This article is intended as a contribution to the discourse on ensuring a better future for The Gambia after President Jammeh’s regime, and is centred on the priority activities of the incoming Coalition Government, headed by President-elect Adama Barrow. From the outset, I would like to acknowledge that the situation is still evolving, and viewpoints offered here may be rendered obsolete by subsequent developments. Furthermore, the author is not privileged with information regarding the full contents of the Agreement among the opposition parties that resulted in the victorious Coalition, and so it may not be possible for some of the recommendations in this article to be implemented. Finally, the Coalition presented a manifesto to the electorate as the basis of its mandate, and therefore the contours of their three year program have already been broadly mapped out. Nonetheless, even if nothing out of this article finds its way into the Coalition’s three year program, but it at least generates debate, the effort would have been well worth it. Comments on this piece are particularly welcome.
On December 1st 2016, a coalition of opposition parties in The Gambia came together to defeat the incumbent President Jammeh in elections that were pronounced by local and international observers alike as free, fair, transparent, and reflective of the will of the Gambian people. Even though outgoing President Jammeh subsequently declared the election results null and void, and filed a petition at the Supreme Court to contest the results after initially conceding defeat, by all indications President-elect Barrow will assume the mantle of leadership from January 19 2017. The international community – notably ECOWAS – has been resolute that the expressed will of the Gambian people be respected, and come January 19 2017, President-elect Adama Barrow will be sworn in as The Gambia’s third President. In spite of the bravado of outgoing President Jammeh therefore, it now becomes a matter of days before President-elect Barrow is sworn in – witness comparable scenarios by former Presidents Sadam Hussein, Charles Taylor, Muamarr Ghadafi, and Laurent Gbabgo. Simply put, President Jammeh’s forces, the few of whom can be counted as completely loyal to him, cannot withstand the military might of Senegal, let alone backed up by other ECOWAS countries like Nigeria, and global powers such as France. There can only be one outcome therefore.
For President-elect Barrow and his coalition team, the focus therefore shifts to the governance and development priorities of the country that are to be attended to during his tenure of office. It has been reliably reported that this tenure is to span a period of three years, due to the pact signed by all coalition members and confirmed by President-elect Barrow himself.
These priorities can be categorised into four, namely those to be dealt with immediately, in the first year, second year, and final year of President-elect Barrow’s rule. At the same time it is important to note that while some immediate priorities may be started during the first year, they may not bear fruit until the second year or even beyond. Similarly, there will be medium term priorities whose fruits may not be reaped until the third year or beyond.
III. Immediate Priorities
The immediate priorities President Barrow’s Government will have to deal with are selecting the Cabinet, reducing expectations, and ensuring security and reconciliation.
A. The Cabinet
By now President Barrow would have had a fair idea as to who should be part of his Cabinet and who else should be appointed to other important positions, assuming this was not agreed upon a priori by the Coalition. Nonetheless, it is important to ensure balance in the Cabinet; age versus youth, locally recruited versus Diaspora Gambians, politicians versus technocrats, religious and gender considerations, etc. To be fair, such a balancing act may not be as easy as it may sound, especially when expectations are high. An important factor worth taking into consideration is that the civil service is not as strong today as it should be, thus underscoring the need for Ministers to be technically competent. As a result, certain posts in the Cabinet should undoubtedly be reserved for technocrats. These include Foreign Affairs, Finance, Trade, Attorney General, Interior, and Energy.
Another way to put it is that being part of the Coalition does not automatically entitle one to a Cabinet position. The latter has to be solely based on merit – competence, patriotism, and integrity. Even if the Coalition has already decided on the allocation of Cabinet posts as part of the agreement that binds them together, this should not be interpreted as the heads of the respective parties automatically laying claim to the Cabinet positions. Instead this should only grant the said parties the privilege to nominate an individual to occupy a given Cabinet position – again based on competence, patriotism, and integrity. Prejudices should therefore be avoided, and everyone given a fair chance.
B. Reducing expectations
It is clear that Gambians in and out of the country, as well as non-Gambians alike, have high expectations of the incoming Government. The youth are eager to start benefiting from gainful employment opportunities, while Diaspora Gambians will be pressing for priority attention. Various aggrieved parties – those who unfairly lost their jobs, were detained without trial, unlawfully lost their properties, lost loved ones, etc – would be seeking redress too at the earliest opportunity. And as can be expected, political parties and individuals that contributed to the Coalition’s success will also be seeking their share of the “spoils”. It is therefore important for President Barrow to temper expectations with reality. Firstly, he will be inheriting a system – if it can still be called that – of institutions that are barely functioning in a professional or coordinated manner, in many instances beset with nepotism, corruption, incompetence and tribal considerations. Secondly, even under normal circumstances three years is too short to achieve and consolidate long term gains. In today’s Gambia, the damage done to the institutions by the outgoing Government makes it doubly difficult.
