British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson is facing criticism after allegedly refusing to answer questions on colonialism during an official visit to The Gambia. Johnson's PR team stressed he would not respond to questions perceived as "too aggressive" and "insulting" during a press conference in the capital Banjul.
Johnson, who met Gambia's new president Adama Barrow in a bid to boost relations, is known for his somewhat controversial remarks on colonialism in Africa, which he defined as "that country" during a 2016 conference.
People reacted with surprise and outrage after the foreign secretary's press team allegedly prevented Gambian journalists from asking questions about Britain's colonial history in Gambia, a former British colony.
Some have pointed out the move is likely to send a wrong message to The Gambia, which is still reeling from widespread repression and persecution following the 22-year governance of strongman Yahya Jammeh, now in exile.
"The British foreign secretary's refusal to take questions from journalists on colonialism is not encouraging as Gambians welcome their new found freedom," Gambian journalist Sainey MK Marenah, who has been living in exile in Senegal since 2014, told IBTimes UK.
"He [Johnson] might have [an] ulterior motive in avoiding such questions, looking at his past writing on Africa. I hope Boris will change his perception on Africa and help rebuild [a] new Gambia. The fact that he chose to visit Gambia is welcoming, but his action is uncalled.... Freedom of media must be respected by all and sundry, irrespective of who is involved," Marenah continued.
Under Jammeh's government, the journalist accused of reporting "false news".
Another Gambian journalist, Abdoulaye Diame, believes Johnson's behaviour was "unfair" following "decades of repressive measures by the ex-regime".
"I think it's unfair and a shame for the foreign secretary to dodge a question on colonialism," he told IBTimes UK.
"The Gambia has been colonised by Great Britain and for press freedom, it is a disappointment as the country has just embraced freedom. I believe it is unjust to do it by a key diplomatic figure like Boris."
The Foreign Office has denied claims Johnson refused to answer any questions. In a statement quoted by the Guardian, a spokesperson said: "The foreign secretary met Gambian journalists after his talks with President Barrow. He spoke about his visit and his hopes for UK-Gambia relations, and took two questions from Gambian journalists."
Johnson is on a two-day official visit in West Africa and he is due to meet Ghanian President Akufo-Addo on Wednesday 15 February.
UK and Gambia relations
While visiting Barrow in Banjul, Johnson praised the democratically elected leader for his decision to rejoin the Commonwealth. He also said the UK was ready to help the West African nation boost its education and the "wonderful tourism industry".
Relations between Gambia and the UK had strained under the leadership of Jammeh, who left the Commonwealth deeming it a "neo-colonial institution".
Johnson's visit came weeks after Barrow exclusively told IBTimes UK he wanted to strengthen relations between Gambia and the UK by, among other things, rejoining the Commonwealth and promoting foreign investments.
Barrow, who defeated Jammeh in presidential elections held in December 2016, finally took the helm of the nation after weeks of Jammeh refusing to relinquish power.
Earlier this month, the European Union pledged €225m ($240m; £191m) in aid to The Gambia as part of its effort to become a "privileged partner of the new Gambia".