Country Report of The Gambia

Economist Intelligence Unit, 1st quarter 1998

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 16th 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 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
President & minister for defenceYahyah Jammeh
Vice-president & minister for health, social welfare & women's affairsIsatou Njie Saidy
Key ministers
AgricultureMusa Mbenga
Civil serviceMustapha Wadda
Culture & tourismSusan Waffa-Ogoo
EducationSatang Jow
External affairsLamine Sedat Jobe
Finance & economic affairsDominic Mendy
InteriorMomodou Bojang
Justice & attorney-generalHawa Sisay Sabally
Local government & landsYankuba Touray
Presidential affairs, national assembly, civil service, fisheries & natural resourcesEdward Singhateh
Public works, communications & informationEbrihima Ceesay
Trade, industry & employmentFamara Jatta
Youth, sports & religious affairsLamin Kaba Bajo
Central Bank governorClarke Bajo

Economic structure

Latest available figures
Economic indicators19931994199519961997a
GDP at market pricesb (D m)3,2293,4113,4393,7253,922
Real GDP growthb (%)1.81.3-
Consumer price inflation (%)
Population ('000)1,0261,0801,1201,211'1,309c
Exports fobb ($ m)157.0125.0123.0118.8111.3
Imports fobb ($ m)214.5181.6162.5217.1185.3
Current accountb ($ m)-5.38.2-8.2-47.7-28.8
Reserves excl gold ($m)102.2d98.0106.2102.199.4e
Total external debt ($ m)425.4421.3425.6n/an/a
External debt-service ratio (%)11.714.414.0n/an/a
Groundnut productionb ('000 tonnes)67.065.479.778.868.1
Charter touristsb ('000)63.990.042.972.175.9
Exchange rate (av; D:$)9.139.589.559.7810.2

Feburary 27th 1998 D10.12:$1

Origins of gross domestic product 1997 ab% of totalComponents of gross domestic product 1997ab % of total
Agriculture23Private consumption77
Industry13Government consumption17
Services64Gross domestic investment20
GDP at factor cost100Exports of goods & services46
  Imports of goods & services-60
  GDP at market prices100

Principal exports 1993b$ mPrincipal Imports 1993b$ m
Fish & fish preparations2.7Food77.5
Groundnuts (shelled)1.5Machinery & transport equipment61.7
  Minerals & fuel15.7

Main destinations of exports 1996f% of totalMain origins of Imports 1996f% of total
Senegal10.8Cote d'lvoire13.9
Hong Kong9.2Hong Kong9.8

a IMF estimates
b Fiscal year ending June 30th
c EIU estimate
d End-September
e June actual
f Derived from partners' trade returns, subject to a wide margin of error.

Outlook for 1998-99

A more confident leader begins to seek an international role--In the three and a half years since, at the age of 29, he led a coup against the previous government, eventually legitimising his position by changing the constitution and winning a presidential election, Colonel Yahyah Jammeh has weathered a barrage of international criticism and some internal resistance. The country is now peaceful, tourists are resuming in numbers to the holiday beaches, and the latest flickerings of opposition within the army have been damped down firmly. The regime has gained momentous international recognition, with The Gambia taking its seat as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for a two-year term. President Jammeh is beginning to look secure and is manifestly enjoying his growing international role. He is the current chairman of an important subregional organisation, the Inter-state Committee on Drought in the Sahel, and has recently enhanced relations with countries such as Libya, Iran, Cuba, Nigeria and Egypt. He has offered to mediate between the government of Senegal and the rebels of the Mouvement des forces democratiques de Casamance (MFDC), who took arms in 1982 to fight for the independence of the Senegalese southern region of Casamance. The Senegalese authorities have welcomed the Gambian president's offer of mediation and it looks like he may pull off a success which will win him kudos with The Gambia's all-important neighbour.
--as aid funds start to flow again--Pending serious progress with the IMF towards an enhanced structural adjustment facility (ESAF), which is what The Gambia's economy really needs, other major institutional donors are coming forward with substantial development packages. They are led by the African Development Bank (ADB), which is reported to be about to make further funding of some $13m available, in addition to the $14m in aid already agreed in late 1997. The new money will be in loans for health services and poverty-reduction measures, and will include a SSm package to help the Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs implement a structural adjustment programme. The ADB is also to put some $ 1.3m into a feasibility study for a coastal protection project. Together with the hospitals and schools building programmes, and a major road-building scheme announced in recent months, these projects will have a major impact on the government's ability to create modem sector jobs in the coming year and beyond, provided other donors and institutional lenders now come forward.
--helping recovery in key sectors--Thanks to the more peaceful state of the country now, tourism, formerly the most important single source of foreign exchange, has been enjoying a good season (November-May) and is gradually returning to pre-coup levels of activity. The government estimates a 5% real growth in the service and infrastructure sectors in fiscal year 1997/98 (July-June), partly thanks to improved tourism prospects, partly also because of the government's determination to press ahead with its roads, port, and airport development projects.
--but the economy remains highly vulnerableGiven the return to healthier levels of international aid, and the prospect of a more relaxed relationship with Senegal, enabling the re-export traffic to return to normal levels, the government's current, fairly modest, GDP growth target of 3,2% should be attainable in 1998. But the economy remains vulnerable.

