A political standoff which erupted in Gambia, a small beautiful nation divided almost into two equal half by a river, began affecting its economy with business people experiencing a slowdown in sales.
A small strip of land divided almost into an equal half by its namesake river prides itself on being Africa’s “smiling coast” but that serenity and peace appeared to have been threatened.
Gambians went to polls on December 1 but the small West African country’s President YahyaJammeh who was declared loser said he has rejected the results in its “totality,” plunging the country into a crisis.
Despite Jammeh’s rejection of the results, President-elect Adama Barrow has informed journalists that his inauguration will hold on January 19 when Jammeh’s term expires and regional leaders have also vowed to use force should outgoing president refuse to step down.
Since the standoff began, days are unusually long in Banjul and fear and uncertainty on the streets, despite calm and prayers for peace, is apparent as the economy also slows down on an uncertain path.
Amadou Bah, 59, a Gambian national who has a shop at Gambia’s biggest market in Serrekunda, the country’s economic capital said they have “experienced a slowdown in sales.”
“… In my thirty years stay in the Kombo (urban Gambia) I have never seen a state fear that I am seeing today. People are taking their families to the rural areas and some Senegalese are going home,” Bah said.
Some foreign national from Guinea and Senegal have started leaving while some Gambians living in the urban area are sending their families to the rural area in anticipation of violence.
Lots of people are leaving for Guinea Conakry, Senegal, and other rural communities within the country, said a local official at one of the busiest commercial vehicle garages in Serrekunda
Gambia has never experienced war since her independence in 1965 though it witnessed a mutiny led by Kukoi Samba Sanyang in 1981 where hundreds of people have lost their lives.
Gambia, which exports peanuts and rosewood, is one of Africa’s slowest growing economies, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said.
The European Union gives the country a budget support but they recently blocked tens of millions of euros in aid due to concerns over human rights violations.
With a budget of little over GMD14 billion, the country also battles with overstaffed civil service with a wage bill of close to GMD3 billion.
Gambia’s economy relies heavily on agriculture and tourism which makes is very vulnerable to external shocks.
The country’s agriculture has been affected by erratic rainfall which is attributed to climate change and tourism which is a major foreign currency earner for the economy also slows in 2014 due to Ebola outbreak in the region though Gambia has not registered a single case.
The country also has a public debt at about 110% of its GDP, about US$1 billion.
According to government statistics, 48% of Gambians are living below a dollar per day with an unemployment rate of 30%.
Moreover, agriculture that employs a majority of rural Gambians has recently slumped from employing 71 to 31%, showing a decline of 40% in recent times.
More than 10,000 Gambians have arrived in Italy by sea last year, having crossed the Sahara and the Mediterranean, making them more likely than any other African nationals to take what is known locally as “the back way,” EU data shows.
Government critics say the youth unemployment rate in the country which is at 38% is responsible for increased migration to Europe.
(Reporting and Writing by Mustapha Darboe; Reporting from Torch Gambia; Editing by Sam Phatey)