Country Report of The Gambia

Economist Intelligence Unit, 2nd quarter 1997

Political structure

Official nameThe Republic of The Gambia
Form of stateUnitary republic
Legal systemBased on English common law and the 1996 constitution
National legislatureHouse of Assembly: installed on January 16 1997 following its suspension after the military coup of July 1994; 49 members, 45 elected by universal suffrage, four nominated by the president; all serve a five-year term
National electionsSeptember 1996 (presidential), January 1997 (legislative); next elections due in September 2001 (presidential) and January 2002 (legislative)
Head of statePresident, elected by universal suffrage for a five-year term
National governmentThe president and cabinet
Main political partiesThe ban on political activity was lifted in August 1996, but three pre-coup parties (the People's Progressive Party, the Gambia People's Party and the National Convention Party) remain proscribed. The ruling party is the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC); the United Democratic Party (UDP) and the National Reconciliation party (NRP) are the main opposition parties
The governmentFollowing the January 16 inauguration of House of Assembly delegates, the new cabinet has yet to be announced. Last major re-shuffle July 28,1996

PresidentColonel Yahyah Jammeh

Key ministers
AgricultureMusa Mbenga
Civil serviceMustapha Wadda
Culture & tourismSusan Waffa-Ogoo
DefenceCaptain Edward Singhateh
EducationSatang Jow
External affairsBaboucar Blaise Jagne
Finance & economic affairsBala Garba Jahumpa
Health, social welfare & women's affairsIsatou Njie Saidy
InteriorCaptain Lamin Bajo
Justice & attorney generalHawa Sisay Sabally
Local government & landsCaptain yankuba Touray
Public works, communications & informationEbrihima Ceesay
Trade, industry & employmentDominic Mendy
Youth & sportsAminatta Faal-Sonko
Central Bank governorClarke Bajo

Economic structure

Latest available figures
Economic indicators19921993199419951996a
GDP at market pricesb D m2,9482,5192,886n/an/a
Real GDP growthb % c3.2c
Consumer price inflation % .0cd
Populationc '0009861,0261,0801,1201,161
Exports fobb $ m147.0157.0125.0123.0130.0
Imports fobb $ m177.8214.5181.6162.5168.0
Current accountb $ m37.2-5.38.2-8.2n/a
Reserves excl gold $ m94.0lO2.2 f98.0106.2l04.3f
Total external debt $ m403424419n/an/a
External debt-service ratio %1 3.01 3.719.0n/an/a
Groundnut productiong '000 tons84.254.976.780.890.0
Charter touristsb '00065.863.990.043.368.0c
Exchange rate (av) D:$8.899.139.589.559.75f
February 10, 1997 D9.889:$1

Origins of gross domestic product 1994b% of total
GDP at factor cost100

Components of gross domestic product 1994b% of total
Private consumption74
Government consumption18
Gross domestic investment20
Exports of goods & services53
Imports of goods & services-65
GDP at market prices100

Principal exports 1993b$ m
Fish & fish preparations2.7
Groundnuts (shelled)1.5

Principal imports 1993b$ m
Machinery & transport equipment61.7
Minerals & fuel15.7

Main destinations of exports 1995h% of total
Hong Kong9.2

Main origins of Imports 1995h% of total
Cote d'Ivoire13.9
Hong Kong9.8

a EIU estimates.
b Fiscal year ending June 30.
c Official estimate.
d Over the year to October.
e Based on 1993 census.
f End-September actual.
g Crop years ending in calendar years.
h Derived from partners' trade returns, subject to a wide margin of error.

Outlook for 1997-98

The president appears secure-Following a decisive victory for his party at the legislative polls in early January, which capped his own clear 55% win in the presidential election last September, the president, Colonel Yahyah Jammeh, can look forward to a five-year term, secure in the knowledge that his party has a large enough parliamentary majority to enable him to push through whatever reforms he has in mind. There have been few detailed policy statements, however. The colonel and his party made some sweeping promises during the electoral period from which a general sense of his mission may be guessed at. Despite various allegations of strong-arm behaviour, notably in the way in which virtually all former politicians were banned from standing by one subterfuge or another, the elections themselves seem to have been conducted fairly. Most foreign partners seem resigned to accepting the status quo. Old enemies, jailed under one pretext or another until after the presidential election, have been given amnesty and set free, presumably because they are thought to pose no further threat. The handful of armed mercenaries captured after they recently entered the country intending to launch a destabilisation campaign can expect short shrift.