Any return to instability, in the form of trouble in the armed forces, or social discontent could upset the improving picture in the tourist industry, and also discourage donors. The main weakness, aside from a substantial financing gap which is expected to mark the 1998/99 budget, is in the agricultural sector. As in other countries in this part of the Sahel zone, patchy rains, have left agriculture in a weak position, with poor cereal and groundnut harvests, for the third year running in the case of groundouts. Sir Dawda Jawara's government, ousted in 1994, sought for years to persuade farmers to diversify into growing cash crops of flowers, fruit and vegetables for the European markets, but with little real success. Colonel Jammeh's government has yet to address the backwardness of agriculture by launching an extensive set of reforms and incentives, as planned in its long-term development policy document Vision 2020.


The political scene
The Gambian president offers to mediate in the Casamance conflict--In a New Year's speech the president, Colonel Yahyah Jammeh, offered to mediate between the authorities in neighbouring Senegal and rebels in that country's province of Casamance. The rebels of the Mouvement des forces democratiques de Casamance (MFDC) have been fighting for Casamance's independence for 15 years. The ongoing peace negotiations between the Senegalese authorities and the different factions of the MFDC reached a new stalemate in mid-1997, when armed clashes flared up after 18 months of relative calm. Several hundred people are reported to have died since the resumption of the hostilities. Colonel Jammeh described the rebellion as a threat to the security of West Africa and to the subregion's socio-economic development and called on other leaders to join him in a mediation effort.
--which Senegalese authorities appear to welcome--The Senegalese ambassador to The Gambia, Madieng Khary Dieng, said on January 2nd that the initiative stood a good chance of success. The Gambian leader is from the Diola tribe, a minority community in The Gambia, but from which most Casamance rebels are drawn. The conflict has hitherto been treated by African governments as an internal Senegalese matter. Nonetheless, in early December the US State Department expressed concern about intensification of the fighting, calling for immediate peace talks, after the Senegalese army launched a new offensive against the rebels. In a separate move, the government of Guinea-Bissau began to crack down on MFDC rebel activities on its side of the border in January.
--as refugees seek safety in Gambian villagesThe Gambia, which borders the Casamance region, is now shouldering the burden of war refugees. Several hundred Casamancais civilians were reported to have sought refuge in villages across the border during the final weeks of 1997. According to the Banjul newspaper, the Daily Observer, MFDC rebels, who escaped from a battle in northern Casamance in early January, were among the refugees. Survivors said that their villages had been overrun by rival MFDC factions. One group said that their village headman had been tortured to death by rebels. They hoped to be allowed to remain in The Gambia.
The president appeals for a new era of partnership--President Jammeh met the heads of diplomatic missions in The Gambia's capital, Banjul, on January 8th, appealing for Ha new era of genuine partnership and co-operation". He drew their attention to the government's long-term development policy document, Vision 2020, which was adopted in early 1997 (1st quarter 1997, page 28) and aims at eradicating poverty, hunger, disease, ignorance and insecurity. Calling on the country's international partners to help achieve these objectives, he promised, in return, that The Gambia would honour its obligations to countries and international organisations.
--and invites his ousted predecessor to return--In a similarly conciliatory vein, the president called on all Gambians in exile to return home and to join in the task of nation-building. He extended the invitation to the former president, Sir Dawda Jawara, whom he overthrew in 1994. Sir Dawda now lives in the UK. Colonel Jammeh was quoted as saying "Jawara can return as a private citizen, but I cannot guarantee his security in the country". The former president has repeatedly condemned Colonel Jammeh's coup, and political observers considered it highly unlikely that he would take up the offer.
--while sacking the minister of foreign affairsOn January 19th Colonel Jammeh appointed Lamine Sedat Jobe, a Gambian official with the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), as minister of external affairs, replacing Omar Njie. Mr Njie had been in the cabinet since March 1997, when Colonel Jammeh announced the composition of the current government—the first one to be formed under The Gambia's new democratic constitution adopted by referendum on August 7th 1996. No reason was given for the move.
Officials deny that Mobutu's gold is in Gambian vaults--In November, a report on the German television channel, Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen (ZDF), alleged that The Gambia was holding $90m worth of gold belonging to the late Mobutu Sese Seko, the president of the former Zaire (now renamed the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC) who was overthrown by Laurent Kabila in May 1997. According to the report, 6 tonnes of Mobutu's gold were hidden in containers in different locations in The Gambia. A government statement, issued jointly with the Central Bank of The Gambia on November 13th, rejected the ZDF allegations, saying that they were "without foundation"" and that there was no proof of the gold's presence in the country. The government requested anyone who knew anything of its whereabouts to contact the authorities. According to the German station, Mobutu's son, Kongolo Mobutu, had been in charge of shipping consignments of gold to The Gambia since 1994, and that it was held there, to be shipped out in monthly consignments of 80-100 kg, via German and Swiss intermediaries.
