Arfica File: Gambia: some mistake, perhaps?

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The Independent Online
IT now seems that the coup which ended Africa's oldest democracy may have been a mistake. Some Gambians think it was a mutiny which turned into a coup when President Sir Dawda Jawara and other ministers fled to the safety of a United States naval vessel which happened to be in harbour.

Was it there by accident? Rumours of a coup had led the Presidential Guard to disarm the guard of honour sent to meet the President at the airport when he returned from London on 21 July. It seems that a group of young officers who had served with the West African peace-keeping force in Liberia were complaining that they had not been paid and intended to confront the President. They also wanted to protest about certain ministers, including Vice- President Saihou Sabally, whom they claimed was corrupt. The aim was perhaps to hold the President to ransom rather than overthrow him.

Sir Dawda decided to run for it and boarded the USS La Moure County which dropped him off in Dakar, the capital of Senegal, where he has remained. His position is uncertain. Obviously the most effective thing he could do would be to come to London and launch a campaign to regain his position. But he is not even giving radio interviews. Just how free is he to speak or leave Senegal?

Known as 'Pa' in Gambia, Sir Dawda - the last surviving leader in Africa who took over at independence - is still widely respected in his homeland. According to some reports, he has been invited to return home with immunity - though not as President - but he has refused saying that all his ministers must also be allowed to return on the same basis.

Now the junior officers running this tiny state along the estuary of the River Gambia feel they must embrace a cause. Influenced by Islamic fundamentalists from neighbouring Senegal, they have picked prostitution tourism as one target. Gambia has been a popular destination for thousands of Scan dinavian and western European women in search of African lovers, so a pool of male prostitutes and a small drugs trade has been created.

This is hardly a popular target and will probably damage Gambia's tourist industry which contributes a sizeable proportion of the country's revenues. Corruption is an easy rallying cry but proving corruption and retrieving stolen funds is more difficult. But the soldiers have at least won over to their side Bakary Dabo who was once Sir Dawda's crown prince. Two years ago, Mr Dabo was replaced as Vice-President by Mr Sabally and made Minister of Finance. This was taken as a sign that the unpopular Sabally would succeed Sir Dawda. Although Mr Dabo fled with the President to Senegal, he has accepted the invitation to return and take up his post at the Finance Ministry - a move which has given the young soldiers some credibility at home and abroad. The Americans, the IMF and the World Bank are reported to approve of Mr Dabo.

More worrying is the contact the new rulers have made with their counterparts in Sierra Leone, also very young officers whose only mandate to rule is the gun. Both have links to the Ghanaian and Nigerian military. Are we seeing the emergence of an Anglophone West Africa run by a club of undereducated, greedy young thugs in dark glasses and camouflage uniforms?

THE ROW over Kenya's wildlife policy continues. The former Director of Kenya Wildlife Services, Richard Leakey, who resigned twice earlier this year, has now called for the resignation of its chairman, the journalist Hilary Ng'weno.

Mr Leakey says that the aid donors made pledges to help protect Kenya's wildlife in the knowledge that he would be there to implement them. Now he is gone they may withold them. Mr Ng'weno denies this.

When Mr Leakey, who lost his legs in a plane crash last year, was attacked for being racist by Kenyan politicians, Mr Ng'weno did not stand by him and when Mr Leakey returned to his post after his first resignation, Mr Ng'weno was lukewarm. So is his journal Weekly Review, which has become markedly more pro-government since President Daniel arap Moi appointed him to the wildlife job.