C. Security and reconciliation
As mentioned above, various aggrieved parties will be seeking redress for the injustices they suffered under the Jammeh regime, and if not handled properly can lead to security challenges. The new Government has to step in quickly to provide reassurances that the law will take its cause in an impartial manner, and without undue delay, but first there must be “peace before law”. The generally peaceful and forgiving nature of Gambians will be of enormous importance in this regard, especially where genuine remorse is manifested.
IV. Year One
During the first year of his term, President Barrow will have to attend to issues related to enforcing national security, revenue generation, reorganising the diplomatic service, re-establishing the rule of law, and mobilising the Diaspora.
A. National security
Enforcing national security will immediately be handled with the support of the international community and ECOWAS in particular, with Senegal taking the lead, as reaffirmed in the ECOWAS Communiqué of December 10th. This is not to say that security matters will be the exclusive purview of ECOWAS, but given the divided loyalties currently existing in the security services, it may be best for the regional body to take the lead, while taking into consideration sensitivities relating to national sovereignty, including lessons learned during previous times of externally-led military leadership. A process of professionalization of the security services can then be introduced in parallel, leading to gradual handover back to Gambian leadership.
B. Revenue generation
It will be saying the obvious that President-elect Barrow is likely to find the coffers of the Central Bank empty, and will therefore have to find quick solutions to generate the requisite revenue to finance the running of the country’s affairs. Issues relating to revenue generation to run the affairs of the country will have to be handled tactfully. Typically, a nation derives its revenue sources from taxes, sustainable exploitation of the productive sectors, sale of mineral wealth, donor assistance, and (increasingly) remittances from the Diaspora.
1. Tax collection
In terms of taxes, it is well known that in The Gambia there is room for improvement in relation to collection rates. The fact that a large part of the economy consists of the informal sector leaves room for improvement, while at the same time makes improving collection rates difficult, thus leading to a chicken and egg situation. It is also important not to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs by scaring (potential) investors away with excessive and complicated tax regimes, or burdening existing businesses with undue difficulties. Nonetheless, an appeal to a sense of patriotism during the goodwill / honeymoon period of euphoria could yield positive results.
2. Productive sectors
In The Gambia the productive sectors are mainly agriculture (including livestock), fisheries, tourism, and forestry. Of these, the agriculture sector is the most important in terms of employment creation and GDP, but has been underperforming in terms of overall output and productivity. The fisheries sector has great potential, but this is yet to be fully realised due to our inability to police our sea borders as well as develop the infrastructure to fish and process the products. The tourism sector has great potential, but of recent the focus seems to be on numbers rather than quality, leading to very low profit margins and exploitation of our youth. The forestry sector is not thought to offer as much potential as the others, though timber products and rare fruits and herbs can be exploited.
3. Mineral resources
The situation regarding mineral resources in The Gambia is opaque, given that the Government of the outgoing President has been less than forthcoming in this area. Nonetheless, court cases with international companies such as Carnegie Minerals and Buried Hills serve as proxy indicators as to the existence of such resources. Similarly, engagements with oil companies by the outgoing Government attest to the existence of petroleum resources within The Gambia’s borders. Deals need to be concluded fairly quickly so that The Gambia can begin to benefit from these resources without polluting our natural environment, or giving away our resources too cheaply.
4. Donor assistance
The Gambia has suffered from the donor orphan syndrome over the past years due to the lack of transparency and accountability, and bad governance of the outgoing Government. It is important that the goodwill of the international community be reclaimed as quickly as possible, not least given the economy’s vulnerability to exogenous factors. Through budget support, institutions and countries such as the EU, World Bank, IMF, USA, Canada, can step in quickly to plug any gaps in our budget for 2017.
In recent years, official statistics have shown that the amount of remittances accruing to The Gambia has surpassed the amount of ODA. These remittances are used mainly for household consumption, but also for development purposes. Again the goodwill and euphoria that will accompany President Barrow may be tapped into to appeal to the sense of patriotism to officialise the remittances, and perhaps entice the Diaspora into development projects.
