Sunday, July 24, 2016
The Gambia’s Ambassador, Sheikh Omar Faye, on the Presidency of Yahya Jammeh
Embassy of The Gambia
Wednesday July 20, 2016
Interview and Story by Frederick Nnoma-Addison
As the people of The Gambia prepare to observe 22 years under President Yahya Jammeh on Friday July 22, 2016, Ambassador Sheikh Omar Faye has called on Gambian nationals both at home and in the Diaspora to reflect over the gains of the past 22 years, open a new dialogue on national development and existing differences, and write a new narrative for the nation they are all proud of. Ambassador Faye made this call in an interview he granted at his new embassy chancery on 16th street in Northwest Washington, DC, and stressed the need for progressive dialogue instead of negativity and divisiveness.
Speaking about his first two years in Washington, he said:
“Lots of positive things have happened, great things! Of course a few hitches here and there. In 2014 my staff and I hosted President Jammeh when he was in Washington for the US-Africa Leadership Summit. I have met with State Department officials on several occasions to work on common interests, attended functions at The White House, and reached out to institutions to let them know that The Gambia is the place to go to. I am also actively engaging the Gambian community across the United States. I have traveled to Atlanta, New York, Michigan, and lots of places just to reach out to our community. They can call the Ambassador, anytime because I know that is what my community needs.”
About President Yahya Jammeh
President Yahya Jammeh seized power in a bloodless coup d’état on July 22, 1994 and has remained in office since then. Presidential elections have been held every 5 years since 1996, and the next one is scheduled for December 1 of this year. While the Jammeh Administration prepares to celebrate the gains of the past 22 years, his critics have also renewed their debate on term limits, and Ambassador Faye was not unaware of that debate, and did not hesitate to comment on that, stating that it would be shortsightedness for anyone to fail to recognize the successes of the Jammeh Administration.
“The issue of term limits in The Gambia must be determined by the people of The Gambia, and not by other nations. It simply depends on what your philosophy is on term limits. Like in Rwanda, what is going on…We can dialogue on this… A lot of Gambians support President Jammeh by the way, because there have been big leaps, big improvements, what I will call colossal gains under him. Even people with different political affiliations agree with him on many issues. Infrastructure, education, and health services have improved tremendously and The President’s Vision 2016 for agriculture – Grow What You Eat and Eat What You Grow – is on track. We never had the privilege of having a university. It was when President Jammeh came that The Gambia got its first university. We used to have one major hospital called Royal Victoria Hospital and now that has changed. We have several hospitals in the Gambia. There is room for improvement in the area of press freedom, but there used to be only one private radio station before President Jammeh came into power, apart from the national station. Now we have over 20 FM stations.”
Ambassador Faye referred to Rwandan President Paul Kagame’s bid to seek a third term in 2017. President Kagame has been president since 2000. He was originally limited to two terms, but Rwanda has approved changes to the constitution that will effectively allow him to stay in power until 2034, sparking a new international debate about the merits and demerits of term limits.
Commenting on President Jammeh’s vision for The Gambia, Ambassador Faye said, “The President wants The Gambia to be a Silicon Valley. He actually has a vision 2020 where The Gambia will be up there, where The Gambia will be the envy not only of Africa but also of the whole world.”
According to the Ambassador, the President, who is a visionary, believes this is achievable due to the size of the country and the great human resource in the country, especially the youth. He challenged the youth to take advantage of the conducive environment created by the Administration and seize the opportunities available.
The Gambia and Democracy
Contrary to what many people believe about President Jammeh, The Gambia, and multiparty democracy, Ambassador Faye explained that there are currently several political parties preparing to participate in the upcoming elections in December. He named the United Democratic Party (UDP), the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), the National Convention Party (NCP), and the National Reconciliation Party (NRP), among others, and said that the Gambian people are free to elect whomever they want as their next President. Ambassador Faye further pointed out that The Gambia, for the first time in its history, has an independent electoral commission Independent Electoral Commission established by President Jammeh, and contrasted it with the model in the First Republic where the Ministry of Local Government was responsible for elections. Ambassador Faye described President Jammeh as a “uniting force in The Gambia” and complimented the President for having the vision to invite his predecessor, President Dawda Jawara to return to The Gambia from the United Kingdom, where he was staying after he was removed from office. According to Ambassador Faye, Jawara now plays the role of an elder statesman in The Gambia, and is usually seen at national events sitting next to President Jammeh.
About The Gambia
The Gambia is a small West African country, bounded by Senegal, and has a narrow Atlantic coastline. She gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1965. The country is well known for its diverse ecosystems around the central Gambia River. Abundant wildlife in its Kiang West National Park and Bao Bolong Wetland Reserve includes monkeys, hippos, and rare birds. Small fishing villages, nature reserves, and historic slaving stations are all within easy reach of the Atlantic resorts.
The capital Banjul, and nearby Serekunda offer access to beaches running south from Bakau to Kololi, making the country an important tourist destination for Americans and westerners. Tourism and agriculture are the leading industries in The Gambia and offer foreign investors several opportunities. Remittances from Gambians living abroad also play an important role in economic development.
Last December, President Yahya Jammeh declared his country an Islamic Republic, making it Africa’s second, after Mauritania. President Jammeh reportedly justified his announcement by saying “he was breaking from The Gambia’s colonial past”.
According to Ambassador Faye about 90% of The Gambian population is Muslim but the country has a track record of peaceful between Muslims, Christians, and people of other faiths. He condemned Muslim extremism and said he believes that the new Islamic Republic of The Gambia will show the world a different and positive brand of Islam.
A number of U.S. citizens have set up small businesses in The Gambia and several U.S. companies such as Western Union, MoneyGram, UPS, Motorola, and Coca Cola are represented there, but Ambassador Faye made a call to more U.S. companies to explore business opportunities through the Gambia Investment and Export Promotion Agency GIEPA
The U.S. Government conducts some amount of business with The Gambia but Ambassador Faye believes there are more opportunities for bilateral trade between the two countries. In 2015, The Gambia’s eligibility for preferential trade benefits under the African Growth and Opportunity Act was suspended alongside Swaziland and South Sudan, but Ambassador Faye hopes to work with his government and the Millennium Challenge Corporation to reinstate that.
Ambassador Sheikh Omar Faye concluded his interview by reiterating his call for a culture of dialogue, and the need to recognize and build upon the gains of President Jammeh’s Administration while looking forward.
On behalf of President Yahya Jammeh, the Ambassador thanked the U.S. Government for her partnership, and for facilitating the process of acquiring a new property (Embassy Chancery at 5630 16th Street NW, Washington DC 20011). He wished all Gambian nationals both at home and in the Diaspora a happy July 22nd and also thanked President Jammeh for giving him the honor of representing The Gambia in the United States.
About Ambassador Faye
Before being posted to Washington first as Chargé d’Affaires in March 2014, and being appointed Ambassador in August 2015, Sheikh Omar Faye served his government as Minister of Youth, Sports, and Religious Affairs, and later on as Deputy Chief of Mission in Mauritania for 7 years. Prior to entering public service as a civilian, Ambassador Sheikh Omar Faye served in The Gambian Military for 14 years, and retired in 1995 with the rank of Major. His last overseas training was at The Command and General Staff College, Forth Leavenworth, Kansas, United States.
Story Editor Beryl Nnoma-Addison