Index relies entirely on the support of donors and readers to do its work.
Help us keep amplifying censored voices today.
R&B singer Erykah Badu has called off her planned performance for Gambian dictator Yahya Jammeh at the 11th edition of the International Roots Festival. This comes after an intense online campaign by Gambian and foreign right groups against her decision to perform for African dictators.
According to Gambia’s pro-government Daily Observer newspaper, the national organising committee of Roots Festival in a press release said two Jamaican acts, Scratchylus and Empress Reggae, will replace Badu, adding that she could not make it due to “unforeseen circumstances”.
What’s On Gambia confirmed that Badu’s manager Paul J. Levanto disclosed to them in a short email that the artist is no longer performing in Gambia. The site also reported that Gambian rapper Gibou Bala Gaye alias Gee, wrote on his Facebook page that political activists are wasting their time trying to convince international artists to cancel their plans to perform at Gambia’s Independence Stadium.
“Going through my tweets and this BS about Erykah Badu not to come to Gambia is pissing me off. Only people saying issh are either on exile or did something here and can’t come back.” He added that: “People like me been waiting my whole life time for this, to actually watch Erykah Badu perform live because I’ve been a fan forever. Plus, it’s her work freaking respect that!”
The Grammy Award-winner was scheduled to perform at the week-long Gambian music festival that kicked off last Friday (9 May). According to the Washington Blade, Badu’s trip to Gambia was scheduled to take place less than a month after she sang at a lavish birthday party for Swazi King Msawti III. The Swazi Observer reported Badu gave Mswati a $100 bill with a “special stone that she said would uplift His Majesty’s spirits when he was feeling down” during the 24 April event at one of the monarch’s numerous palaces, continued the Blade article.
“Erykah Badu has the basic human right to speak and to sing wherever she wants, unfortunately that is not a right that ordinary Swazis or Gambians have,” Jeffrey Smith of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights told the Blade. “Freedom of expression, assembly, association, and freedom of the press are severely restricted in both of these countries.”
Badu is not the only musician who has faced criticism over plans to perform for leaders with questionable human rights records. According to observers, the Gambian dictatorship organises events like the Roots Festival, with the pretext of celebrating African heritage, but there is more to it than celebration. President Jammeh has in recent years invited scores of internationally renowned artists like Jamaine Jackson, Ousman Diallo alias Ouza, Thione Seck and Kumba Gawlo Seck, enticing them with millions of tax payers’ money to repair his tarnished image.
A recent Time article by Thor Halvorssen and Alex Gladstein of Human Rights Foundation states that: “If Badu bristles under criticism for entertaining King Mswati, she’ll really be frustrated by the world’s reaction when she performs at a concert this May sponsored by the dictator of The Gambia. After seizing power in 1994 military coup, Yahya Jammeh is best known for spending millions of dollars on private parties, for promising to inflict “the ultimate penalty” on homosexuals, for warning the UN that gays are “a threat to human existence”, for claiming that he can cure AIDS in three days, and for executing and disappearing hundreds of his critics. After her Swazi quagmire, perhaps Badu will reconsider her scheduled performance in The Gambia, where she would provide cover for yet another despot, this one a lot more murderous than King Mswati.”
Meanwhile, the Democratic Union of Gambian Activists (DUGA) has written an open letter to Jamaican reggae star Matabaruka, calling on him to disassociate himself from the festival organised by the Gambian leader. The human rights body says because of the revolutionary stance Jamaican have taken on issues affecting African people worldwide, it is necessary to inform Matabaruka of the repressive conditions in Gambia since Jammeh’s lift on to the “saddles of power”.
“During the struggle against apartheid, you, like the ‘stepping razor’, Peter Tosh and others took a principled stance without wavering. We believe that, once you become aware of the repressive conditions your Gambians brothers and sisters are subjected to, you will take the same stance as you did against apartheid. Our fight against tyranny in the Gambia must get the same attention as was given to ‘South Africa’ – Azania. The days of fighting in isolation are over; the struggle for African Liberation is one struggle. Touch one! Touch all!,” states the letter.
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”.
Gambian President Yahya Jammeh has bowed to EU pressure to implement political reforms — including changing the country’s restrictions on the media.
