Written by Gibril Saine, LONDON
Today marks one 100 days since the coalition government took over the reign of power in Banjul. In assessing the significance of that, we take a critical look at what this means for the country & for the lives of ordinary Gambians who had put their vote and trust in President Barrow. Interestingly, the President’s scorecard is a somewhat mix-bag of successes, some failures, and some yet-to-be fulfilled promises chimed on the campaign trail.
In the coming weeks and months, the executive must reaffirm its commitment to working towards radical structural transformation of the country through socio-economic and political framework. And one wonders why the government allowed itself to some ridicule for not coming up with a clear development plan in steering the affairs of state. Please, quickly design a five (5) year policy document or blueprint as reference: in the short term, however, the government needs to come up with a budget of its own for the current financial year.
Let’s start with National Security — This here takes precedence as the bedrock through which other layers of the development spectrum follows. The army, as it was must be disbanded to start a recruitment drive afresh. Evidently, the Gambia does not require a large military force, what it needs though is an effective but responsible force serving national interest. The new-look Ministry of Defense taking shape deserves some credit but hard choices lay ahead. For far too long, there existed a fragile and unsafe border to the Cassamance region. And recent disturbances in Foni should alert the security services to take a more stringent look at Kanilai connections. For decades, clandestine activities and banditry by ‘Jola’ rebels strolling freely across border lines had been the norm. Responsibility too falls on the Senegalese security apparatus to regulate their side of the border and to liaise and conduct joint military patrols and exercises with their Gambian counterparts.
I understand the police force is going thru reform. But that is not far enough, it needs a radical shake up and proper training in law and order duties as custodians of internal security. Reflecting on those visual deterrence tactics used by the Met Police in London, the interior ministry should engage the commonwealth for technical experience training and logistical support in all layers of the security sector. Still, petty highway corruption is an issue within the force which minister Fatty must address.
As for the economy it has to be simultaneously prioritized for rapid sustainable growth. Fair play to the president for the manner his govt has approached economic revival as seen with the return of investors flocking in seeking commercial ties. But prices are still extremely high with no clear cut economic strategy or clarity. 100 days in, the president ought to be made aware this is unacceptable. There is a great debate on high streets as to who should import rice into the country. For the record, rice importation is the single most profitable business in Gambia and therefore its license should be accorded to a Gambian or Gambian entities. A national security element is attached here, as the case with fake plastic rice in Nigeria shows.
Parliament is advised to periodic summon major business leaders for grilling on prices, and their tax obligations to the state. Over the years tax dodging & Capital flight has affected the country’s development, and Africa as a whole. And with the announcement of reduced imports duties, cautionary tale is advised – the Gambia must not allow it’s economy wide open to be a dumping ground for China, India, or Europe for that matter. Our domestic industry must be protected. The ‘West’ operates an incentivize Agricultural Policy as protection for their big farm industry. Yet the Gambia, and Africa are being told to liberalize and open their markets. That was a dumb move by the administration. The 21st century is a time for smart leadership and that decisions matter. I call on the government to be mindful of this gap and protect our local farmers and produce, and not to overflow local markets with cheap foreign imports. With so many fake products out there, so are the health risks; but I have every confidence that the agriculture minister, O.J, will pursue the National Interest and that commonsense will prevail.
On the Judiciary, one must commend the ‘Justice Ministry’ under Baa Tambedou for excellence & speed with which he serves in restoring confidence within the system. It is pleasing to see that the president adheres to recommendations by the judicial service commission. Coupled with chief Justice, Hassan Jallow’s expertise & acumen dust – credibility has been restored. However, the reemployment of the three scandalous Nigerian judges was a dumb move, and I urge the President to listen to the concerns put forth by the ‘Bar Association’ and rescind accordingly. There also needs to be the setup of a permanent anti-corruption commission in line with UN (R2P 2005) guidelines.
Foreign affairs – Turning to the president’s role in restoring the country’s relationship with the world, i give him a high score on this. The Gambia’s foray into international waters starts with Senegal, and therefore, prioritising cordial bilateral ties with the sister-republic was a smart move. In terms of Britain and the EU, I thought the President has excellently navigated the politics of it all. On a recent Paris trip, however, he was quoted as saying ”France is Gambia’s closest ally in Europe” which had officials within the Foreign and Commonwealth office in London looking rather bemused. But that is ok, because, far too long Britain has taken Gambia for granted; and that should see London engage Banjul seriously! The government has fulfilled another campaign promise in returning the country to ICC and Commonwealth memberships respectively. At a time of great uncertainty, that has advanced the country’s credibility in international circles. In the last three months, we have also seen the country take its rightful place amongst ECOWAS, the AU, and UN systems respectively as a responsible sovereign nation observing international law and norms.
I am, however, troubled by the President’s visit to Congo Brazzaville, which serves no national interest at this stage. I’m further worried by the lack of clarity in addressing ‘Jammeh appointed envoys’ abroad for trained diplomats. The Banjul/Beijing ties have got to be strengthened and advanced. China is the preeminent global power of this century and relations are vital for the country’s development aspirations. I also welcome the resumption of cordial ties with Qatar; in the same vein urging the president to put a phone call to the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, and Beirut, in Lebanon, extending greetings and friendship from the Gambian people. All in all, the country’s reputation is being restored on a credible democratic path.
Back on domestic waters – There was so much hoopla and talk prior to the ‘National Assembly’ elections given PDOIS’s stance. The Gambian people ought to realise that Parliament is a co-equal branch of government to that of the executive. As such the election of such eloquent luminaries as Hon. Halifa Sallah, has not only strengthened that institution, but our democracy too. Folks, the smiling coast is back. And although the government needs time to translate their policy ideas into practical realities, we cannot hide from the fact that there is widespread poverty and unemployment up and down the country. Given the record so far, an overall “B” rating is a fair reflection of the first 100 days.