Editorial | Guptas of The Gambia: State capture by Bensoudas imperils democracy
Updated: Feb 14
The defenestration of Alhajie Kurang from Janneh Commission, following allegations of conflict of interest and corruption against one of the most powerful political families in The Gambia, bears striking similarities to the toxic relationship that existed between former president Jacob Zuma of South Africa and India-born Guptas.
The Gupta family is an affluent Indian-born South African family whose most renown members are the brothers Ajay, Atul, Rajesh "Tony" Gupta and Atul Gupta's nephews Varun, as well as US-based Ashish and Amol. The Gupta family used to preside over a business empire ranging from computer equipment, media and mining, and attracted wide-spread scrutiny due to its close ties to Jacob Zuma during his Presidency. So powerful was the Gupta family that they had influence on cabinet appointments and received contracts in corrupt fashion, proceeds of which the South African government is now aiming to recover.
Meanwhile, the Bensoudas trace their provenances to a Moroccan trader whose marriage to a local Gambian woman produced a son who married Amie Drammeh, better known as Amie Bensouda.
Through her private legal practice which she had no problem rendering to former dictator Yahya Jammeh and business interests, she has been able to educate her kids abroad whose business and professional interests encompass real estate, insurance, law and more recently politics with the election of her son Ahmed Bensuda as mayor of the Kanifing Municipality. After a rigorous period of electioneering, Talib Bensouda emerged triumphant when the final results were announced which is seen as a stepping stone in his seemingly inexorable ascent to the highest position in the land - the presidency. Unlike the Guptas in South Africa, the Bensouda family have no problem taking a pay cut from the private sector to hold public office if it serves their long-term, grand plans for a power grab. In the acclaimed Netflix series House of Cards, Frank J Underwood who who schemed his way from Vice President to the president after being initially passed over for promotion postulates: “Power is a lot like real estate. It’s all about location, location, location. The closer you are to the source, the higher your property value.” Like master chess players with strategic vision and fluency, Habib Drammeh who is their mother’s brother has been tapped to serve as Secretary General which gives him a gullible president’s ear with considerable power. Meanwhile, the savvy, wily and experienced power player, Amie Bensouda sits on a commission that shockingly unravels her own complicity in the misdeeds of the former regime. Apart from being caught on a hot mic engaging in small talk about a married lady appearing before the commission, she watched with horror as documents surfaced of transactions in which she served as lawyer without qualms in exchange for hefty legal fees. Calls for her decommissioning were loud, but largely ignored because she knows people in high places in The Gambia’s corrupt and sorry excuse of a democratic experiment that’s gone horribly wrong. Therefore, recent accusations of conflict of interest and favoritism leveled by Alhaji Kurang carried with it the potential to set at naught everything the family has done to get to where they are on the Gambia’s political firmament. In survivalist terms, Amie Bensouda was literally on death ground and she was smart enough to know a successful move against their state of political play would set a bad precedent, imperilling their long term goals. Alhaji Kurang had to be dealt with devoid of mercy. And deal with him the Bensoudas did. He has been fired from his position as executive secretary of Janneh Commission for making “unsubstantiated” allegations against Amie Bensouda. The Bensoudas seem to have won this battle, but if history is anything to go by, winning the war might be a harder lift. Even when he lost with termination of his services, Alhajie Kurang seems to have won. The perception of ‘state capture’ by the Bensoudas has found purchase on the public mind. And that will come to be seen in the fullness of time.