Sunday, October 15, 2017

Gambians demand an open, transparent and accountable government

Sidi Sanneh 
To emerge successfully from over two decades of dictatorship was never expected to be an easy task.  We will measure success by the degree to which Gambians are free from fear of being persecuted for exercising one's inherent right to free speech and all other inherent rights to associate, to assemble and to a free press.

Although Gambians began enjoying these freedoms immediately after January 17th this year when the former dictator was forced into exile, it is too early to have it become embedded in the national psyche as earned freedoms.  We are presently on that long journey, estimated to be successfully concluded in a generation or two.

Skeptics are quick to dispute the estimated time frame required to reverse the effects of what Jammeh's Information Minister characterized as the "social re-engineering" experiment that affected all aspects of Gambian life.

Primary and secondary education have suffered under Jammeh, if test results of the West African Exams Council are good measure of the state of our education system.

Our economy, burdened by constant interference by Jammeh to favor himself and his business partners have resulted in a skewed foreign exchange regime and a distortion of the market that will last years before it corrects itself, assuming, of course, that interference will cease under the current government.   Corruption became rife and institutionalized under 22-year of dictatorship by a regime that seized power unconstitutionally on the pretext of  ending "rampant corruption" under the legal government of Sir Dawda Jawara.

The social and cultural environment under Jammeh placed high premium on militarism, the promotion of tribal identity and the  projection of physical power to emulate the power of the security apparatus that acted as deterrent to likely opposition to his power.  The influence it has on society may be difficult to measure but anecdotal evidence in the form of increasing aggressive behavior, drug misuse and abuse by the youth population can be cited. 

High youth unemployment sustained over decades because of inappropriate economic policies have resulted in mass exodus of young people to Europe via the most dangerous of route across the Sahara Desert, through Libya, across the Mediterranean and into Europe.  Unfortunately not all make it safely.  Gambian migrants using this route end up dying in disproportionate numbers compared to other nationalities.

Yaya Jammeh is the most consequential and transformative leader the Gambia has ever had.  Unfortunately, the impact of his dictatorship had, and continues to have, a detrimental effect on society.  And because of the extent of the damage done to the economy, the social and cultural fiber as well as the confidence of Gambians have been negatively affected, it will take a generation or more to reverse a trend that is currently impeding economic and social progress.   

To reverse the effects of one of Africa's most repressive regimes, democracy must be nurtured and propagated, both in theory as well as in practice, by the Barrow administration as a necessary first step in order to guarantee an open and transparent government.  For the government to be accountable, it must not only commit itself to the virtues of an open and transparent government but it must be putting those virtues into practice.

The recent scandal involving 57 vehicles that the government claimed to have been a "donation" to the Gambian president by a "Barrow supporter" who, according to his press secretary, wishes to remain "anonymous" brings to the fore a national conversation that we must have as a country in transition.

The government of Barrow is faced with two stark choices (i) either maintain the current corrupt and discredited institutions that were created in the image of the dictator to enhance his wealth-seeking shenanigans and manned by his most dedicated enablers, strategically posted to facilitate the easy looting of the meager resources of one of the poorest countries on earth or (ii) elect to open a fresh page that will start the process of dismantling an administrative structure purposefully designed to perpetuate the dictatorship that lasted for over two decades.  The choice is for President Barrow and, him alone, to make as Chief Executive Officer of the Republic of The Gambia.  The ball is clearly in his court.           

Thursday, October 12, 2017

How Zainab is helping destroy the Gambian economy

On November 11th 2016, we published this blog post about the wife of former dictator Yaya Jammeh and how she became part of the country's problem because of her expensive lifestyle that took a devastating toll on the Gambia's economy.   We are happy to republish the post

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Zainab Jammeh 
Yaya Jammeh may be the main culprit but his Morocco-born wife, Zainab Jammeh, is a significant contributor to Gambia's deteriorating economic environment.

Her jet-setting lifestyle is proving to be the bane of Gambia's dwindling foreign reserves because of her insatiable taste for luxury goods and high-end living that rivals the Hollywood starlet.  Her lifestyle requires foreign exchange which is in short supply for a number of years.  But that doesn't deter her from demanding for more from her dictator husband whose confiscatory and illegal demands from the Central Bank Governor for money is causing him sleepless nights.  The practice is so prevalent and getting worse that unconfirmed reports have it that a recent IMF mission demanded a stop to it because it bordered on criminality.

