Could The Gambia’s Singapore dream be true if not for the “soldiers with a difference?”

Could The Gambia’s Singapore dream be true if not for the “soldiers with a difference?”

President Yahya Jammeh of The Gambia said his country by 2025 will overtake Singapore, United Arab Emirates, India and other emerging economies. He has vowed to make the penurious West African nation, mainland Africa’s smallest country an economic super power.

OJ JallowBut an opposition leader said The Gambia would have realized its Singapore dream today, if not disrupted by what the former PPP Minister calls “a coup d’état by some greedy and disgruntled soldiers,” who has taken the country on a downward spiral, holding the citizens hostage.

The former minister, is Hon. Omar Jallow, the Secretary General of the People’s Progressive Party, which was ousted in 1994 by young Lieutenant Yahya Jammeh and his AFPRC ‘soldiers with a difference.’

Jammeh calls his coup a ‘bloodless revolution’ to set the country on a path to economic and infrastructure development.

Jammeh built a new airport, a national TV and some new roads, but right groups say it came at a cost – gross constitutional and human rights violations – as the military strongman consolidate power and tailored the supreme laws to fit his desire.

Some of these projects including the GRTS TV and Kombo Coastal Road Projects were a brainchild of the PPP Government, but Jammeh managed to take credit for them, increase the country’s foreign exchange reserve then and many welcomed his coup.

Many young Gambians supported Chairman Jammeh after he overthrew President Jawara

The majority of Gambians may have valued the institutions of competitive party politics put in place by the Jawara government since the country got independence from Great Britain in 1965. However, at that time that the PPP was removed from power, commitment to those institutions had declined to a low level.

Many appeared to have lost faith in a government that was unable to show that a system based on competitive party politics could lead to benefits for the majority of the society. There was much cynicism and distrust of political leaders by the end of the PPP reign; but one might not say the same for the foreign policy and economy in its entirety.

“The Gambia under the PPP enjoyed and benefited a lot from bilateral and multilateral aid in the form of grants and soft loans,” said Mr Jallow. This he said enabled the Jawara administration to steer the nation to become an economic hub within the sub-region, debunking Jammeh’s claim.

The Gambia is not rich in mineral resources like other African nations, but like most of them depends heavily on agriculture – exportation of peanut – and tourism for its economic development. The country, then under Sir Dawda Jawara adopted an open and inclusive foreign policy approach.

Former Gambian President, Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara inspecting a guard of honor

Despite being one of the smallest countries in mainland Africa, the Gambia had a recognizable stand in the international community, taking the lead in ending the Gulf War and hosting the African Commission on Human and People’s Right.

Sir Dawda Jawara chaired the reconciliation committee to end the war between Iran and Iraq.

“Our openness, friendliness, democratic process, respect for human rights and rule of law gained us a lot of very valuable friends, who helped the country to be not only a thriving and strong nation, but also an envy as the baton of peace and stability in Africa,” said Hon. Jallow.

The Gambia became one of the most respected and admired countries in Africa and the world.

President Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara became chairperson of the organization of Sahel countries, chairperson of the Organization of Islamic Conference, chairperson of ECOWAS twice and initiated the establishment of ECOMOC during his second time as ECOWAS chair to bring peace to Liberia.

Unlike DK Jawara, Jammeh who attempted many times to become chair of ECOWAS and the AU has never succeeded in his bid though in 2006, he hosted the AU summit in Banjul.

Mr Jawara, who proposed the establishment of the African Center for Human and People’s Right in Kampala, Uganda in 1975 is regarded by rights campaigners as a democrat who valued human rights, while his successor, current president, Yahya Jammeh, who was Mr Jawara’s personal bodyguard, described by the Guardian Newspaper as a former wrestler, is considered a despotic authoritarian ruler, whose reign in The Gambia is marked by rights violations – arbitrary arrest, incommunicado detention, torture and execution of political opponents, journalists and activists.

Sir Dawda Jawara also proposed the establishment of the Commonwealth Human rights Commission. The commission in 2010 started focusing on Mr Jammeh’s human rights records. Jammeh then pulled The Gambia out of the Commonwealth of Nations, calling it a “neocolonial hegemony.”

Jammeh wrote a book explaining ‘a million reasons why he left the Commonwealth.’

