Top EU Diplomat Expelled on Orders from Gambia President Jammeh

president yahya jammeh on vote campaign, photo courtesy flickr source afp seyllou

BANJUL, Gambia - After being expelled under orders that left Brussels “astonished,” the European Union (EU) representative to Gambia left the country within the 72-hour deadline by boarding a Brussels Airlines flight back to the EU headquarters.

Agnès Guillaud, the European Union's chargée d’affaires in Banjul, received her expulsion orders on Friday, 5 June 2015 and was asked to leave Gambia within a strict 72-hour deadline.

The Gambia’s president, Yahyah Jammeh, expelled the European Union’s top diplomat to his country without "much explanation" an EU spokeswoman said. In response, the EU summoned the Gambian ambassador on Saturday for clarification of the expulsion.

A clear explanation has yet to be released publicly, but what is certain is that the expulsion comes at a time of tension between the EU and the Gambia on issues of international human rights.

Last December the EU blocked over $12 million in aid to the Gambia, citing its “poor human rights record” as justification for the withdrawal. With the expulsion Guillaud, on top of the recent report released by the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) stating that LGBT people must receive civil rights protections equal to those of any other citizen, to the suppression of free speech, and the unjustified execution of prisoners; Jammeh's government has become for all intents and purposes a dictatorship.

EU officials found the expulsion completely unjustified. "There appears to be no justification for the decision by the Gambian authorities. We are astonished by this announcement which came with no explanations," an EU spokeswoman said.

This expulsion comes in a wave of many anti-western political moves led by Jammeh who in 2013 withdrew his country from the British Commonwealth, with officials saying that the institution represented nothing more than “prolonged colonialism.”

The President has also received international criticism for his claim that he has a herbal remedy that can cure AIDS and his 2012 statements in which he vowed to execute dozens of prisoners in his jails during an “anti-crime” crackdown. In addition to President Jammeh's human rights abuses in terms of due process, he has openly expressed anti-homosexuality rhetoric which is an increasing phenomenon amongst many African leaders.

On 16 May 2015, the White House released a statement by U.S. National Security Advisor Susan Rice, in which she stated that the U.S. stands in solidarity the LGBT community and specifically accused President Jammeh of "unconscionable comments.....which underscore why we must continue to seek a world in which no one lives in fear of violence or persecution because of who they are or whom they love. We condemn his comments, and note these threats come amid an alarming deterioration of the broader human rights situation in The Gambia. We are deeply concerned about credible reports of torture, suspicious disappearances – including of two American citizens - and arbitrary detention at the government's hands." (Source: The White House)

In response to these accusations, Jammeh's office issued the following statement, “The National Security Advisor should instead address racism, abuses and impunity in America where lately innocent and unarmed African-Americans, for example, are being regularly shot by white police officers with impunity rather than prescribe human rights to Gambians who have a long history of civilization.” 

There is no proof that the expulsion had anything to do with Jammeh's hard-line positions dedicated to his so called "preservation of social norms", or the fact that Gambia has increasingly come under fire because of its gross human rights abuses, but it remains to be seen if the government will retract the order for the expulsion of Guillaud, or continue to forge a path that will further encourage sanctions and a decrease in international aid.

Contributing Editor: @AustinBryan
LinkedIn: Austin Drake Bryan

Food Insecurity Affects Genetics of Newborns


Michael Ransom, Contributing EditorLast Modified: 00:25 a.m. DST, 18 May 2014

"Providing information for mothers" Photo by: DFID--UK Department of International Development

WEST KIANG, Gambia -- The nature versus nurture debate is a compelling and enduring question. Are humans resigned to their instinct and biology, or can their experiences and influences negotiate basic psychology?

While the best answers to this dilemma are generally rooted in theory, a new study published in Nature Communications journal offers valuable quantitative insight. Headed by Paula Dominguez-Salas, a team of London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine scientists working in The Gambia researched 2,040 women to examine the effect of pre-pregnancy diet on the health of their children.

According to the study, mothers can in a sense "nurture" the nature of their child, before their youngster is even conceived. Maternal nutrition at conception modulates DNA methylation of human metastable epialleles concludes that in the years and months leading up to conception, the maternal diet can alter both the health and DNA of the baby.

Operating from a Medical Research Council outpost in West Kiang, Gambia, researchers observed women in 34 villages throughout rural parts of the east African nation. Women participants were pre-menopausal, not expecting, and had committed to live in West Kiang for the trial period of July 2009 to July 2011.

Monthly pregnancy testing enabled scientists to place the women into three categories--a non-pregnant control group, women who became pregnant in the rainy season (July-September 2009), and mothers who conceived in the dry months (February-April 2010). Experts then compared hair and blood samples of the Gambian infants to better understand the relationship between foodstuffs and newborn health. 

Typically, the rainy season offers vegetables such as leafy greens, eggplant and pumpkin. These are extremely rich in vitamins and minerals, but may provide less substantial caloric benefits. In contrast, Gambians eat more hearty meals during their dry season, including yams, peas and maize. Generally fresh fruits and vegetables are limited during this time of year, and nutrition may be lacking as a result. 

As opposed to their original hypothesis, the team found that the rainy season created optimal conditions for a soon-to-be mother. Researchers denote this time of high precipitation as the "hungry" time of the year. Despite annual food insecurity during this period, vegetable offerings are concentrated with essential nutrients. 

Nutrient-rich food is seemingly the most important component of a mother's diet--even more significant than a higher-protein, higher-calorie analog. In scientific terms, the seasonal foods typical of July to September promoted DNA methylation during pregnancy, which impacts the expression of an individual's genetic code. Whether the methylation process thrived or not, the consequences of this molecular activity are lifelong. 

The findings imply another example of the way that inequality so-often turns cyclical, perpetuating through bloodlines. Not only do women in developing economies have more difficulty gaining prenatal care and pediatric support during the early months of pregnancy and the pivotal years of child development, but we now know that the resources available to the mother help to define the child's genetic makeup, long before pregnancy. This makes education and food security all the more necessary.

A child's very "nature" is indeed impacted by the "nurture" he or she receives in the form of macrominerals, and essential vitamins B and D. Scientists are using this study and others like it to identify the ideal diet for expectant mothers. Future studies will determine the most beneficial diet for the maximized health of the baby. Until then, newborns in The Gambia and other food-insecure regions will be fundamentally at-risk for micronutrient deficiency and the genetic repercussions.

Follow Michael on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Contributing Editor: @MAndrewRansom