Gambian journalists express mixed feelings over the appointment of former Jammeh minister as chair of the ATI Commission

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Neneh MacDioull-Gaye

Several seasoned journalists in leadership and editorial roles have conveyed their views to TAT regarding the appointment of Neneh MacDioull-Gaye, a former minister of information under Jammeh, as the new chairperson of the Access to Information Commission, which is tasked with overseeing the enforcement of the ATI Law.

Editors and senior media executives expressed a range of perspectives, with some casting doubt on the independence and integrity of The chairperson who previously served as Information and Communications Minister under the former President, a tenure marked by significant attacks on press freedom that resulted in several journalists’ exile.

In July 2021, The Gambia’s National Assembly passed the ATI Bill, which President Barrow subsequently assented to. This marked a historic moment as it was the first time Gambia legally acknowledged the right to access information as a human right.

According to the Access to Information Act, the parliament must approve the members, including the chair, a process anticipated to occur shortly.

Following the list’s approval through the Ministry of Information, the government has announced five individuals. These include journalists and civil society figures, such as Neneh MacDouall-Gaye, a former journalist and information minister who now chairs the GRTS board of directors.

Bai Emil Touray, a seasoned journalist and ex-president of the Gambia Press Union; John Charles Njie, a notable civil society figure and former Tango chairman; Babucarr Cham, an experienced broadcaster and chairman of Media Council of The Gambia; and Lawyer Ya Amie Touray serve as members/commissioners.

“The commission’s establishment is overdue. We’re way behind schedule in terms of implementing the Act. The commission’s composition is largely OK. I’d give it an 85% pass. Including people who have led the Fol in the country is commendable. All commission members, except perhaps the chair, have either played a leading role or have been integral parts of the FoI process,” Saikou Jammeh, former Gambia Press Union SG, and Editor- In- Chief of Investigative outfit Malagen, told TAT.

“I have great confidence in the members. If the government and the public give them the much-needed support, I am sure they will ensure effective oversight in implementing the law.”

Yusuf Taylor, Editor of Gainako Online, challenges Mrs. Gaye’s appointment, expressing doubts about her qualifications to serve as chair given her track record with press freedom issues.

“Neneh MacDold Gaye does not meet the necessary criteria according to Section 43 of the ATI Act to be an Information Commissioner, but much more a Chairperson. She was a Minister under the previous government, and freedom of expression was clamped down, making her not a fit and proper person for an Information Commissioner, considering her previous role as Minister of Information under former President Jammeh.”

According to Mr. Tylor, ‘She was certainly not a publicly recognized human rights advocate and was certainly not considered independent, impartial, and accountable under the previous government, which indicates that she will equally not be under the current government.”

The Secretary General of the Gambia Press Union, Modou Joof, when asked for his opinion on Neneh’s appointment, told TAT:

“I can’t tell if she is the right candidate or not, Her performance will determine that once she and other commissioners are approved by the National Assembly and the Commission is up and running.”

Speaking on the commission’s composition, Joof said he is familiar with three names on the list he has worked with.

“On the composition, I see three names that I have worked with on the ATI process – these are people who were either directly involved in the drafting/review of the law or engaged in advocacy initiatives that led to Gambia having an ATI law. I hope they will push for an independent commission that upholds the principles of access to information as a fundamental human right.”

Meanwhile, Demba Ali Jawo, the former President of the Gambia Press Union and information minister, believed Mrs. Gaye was suitable for the chair position.

“I have no doubt that being a veteran and a seasoned journalist, Neneh is not a bad choice to head the commission, and the other members are also experienced people in their own right. Therefore, let’s hope that the National Assembly would give the necessary endorsement so the commission can begin working in earnest.”

DA further questioned why the commission was established three years after it became law.

“It was hard to understand why it had taken this long to set up the commission when the National Assembly passed the ATI bill that was assented to by President Barrow in 2021. Therefore, it is quite welcome news that the commission is finally about to be set up, and Neneh Macdouall Gaye has been identified as chair.”
Sanna Camara, a seasoned Gambian journalist who previously lived in exile in Senegal because of Jammeh’s oppressive media laws, says Neneh is an inappropriate choice for the commission’s chair position.

“I strongly believe Neneh MacDioull-Gaye is the least qualified to chair the ATI Commission, considering her complicity in denying journalists and Gambians the right to access information under Jammeh. Her work, as far as I am concerned, was primarily engaged in propaganda for Jammeh, despite atrocities committed under her nose, to her work colleagues and community of journalists like Dodou Sanneh, Ardy Fatty of GRTS, Deyda Hydara of The Point, Baboucarr Gaye of Citizen FM, among others.”

Camara explained: “While it may be a political choice for the government to choose anyone, appointments to such positions require expertise in the area of ATI, either through legal or media background, that should help the country build and sustain capacity for such a transformation of our media landscape and not be based on the political convenience of the president’s party.”

Sources familiar with the selections of candidates for the commission said former Article 19 International Africa regional director and prominent Freedom of Expression advocate Fatou Jagne Senghore was the first person whose name was advanced by stakeholders, but the government declined her nomination.

The latest Reporters Without Borders (RSF) report shows Gambia dropping 12 spots to 58th globally and five spots to 10th in Africa in the global press freedom index.

The Secretary General of The Gambia Press Union, Modou Joof, said the reasons for the drop hinge on attacks on journalists, bad media laws, economic challenges, a lack of political will to ensure journalists’ safety and slow implementation of the Access to Information law.

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Sainey M.K. Marenah
Mr. Sainey M.K. Marenah is a Prominent Gambian journalist, founding editor The Alkamba Times and formerly head of communications at the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) and Communications and PR Consultant for The Gambia Pilot Program, under Gamworks. Mr. Marenah served as the Social media Strategist and Editor at Gambia Radio and Television Services. He is also the Banjul Correspondent for Voice of America Radio. Sainey is a human rights and developmental journalist who has carved a strong niche particularly in new media environments in the Gambian media industry. Mr. Marenah began his career as a junior reporter with the Point Newspaper in the Gambia in 2008 and rose through the ranks to become Chief correspondent before moving to The Standard Newspaper also in Banjul as Editorial Assistant and head of News. He is a household name in the Gambia’s media industry having covered some of the most important stories in the former and current government. These include the high profile treason cases including the Trial of Former military chiefs in Banjul in 2009 to 2012. Following his arrest and imprisonment by the former regime of President, Yahya Jammeh in 2014, Marenah moved to Dakar Senegal where he continues to practice Journalism freelancing for various local and international Media organization’s including the BBC, Al-Jazeera, VOA, and ZDF TV in Germany among others. He is the co-Founder of the Banjul Based Media Center for Research and Development; an institution specialized in research and development undertakings. As a journalist and Communication Expert, focused on supporting the Gambia's transitional process, Mr Marenah continues to play a pivotal role in shaping a viable media and communications platform that engages necessary tools and action to increase civic participation and awareness of the needs of transitional governance to strengthen the current move towards democratization. Mr. Marenah has traveled extensively as a professional journalist in both Europe, Africa and United States and attended several local and international media trainings.

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