The Gambia: Yahya Jammeh, PURA and Internet Café Operators acts beyond legality

By Mathew K Jallow

It was a maddening reinforcement of the narrative Gambians have become all too familiar with. With one sweeping, but seemingly innocuous declaration, PURA, Gambia, declared illegal, three essential elements of the Internet, and with it, the technological that defines a century; the 21 century. Online dating, Skype and Viper, located in a mysterious corner of the world-wide web, have for the first time on the entire African continent, courted the eerie of Gambian’s Imperial King; Yahya Jammeh. The firestorm of blistering criticism from Gambians around the globe was merciless and unforgiving. The significant of the moment was lost to no one; let alone, Yahya Jammeh’s military regime in Banjul. In more ways than one, it was a manifestation of Yahya Jammeh’s degree of understanding, or lack thereof, of the fundamentals of the free market and the psychology of self-interest. Secondly, the Internet dating issue was the innocent causality of circumstances; the cunning and devious effort to curtail, if not outrightly ban free Internet phone and visual connectivity services in Gambia. Remarkable as it is that the Gambia truly has a lot of political commonalities with North Korea, Gambians cannot allow this ban on Skype and Viper to be the cusp of a new dawn of primitiveness and debilitating ignorance. Apparently, the regime has not got the memo yet that Gambians are determined to protect the free flow of the Internet from Yahya Jammeh’s greedy and intolerable intrusiveness, or he can react rashly by closing the Internet and isolate Gambia completely from the rest of the civilized world. The PURA declaration, which appears to have the force of law, exhibit the utter weakness of the Gambia’s laughable legislative body, but significantly also, Yahya Jammeh’s own unilateralism and arbitrariness.

The regime’s perpetual exercise of power beyond the prevue of the law and the constant legal declarations from Yahya Jammeh, have in effect turned the Gambia into a country on the borderline of Martial Law. This morning, the regime reversed its position and tried desperately to explain itself without much success. In its mysterious memorandum, PURA declared that “In the bid to protect consumers and the national interest, PURA have found it necessary to draw the attention of all operators of Internet cafes of the criminal act that deprives registered internet service providers of revenue vital to their operations and to the revenue of the national treasury.” I know I can speak English, but I still have no idea what the heck it means, and further, it seems to make no sense, whatsoever. But, in light of the fact that Internet Cafes are prohibited from generating ANY revenue from the free internet Service, be it Skype, Viper or other services, it is extremely imperative and necessary to protect the Gambian consumer from the greediness of both the regime and Internet Café Operators, most of whom were the wives, family members and relatives and friends of selfish senior Gamtel staff. However, now, having succumbed to caustic and asinine public criticism, the regime has once again changed its position, but this revisionism, so emblematic of this rudderless regime, will not be the last of Yahya Jammeh and his institutions’ greedy efforts to manipulate and control Gambians and their ways of life. Internet Café Operators have a right to charge for the use of the Internet, but neither they nor anyone else is authorized to sell services offered free of charge for public use on the Internet, including, but not exclusive, the free Skype and Viper services. Gambia may now need a new consumer watchdog organization to ensure consumers are not fleeced by the regime and Internet Café Operators, but also in other consumer service areas operated for public use.