“We will never be part of any neocolonial institution. This country will not be colonized twice. The British were in this country for 400 years and they looted us. They left us with nothing but RVTH, Gambia High and Armitage,” Jammeh said.

The British were in Gambia for about 8 decades before the tiny nation got its independence.

The Gambia, though small played a vital role in conflict prevention in the sub-region. International institutions turned to the country for mediation. President Sir Dawda Jawara mediated between President Leopold Sedat Senghore of Senegal; and President Ahmed Saikou Touray of Guinea and between Togo and Ivory Coast.

Due to The Gambia’s diplomatic approach of inclusiveness, there were no visa requirements for her citizens to travel to many countries including Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Hong Kong, England and Italy. Getting a US visa then was easiest – giving the country one of the top 10 most powerful passports in the world then.

This has changed a lot – Gambians now require a visa to enter all these countries. Many of its young people, including minors are using the ‘back way’ through the Sahara and the Mediterranean to enter Italy for better economic opportunities in Europe.

More than 10,000 Gambians so far this year have applied for asylum in Europe with more than half of them in Italy, “where before the coup, they would have only needed their passports to enter.”

The Gambia’s relation with the United States and the European Union has been tense. Aid to the West African nation has been marked by cuts by the EU and its removal from AGOA by President Barack Obama due to Jammeh’s rights violation.

“We have lost a lot as a nation because of the overthrow of the PPP, which has made the nation lose track. These people are some selfish individuals who came to enrich themselves through tax payer’s monies,” Jallow said.

When President Yahya Jammeh came to power, he preached transparency, accountability and probity – accusing the administration of Sir Dawda Jawara of “rampant corruption, mismanagement and living flamboyant.”

“The country’s finances were controlled in such a way that no one, however powerful, could dip their hands into public coffers ad get away with it. The constitution also ensured that power was not concentrated in the hands of anyone person,” Sir Dawda Jawara wrote in his book, Kairaba.

In the late ‘80’s, the Gambia emerged from a lauded economic recovery program, and a sustainable development program was in place until 1994. The ERP was designed to reverse economic decline, curtail inflation, boost annual real GDP growth by 3.3%, create a viable volume of official foreign exchange reserve, reduce external arrears and normalize relations with creditors.

Under the ERP, money seeking opportunities became more abundant, which was good until many private businessmen and public officials turned to illegal means to make profit. Corruption created a serious legitimate crisis for PPP. Several cases of corruption were revealed and this seriously indicted the PPP regime.

The Gambia Commercial Development Bank collapsed and this was likely due to its failure to collect loans, just like Mr Jammeh is doing today with the Trust Bank (Gambia) Limited.

Aid from external donors are not being used judiciously by the Jammeh government. The building of Arch 22, in the center of Banjul to celebrate the military’s coming to power at a reported cost of $1.5 million was an outreach.

Jammeh’s government has not been corruption free despite its public pronouncements against corruption during the Jawara era.

“With the assistance of Sierra Leone and Ghana, commissions of enquiry were setup to investigate corruption during the Jawara era,” said John A. Wiseman. “However, the Jammeh government also had the shadow of corruption in the early years of the military regime.”

Ousman Koro Ceesay, the finance minister was found murdered in 1995 and it was widely believed that this resulted from his discovery of dubious financial dealings of members of the Jammeh administration.

The junta spokesperson, Captain Ebou Jallow and now a ‘chief mediator for reconciliation,’ released details of the regimes corruption including Mr Jammeh’s personal Swiss bank account number, allegedly given to Captain Jallow to deposit aid money amounting to more than $3 million from China, which was to be diverted to Chairman Jammeh for his use.

Abdou Rahman Jawara is a nephew of former President Sir Dawda Jawara. He said unlike his uncle, whose children (one of whom, Ebrima now works in Mr Jammeh’s administration) went to school in The Gambia – Gambia High School (the same school attended by DK Jawara and poor Jammeh himself) – President Yahya Jammeh’s children attend schools outside of The Gambia.

His daughter, Mariam Jammeh, attends Lehman Prep in New York with an $80,000 a year tuition plus incidentals, and his son has private teachers paid thousands of dollars a month.