C. he Diplomatic Service
It is clear from the above that the two major constraints immediately facing President-elect Barrow, namely security and a depleted revenue base, will have to be tackled with assistance from the international community. This is where The Gambia’s diplomatic service will have to play a critical role. Already, most serving Ambassadors have manifested their loyalty to the nation (and not to President Jammeh) in their open letter to President Jammeh, which stands them in good stead both in their countries of jurisdiction, as well as with the hopefully incoming Government. Because of the urgency to tackle this twin-headed hydra, it is important that The Gambia’s Missions and Embassies are manned not only by individuals with the requisite competences and stature, are of unimpeachable honesty and integrity, but who are also familiar with the terrain and can hit the ground running. This means that some of the Ambassadors already in situ will therefore have to be retained, and Capitals that should be given priority include Dakar, Abuja, Beijing, Brussels, Addis Ababa, New York, Riyadh, Ankara, and Washington.
D. Rule of law
Re-establishing the rule of law in this context can be taken as synonymous with respecting the various constitutional provisions and related laws, rules and regulations, towards the dispensation of justice. This means for instance strict adherence to the constitutional provision that allows the police to detain a suspect for no longer than 72 hours without charge, the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, doing away with detention without charge, and clearance of the backlog of pending court cases. The latter may require technical assistance from countries with similar judicial systems, possibly through international bodies or South South (and Triangular) Cooperation.
E. Mobilising the Diaspora
The Diaspora has always played a significant role in The Gambia’s affairs, sending remittances to their families for consumption as well as commercial investment purposes. The Coalition Government would however need to leverage other competences of the Diaspora much more significantly, particularly their human resource expertise, investment acumen and resource mobilisation skills.
A recent study by the World Bank indicates that two-thirds of Gambians with a university degree are found outside The Gambia, a statistic that is second only to Cabo Verde in Africa. With a bit of effort many of them can be persuaded to return to serve in various sectors needing their skills and experience – as doctors, engineers, managers, teachers, university professors. The Government can engage international bodies such as UNDP and the World Bank to help secure such expertise, as was provided for Sierra Leone for instance.
With respect to resource mobilisation, every Gambian living abroad must serve as an Ambassador in their local community, mobilising support from local schools, hospitals and businesses, to provide much needed assistance and investment to the relevant sectors in The Gambia. Above all, Gambians must organise themselves into groups to contribute their quota to national development, both in the social sectors as well as investing in the productive sectors, working with the new Government.
V. Year Two
The efforts of the Coalition Government in the second year should focus on job creation for the youth population, truth and reconciliation, reforming the civil service, professionalising the security services, sustainable management of our natural resources, and reforming the health and education sectors.
A. Job creation
The majority of the Gambian population comprises youth below the age of 30. Though official statistics are not readily available, it is estimated that at least half of the youth population are unemployed, leading to Gambians constituting one of the largest groups of migrants attempting to cross the Sahara desert and the Mediterranean Sea, in search of greener pastures in Europe. Clearly therefore, tackling the youth unemployment conundrum constitutes primus inter pares, and would have been categorised as an immediate priority, but for the fact that tackling this challenge takes time to yield results. In particular, the triumvirate of the right skills, capital and markets, has to be in place, since the limited employment opportunities from the public service dictate that the youth be prepared for life in the private sector.
B. Truth, reconciliation and accountability
During the 22 years of President Jammeh’s rule, various cases of termination of service, dismissals, detention without trial, disappearances, reported torture, and cases of executions have been documented. As a result there are a lot of aggrieved families and communities that need to heal from these nightmares. The first step in the healing process is the establishment of mechanisms for truth and reconciliation. Thereafter victims can be compensated accordingly, and the perpetrators of the most serious crimes held to account. Examples abound from which The Gambia can draw lessons, such as South Africa.
Accountability should also be extended to those who have looted public resources, but only after the conduct of impartial audit exercises and / or the setting up of judicial commissions to recover assets.
C. Reforming the civil service
The Gambia’s civil service is beset by insecurity of tenure, a lackadaisical attitude, absence of innovation and professionalism, and with all due respect relatively inexperienced individuals occupying positions of high responsibility. Those professionals who have the opportunity are working for international organisations, while others have fled the country, and still others work for the private sector. There is an urgent need to restore professionalism within the civil service, with competent individuals in charge of positions of high responsibility, and a results-based meritocracy put in place. The effort to professionalise the civil service should include payment of decent remuneration so civil servants will not be running after sitting allowances, foreign travel, and workshop allowances just to make ends meet. Gambian professionals working abroad can be enticed to return home, in collaboration with organisations such as the World Bank and UNDP. Care should however be taken to intelligently manage potential tensions and rivalries between those who stayed and endured the bad times and those returning to contribute their quota to national development.
