Gambia Surrenders 2019 OIC Summit Hosting Right to Saudi Arabia
The Gambia will no longer host the 2019 summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).
Authoritative sources have confirmed to The Chronicle that after series of meetings with Saudi authorities, The Gambia has given the authority to Saudi Arabia to host the summit. According to sources, the Foreign Minister Mamadou Tangara and a Gambian delegation were in Saudi Arabia about three months ago to discuss the issue with Saudi authorities.
The Gambia, according to a credible source in the Saudi media circle, requested that Saudi fulfill part of the financial pledge it made earlier to help Banjul prepare for the summit, as part of the deal to allow Saudi to host the world’s biggest Islamic conference. The Gambian delegation also asked Saudi to vouch for The Gambia to host the 2021 OIC summit, according to the same source.
“The Gambia specifically requested $62 million from Saudi to help build a five star hotel and purchase VIP vehicles in preparation for the 2021 summit which Gambia is now hopeful it will host”, the sources said. The Chronicle cannot independently confirm this.
Initially, Saudi had pledged to fund the construction of a hotel in The Gambia that would host the 1000 expected delegates for the summit. This followed Banjul’s concern that there was a deficit in the supply of quality accommodation in the country. According to the national OIC secretariat, the government has allocated 20 hectares of prime land along the coast and within the vicinity of the International Conference Center around Senegambia for the construction of King Salman bin Abdul Aziz Hotel, a five star 400-bedroom hotel with 60 royal and presidential suites.
The Saudi funds were also meant to construct dual carriage 50km roads from the airport to the OIC hotspots, and to purchase 56 royal and presidential vehicles, 250 VIP cars for the senior officials and foreign ministers and five luxury coaches for OIC staff at a tune of $33.75m. These include Toyota Land Cruiser SUVs.
“Technically, the Gambian authorities knew from the onset that their country didn’t have the capacity to host this very powerful and important summit. I believe they were just trying to play their card right, to make sure that when they declare their withdrawal, they would get something out of it, and not to go out empty-handed,” said a Turkish source.
The issue of whether or not The Gambia would host the OIC Summit has been dominating media headlines in recent months. The government authorities and OIC Secretariat staff have on many occasions dismissed speculations and rumours that The Gambia would not host the event.
The Foreign Minister Tangara has confirmed to The Chronicle that The Gambia will no longer host the event, although he didn’t give any further details. But when asked about his alleged meeting with the Saudi authorities and Gambia’s requests to Saudi Arabia, he responded; “I am not aware of the information you are referring to. I led a delegation to the KSA as Special Envoy of the President. The message to His Majesty King Salman, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques was delivered to him. It was only meant for him. Only those present during the audience are privy to the confidential message. I will not by virtue of my function share the message with anyone but the one who sent me. Now any extrapolation will be mere speculation. The substance of a Special Envoy Mission is not for the general public. Please go back to your sources and get your facts right.”
When contacted by The Chronicle about this latest development, the OIC Secretariat’s Public Relations Officer Essa Bokar Sy refused to confirm or deny that The Gambia would no longer host the summit.
“I wouldn’t be into speculations. Even if there were new developments pertaining to the hosting of the OIC in The Gambia, the Secretariat cannot just come out and speak on it – like just to come and tell you oh yea or no about being specific. That will be a duty of the central government to assign us that role. We are yet to be assigned that role”
“I understand that information is out there and then people have access to information and I know that they have the ways and means and facilities to know things even before they are being told but you know…”
Sy told The Chronicle that even if he had any information about the issue, the code of conduct of the institution could restrict him to independently share certain information. “So if there would be any new developments be rest assured that we are going to contact you – the media and we will invite you here. But as far as I am concerned, no instruction has come from central government yet to that effect.”
The OIC secretariat in The Gambia had budgeted $262 million for the OIC summit. The secretariat has an operational cost of $3 million provided by Saudi Arabia, according to Sy. It has come under criticism for its alleged wild spending on the preparation of an event that almost never kicked off.
“The Secretariat is the name being used but all these dignitaries – government officials and everybody travelling around the funds are from here. So in a way it’s not only for us. If you are travelling for OIC, we foot the bill – air ticket, hotel and per diem. People would say it is for OIC Secretariat but in a way anything related to the function of OIC Secretariat carried out by another person who is part of the Secretariat also, the Secretariat pays for it,” Sy said.
So far, the only physical structure that got off the ground as part of preparations for the OIC summit is the $50 million International Conference Center donated to The Gambia by China. The center, located around Senegambia, is still under construction.
Last week, the Turkish National Police in collaboration with the Gambian OIC Secretariat concluded a two-week training for Gambian police on Public Order Tactical Applications as part of preparation for the OIC Summit in The Gambia.