--but the Congolese authorities launch an investigationThe Congolese authorities were, however, swift to react. In an interview given on the French radio, Radio France Internationale, on November 14th, the Congolese justice minister, Celestin Luangi, said that the DRC government was planning to contact the relevant authorities in The Gambia to try to locate the gold and those holding it, before initiating proceedings for its seizure and retrieval. The French news agency, Agence France Presse, quoted the Congolese justice minister as saying that the Gambian authorities were to be asked to extradite anyone involved in the alleged shipments. The Mobutu family, living in exile in Rabat, Morocco, where the late ruler died in September 1997, claim to know nothing of the alleged deposits in The Gambia.
A national security commission is establishedA national security commission was formally established on January 6th. Its main task will be to stamp out The Gambia's illicit arms traffic. The 15-member commission is headed by a woman, Isatou Njie Saidy, and includes the interior minister, Momodou Bojang, and the armed forces chief of staff, Bubacar Jatta, as well as the director of the national security agency and the chief of police. The commission will also run a national information campaign aimed at encouraging Gambians to respect the law.
A Ghanaian journalist is deported--It was reported on November 2nd that a Ghanaian journalist, Muhamed Ellicot Seade, editor of The Daily Observer, a popular Gambian newspaper, had been deported. No reason was given. Mr Seade, who had been working in the country for two years, was the fifth journalist on the paper to be expelled in recent months. Kenneth Best, the Sierra Leonean owner of the newspaper, had already been deported. Two journalists on the paper were arrested for suspected anti-government activities early in 1996 (2nd quarter 1996, page 22).
--and a popular local radio is closed down--A popular privately owned local radio station, Citizen FM, was reported on February 10th to have gone off the air, five days after security men arrested its proprietor, Baboucar Gaye, and the station's news editor, Ebrima Sillah. According to a Toronto-based non-governmental organisation, the Intemational Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX), the two were arrested after Citizen FM alleged that the National Intelligence Agency's director of operations had been sacked in connection with a counterfeiting scandal. In an official statement, the Gambian government claimed that the closure of Citizen FM was partly because of its owners' failure to pay licence fees. In January this year the government decided to raise the licence fee for private radio broadcasters from D12,000 ($1,200) to D25,000, thus threatening the commercial viability of private radios in The Gambia.
--prompting a complaint from Article 19The London-based human rights organisation Article 19 issued a report on February 20th, strongly citicising the government's record on human rights and press freedom, and attacking the closure of Citizen FM. The move "raises further questions about the Gambian government's commitment to encouraging media pluralism", the organisation said. It accused the government of restricting, harassing and torturing opposition activists, and of forcing some foreign journalists to flee the country. Article 19 also criticised the Commonwealth for failing to do more to ensure that human rights were upheld in The Gambia.
A media agreement is signed with IranIn late November the public works, communications and information minister, Ebrihima Ceesay, signed a co-operation agreement in Tehran with the Iranian broadcasting company, the Voice and Vision of the Islamic Republic of Iran (WIRI). Gambian technicians will be sent to Iran to undertake training in communications, while Iranian technicians will come to The Gambia to train local radio and television staff. The two countries will also exchange programmes and news.
Colonel Jammeh wants the OAU African human rights charter updated--The president called for a revision of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) charter of human rights when he addressed the annual meeting of its African Commission on Human Rights, held in The Gambia's capital, Banjul, on November 3rd. The commission, which has its headquarters in Banjul, was formed in 1987. The president said that it was time to look again at the provision of the charter which gave the final say on allegations of human rights violations to the heads of state. Also on the agenda was Burundi's request for a hearing, contending that the sanctions imposed on Burundi by neighbouring states since Pierre Buyoya's coup in July 1996 were illegal.
--and The Gambia takes its seat on the UN Security CouncilThe Gambia became a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council on January 2nd. Of the 10 non-permanent members of the 15-member council, 5 are appointed each year for a two-year term. The Gambia has never had a council seat before. The US ambassador to the UN, Bill Richardson, who paid a visit to President Jammeh in Banjul in early February, announced that The Gambia had given its backing, as a Council member, to Washington's threat of military action against Iraq. Mr Richardson was quoted as saying that the Gambian leader shared the US view that the actions of the Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein, in denying access to UN weapons inspectors were illegal Hand that all options, including military strikes, were on the table".
The president pays his first official visit to ParisAt the end of February President Jammeh paid his first official visit to France, where he met the French president, Jacques Chirac, and the foreign affairs minister, Hubert Vedrine. A technical, cultural and scientific agreement was signed, with a view to re-inforcing co-operation between the two countries.
The economy
Cereal production falls far short of expectationsIn common with Niger, Senegal, Cape Verde, and Mauritania, The Gambia suffered a serious cereal crop shortfall in 1997, which could cause some hardship in the coming months. An emergency meeting of the Comite inter-etats de lutte contre la secheresse au Sahel (CILSS), held in Paris on November 27th and 28th, announced that the nine Sahel member countries had a combined deficit of 700,000 tonnes last season. Uneven rainfall was the main problem. The Gambia's total production of 85,000 tonnes of rice and other cereals was the lowest for many years, and preliminary forecasts for 1998 indicate poor harvests in its western areas this year.

