08 January 2008

Jammeh's latest impromptu holiday

President Jammeh of Gambia has long been fond of holidays. He has declared several to mark election victories, the successful hosting of an AU conference, and other occasions. The most recent is the ngente/coolio/naming ceremony, or outdooring ceremony, of his baby son Mohamed. So the entire business of government was shut down for the day.

Foroyaa, an opposition newspaper that has not been shut down yet, reports at length on this absurdity, and makes the connection between Jammeh's behaviour and that of the late Turkmenbashi of Turkmenistan, and such luminaries as Idi Amin Dada (Uganda) and Jean Bedel Bokassa (CAR):

Apart from the millions of Dalasi no doubt spent on the occasion, we can also imagine the great loss suffered by both the public and the private sector for being forced to take an unplanned public holiday as well as the mobilization of government resources, including the engagement of the Gambia Radio and Television Services for the whole day to broadcast messages and commentary in support of President Jammeh and Baby Mohamed, as if it is a private institution owned and financed by him alone.

Foroyaa also impressed me by noting the gender imbalance in Jammeh's celebration and holiday decisions:

Another interesting aspect of this unprecedented naming ceremony was the gender dimension. While this is not the first time that President Jammeh is having a child, but one would tend to ask why this naming ceremony is more lavish and elaborate than the naming ceremony of Mariam, his first child. Of course, the only sensible conclusion is that he values a boy child more than he values a girl child. This is indeed a big challenge to the gender activists to find out from him why he chose to so blatantly manifest his gender bias in favour of the boy child.

I feel sorry for newspapers such as Foroyaa. Although they are widely available in the Kombo (capital) area, they are only distributed upcountry by readers who decide to bring them for friends to look at. As for the radio, that is dominated by the government broadcaster, so I'm sure much was made of Baby Mohamed's birth. And one can only wonder, in a very poor country, how much money was spent on this celebration.

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