Today, eight years ago, Gambian journalist Deyda Hydara, co-editor of The Point and correspondent of Agence France Presse was gunned down in Banjul. His murder was to become one of the symbols of impunity in Africa.
Our local union, the Gambia Press union, commemorated his death with a public lecture on the theme 'Media as a Catalyst for Development'. But as well as organising events to keep the memory of their colleague alive, Gambian journalists have maintained year in year out their call for his death to be independently investigated. The Gambian authorities asked the notorious National International Agency, the same sinister outfit that threatens, arrests and tortures journalists, to carry out the official investigation. This was like putting Dracula in charge of the blood bank and it is no wonder that the NIA came up with the most fanciful of theories, even blaming Deyda for his own death.
A few weeks after his murder, the government enacted one of the most repressive legislation on media in West Africa, plunging the media community in a dreadful climate of fear and despondency.
The NIA has, throughout this year, distinguished itself once again when it shut down last September The Daily News and the Daily Standard without explanation, except to say they were acting under orders from above. They obviously meant the country’s president Yahya Jammeh. It was probably his disapproval of their coverage of his announcement that he will execute every prisoner on death row. He ordered the execution of nine inmates before yielding under international pressure and suspending the executions. Both newspapers covered the controversy in great detail.
One month before, State security agents ordered the shutting down of an independent radio station, Taranga FM, located in Sinchu Alhagie village, southwest of Banjul. Although no explanation was given, local journalists believe that authorities muscled in to shut down popular news reviews and talk shows which on many occasions featured opposition politicians which the President branded as “dogs” over their decisions to boycott elections. Other independent radios were closed down in the past including Citizen FM, Radio 1 FM, and Sud.
At a meeting I attended last week at the UK parliament where campaigners briefed politicians about Jammeh’s regime of terror they could not find any explanation for Western governments’ and the EU’s reluctance to declare The Gambia a rogue state in view of its dreadful record on human rights. The tiny West African country is of no significance to the geopolitics of the big powers in the region. It has no oil and couldn’t be of any strategic value.
So why does the international community continue to turn a blind eye to the antics of a dangerous lunatic who also happens to be one of the last dictators in Africa, in power for 17 years. Both the UN and the African Union treat Jammeh with kid gloves. Ironically, the AU has located in his capital Banjul one of its most important structure, the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, a quasi- judicial body tasked with promoting and protecting human rights – a move that opened it to ridicule as human rights advocates from all over Africa have to keep a low profile whenever they have to attend its meetings.