Gambia: Pro-democracy coalition seeking reform launched

By Kemo Cham- Renewed efforts to restore long lost democracy in Gambia has received a major boost with the election of leading female Gambian journalist and activist, Ndey Tapha Sosseh, as Secretary General and Spokesperson for a newly formed coalition.

Ndey Tapha Sosseh

Ndey Tapha Sosseh

The pro-democracy group Coalition for Change – The Gambia, a non-partisan organization, was launched April 2, and since then one question has been bugging the minds of Gambians – who are behind it.

The group comprises journalists, lawyers, doctors, businessmen/women and civil society groups in and outside the country. However, because of the dangers involved in what it tasked itself, its members deem it wise to stay under the radar.

Its founding executive said in their inaugural statement that they were “concerned about the deteriorating state of affairs” in the Gambia, and that the Coalition’s formation was necessitated by “the repressive political environment” prevalent in the West African country.

“Virtually all avenues of orderly political change have been shut by a despot determined to cling on to power by any means necessary,” the coalition said in its statement announcing its formation.

Ndey Tapha Sosseh, who is completing her first term as president of the beleaguered Gambia Press Union, is no stranger to confrontation with the Gambian government. As the first ever female president of country’s journalist union, she is paying dear price in the form of living in exile for daring to challenge an autocratic government under a former military lieutenant who today practically owns everything in the country.

Ms Sosseh was elected unanimously in absentia by the powerful executive committee of the newly formed pro-democracy group, whose members would rather remain anonymous given their positions in high profile places in the country.

CCG is seeking to challenge the dictatorship and restore basic freedoms through nonviolent action. Already they have set aside a series of activities to commence April 10/11 2011, in memory of the brutal murder of some 14 young, unarmed students, who met their untimely death after state security agents opened fire on them while they protested in demand of justice for their murdered colleagues.

According to Coalition members, their first priority is to ensure the adequate and unbiased access to information of Gambians on the ground, in order to enable them have an improved awareness of the repressive political environment in which they find themselves.

Presently, all state-owned media is tightly controlled by Yahya Jammeh, with an uninhibited biased towards him, his party and family as the order of the day. The rest of the independent media has been effectively rendered useless thanks to self-censorship, caused by constant intimidation, jailing and disappearance of journalists considered as not supporting the 16 year old regime.

This newly formed coalition intends to counter this by creating a balance through the provision of an alternative voice, Radio Free Gambia, which went on air in the beginning of April. Together with an FM Station operating clandestinely, CCG also intends to take advantage of technological advancement in the form of social media “to spread our messages and to garner public support.”

The Executive of CCG has scheduled a series of press conferences that will commence Monday April 11, all of which will be geared towards its primary demands for the authorities in Gambia to immediately repeal laws that unduly restrict freedom of expression; ensure equal access to public media for all political establishments; organize a referendum to institute Presidential term limits; free all political prisoners, end the arbitrary arrests, detentions, torture and murders; investigate all mysterious deaths and disappearances; and respect freedom of assembly and association.