Jammeh revelations are a reminder about need for transparency in Taiwan’s aid

‘Listen, Ying-jiu, if this retrial of yours goes pear-shaped, I know a guy with some prime property in Malabo’.

The following op-ed appeared in today’s Taipei Times.

Months after assuming the presidency of the Gambia in 1996, Yahya Jammeh made a bold foreign policy maneuver, cutting ties with China in favor of Taiwan. No observer of Taiwan’s diplomacy under then-president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) would have been laboring under any misapprehension as to the motives for the switch.

The term “dollar diplomacy” had yet to gain currency as the default description for Taiwan’s approach to foreign relations, with euphemisms such as “pragmatic diplomacy” being preferred for the anything goes attitude that had really began to take hold under Lee’s predecessor, Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國).

Yet, semantic sleights of hand aside, Jammeh’s intentions were unambiguous. He was out for as much as he could wangle from the get-go; and when Taipei finally called time on his ever-more voracious leeching in 2013 — and then only because the temporary diplomatic truce between Taipei and Beijing under then-president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) was in place — Jammeh had siphoned off tens of millions of dollars in Taiwanese “development aid.”

“A financial lifeline” is how Gambian-American academic Abdoulaye Saine described Taiwan’s largesse. With a detailed account of Jammeh’s systematic looting of state coffers published by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) this week, Saine’s assessment was a colossal understatement.

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