GAMBIA: The Issuance of Diplomatic Passports

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ANALYSIS – The recent spat of rash appointments within the Gambia’s Foreign Ministry continues to raise eyebrows and debate amongst the diaspora & Foreign Policy circles seeking answers as to legality and utility of an ambassador-at-large. As framed within, Section 79, subsection (b) the constitution authorises the president to ‘receive envoys accredited to The Gambia & to appoint Principal representatives of the country abroad’. The term ‘principal, here denotes ambassadors, and counsels; and nowhere is an ambassador-at-large mentioned.

Diplomacy, in simple terms, is a by-product of relations between nations. In bilateral & multilateral terms, diplomacy is often termed as an art or practice of conducting negotiations between nations. In Foreign Policy terms, however, experts define the term as a profession, or activity, or skill of managing international relations, typically by a country’s representatives abroad.

How does recent appointments fit into this arrangement – Well, according to Foreign Policy Magazine, an ambassador-at-large is one who is not assigned to a particular diplomatic post but is appointed on a special mission. This ruling seems vague necessitating further clarification. Turning to the 1970 republican constitution, and the watered down 1997 version, there is no mention of such a post, or privileges. On section 79(c), however, the constitution ‘gives the President power to negotiate and, subject to ratification by the National Assembly, the conclusion of treaties and other international agreements’. My understanding is that an ambassador-at-large is one who is NOT appointed to a ‘Foreign Post’, but travels to various places carrying out special duties. So what’s the point of our ‘REAL’ ambassadors then, Mr President!

In American Politics such an appointment is conferred on ‘one with special duties who may be sent to more than one government with a specific message from the president.’ In Gambia’s case, however, this leads to more confusion as to why a tiny country as ours, having accredited diplomats around the world would make such rash appointments with no legal legs to stand on. We have heard of sports ambassadors, business ambassadors, but those are vague terms conferred on citizens who achieve or did extraordinary feats. Basically, ceremonial terms; and certainly, every Gambia abroad is an ambassador for their country projecting the good-Gambia-Image around the world. The diaspora being a true testament of that showcase in magnificent ways, indeed. And as the country embark on a new era rebuilding external relations & partnerships, the government must learn from recent experiences that the Gambian people have voted for a new direction and a rethink in foreign policy – Not favouritism, nor cronyism.

There are legitimate questions here, if, in fact, those appointees are salaried, and on what terms and conditions of issuing diplomatic passports. Looking at the Vienna convention on diplomatic relations (1961), clearly, Jammeh has overstepped the process by issuing the country’s privilege papers in exchange for monetary favors. Not again, and Foreign Minister Darboe is on notice that Gambians are taking a closer look. For accountability purposes in view of a ‘Freedom of information bill’ soon to be introduced in parliament, pro-democracy groups aim to put in periodic requests of all persons issued with diplomatic passports, bar ‘REAL’ ambassadors.

President Barrow ought to be mindful of charges of ‘personalization of the state’, hence the Gambia’s republican constitution is premised on the principles of separation of powers, Checks and Balances, all in line with the democratic process – values Jammeh crushed. I further enjoin on him to regulate any more issuance of diplomatic passports, and to sign on each applicant before issue.

Moving on – The issue of term limit has gone cold within this administration. One of the verbal agreements the diaspora and coalition 2016 aligned on was for the insertion of such roadblocks into the statutory book as a curb against perpetual rule. Let me remind the President that we are still here; that we hold these ‘Truths’ to be inherently dear to us, thus SACROSANCT. When the issue last came to a vote at an ECOWAS gathering, the Gambia and Togo remain the only two countries to vote against the motion. For reputation, and his own legacy purposes, President Barrow ought to know that ‘supremacy of the law’ supersdes ‘Seniority’ or ‘Privileges’. The role of government is simply to ‘govern in defense of the constitution’. I’d be remiss not to remind him that he has executive authority to authorise a cabinet reshuffle, or sack any minister not up to the job. Folks, you better recognise #NewGambia in a #New-Era – Taxpayers deserve a return in more ways than one – and that also means ‘COMPETENCE’.

Gibril Saine, LONDON.

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