The Gambia: cereal production
('000 tonnes)
a Official estimate.

Sources: UN Food and Agriculture Organisation; CILSS.

Sesame growers are smilingThe official producer price of sesame seed was raised from $350 to $450 per tonne with effect from January. The Gambia produced 800 tonnes of sesame seed in 1997, according to the Paris journal Marches Tropicaux et Mediterraneens. The Gambia's farmers have been slow to respond to repeated government calls over recent years to diversify out of groundnut growing into alternative small-scale cash crops, but the higher price on offer for sesame seed should serve as a stimulus.
Led by ADB loans, development funds are again flowing strongly--Although the government is still worried about a financing gap for 1998 (4th quarter 1997, page 27), The Gambia has again been enjoying a relatively strong inflow of multilateral aid money in recent months, following a calming of the general political situation and improved relations with donors. The Abidjan-based African Development Bank (ADB) approved a $9.5m loan to The Gambia on December 11th for the development of health services. Bank officials said that the funds were to be used for a project to improve access to primary and secondary health care and increasing the supply of equipment for support services. The project also includes training of health personnel and the formation of medical teams. The bank announced a further loan on December 12th of $4.4m to finance a poverty reduction programme. Since it began in 1974, total ADB funding for projects and programmes in The Gambia has reached $206.2m.
--while the OPEC Fund contributes to education--The Vienna-based OPEC Fund for Intemational Development signed a $1.5m loan agreement with the government on November 4th to help construct two new middle schools near Banjul. An OPEC press release said that the project is part of the government's efforts to accommodate 30,000 students by 2003. Of an estimated 43 new schools needed under the current programme, 26 have either been completed or are under construction, according to the OPEC Fund.
--and finance for new hospitals comes from the Islamic BankA $6m credit from the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) was announced on November 5th to finance the construction of two hospitals. The credit is also intended for the purchase of medical equipment. It is repayable over 30 years, with a ten-year grace period, and brings total IDB lending to The Gambia to $43m. The IDB lends to member states of the Islamic Conference Organisation.
Trust Bank takes over Meridien BIAOThe Trust Bank of The Gambia, in which the government is majority shareholder, is reported to have taken over a state-owned bank, the Meridien Bank, formerly the Gambian branch of the collapsed Banque Internationale pour l'Afrique Occidentale. The transfer of ownership was formally completed in October 1997, and it is understood that, under a general reorganisation being carried out by the Central Bank of the Gambia, Trust Bank will eventually be privatised.

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