US embassy cable - 09BANJUL103

JAMMEH ANNOUNCES ZERO TOLERANCE FOR THE DRUGS TRADE

Identifier: 09BANJUL103
Wikileaks: View 09BANJUL103 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Banjul
Created: 2009-04-06 17:05:00
Classification: UNCLASSIFIED
Tags: PGOV PREL EPET KDEM SOCI SNAR GA
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
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                  ------------------4E7AF3  061718Z /38  

  
R 061705Z APR 09
FM AMEMBASSY BANJUL
TO SECSTATE WASHDC 8599
ECOWAS COLLECTIVE
MILLENNIUM CHALLENGE CORP
UNCLAS BANJUL 000103 
 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: PGOV, PREL, EPET, KDEM, SOCI, SNAR, GA 
SUBJECT: JAMMEH ANNOUNCES ZERO TOLERANCE FOR THE DRUGS TRADE 
 
SUMMARY 
-------- 
 
1.  On March 27, President Jammeh strongly condemned the trade in 
narcotics and urged the country's judges to exercise no mercy for 
drug dealers in his annual speech to the National Assembly. This is 
Jammeh's strongest condemnation of the drug trade to date, and could 
be a reaction to recent events in Guinea-Bissau.  In his 
wide-ranging speech, Jammeh also condemned increasing violent crime 
while insinuating that it was the fault of immigrants (Nigerians), 
took a relatively mild shot at homosexual behavior, gave an 
optimistic outlook on oil exploration, praised major donor Taiwan 
and Nigeria for providing assistance, expressed hope Obama's 
election would lead to the renewal of U.S. assistance, announced an 
undefined program of civil service reform, and warned about the 
looming impact of the global economic crisis. 
 
DRUGS AND CRIME 
--------------- 
 
2.  Speaking at the annual State Opening of the National Assembly 
(the one time he deigns to appear in Parliament each year, a 
constitutional requirement) Jammeh said his government would 
exercise zero tolerance for any kinds of drugs because they are 
synonymous with violence and corruption.  He urged the country's 
judiciary to help the government in its fight against the drug 
trade. Referring to The Gambia's main domestic drug issue, the 
widespread growth and use of cannabis, the President told the judges 
that there cannot be any mitigating circumstances for a man who 
deliberately grows cannabis because he knows it is illegal. 
 
3.  Jammeh also expressed concern at what he said are the increasing 
incidents of violent crime such as rape, kidnappings, murder and 
contract killings (crime statistics are not avialble, but anecdotal 
evidence would seem to support the President).  His statement 
follows the recent arrest of a group of Nigerians who kidnapped an 
Australian man and held him for 10 days.  In what could be 
interpreted as an indictment of foreigners for these crimes, Jammeh 
appealed to all foreign nationals living in The Gambia (particularly 
other West African nationals) to respect the country's laws.  He 
went a step further by urging foreign diplomats to appeal to their 
communities to be law abiding.  Jammeh also made a thinly veiled 
attack on homosexuality, calling it "strange behavior that even God 
will not tolerate."  This, while still a reason for concern, is a 
major step back from his bombastic attack on homosexuality last May 
(08 Banjul 163), and we do not believe it will lead to any increased 
persecution of homosexuals in The Gambia. 
 
 
OIL EXPLORATION 
----------------- 
 
4.  Speaking about The Gambia's efforts to exploit its assumed 
offshore oil reserves, President Jammeh said the first test drilling 
will now take place in 2010 and not this year as he had originally 
announced.  He said the delay was due to difficulties in securing a 
drilling rig on time for the program. Jammeh said interest was being 
shown in exploring the other offshore blocks but re-stated his 
government's determination not to grant prospecting oil companies 
more than 10 per cent of the proceeds. (COMMENT: This could be the 
main reason behind the seemingly low level of interest in The 
Gambia's oil exploration efforts. END COMMENT) 
 
 
PRAISE FOR DONORS AND REFERENCE TO PRESIDENT OBAMA 
--------------------------------------------- ----- 
 
5.  Jammeh also spoke about his government's efforts to increase the 
cultivation of rice - the country's staple food.  He announced that 
with the help of the Taiwanese, his government would this year 
commence the implementation of the Expanded Rice Development Project 
which will involve the long term cultivation of an additional 
250,000 hectares.  He said this would make The Gambia 
self-sufficient in rice. He then added: "Our friends, the Americans, 
have refused to give us the seeds for Uncle Ben's (rice) but now 
that Obama is in power, he will get us the seeds."  Jammeh also 
devoted some time to praising relations with Nigeria, perhaps 
balancing his implied criticism during the crime segment. In an 
uncharacteristically mild jab at the British, he criticized recent 
changes in visa requirements.  He said since the British had 
occupied The Gambia without visas for 400 years, by his calculation 
Gambians should be free to travel to the UK without visas for 
another 356 years, as they achieved Independence 44 years ago. 
 
6.  In what has become a regular theme at such events, Jammeh again 
spent several minutes of his speech glorifying the women of the 
country and attacking the men for being lazy.  He said women play a 
pivotal role in the country's socio-economic development and provide 
the food in 80 per cent of households.  Without explicitly attacking 
the practice of polygamy, Jammeh criticized those men who marry 
young girls when their first wives become old. 
 
CIVIL SERVICE REFORM 
---------------------- 
 
7.  Jammeh also announced that his cabinet has approved a civil 
service reform strategy which would introduce a special allowance 
package for civil servants.  He did not give any further details or 
say when it would become effective.  (We have been briefed on the 
package and requested to fund it, along with other donor nations and 
institutions).  He also spoke about the current project of erecting 
street lights along major roads in the Greater Banjul Area (paid for 
by Taiwan) and said that with two additional generating sets being 
installed shortly, there will be no power cuts in the area. 
 
GLOBAL ECONOMIC CRISIS 
----------------------- 
 
8.  Talking about the global economic crisis and its effects on The 
Gambia, he said the projected growth rate in the country's Gross 
Domestic Project would drop from the 6.1 per cent achieved in 2008 
and the official inflation rate for the next three years will 
average around 5.5 per cent. He also made reference to the influx of 
mainly Nigerian banks into the country, and urged them to provide 
better banking services in order to positively influence the 
economy. 
 
COMMENT 
--------- 
 
9.  While the opening of the National Assembly is an important state 
event enshrined in the constitution, this year's event was turned 
into a highly politicized event with large numbers of ruling party 
supporters and cultural dancers lining the route and the Assembly 
grounds.  A public address system played pro-Jammeh songs to the 
audience outside, and multiple wide-screen TVs (also donated by 
Taiwan) magnified Jammeh's image inside the chamber for all to see. 
His speech, although an hour and a half in length, provided no 
surprises and was generally short on details.  Jammeh apparently 
departed from his prepared text frequently, but did not stray as far 
from the norm as he has at times in the past.  His strong focus on 
the evils of drug trafficking is a positive development, but the 
real proof will lie in how his government takes action to defend 
against encroaching trafficking groups.  END COMMENT 

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