The world usually pays more attention to other African nations – those with natural resources – more than five times the size of Gambia. But now, the country has become the center of attention.
Gambia’s former colonial master, Great Britain has distanced itself from the Gambia, to be specific, the regime of former autocratic ruler Yahya Jammeh.
Jammeh had an anti-Western position. Nations like the UK and organizations like the Commonwealth were pressuring Jammeh to turn towards democratic rule, end human rights abuses and tone down his Western rhetoric.
Jammeh was defeated in last year’s elections and new leader Adama Barrow turned the country into the path of democracy. Jammeh’s ouster saw an impasse that nearly plunged the small West African nation into a civil war.
While West African leaders take the lead with the threat of a military intervention for Jammeh to step aside, Gambia’s former colonial master was nowhere to be seen. France, Gambia’s neighbor, Senegal’s colonial ruler took the lead in backing ECOWAS leaders.
But soon after Jammeh was forced into exile, European nations rushed to Banjul. Tens of millions of dollars of foreign aid that were withheld were released without hesitation. International financial institutions also gave tens of millions to the Gambia.
Within days, the Barrow government saw more than $75 million in the nation’s coffers and in a few months, at least $120 million was pumped into the country.
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson became the first high-level English official to visit the Gambia in more than two decades. Johnson rushed to the Gambia to rebuild relations and for the UK to take up its lost position.
Jammeh withdrew the Gambia from the Commonwealth, labeling the organization a neo-colonial institution. He accused the British of exploiting The Gambia’s resources and living the country will less than a bare minimum.
Barrow informed Johnson that he will reverse Jammeh’s unilateral decision and return The Gambia to the Commonwealth. The Gambia will become just the fourth country to return to the Commonwealth after leaving it, following South Africa, Pakistan and Fiji.
With Barrow’s victory triggering reversals, Britain is taking greater interest in The Gambia as many other nations. To that extent, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair jetted to Banjul to meet with Mr. Barrow, a former UK resident.
Blair said the Gambia has gone through a very difficult time under former President Yahya Jammeh and it was time to help the country forge ahead. He and President Adama Barrow discussed British interest in energy, tourism, health and agriculture.
Just a six-hour flight from London, Gambia is the host of thousands of British tourist escaping the harsh winter. Tourism makes up at least 21 percent of the country’s GDP.
British philanthropist and doctors were volunteering in Gambia and the UK has one of its medical research institutes, the MRC in The Gambia.
After Jammeh came to power, he soured relations with the UK and frustrated a British agro-based company, Radville Farms, that was importing fruits and vegetables to shut down, causing more than 300 workers to be laid off.
But the UK has shown interest in training the Gambia’s security forces. During Jammeh’s reign, UK withdrew military training for Gambia’s army. With a new democratic government that is so far friendly to the West, UK and France have offered support.
Gambia is struggling to meet its energy needs. Blair’s visit happened amid bickerings between a group of young activists and authorities, who denied them a protest permit.
Blair said the UK would help the Gambia with its energy crisis. Gambia is trying to charm businesses into investing in the country. Both Johnson and Blair said they will help push foreign investment to the country.