-and resolved to continue his reforms-The new government is not likely to deviate from its current policy objectives. When the colonel and his group of young officers seized power in July 1994 their proclaimed intention was to clean up society, ridding The Gambia of sex tourism, the administrative corruption for which it had become a byword and a political class which was considered to have enriched itself at the people's expense. Much was made of the shortage of hospitals, decent schools, and the public amenities which the previous easy-going regime had failed to provide given the healthy state of the country's finances in the early 1990s. Since July 1994 corrupt officials have been forced out of office and made to repay ill-gotten monies; the wealthy have been made to give up their opulent second homes; and pimps and gigolos have been chased from the tourist hotels. At the same time, new schools and a hospital have been built, and work has progressed rapidly on Yundum airport and various port and road schemes. Much has been made of the fact that Mr. Jammeh, a devout Muslim, is an avowed admirer of the Libyan leader, Colonel Muammar Qadhafi, with whom he recently spent five days, and comparisons between the two countries' economic programmes seem likely to continue.

-although doubts remainDespite his public image of a patriotic leader bent on building a just, fair and democratic society, Mr. Jammeh has shown that he can be ruthless. Trouble from soldiers has been firmly put down, with blood being shed behind barrack walls on several occasions since July 1994. More recently allegations of corruption have been made by the foreign press and the opposition.

The government outlines its economic policies-The government's long-term economic plans have been broadly outlined in a policy document titled "Vision 2020". The general tenets of the market-friendly programme include: increased deregulation and competition (including the proposed introduction of a stock exchange and the establishment of and export processing zone, EPZ), macroeconomic stability, private-sector-led growth and institutional development. On the external front the government has announced its commitment to the "implementation of agreements signed with the International Financial Institutions" as well as to maintaining the stability of the currency.

The call for a shake-up of the agricultural sector, in which at least three-quarters of the Gambian labour force is engaged, but which returns a mere 23% of GDP, appears reminiscent of the largely rhetorical policy statements of the previous regime, which regularly urged diversification of agriculture away from the growing and smuggling of groundnuts, to little avail. The target for industry which at present accounts for about 12% of GDP, is 25-30% of GDP by the year 2020. The government has outlined its commitment to privatisation throughout the productive sectors, and to encouraging foreign investment as a means of financing infrastructure and human resources development. Special attention is to be given to encouraging the growth of financial services.

-while political stability will boost tourism recoveryAnecdotal evidence, pending new official figures, suggests that tourism (which contributed a substantial portion of The Gambia's pre-coup economy) has enjoyed a modest recovery during the current high season, with increasing numbers of west European sun-seekers taking mid-winter package holidays along The Gambia's beaches. UK visitors, who accounted for upwards of 55% of all foreign tourists before the July 1994 coup, have been slower to return to normal. However, the EIU's expectation of tourist numbers returning to 80,000-90,000 during the 1996/97 season still seems realistic. On this basis, and with expectations of a return to normal levels of international development aid and budgetary support following the donors' approval of the elections, the government's estimate of GDP growth of 3.2% seems realistic for the 12 months to end-June 1997 with a further increase likely the following year as domestic demand and capacity utilisation begin to recover.

Click on graph for larger image


The political scene

Legislative elections are scheduled-Once Colonel Yahyah Jammeh was securely installed as president following his decisive win in the September 26 election the country's return to a fully democratic system was scheduled for completion on January 2, with elections to the 49-seat House of Assembly (parliament), 30 months after the colonel, then a lieutenant, had seized power. Four of the parliamentary seats are allocated by the president himself while the remainder are subject to election. The line-up of candidates, announced on December 9 by the Independent National Electoral Commission, comprised 45 members of Mr. Jammeh's party, the Alliance for Patriotic, Reorientation and Construction (APRC), 34 contestants from Ousainou Darbo's United Democratic Party (UD P), 17 from the People's Democratic Organisation for Independence and Socialism (PDOIS) of Sidia Jatta, and five representing the National Reconciliation Party, led by Hamat Bah. Six independents also stood. In five constituencies, APRC candidates were unopposed. Mr. Darbo, who had won 35% of the votes against Mr. Jammeh's 55% in the presidential poll, had demanded, as a condition of the UDP's participation, the liberation of all political detainees, the revocation of sweeping powers conferred to the president over the security forces and a guarantee that the army and security services would not interfere in the electoral process. The UDP announced on November 28 that it would take part, although it was by no means clear whether all the conditions had been met (although by this time at least some of the political prisoners had been freed under a presidential amnesty).

