Speaking in an exclusive interview with The Standard newspaper, career diplomat Michael Arietti said: “We do not support anybody who is trying to change the government in The Gambia, certainly by violent means. We think that The Gambia is a democratic country. It should have an open political process and people ought to be able to speak their minds without being arrested or being accused of somehow going beyond simply  expressing their opinions. So, no, I would say we have official government-to-government relations. What individual people do in the US is not a part of the policy of the government of the United States. Our intention is to try to bring positive change. Sometimes it seems that any criticism is seen as something extreme or something intended to be anti-Gambian.

“And you know we have also had an issue: there are many, many people in the US from all parts of the world who happen to be critical of their original government. We have lots of Americans who are very critical about the American government. So criticism is part and parcel of what we anticipate; what we expect in a democratic society. It seems that sometimes some people in The Gambia might believe that just because they are critics of this government who live in the US that somehow this is something supported by the government of the United States which is not the case. We have an open society, we respect free speech. The Internet is a wide open field for all sorts of people. I think we have to distinguish between governmental actions and governmental policies and whatever individual people no matter where they live may be saying about another government.”

Asked why The Gambia has not been benefiting from the US Millennium Challenge Account (an innovative approach to foreign assistance that delivers substantial new resources to a carefully selected group of poor countries to support development and poverty reduction) Mr Arietti enunciated: “Not all countries are participating in that programme. The United States and The Gambia are friends and we have been since the time of your independence. And the United States wants to have normal relations with the government and with the people of The Gambia. As friends, we think it is best to be open and frank and to keep dialogue about issues where we seem to have some differences. One of the requirements for the Millennium Challenge Account is to have a positive governmental human rights, respect for the rule of law record. While there have been positive things that have happened in The Gambia there are a number of other difficult circumstances and other problems that have prevented The Gambia from being able to participate in this programme. Well you know Gambia. I think it is best to be open and frank as friends. The US wants to have a constructive, friendly, open relationship with The Gambia. We think that we have a global policy of promoting respect for human rights, of promoting good governance and in particular of respecting the rule of law.


“Because in our experience and I think in my personal observation elsewhere in Africa, respect for the rule of law is critical for a country’s development. Since I have been here for three months I have read so many times about different individuals who have been detained by either the police or the National Intelligence Agency for more than 72 hours which, as I understand, is the maximum that is authorised under the rule of law in The Gambia. There doesn’t seem to be any consequence of that. I have not read of anyone being held accountable for keeping people over the permitted period of time. That is an example of where we would hope that both the people and the government of The Gambia would want to see those kinds of problems addressed.”

Read the full text of Ambassador Arietti’s interview in tomorrow’s The Diplomat column.


By Sainey Darboe