In a globalized world of uncertainty marred by various complex challenges, I have endeavoured an historical look at Gambia’s Foreign Policy through stages examining the various shapes & stripes thereof. Without a shadow of doubt, the arrival of European ‘explorers’ on the shores of Africa has left an indelible mark which The Gambia may struggle to escape from. Fast-forward several hundredth years later, it is still hard to ponder & chew on those early exchanges between people of such far-flung places of the earth, otherwise untouched. Until 1970 ushering in republican status, the country’s sovereignty had been mortgaged to the British Monarchy with major policy decisions strictly reserved for London. And except for a telegram from the colonial office in Westminster carrying direct orders, the Governor-General dictates day-to-day state matters unchecked. Given those constraining circumstances, the Gambia was denied empirical & juridical sovereignty, nor were conditions ripe for the pursuance of bilateral interest.
Although 18th February was earmarked for annual independence-day celebrations, 24th April would suffice for the fact that decolonisation was quick with no thorough planning. As with elsewhere on the continent, newly independent Gambia soon came to be gripped with daunting political & economic challenges, and technical skill shortages to tap into fill in gaps across government. That, ultimately, stifled effective governance – thus neo-colonialism was born.
Simply put, Foreign Policy is designed to achieve national interest goals abroad; and diplomacy is an adage of that structured along the lines of reciprocity, trust, credibility, compromise, signals, and such normative bilateral exchanges. It is worth remembering that foreign policy can also lead to a shooting war between nations if interests overlap or when coercive diplomatic demands aren’t met. The ‘oil’ wars in Iraq and Libya stood as prime examples of a hawkish foreign policy the United States has practiced for decades bullying nations into submission.
Profoundly, dedicated to the memories of our greats in the pro-independence movement in ‘’Bathurst’’ – PS Njie, EF Small, Sir Farimang Singhateh, SM Dibba, Rev. JC Faye, IM Garba Jahumpa, and countless others culminating in President Jawara’s ascension to power. A small but confident Gambia leading a measured foreign policy observing mutually accepted norms perhaps came to define how the PPP conducted external affairs.
It is worth remembering that the Gambia is a signatory to the United Nations founding Charter gathering juridical & empirical sovereignty respectively. As such the country is at liberty to defend it national boundaries, and to pursue national interest wherever that lays.
In his autobiography ‘’Kairaba’’, President Jawara reflected on ‘’… the Gambia’s reputation as a democratic, peaceful and stable state which led the then OAU to locate the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR, 1987) in Banjul. He went on to describe how his government further acted on Article (25) of that charter enjoining countries to educate their citizens on their rights, privileges and obligations by creating a national human rights institution – The African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies, which later came to be the continental civil society flagship. A champion for peace & diplomacy, he ensured separation of powers, with an independent civil service to match. Over tea at a West London café, a retired Ghanaian diplomat spoke lovingly of President Jawara and his essence to democracy and human rights in Africa. Sir Dawda built cordial ties with many world leaders of his generation; a friend to the monarchy and arguably the only African head of state knighted by the Queen. And I would like to think if ever his legacy was in doubt, look no further.
Revisiting the Jammeh years – He had reduced the country isolated with an introverted selfish agenda, irrational at best. The APRC was but for an undisciplined foreign policy lacking guidebook, nor ethics designed on adversarial & cheque-book terms. For instance, Taiwan was ready to sign out cheques so long the Gambia continues to promote its case for independence from mainland China. Senegal was maligned and side-lined. Thus Dakar and Abuja mobilised to frustrate Jammeh’s every attempt to head the regional bloc, ECOWAS. The dictator had failed to measure signals & regional trends as states within the periphery fast transform to democracy. The level of disconnect was deep & daunting too. Angry and isolated, Jammeh then cozied up to Chavez’s Venezuela who also need friends, and to ‘Ahmadinejad’s’ Iran looking to boost credibility. Cuba was prepared to send in doctors so long as the Gambia continues to denounce imposed US embargo at the UN. An unjust blockade of course, but for a megalomaniac dictator, the Cuban doctors are tools of propaganda in shoring up his support base. On Cassamance, Jammeh’s role exacerbating that conflict in an attempt to settle ancestral & tribal grudge was obvious.
By the time President Barrow assumed office, the country’s relationship with the world had suffered at its lowest ebb. The coalition inherited a broken foreign agenda lacking vision. The President deserve credit managing to rescue the country from the cold into international respectability. From ECOWAS, the AU, ICC, to the United Nations, the Gambia takes its rightful place among sovereign states at regional and multilateral gatherings in reshaping world order. The administration was spot on prioritising relations with the sister-republic, Senegal. And unlike elsewhere, Banjul-Dakar ties transcends cross-border neighbourliness. Indeed, a special relationship & ought to be nurtured as such – based on collaborative & strategic partnership for a common destiny. The recent Gambia crisis has come to define President Macky Sall’s legacy showcasing the power of diplomacy when peace is given a chance.