Mr Jammeh drives the most expensive vehicles compared to any other African leader, including fleets of Rolls Royce Phantoms, spending millions on his birthday celebrations and festivals, flying on private jets and owns a $3.5 million mega mansion in Potomac, Maryland – about 20 miles from the White House.

Mr Jammeh’s nephew, Pa Bojang, who was managing his uncle’s bakery and other assets said President Jammeh was selling tons of rice donated to the country by Japan and using the money for himself. He accused his uncle of land grabbing and smuggling of some few mineral resources now found in the country, among which likely is gold. President Yahya Jammeh accused Sir Dawda’s administration of the same with the oil given to The Gambia by Nigeria.

Omar Jallow, who is now the PPP leader believes the foreign policy approach of the Jawara administration would have given the country, which gained independence about 5 months before Singapore, and played a more vital role in the international community, a competitive advantage to attract investors, outsource jobs and create an environment where there would have been greater opportunities for businesses and entrepreneurs to thrive.

This, he said is the roadmap that Gambia was on, which Singapore has adopted and became what it is.

The PPP, Mr Jallow said focused on eliminating income inequalities by narrowing the difference between rural and urban workers and maintaining affordable pricing for good and services through its free market policy regulations, an approach which was to make sure such goods and services, especially basic commodities and staple foods are within the reach of ordinary citizens.

Gambian womenToday, most Gambians are unable to afford such goods and services, including basic commodities and staple foods with a bag of rice at D1,500 (USD $37.50) in a country where the annual income is under $300 for average earners.

“A way forward was the development of policies and the wherewithal of diversifying the economy away from groundnuts and thus increase our export potential. The commercial and industrial sectors also came into focus; and prime among them was the tourism industry, a major foreign exchange earner,” Mr Jawara said of his government’s plan to put this country ahead of most that gained independence at about the same time.

Today, tourism is still a significant sector of the economy but The Gambia’s foreign exchange reserve has depleted over 65% this year. It has been granted a USD $10 million bail out from the IMF after its tourism sector was affected by the Ebola outbreak in neighboring countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

From 1975 to 1980, there was rapid growth of the GDP, government revenue and external reserves as a result of the favorable situation in the groundnut sector as well as the high export prices.

The Gambia today has low export of groundnut and finding it difficult to buy groundnuts from farmers. Most of the peanuts were considered not fit for consumption. Agriculture, which employed about 75% of Gambians employs only about 32% today.

Jammeh’s foreign policy is marked with rhetoric statements towards Senegal, the United Kingdom, the United States, European Union and many other Western nations and rights groups.

Even activists are now demanding for the relocation of Africa’s human rights commission from Banjul.

He has expelled diplomats and citizens from almost all these countries and haphazardly severed ties with a key donor, Taiwan, hoping to restart relations with China. Before diplomatic relations with Taiwan in ’94, The Gambia had excellent relations with China, which built the Independence Stadium and was about to build one of Africa’s largest distribution port center, which would have benefitted markets like the United States, only for it to be scrapped out because of the coup.

Jammeh is still unable to renew relations with China.

When Sir Dawda Jawara required from the Saudi Arabian King the building of a grand mosque in Banjul, the Saudis built the King Fahad mosque and it was handed over to Banjul Muslims elders; but moving on to 2015, though Mr Jammeh stoutly promoted Islam and Saudi, dresses like them – holding a Qura’n and a prayer bead, visiting Saudi and sending envoys regularly, calling The Gambia an Islamic nation (though a secular state) and demanding Muslims in the country to pray the Eid on the same day as Saudi, they recently donated to him 50 tons of date locally called ‘tamareh’ or ‘tandarma,’ while the country is currently facing budgetary issues with domestic borrowing taking more than 23% of it GDP and unpaid debts amounting to over D300 million.

“The APRC regime, if anything, has destroyed our journey to becoming better than Singapore and many other nations. They brought to Gambians suffering – reduced us to beggars with economic hardship – arbitrary arrests and detentions and rights violations,” Jallow said.

(Reporting from Banjul; Additional writing and contribution by Sam Phatey; Additional sourcing from Carlene J. Edie, JA Wiseman, Cook & Hughes, Professor Sulayman Nyang, Zaya Yeebo, Mcpherson & Radelet; Editing and additional research by Babou Jobe)

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