular migration, and that is, if The Gambia Government is really serious about this call for action – The Gambia must have at least a consulate in Niger aside from its internal programs– because it is the focal point for illegal migration – and thousands of Gambians suffer hardship in Niger, leading to their death, mental illness, or imprisonment.
I made them understand that Nigeria is very close to Niger and have an embassy, therefore, they only need a ”consulate” but not an ”embassy” there. Several Gambians were jailed in Niger and the Gambian citizens had nobody to run to – except one Jabbie, who is said to be the Gambian consular in Burkina Faso, but residing in Niamey, Niger. Jabbie is an old man in his 60s, but have been really helpful to the Gambians by bailing them, sometimes keeping them in his home, or just help them with a return ticket to go back home. With the change of government in 2016, things have slowed down for him with more hardship.
One thing is certain, Gambians always fight for power anywhere they go and this has negatively affected the establishment of a consulate in Niger because at some point, The Gambia Government do not actually know what was going on in Niger. Several people all sent letters to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, claiming to lead the Gambian delegations in Niger, among few names are Yankuba Barrow, Leigh, Jabbie, Pa Khan, etc. Having observed this disunity, I was only interested in forming an association for them, provided them with a constitution and membership card, and reconcile their differences. Successfully, we formed an association in Niger and drafted our constitution and elected new leaders in which I wasn’t part of – but was only seen as a consultant to be called upon in terms of disunity and drafting letters. Several years later, we celebrated The Gambia’s Independence Day in Niamey in a very colorful event; in which I had the honor of raising The Gambia’s Flag together with Jabbie.
Knowing that an embassy is the base for a country’s diplomatic mission abroad – meaning all of the political, cultural and social relationships between the states. There will only be one embassy for one nation in another country, as it is where the country’s ambassador works (and sometimes resides). Gambian embassies in African countries should also include Niger.
Why a Gambian consulate in Niger?
One of the roles of The Gambian consulate in Niger will be to offer assistance to their national citizens abroad. The level of assistance that they offer can include in some areas of conflict, disputes, death, imprisonment of Gambians, and above all monitor and control irregular migration. The consulate will be the direct link between Gambian citizens in Niger and the Embassy in Nigeria. The most common reason they would need to contact the Gambian consulate is if they lose or damage their passport/identity cards. However, they can also arrange emergency travel documents that will enable them to travel. These need to be applied for in person. The consulate can help them if they’ve been the victim of serious crime or have fallen ill abroad. This could be offering contacts of local lawyers and doctors, advise them on how to transfer funds and help contact their family (ies) at home.
They can provide them with money or remuneration, investigate a crime, become involved in the legal process or improve their healthcare beyond what is available to locals.
They can intervene in court cases, prevent deportation, pay any costs, and secure their release from jail or forward correspondence from their friends or family.
If they’re the victim of serious crime abroad, they will not need to contact local police, but the consulate and their insurer. To make an insurance claim that is the result of a crime (for instance a theft), they will need a police report.
Consular assistance – The Gambian Consulate in Niger should have a consular department to service Gambian citizens as well as local citizens with a wide array of consular services, such as signatures and document legalization, visa, passports, trade information and much more. Also, directly communicate to the Gambian Embassy in Nigeria, as well as foreign embassies and consulates in other parts of the world.