This comes barely a year after he rejected a proposal from the European Union to introduce reforms, including repealing draconian media laws, establishing a National Human Rights Commission as proposed by the Commonwealth Secretariat, and abolishing the death penalty within 24 months.
In January last year President Jammeh told local media The Point and Observer newspapers that he will not be blackmailed by the European Union with what he described as “chicken change” to accept what is not in the interest of the Gambia people. He said the “Gambia will never be colonised twice”.
The EU delegation held a closed door meeting with Jammeh last Tuesday to discuss the way forward. Dominique Delacour, the Dakar-based European Union ambassador, told a local journalist that: “We discussed also the issue of consular affairs issuing visas to Gambians. So we had a very frank discussion on an array of issues, which was very productive. The Gambian side also presented their main strategy in terms of governance, and human rights and development cooperation,” she said.
Delacour said the delegation was also in Banjul to present to the Gambian leader with the result of the their preliminary discussions in the country, as well as the declaration that came out of the recent EU-Africa summit held in Brussels.
The European Union is the leading aid provider for the Gambia with a total of €65.4 million of grants allocated for for the period 2008 -2013.
But its demands for more political freedom are seen by the Gambian regime as interference in the country’s domestic politics. Article eight refers to the political dimension of the Cotonou Agreement, the legal framework covering political, developmental and trade relations between the EU and African, Caribbean and Pacific countries, of which the Gambia is a signatory.
A group of Gambian rights activist led by the Amadou Scatted, Janneh former Information Minister who was jailed for attempting to stage a non-violent protest against the dictatorship in Gambia has present a set of recommendation to the human rights bodies ahead of the Universal Periodic Review meeting in Switzerland later this year. This is with a view to pressure authorities to carry out comprehensive reform such as the repealing all draconian media laws, and the protection of human right in general.
However, the Gambia National Assembly on Tuesday unanimously adopted two books entitled A Million Reasons to Leave the Commonwealth and How the Tragic Consequences of British Looting and Misrule in The Gambia Inspired the Foundation of the United Nation’s Drive for Decolonisation in January 1943 and Beyond.
According to pro-government newspaper Daily Observer, the books were authored by the president with a view to reaffirm its commitment to end Gambia’s decade-long membership to the Commonwealth, the 53-member organisation headed by the Queen of England.
Parliamentarian Seedy Njie said in a motion in the first session of the legislative that the content of the books were reason enough for the Gambia to leave the commonwealth. Meanwhile, NJie’s statement has confirmed the argument of Mr Halifa Sallah on the content of the book authored by the authoritarian leader.
Gambia’s president Yahya Jammeh has said he will soon discontinue the use of English as his country’s official language, describing it as “colonial legacy”. The plan appears to be to make a local language the country’s official one, but reports have also emerged suggesting Arabic will replace English.
Speaking at the swearing-in ceremony of the country’s newly appointed Chief Justice, Jammeh — known for his anti-western rhetoric and policies — said for the next “one billion years”, the British have “no moral platform to talk about human rights anywhere in the world”. Gambia gained its independence from the UK 49 year ago, and the president stated that the only British remnant is the English language. “We no longer believe that for you to be a government, you should speak a foreign language; we are going to speak our own language,” he emphasised.
The move comes after Gambia withdrew its membership of the British Commonwealth in October last year, stating that it “will never be a member of any neo-colonial institution and will never be a party to any institution that represents an extension of colonialism”.
The news has been met with opposition. Former diplomat Dr Momodou Lamin Sedat Jobe, now heading the pro-democracy group Gambia Consultative Council (GCC), told news site Jollof that the president’s latest statement is “yet another disappointment”, questioning its feasibility.
“It is much easier said than done,” said Hamat Bah, leader of the oppositional National Reconciliation Party (NRP), in an interview with local newspaper the Point. He said the implications and ramifications would be huge and must be addressed before the change could be made.
Demba Ali Jawo, a journalist and prominent political analyst, suggested that President Jammeh’s announcement was just a diversionary tactic to shift focus from the economic and social problems his government faces. He points out that a change of language would take much more than just mere anti-western rhetoric, arguing that “as our languages are not yet written, we need to develop a dynamic written form which has the capacity to accommodate the rapid technological development, including information technology”. He highlighted the judicial system as a sector where the switch away from English could be particularly complicated, and predicted that it would take much longer than President Jammeh’s own lifetime for Gambia to completely do away with the use of English.