-in which the president's party has clear advantages-Mr. Darbo's party campaigned with promises of genuine democracy, good governance, and a respect for human rights. It promised to rebuild good relations with Senegal, the omnipresent francophone neighbour, to develop the private sector, promoting investment in the economy, and to create a workable national agricultural policy. For its part, the APRC pledged to consolidate what had been achieved under military rule and to undertake major new projects such as the proposed east-west highway (to be built with aid from Taiwan) and pointed to successes achieved during military rule (4th quarter 1996, pages 27-28). The party also made much of an agricultural development programme aimed at encouraging young Gambians back to the land. Not only was the APRC able to put up candidates in every constituency, it also had the support of traditional chiefs and village leaders as well as seven district governors, all of them army officers, and a strong groundswell of support among young Gambians.

-in a mostly dull campaign-Two days before an otherwise incident-free election 21 UDP supporters were arrested by security forces and held, following a reported fracas with APRC activists at Brikama, west of Banjul. APRC officials went to the police, complaining that UDP supporters had beaten them up and stoned an election campaigner's car, reports said. However, the majority of voters appeared to have had enough of elections, having already voted in a referendum and a presidential poll in recent months, and seemed more preoccupied with the important business of preparing to celebrate New Year's Eve. Security forces stayed mainly out of sight during the campaigns, over New Year, and on election day itself, and no incidents of any significance marred the period.

-which the APRC easily winsThe final results, announced on January 3, showed that as expected, Mr. Jammeh's APRC had gained a decisive victory, with more than the two-thirds majority it required to amend the constitution. The electoral commission reported a higher than expected turnout, at 73.2% of voters (307,856 of the 420,507 registered electorate), compared with the 88.35% participation rate in the presidential poll.

The Gambia: legislative election results

No of seats
Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation & Construction (APRC) (elected)33
APRC (presidential nominations)4
United Democratic Party (UDP)7
National Reconciliation Party (NRP)2
People's Democratic Organisation for Independence & Socialism (PDOIS)1
Source: National press.

The new parliament is installedThe new parliament was formally inaugurated on January 16. The deputies were sworn in by the chief justice, Omar Aghali, who declared that a new constitution, approved by referendum and adopted by parliament as its first act, had come into force. The former secretary to the presidency, Mustapha Wadda, was elected as speaker. He was one of four unelected members nominated by the president. A second nominated member, Cecilia Cole, was elected as deputy speaker, the first woman to hold such a post in The Gambia.

Mr. Jammeh frees political detaineesThe president announced in early November, to a group of religious leaders (imams) who called to offer congratulations on his victory in the presidential election five weeks earlier, that he would free political detainees. A total of 11 detained army and police officers had been freed earlier the same week, including Colonel Mamat Cham, who had served as interior minister in the first days of the 1994 coup. A subsequent official announcement said that 41 political prisoners were being freed, in the interests of leading The Gambia to an era of "forgiveness, reconciliation and unity". Several of those released had been detained since the coup, including several ministers of the former government of Sir Dawda Jawara, among them the former agriculture minister, Omar Amadou Jallow; a former police chief, Pa Sallah Jagne, said to have been close to Sir Dawda; and the former head of the secret service, Kabba Cessay. All charges against the detainees were dropped. A number of Mr. Darbo's supporters, detained during the presidential election campaign, were also given am-nesty. However, it remained unclear whether any other political prisoners were to stay in detention.

Land ministry officials are penalisedFour senior officials of the local government and lands ministry were reported in early December to have been ordered to repay money (with accumulated interest) said to have been acquired through the sale of illegally appropriated land plots, dating back to 1992. A report in the newspaper, Gambia Daily, said the chairman of the lands commission investigating corruption allegations, Justice Robbin-Coker, spoke of a "greedy and most audacious system of land-grabbing which permeated the ministry". The report is consistent with the military government's allegations of widespread corruption under the former regime.

