After the ousting of dictator Yahya Jammeh in 2016, the Gambian government seems to be continuing a controversial deal they have with a firm allowing them to manage citizens’ personal documents. In the past, Gambian rulers have conducted shady deals with controversial firms that are tied to corruption cases. This was especially true during the reign of former Gambian ruler Jammeh. Most known for his authoritarian style of ruling and human rights abuse, former ruler Jammeh’s willingness to resign came as a shock to many since he had clung to power for many years. In 2016, he was replaced by current Gambian president Adama Barrow.
Since his step into power, President Barrow has done a lot to improve the welfare of the country. These include bringing in foreign investors to improve the Gambian economy and removing restrictions when it came to free speech.
While President Barrow’s reign seems like the ideal path to recovery for the country, there have been leaks wherein there are still some government officials continuing Jammeh’s practices. The government was discovered to have been working with Semlex Europe SA, a Belgium tech company, in producing biometric IDs. Ousman Sonko, who was the interior minister during Jammeh’s rule, already signed a 5-year contract back in 2016 to create biometric IDs and border monitoring systems for Gambia.
According to the deal, Semlex will receive 70% of the profits and the government will get 30%. Civil society bodies have contested this deal as it would give the private company access to the personal information of the Gambian people. They could easily manipulate data when it came to determining citizenship.
Head of African Regional Office of the Open Society Foundations Jeggan Grey-Johnson stated that this deal is a dangerous one because it violates the safety and privacy of the Gambian citizens. He also stated that it is very similar to the authoritarian practices of Jammeh back in his rule.
Following this, the government released a statement promising that the terms of the deal were to be reviewed and evaluated accordingly before the deal pushes through. As of now, the contract has very vague terms that seem to put the citizens of Gambia at a huge disadvantage. One of the clauses in the contract states that the government cannot interfere with investors or partners of Semlex who are involved in the deal. What’s more,the contract limits the government from cancelingthe deal. This means that the government cannot terminate the deal should there be any institutional changes in the state. This meant that even though Jammeh is no longer in power, he still has a hold on certain aspects of the state through the deal.
One other problem with the contract is that it does not stipulate who will handle the data and how the third party will use the data for the project. Since there are no data privacy laws that exist in the country anyway, this deal would really jeopardize the security of the Gambian citizens.