Gambia’s main opposition leader said he hopes President Barack Obama will call on President Yahya Jammeh and other African leaders being invited to attend the upcoming U.S.-Africa summit not to use their power to oppress their own citizens.
The White House Wednesday released the list of nearly 50 African countries who will be invited to attend a summit at the White House in August. Egypt, Sudan and Zimbabwe are not on the list.
Ousainu Darbo, leader of the opposition United Democratic Party in the Gambia said the opposition is operating in an atmosphere that not conducive for multiparty democracy.
Opposition leader Ousainu Darbo urges President Barack Obama to press for press freedoms when Gambia leaders attend White House conference in August. File photo, Sept. 22, 2006.
Darbo said he hopes Obama will live up to America's role as the leader of democracy and good governance.
“The invitation extended to President Jammeh and other African leaders is a matter entirely at the discretion of the United States government," the opposition leader said.
"We cannot question what informed their decision about that. But, then, we believe that the United States has been the role model for good governance, and we would expect the President of the United States of America will be meeting with leaders that observe the rule of law and democracy,” he said.
Last January, Amnesty International wrote Jammeh to criticize “a series of abuses by the country’s National Intelligence Agency against journalist Abdoulie John."
This week, Modou Joof, managing editor of The Voice newspaper said two of his journalists were arrested for reporting that 19 supporters of Jammeh’s party had defected to the opposition.
Darbo said journalists have a responsibility to inform the public about happenings in society. He said their arrest is an “arrogant misuse of power” and an attempt to intimidate them.
“Their arrest really is very indicative of the misuse of power in the criminal justice system," Darbo said. "These are the matters that I think President Obama and the European Union will take up with President Yahyah Jammeh in particular, and all African leaders in general - that they should not use the law to oppress people. Law is supposed to be used to protect people, not to harass them.”
Gambia currently has seven political parties, including the ruling Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction. But, Darbo said political freedom should be the measure of multi-party democracy and not the number of political parties a country has.
Darbo criticized the environment in which opposition parties must function. “They are operating not within an atmosphere that is conducive enough for politicking. The arrest of these journalists for reporting the defections to the opposition shows that our operation in the country freely is more apparent than real,” Darbo said.
Darbo said Gambians do not have access to independent media through which they can express their views.
“I do not have access to the media," Darbo said. "One of my party supporters is being prosecuted for letting our meeting be aired through an online radio station. She’s being prosecuted for broadcasting without a license. My youth leader is being prosecuted for what they call holding a meeting when he actually applied for a permit to hold a social gathering."
President Jammeh recently said "journalists are less than one percent of the population and, if anybody expects me to allow less than one percent of the population to destroy 99 percent of the population, you are in the wrong place.”
His supporters say Jammeh’s development of Gambia’s infrastructure and institutions has been crucial to the economic development of the country