Mysterious mercenaries attack an army camp-Six Gambian soldiers died and five others were wounded on November 8 when a group of eight commandos, later identified as Gambian mercenaries, opened fire on an army camp at Farafeni in the east, near the Senegalese border. Two of the attackers were reported to be wounded of whom one was captured while the other managed to reach a Senegalese border post. During the attack, the mercenaries succeeded in seizing the camp armoury and taking the commandant and two soldiers hostage, but fled when troop reinforcements arrived, abandoning a stolen truck which they had loaded with army weapons. Accord-ing to the French news agency, Agence France-presse (AFP), the mercenaries' aim had been to free the former vice-president, Sana Sabally, who was being held in connection with an attempt to overthrow Mr. Jammeh in January 1995, and to destabilise the regime.

-as a connection with 1981 coup leader emerges-The camp commandant, Captain Biram Saine, identified the attackers in a television report as followers of a Gambian disciple of Muammar Qadhafi of Libya, Kukoi Samba Sanyang. Mr. Sanyang fled the country after a failed at-tempt to overthrow Sir Dawda in 1981. Scores of people died in the coup attempt which was suppressed by Senegalese troops. In exile, Mr. Sanyang remained a thorn in Sir Dawda's side and his name has recurred subsequently in reports of subversion in various countries of west Africa, most recently in Liberia where he was said to be a close associate of the leader of the dominant rebel faction in that country's protracted civil war, Charles Taylor. The captured mercenary, named as Yaya Drameh, was paraded before the press on November 12, when it was disclosed that he had been one of 40 Gambians trained in Libya to fight in Liberia between 1990 and 1994 under the command of Mr. Taylor and Mr. Sanyang. According to Mr. Drameh, the mercenaries' aim had been to seize the Farafeni camp and use it as a base from which to destabi-lise The Gambia, while recruiting young mercenaries.

-and Senegal is implicatedThe Gambian authorities are reported to have asked Senegal to return the fugitives who had crossed their border. According to Mr. Drameh, he and his companions had gone to Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire, in March 1996 on Mr. Sanyang's orders, moving on to Senegal after taking the train to Bamako, Mali. Mr. Drameh said that Mr. Sanyang was at present in Dakar, the Senegalese capital, and was receiving financial support from the Senegalese authorities. Mr. Sanyang was later reported to have left Senegal and gone to Guinea-Bissau. Later in November, it was reported that two other mercenaries had been arrested, although it was not clear whether in Senegal or in The Gambia, and were being interrogated by Gambian security forces. They were named as John Dampha and Essa Baldeh. A third, the wounded escapee, was reported to be in hospital at Kaolack in Senegal, but was subsequently extradited, following a visit to Dakar by the local government and lands minister, Captain Yancuba Touray, who conveyed a message from Mr. Jammeh to the president of Senegal, Abdou Diouf.

Mr. Jammeh visits Tripoli-The president spent five days in Libya at the end of November and appears to have had a meeting of minds with Qadhafi. A communique called on fellow Organisation of African Unity (OAU) member states to work together for African solutions to African economic problems and to reinforce intra-African cooperation. They also expressed concern over attempts by foreign powers to interfere in the continent's affairs, calling on fellow African countries to resist such moves. In a statement to the Libyan news agency Jana, Mr. Jammeh said that he had been inspired by the Libyan leader since his youth and had been impatient to meet him. Discussions on future ties emphasised the need for closer cooperation in political, economic, scientific, technical and cultural matters, and for the encouragement of investment in tourism, hotels, agriculture and food manufacture, Libyan radio reported. The two sides called for the establishment of a joint holding company covering agriculture, hotels, and industry. They also agreed to revive a cultural agreement dating from 1974 and to consider a fresh agreement.

-and supports Libya over sanctionsBefore leaving Tripoli, Mr. Jammeh issued a statement calling for an immediate end to "the unjust sanctions imposed on the Libyan people on the lines of the ad hoc resolutions taken by the OAU, the Non-Aligned Movement, the Islamic Conference Organisation, and the Arab League". The Gambian leader stressed that the imposition of sanctions was not the correct way to settle international problems.

The economy

The inflation rate falls rapidlyDespite the imposition of sanctions after the military coup in 1994, which led to a broad-based contraction of the economy, the government's reforms have already achieved a high degree of macroeconomic stability. Although economic activity remains depressed and below pre-coup levels, since the start of the reforms the Dalasi has remained stable (after an initial fall) against the major international currencies and official statistics show that over the year the inflation rate fell to around 1% by October 1996, having risen to 13.2% in August 1995. The average, year-on-year inflation rate to October 1996 was about 1.7%.

