The campaign against Senegalese artists and celebrities who are often paid thousands of pounds for praise singing Gambia’s authoritarian government, has in recent months intensified.
Awarding winning singer and music producer Youssou N’Dour in late March signed a controversial deal with the Gambia Social Security and Housing Finance Cooperation worth 3 million dalasi (£45118.82) to stage a three day concert in the capital Banjul beginning on 18 April. In response, the Democratic Union of Gambian Activists (DUGA) has written an open letter to N’Dour and the artists he produces, imploring them to be sensitive to “the plight and suffering of Gambians, especially journalists” in their dealings with the regime of President Yahya Jammeh.
N’Dour responded to the letter by saying he did not want to deprive his Gambian brothers and sisters of the cultural exchanges. However, DUGA pointed out that in 2003, the singer boycotted the United States in protest of the invasion of Iraq, depriving his music from his brothers and sisters living in the USA. “In your own words you said ‘I believe that coming to America at this time would be perceived in many parts of the world rightly or wrongly as support of this policy’,” the group quoted N’Dour as saying in the open letter posted on Facebook.
DUGA said the artist’s work with Human Rights Now, Amnesty International, Band Aid and numerous other causes has made him a giant on the world stage in the fight against injustice and poverty around the globe, adding that the entire world listened to his inspirational song in support of Nelson Mandela.
The activists urged the singer not to forget Gambians in his humanitarian activities: “In 2012 your principle fight against a third term of the former president of Senegal, you did not hesitate to say No!, and demanded that democracy must be the rule of the continent. On numerous occasions, you have persistently denounced what is seen as flagrant violation of the fundamental human rights. Mr N’Dour’s song New Africa has been a source of inspiration and strength for many Gambians in the struggle to free our country from one of the most authoritarian regimes in the world today.”
DUGA pointed out that while “Gambia may not have declared war on another nation and the streets may not be littered with bodies”, Gambians are not living in peace. They cited human rights violations against journalists, opposition politicians and regular people, including judicial harassment, torture, violence and extended detention without trial, and also mentioned the many Gambians forced into exile out of fear for their lives.
The letter added that “not participating in shows initiated for or by Jammeh will be a show of support for numerous Gambians in their fight against tyranny, while equally paying homage to Senegalese who have died under inhumane conditions in the Gambia, notably, Tabara Samb, Gibril Ba, Ousmane Sembene; and the countless and nameless others in Cassamance who have died as a direct consequence of the rebellion perpetuated by President Jammeh.”
Ibou N’Dour, Youssou N’Dour’s brother, told Jollofnews in response to the DUGA letter that they are not politicians, and will play for any politician provided that they sign a contract. “We will play a paid concert for Yahya Jammeh, you cannot wait for musicians to solve political problems”, he stressed.
In February the Democratic Union of Gambian Activists and Senegal’s “Fed Up” (Y’en a Marre) movement launched a campaign in Dakar targeting musicians including Ousman Diallo alias Ouza, Kumba Gawlo Seck, Thione Seck and Assan Ndiaye, and Senegalese wrestler Oumar Saho alias Bala Gaye, for praise singing and carrying out promotional activities for Jammeh.
Ouza Diallo, a Senegalese artist seen as a revolutionary due to the significant role he played in effecting democratic change in Senegal during the 2000 and 2012 presidential elections, has denied being a praise singer for the regime in Banjul. He has accused the rights activist of being manipulated by the west, and recently described the Gambian dictator as a true Pan-African.
But while some support the campaign against Senegalese artists, an observer who wished to remain anonymous denounced it, adding that musicians have a right sing for anyone that can pay them money. She said that the activists should support the Gambian people by implementing projects to create employment and empower them rather than “abusing the rights of musicians, who are only doing their job as entertainers”.