Wednesday, 18 April 2012

"Local Issue" Celebrates The Gambia Republic Anniversary.

Among the new issues to be found on the April 2012 list of new releases on the website of a philatelic agency based in New York are stamps of The Gambia which are described as "18th anniversary of the 2nd Republic Local issue" commemoratives. This description is rather unusual, does the word "local" imply that they have been designed and/or printed in The Gambia or does it mean that they are of local interest or does it mean that they are locally available? It would be true to say that very few of the stamps prepared by that particular agency for The Gambia have any direct relevance to the country in subiect matter and when I visited local post offices on a trip to The Gambia a few years ago, only basic definitives were available from the post offices and none of the multitude of commemorative issues were on sale at them (see below). So does the use of the word "local" mean that not only are these particular stamps of clear local relevance but also generally available to anyone who wishes to post a letter from anywhere in The Gambia? Intriguing. The stamps to be issued are a sheetlet of four (D25, 2x D35 and D50), a set of four (D25, 2x D32 and D50, although a very tiny accompanying illustration depicts a D150 value) and a D75 miniature sheet.
Very few stamps issued by The Gambia in the past 30 years since the New York agency took over the issues for the country have had any relevance to the history of The Gambia although a set of 3 stamps and a miniature sheet were issued in 1990 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of independence. One value depicted the then president Alhaji Sir Dawda Jawara who was the country's first prime minister when independence was achieved on 18 February 1965 and who then became the first president when The Gambia became a republic in 1970.
Nearly all stamps issued during his presidency carried a small picture of Sir Dawda and a quite enjoyable set of 8 stamps and 2 miniature sheets were issued on 8 December 1992 which depicted the president indulging in what was clearly one of his favourite pursuits - golf - and they record that the president won a local trophy in 1988 which was named after him, "The President Of The Republic Of The Gambia" Trophy.
In 1981, an attempted coup was put down with the help of Senegalese forces (Senegal surrounds The Gambia on three sides). Another military coup in July 1994 was more successful and Sir Dawda Jawara was deposed. From 1994 to 1996, Captain Yahya AJJ Jammeh was head of the Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council. He was depicted on one of two stamps issued on 30 May 1995 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of ECOWAS.
Presidential elections were held in 1996 which resulted in the election of Yahya Jammeh to that office and the establishment of the Second Republic which is the event commemorated on the current "local" stamps. On 28 January 1997, President Jammeh once more featured in a small portrait on 6 stamps and 2 miniature sheets which noted economic development in The Gambia and 2 values (63b and D2) and one of the miniature sheets featured "Arch 22", a monument which commemorates the coup of 1994.
Among the other deigns were depictions of Banjul Airport (D3) and Chamoi Bridge (D%).
President Jammeh was re-elected to the presidency in 2001, 2006 and 2011. No date of issue is given on the philatelic agency website and the date when the recent set of stamps was released by The Gambian Post Office is difficult to guess at given that the issue commemorates, according to the agency, the 18th anniversary of the second republic which should be 2014 unless the anniversary is dated from 1994, the year of Jammeh's coup, in which case the set should have been issued at some time in 2012.
As a footnote, I mentioned above that when I visited The Gambia, in March 2007 (how time flies, it seems like only yesterday!) I could not obtain any of the numerous commemoratives ostensibly issued by The Gambia, at post offices outside of Banjul. To be honest, there seemed like there was very little call for stamps at all: the post office at Jangjang-Bureh, what used to be the colonial administrative centre of Georgetown, was deserted when I visited there and the clerk was lounging around in the shade outside the post office building. He came into the post office at my request and let me see what stamps he had for sale. I was disappointed to find that he could only offer me a few values of the 2005 "butterflies" definitive series - they were contained in a rather dusty folder that did not look as though anyone had bought anything from it for a while - but I prepared some postcards and covers which I handed over for posting in the little town and also at Banjul. The items arrived safely and in good time but none had been cancelled in The Gambia and the only evidence that they had been sent through the post were the markings applied by the British Post Office on arrival so that they could be automatically sorted,
(see above and below). This experience makes a very good case that most agency-produced stamps do not serve any reasonable postal function in The Gambia, although I expect that the "local issue" is an exception, and should mostly be consigned to the appendix sections of stamp catalogues similar to the stamps of Mozambique which have been "issued" since 2004.

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