February 18 marks the 50th anniversary of The Gambia’s independence. President Yahya Jammeh led a bloodless coup d’état in 1994 against founding President Sir Dauda Jawara.
The Gambian Daily Observer cited some of the achievements of Jammeh and his Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council government.
They include construction of an airport, hospitals, schools, roads, and even creation of an “atmosphere” of political tolerance.
In December 2014, Jammeh said he had foiled an attempted coup.
Pa Samba Jow, spokesman for the Democratic Union of Gambian Activists in the Diaspora, said the anniversary means nothing, especially when Gambians are not free politically or economically.
“Ordinarily, it would have been a great day but, given circumstances of the Gambians on the ground where there is no political freedom, where economically people are really strangled, there is no independence. So, you cannot claim to celebrate independence as a nation where people live under tyranny and dictatorship,” he said.
No Gambian official was immediately available for comment. Jow described the Daily Observer as the “mouthpiece” for the government.
He said Gambia is today a heavily-indebted country because most of the road construction was financed by the European Union. Jow added that while the government has built some hospitals, most Gambians cannot afford good doctors.
“If you talk about the healthcare system, yes, they have erected buildings, but most Gambians today cannot afford even good doctors in the hospitals. Most Gambians are dying young because there is no proper medical system that can cure the people when they are sick. So, this notion that there is development here and there is nothing but a farce,” Jow said.
He said if there was development in the Gambia, it would be meaningless if the people do not have the liberty and freedom to express themselves.
“It was just 10 years ago when Yahya Jammeh gave orders for Daida Hydara, a journalist, to be gunned down just because he was critical of the government. As we speak today, the opposition parties in The Gambia are denied permits to hold rallies. As we speak, relatives of people who were accused to have taken part in the December 30th insurgency are still held in detention,” he said.
Jow said many Gambians are fleeing the country because there is no political and press freedom.
Jammeh has accused what he calls “dissidents” based in the US, Germany and UK of complicity in the attempted coup.
“This was not a coup. This was an attack by a terrorist group backed by some powers that I would not name,” Jammeh told a news conference recently.
The U.S. government last month charged three men with conspiring to help overthrow the Jammeh government. Papa Faal, a former U.S. Army sergeant, was charged along with Texas businessman Cherno Njie and Alagie Barrow of Tennessee of trying to carry out a coup to make Njie interim leader of The Gambia. Faal pleaded guilty to taking part in the attack on the presidential palace in Banjul.
Jow said Papa Faal and the others have been released on bail.
“As we speak, Papa Faal, who was supposed to transition from a half-way house before he could go to his house, was released from the halfway house and is now sitting at his house. But, unfortunately, in The Gambia, what they are having is a secret trial of those that are accused of being part of the insurgency,” Jow said.