President Adama Barrow said it was difficult in his first year in office to make an economic u-turn to uplift The Gambia from the near-state of insolvency that Jammeh left the country in.
He credited himself for making some progress: Foreign exchange reserves have increased more than five-fold, tourism took a hike, fiscal discipline reinstated, domestic borrowing curtailed and investor confidence is at an all-time high in decades.
“It was a very difficult year, but we have made progress. The first target we had when we came to power was to stabilize the economy and boost the reserves,” said Mr. Barrow. “We had found less than one-month import cover, and now we have over four months [worth of] import cover.”
IMF has praised Barrow’s government for stabilizing the economy but unemployment and the prices of goods and services remain high. The steady decline in Gambian migrating perilously Europe took a nosedive in the first year of Barrow’s rule but experts are afraid this may be reversed again.
Gambia’s economy is projected to grow at least three percent, greater than the 2.8 percent estimated for the West African sub-region. The country’s Finance Minister has been on a campaign to have its unserviceable international debt restructured.
“Our progress has been praised in the area of the economy. Traffic at the Gambia Ports Authority has increased significantly, meaning people and goods are coming into the Gambia. The government’s revenue has increased,” said President Barrow.
“The tourism sector has done very well this year. We used to have between 100,000 to 150,000 tourists in the country. This year, we are expecting over 200,000 tourists. And from here, we are [shifting] to an all-year-round tourism season instead of six months.”
The Gambia under its former leader, Yahya Jammeh was economically and diplomatically isolated. But Mr. Barrow says the nation with a population of fewer than two million people is open for business.
His administration has reduced the corporate tax to 30 percent, lower than most countries in Africa to attract investors. They are on the verge of passing a new policy that requires foreign businesses to have Gambian partners.
The average Gambian earns just under D1,500 a month [US$33 dollars] and a bag of the country’s staple food, rice cost more than two-thirds of this. It leaves many households unable to meet the other basic needs and high indebted.
As Barrow struggles with the tally the cost of living with some of his progress, experts say it takes time to turn the economic ship around and that they [the government] need to tell the people what they are doing and be more transparent, a step towards eradicating corruption and poverty.
(Reporting and Writing by Sam Phatey; Additional Writing by Mustapha Darboe; Additional Reporting from Anadolu Agency; Editing by Assan Sallah)