On the issuance of diplomatic passports, there need to be clarification on policy governing who should get them. The Vienna convention on diplomatic relations should internalise within (Foreign Service guidelines) in observance of standardised normative protocol. Experts within the ministry need to come up with fresh policy guidelines & safeguards in the application of Gambia’s foreign policy around the world. It should be known that Banjul will never again support murderous & corrupt regimes, nor states that oppress their citizens. On questions as to what criterion should future ambassadorial picks be based on – The Foreign Relations Committee should be empowered to vet, ascertain credentials and to approve nominated envoys as a check on nepotism. Nevertheless, the President should always reserve the right to pick the country’s ambassadors abroad, even though such appointments shall be subjected to confirmation hearings before the said committee in Parliament. Foreign diplomats posted to Banjul are to be accorded high status & protection, and no person shall ever set foot on Embassy premises without prior notice. These are globally accepted rules & norms governing bilateral relations which all states signed up to. A classic scenario manifest as an emotionally-charged global audience watch President Barrow took the oath of office at the Gambian embassy in Dakar. From DC, London, and worldwide, Gambian diplomats & embassy infrastructure shall be accorded similar high status – reciprocity, norms, ethics, trust & Protocol. I would further encourage an annual meeting between Banjul and its diplomats around the world when they are home for independence celebrations so as to – gauge, analyse, redirect national interest abroad!
For the sake of academic teaching, for institutionalism, and for all that razzmatazz democracy attracts – The administration should come up with a clear foreign policy explain its external agenda & position on certain issues. Six months in, it still has not done so leaving those of us in the foreign policy community seeking answers. It would be helpful for Foreign Minister Darboe to address a session of parliament in a major foreign policy speech outlining the government’s approach to external affairs. Such an address could also be occasioned at the University of the Gambia attended by Ministers, Governors, District Chiefs, the Diplomatic Corp, High Society, students, among others – live on Prime-Time television.
What could be in such a speech
The Foreign Minister will dilate on relations with Senegal over time. He will say that the two countries are joint by shared history enduring deep ties. In other words, our situation can only be described as one people trapped in two countries due to circumstances. Foreign Minister Darboe and his Senegalese counterpart, Mankeur Njie, are to hold annual bilateral summit (to alternate between Banjul & Dakar – groundwork to be laid out by the SeneGambia Secretariat). In view of the crucial role ECOWAS continues to play in the country, and ultimately, African Union, our foreign policy shall prioritise regional & continental issues moving forward.
In the Middle East, the government should make its position known on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict & settlement activities on occupied territories. And as Israel make moves on the bilateral front, the foreign minister should make it clear that Banjul believes in the sovereignty and equality of all nations the world over, and that the situation for the Palestinians is intolerable. Through ECOWAS and the African Union, the Gambia must call for Israeli to lift blockade on Gaza whilst urging dialogue over the status Jerusalem.
On Iran, the Gambia joins other states in the United Nations family for the successful implementation of the Iranian nuclear deal (2015). The country is opposed to any new wars in the Middle East, and that differences should be sorted thru diplomatic means. On Lebanon, Banjul stands with Beirut on its quest for peace among all its citizens, given that Gambia is home to many Lebanese. On the civil war in Syria, the Gambia is horrified at the sufferings of the Syrian people calling for immediate cessation of hostilities. On recent disagreements between Saudis and Qatar, Foreign Minister Darboe will reflect on both allies, and that government has called for restraint in working out differences. In my view, it is very unwise of King Salman to pin hopes on Donald Trump given his incoherence. A White House where truth and falsehood interplay at an alarming rate in its everyday dealings.
On the occasion unveiling ‘Belt & Road’ megaproject, President Xi Jinping has stressed that China will not compromise its one-china policy with regards to Taiwan and Hong Kong islands. The Gambia welcomes resumption of diplomatic ties with Beijing, and it is one of our stronger partnerships. On the Korean peninsula, the Gambia will look to both China and Japan, and ultimately, UN channels ensuring sustained peace in the region. The country’s embassy in Malaysia could perhaps be restacked to cater for Singapore, Indonesia, and many of the emerging economies within the periphery.
The Foreign Minister will also say that The Gambia need-not practise an ideologically driven, but a pragmatic foreign policy. He will inform the gathering that President Barrow has had telephone exchanges with the leaders of Australia, Canada, and President Castro of Cuba. Although we would like to establish a diplomatic post in all countries, resources are low and had to be prioritised. However, the country is working through ECOWAS and AU channels to further advance ties across Latin America and friends in the Caribbean.
Raindrops are signs of hope welcoming downpours across the land. And as our diaspora colleagues take stand on River Thames #CharityGiving at the London Marathon – Fun reflections of Banjul-of-old came to sight as the yardstick upon whom all others are to be measured #Governance #Agriculture #Healthcare #Education #Infrastructure #Jobs #Tourism, in a progressive albeit sustainable path towards development.
Gibril Saine, LONDON