D. Professionalising the security services
The current setup of The Gambia’s security services is such that they owe their loyalty to the current Head of State, and not to the State as they should. Dissent – perceived or actual – is brutally crushed, and senior positions are dominated by one ethnic group. There is a need to redress this imbalance, and to professionalise the security services, probably with external assistance. In so doing however, national sovereignty must be safeguarded wherever possible, nor should the lessons from previous military assistance packages be forgotten.
E. Sustainable management of natural resources
The Gambia is endowed with an abundance of natural resources, including fisheries, forestry, and pristine sandy beaches. While the country’s pelagic fisheries resources are fairly stable, the same cannot be said for its demersal resources, due to poaching by foreign vessels, and the absence of up to date comprehensive statistics of our fish stock. It is thus difficult to exploit our fisheries resources in any sustainable way in the absence of our ability to secure our sea borders, as well as the absence of an up to date inventory.
A similar argument can be made in relation to our forest resources, with loss of flora and fauna being the order of the day. Sand mining for construction purposes has also contributed in no small way to the erosion of our pristine beaches, thus posing a direct threat to the tourism industry, as evidenced in the Cape Point and Senegambia beach areas. Alternatives to the use of sand for construction have therefore to be found quickly and championed by the Government.
F. Reforming the education and health sectors
The Jammeh Administration has made great strides in increasing the number of education and health facilities around the country. While the quantity has increased, the same cannot be said for the quality of the health and education facilities. For instance, basic drugs are not available at the main hospital in Banjul, while the alarming number of high school children failing Maths and English language exams attest to the dearth of quality in the education sector. Quantity must now be matched by quality in the social sectors.
VI. Year Three
In the final year of the Barrow Administration, attention should shift to the following areas: enhancing the public transport system, provision of affordable housing, civic education, and repealing bad laws.
A. Public transport
The road network has improved considerably under the outgoing Administration, due largely to grants from the EU as well as mainly loans from the Arab world. Again the same cannot however be said for the public vehicles plying the routes, due to their limited number, inter alia. A comprehensive assessment of the public transport options for The Gambia needs to be undertaken both for passengers and cargo, with the river and rail as possible alternatives.
Affordable housing is a challenge for the majority of the Gambian populace, and due to the high population density, this challenge continues to increase. The situation is not helped by the concentration of a large majority of the population in the Greater Banjul Area and other urban centres, thus increasing the price of land for housing construction. Further, most of the building materials are not produced in The Gambia, with the Government’s free market policy on imports and a weak manufacturing base providing challenges of affordability and quality. Finally, the default use of sand to build houses is severely threatening the continued existence of our pristine beaches, a pillar of The Gambia’s tourism industry. There is therefore a pressing need to introduce affordable yet sustainable housing options for the populace.
C. Civic education
As The Gambia is due to undergo elections after three years of the Barrow Administration, in line with the agreement signed by the Coalition, it is important to revamp the civic education programmes that will apprise voters of their rights, responsibilities, as well as what they can expect from their elected representatives, from the Ward to the Presidential levels. The erroneous notion that an elected representative is there primarily to bring development projects and solve personal problems (mainly of a financial nature) of his or her electorate, needs to be dispelled. The separation of powers, functions and responsibilities between the Executive and the Legislature needs to be clearly spelt out to the electorate in order not to generate unrealistic expectations, and facilitate the formulation of informed choices.
D. Repealing bad laws
Because of the outgoing Administration’s iron grip on the National Assembly, a lot of bad laws have been passed, or good ones exploited or ignored, and there needs to be a thorough review of these laws in order to introduce best practices from elsewhere if necessary, including constitutional provisions. These can be done with external assistance if necessary, with its added benefits of credibility and impartiality.
It is clear that the Coalition Government will have its hands full as soon as it takes office, and given that the list of priorities above is by no means exhaustive, would therefore need every stratum of society within and outside of The Gambia to play its complementary role. It is therefore critical to temper expectations with reality, through a robust communication effort with the populace. Immediate priorities include ensuring the rule of law, securing the revenue base, and overhauling the public service. However, with sterling stewardship, careful planning, selfless sacrifice, integrity and unfettered patriotism, considerable strides can be taken towards restoring The Gambia to its rightful place in the community of nations.
For The Gambia, Our Homeland!
17 January 2017
Written By Mamour Alieu Jagne