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I’m here to work on our relationship’: US Charge d’Affaires

Dec 18, 2014, 10:50 AM | Article By: Osman Kargbo

The new US Charge d’Affaires to The Gambia has said he is in the country to work and improve on relations between the United States of America and The Gambia.

Mr George Staples made this statement on Friday at a press briefing held at the U.S. Chief of Mission Residence at Atlantic Road, Fajara.

While the US is yet to have an ambassador in The Gambia over a couple of months ago, owing to diplomatic stance between the two governments, the new charge d’ affaires said he is optimistic that situation would be resolved soon.

“I am sent here to do what I can do to work on our relationship, to help it get improved because we have strong ties with The Gambia,’’ Mr Staples said.

“But I am not here as the ambassador to The Gambia; I am the Charge d’Affaires and I am going to be in charge of this embassy for a while. I hope we would be able to have a permanent ambassador here in The Gambia, but that hasn’t been the case for some time, and I hope we would be able to have one here eventually pretty soon.”

Mr Staples said the US did send an ambassador to The Gambia in April this year, but the Gambia government “decided not to accept that person.”

“I have still not known exactly why; it is very unusual, but those are private diplomatic conversations. I hope that would be corrected,” he said.

He however indicated that relationship between the US and The Gambia “is good” although not as he would love it to be.

He said the US would continue to be a good friend of The Gambia, as they would want every country in Africa to have a relationship with the US government.

Mr Staples also said despite the issues at stake on human rights records with The Gambia, as well as with other nations around the world, it is very essential to commend The Gambia for many things the government of President Yahya Jammeh is doing right.

“We have some issues with the Gambia government over time, in the area of human rights concerns mainly, but let’s give the government credits for what it is doing as well: the government has been very forthright in opposition to international terrorism; the government has provided troops for peace keeping operations. US Citizens who come to visit on tourism and so forth have been welcome,” he said.

“I think having His Excellency the President go to Washington for the recent African leaders conference signified again that we want to have very good relations with the government, and just as we do with the people in The Gambia.

“Like any country, with any government, there are always some things that come along that sometimes cloud the relationship and make it more difficult, but friends work through things and certainly that’s my message here when I meet with officials, when I meet with the people. We want a very good relationship; we want to do things respecting the sovereignty of the country and find ways where we can cooperate together.”

Speaking on the question of homosexuality and human rights record, the US Charge d’Affaires said the US is not pushing a lifestyle on others; rather it is calling for good human rights record for all people and nations.

“The statement (on Human Rights Day) that we put out is not pushing a lifestyle of any kind or anything onto The Gambia or any other country. What that statement is calling for - not just about The Gambia but all around the world - is respect for human rights. We are not pushing a lifestyle in this case, homosexuality or anything else, saying this is how The Gambia should be; this is what the Gambia should do, not at all. We are simply saying that there are all kinds of people in this world, living all kinds of lives and as human beings we should respect each other.

“I don’t know any country in the world that has brought out a law saying that people who have a certain type of lifestyle should face life in prison. Life in prison is what people get for murder, killing a child, not something like this, and I would say that all of you in the media need to take a look on how you report this: The United States of America is not pushing a kind of lifestyle; we are pushing mutual respect, respect for human rights and recognition of people – however they live they should be treated with dignity, that’s all.”

Mr Staples added: “The statement is not just about homosexuals, it is about arbitrary arrest and detention. We are not singling out The Gambia in that statement.

“The United States is the best friend the Gambia government and people could ever have. Your best friends need to be able to tell you when and where you are going wrong.”

On what the US is doing to strengthen the democratic process in The Gambia, as the nation has just a year to the next presidential elections, Mr Staples said the Gambian people should be in the forefront in strengthening the democratic process in the country.

“The first responsibility of making things work in The Gambia is with the people of The Gambia – we can only help but you are in the country,” he said.

“The students, young people, universities, civil societies, the politicians, members of parliament; all of them should be in the forefront of looking at ways to strengthen democracy, to make sure that they educate people on the need to participate in the electoral process, to be informed, to make the choices and to speak out, and make their positions clear.”

The US and their partners, he said would always provide strategic support through education to strengthen the democratic process in the country.

On what has been the contribution of the US to the economic growth of The Gambia under the present regime, cutting across logistics and finance, Charge d’Affaires Staples said: “We don’t have a big development project or aid project here; nothing like that.

The US contribution has been advisory in terms of technical assistance. We have been providing space for Gambians to become better educated through scholarship programmes, and information provided through American Corners.

“We have put in place a couple of agricultural projects that we want to see go better as far as we want to see American businesses to invest in The Gambia. But talking about budgetary support and things like that in millions of dollars of foreign aid, we don’t have that, and it is not needed though, because - this is just me - I don’t think much of assistance programmes in general is good for Africa.”