Senegalese artists under pressure for performing for Gambia's dictator

Activists write open letter to award-winning singer set to stage a three-day concert in Gambia's capital Banjul

17 Apr 2014

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”.

This article was posted on 17 April 2014 at

3 responses to “Senegalese artists under pressure for performing for Gambia’s dictator”

  1. JT says:

    There are two serious problems with the comments in the final paragraph. First, to reduce art to entertainment is virtually blasphemous; it reduces the sacred, multi-faceted creative calling to merely one of its aspects. Artistic work can entertain, but it must also challenge and enlighten us, help us remember and make sense of the past, and enable us to create a better future. Second, while I fully understand how difficult it can be to make a living as an artist, it is chilling for someone to invoke the excuse of “only doing their job as entertainers” as a defense. That’s essentially the same defense used by Nazis at the Nuremburg trials: “I was just following orders”. That is never an adequate justification for any decision, by an artist or by anyone else, and we should never allow it to go unchallenged.

  2. Jeanclaude says:

    His Excellency, General, Doctor,Professor, Alhaji,Sheikh etc etc Jammeh is a mad man and I am sorry for Gambians who are under siege of this mad man.Gambians should be liberated

  3. Iyel Bey - Internet Documentation Coordinator says:

    Those who complain about the political situation in The Gambia and call themselves Gambian Journalists seek to use their ability to communicate to elevate themselves above the expressed political will of the rest of their countrymen. The freedom to speak and the freedom of the press is not a license to tear down the elected government of a sovereign nation. If you are going to be a journalist you should get your facts straight. The alleged “campaign” written about by so called journalists is nothing more than a collection of their insult laden articles, which seek to convince the world that their opinions matter more than the votes of the people. By smearing the Four Time Elected President of the Republic of the Gambia with their “dictator” stamp as many times as they can, they want to minimize the fact that he keeps winning the elections by overwhelming and ever increasing margins. No one elected these name callers “journalist of the Gambia”, yet they continue to try to fill the internet with their written dissatisfaction of the potlitical mandate of the people of the Gambia. If you can’t tell the difference between a dictator and a Four Time Elected President #4TEP, why should I listen to you about anything. Journalists should be objective. If you feel that you are being repressed in the Gambia, why not find another occupation other than full time criticism of the elected leadership of your country. You make many words. Jammeh speaks with his actions and they are being felt and heard around the globe.