The Gambia: consumer price index, 1996a
CPI (1974=100)1,396.71,394.31,404.21,365.61,371.21,383.51,408.31,418.41,415.71,418.6
% change, year on year3.512.873.180.04-
a Index for low-income households in Banjul and Kombo St Mary.
Source: Central Bank of The Gambia.

A major rice-growing scheme targets small farmers-A loan of $5.8m from the Abidjan-based African Development Fund (ADF), announced on November 21, will give a substantial boost to the government's small-scale agricultural development plans. It will aim to provide a livelihood for 20,000 rice-growing small holders, in a country where rice is the staple diet. .A statement from the African Development bank (ADB), which manages the Fund as its soft-loan affiliate, said that the project would be co-financed by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), which would provide 49.68% of the total cost. The aim was to ensure self-sufficiency for the small-holders and their families and if possible to enable them to market a small surplus. In theory, the scheme should make a substantial contribution towards the government's aim of food self-sufficiency, yielding an additional 12,500 tons of paddy rice annually. The official price of rice, the national staple, had risen by late 1996 to D200 ($22) per 50-kg bag, from D160 in early of 1994. The unofficial price was said to have climbed to D210 in some areas.

-in line with the government's plans for agricultureUnder the government's long-term economic strategy document, "Vision 2020", there have been calls for a reorientation of agriculture towards development of food security in tandem with production for export. Mr. Jammeh's government, like its predecessor, has repeatedly called for diversification and greater emphasis on achieving food self-sufficiency in a country where at least 70% of the labour force is engaged in agriculture, although the sector accounts for only 23% of GDP. Newspaper accounts of the "Vision 2020" document, which contains little in the way of practical policy detail, speak of it as advocating the need to increase agricultural output "to ensure food security and generate earnings of foreign exchange to finance other aspects of the development process", as well as to create employment, reduce urban-rural disparities, diversify production and create a sustainable mix between rainfed and irrigated agriculture, all of which were longstanding priorities under the previous government.

Medical workers benefit from Taiwan fundsThe foreign affairs minister of Taiwan, John Chang, visiting Banjul on January 22, announced a $411,500 grant to enable the government to pay the salaries of Cuban, Egyptian and Nigerian doctors and health workers, and to carry out refurbishment work at army barracks in the capital and inland. Mr. Chang met Mr. Jammeh during a brief visit, flying on to Guinea-Bissau. Since The Gambia alienated China, its longstanding ally, by restoring diplomatic relations with Taipei in 1995, aid from Taiwan has reputedly totaled around $40m by early 1997.

An Islamic bank opens in BanjulThe executive director of the Saudi Arabia-based Islamic Development Bank, Dr Ahmad All, has inaugurated the Arab Gambian Islamic Bank in Banjul. The bank commenced operations on January 7 and its aim is to encourage the economic development and social progress of Muslim communities in member countries (of which The Gambia is one) in accordance with the principles of the Islamic sharia (sacred law).

The government calls for road work prequalification bidsThe Ministry of Public Works, Communications and Information has invited contractors to submit prequalification statements for construction of the Kombo coastal roads, a project for which the government has approached the Kuwait Fund for International Development and other donors for loans. The project includes the upgrading to a bitumen standard of 80 km of gravel roads along the Atlantic coastline between Sukuta and Kartong; various road improvements in the Western Division; rehabilitation of the Serrekunda-Mandinaba road (28 km); and rehabilitation of a 24-km section of the Trans-Gambia Highway (24 km) southwards from Keur Ayib on the northern border with Senegal, terminating at Senoba on the Gambia-Casamance border. Consultants for the project are United Engineering and Technical Consultants (UNETEC) of Nicosia, Cyprus.

Plans for a university are announcedThe University of The Gambia is to open its doors to students from both francophone and anglophone countries in October this year, according to the chairman of the national commission on higher education which is responsible for the project, Momodou Lamin Sedat Jobe. The new institution will have close ties with universities in the UK and other Commonwealth coun-tries. The university is to make use of existing facilities within the education system, incorporating the teacher training college and other institutions. The government was understood to be planning a donor conference for May 1997.

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