Zainab Jammeh's foreign travels are by private charter out of Dubai.at an average cost of US $ 200,000 per trip according to our sources.  At an average of one trip a month for a minimum of couple of weeks per trip, her hotel bill alone at her favorite hotel suite in McLean, Virginia, a presidential suite can cost the public treasury upward of $ 40,000  - $ 50,000.  In short, a trip by Gambia's First Lady can cost $ 1,000,000 to $ 1,500,000.  Although she and her husband own a $ 3.5 million mansion outside Washington DC, they have abandoned it because of the Gambian protesters they attract anytime they try living in it.

Mrs. Jammeh is not totally oblivious to the fact that the country's dwindling foreign reserves.  She recognizes the difficulty her husband encounters in providing the foreign currency needed that forces him to demand local currency - which will always be in abundant supply as long as there's enough supply of ink and paper - from the Central Bank to be converted in dollars by Trust Bank, a government-controlled commercial bank.  The First Lady's response to the new normal is to establish a number of "Foundations" for child health and cancer for the sole purpose of soliciting foreign money from the Gulf States and other Muslim countries.  She was recently in the Gulf and in Malaysia soliciting funds on behalf of her Foundation most of which, it is believed, in diverted for her personal use.

The reputation of both Yaya and Zainab Jammeh abroad is nothing to write home about and thus will limit their capacity to raise huge sums of money.  It is, therefore, expected that while Mrs. Jammeh's fund raising efforts may pay off in the short run, it may not be sufficient to finance the lifestyle they've come to accustomed to without dipping their hands in the public trough.  It is a sad and unfortunate fact that for as long as Jammeh is in power and the economy continues to contract, The Gambia will ill-afford the expensive the expensive lifestyles of Mr. and Mrs Yaya Jammeh.  It is time that both be retired from public life this year.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Publicly-financed projects must be openly tendered

Gambia Port
When governments sign loans, they are doing so on behalf of the citizenry with the promise that the funds will be used prudently and efficiently.

To fulfill this promise,  there's a clause in standard multilateral loan agreements that in order to get value for money, the procurement of works and services must be openly tendered by inviting companies that meet the minimum qualification criteria.

As for bilateral loans, the field is limited to companies registered in the country providing the funding to compete among themselves.  For instance, if bilateral funding is from the UK, they could limit the competition only to British companies.

Competition, the saying goes, brings out the best in us and when companies compete on a level playing field, to provide goods and services to a client, the client always wins.  The absence of competition assures inferior product output or service at probably a higher cost to the client. Therefore, the government of the Gambia has always adopted the international procurement standards for the procurement of goods and services as standard best practice even when only local funds were involved.

Yaya Jammeh-led 1994 illegal coup d'etat changed the entire landscape and swept along with the legitimate government, all the best practices the putschists found in the civil service, including the principles of an open tender procedure for the sole purpose of having a clear way to the meager resources of one of the world's poorest countries.

Although the Tender Board was supposedly replaced by a Procurement Agency, it never functioned independent of the Office of the President of Yaya Jammeh.  In fact, Jammeh directed the tender process from his offices at State House, as amply demonstrated on a daily basis by the Commission of Inquiry into his illicit wealth.

We've been saying since President Barrow assumed office last January, for the country to reverse the downward spiral of the economy, we must, as a country, move towards an open society, not only in our politics but in the economic management sphere.  We must shed the Jammeh way of governance where it is more transactional that fuels corruption and stifle economic growth and development.

In this regard, we have encountered, in the past several weeks, some public procurement anomalies that may develop into an undesirable trend, if remained unchecked.  And based on information received, we may be on the verge of experiencing two more projects at NAWEC for the procurement of HFO using requirements that effectively eliminate other potential suppliers and the Gambia Ports Authority's Banjul Port Extension Project.

In the case of NAWEC's HFO procurement notice, requiring that suppliers have at least two (2) contracts within the last five (5) years with a value of at least $10,000,000 "that have been substantially completed and that are similar to the proposed goods and related services" looks and sounds like only one company i.e Mohammed Bazzi's Euro-Africa Group that had monopolized the supply of HFO for almost a decade will be the only qualified company to submit a proposal.  If this notice is allowed to stand, it will eliminate all local business enterprises from competing in a project that will be financed entirely by the Gambian people.

This is coming in the midst of the Commission of Inquiry where it is being revealed, practically on a daily basis, how the non-observance of standard procurement rules and the abuse of the procurement system have led to the bankrupting of Social Security and Housing Finance Corporation and many other State Owned Enterprises, including NAWEC.

As regards the Banjul Port Extension Project, we hope that legal advise from the AG Chambers was sought by GPA and the Ministry of Finance.   Based on public information, it is unclear how China Bridge & Road Construction or China Road and Bridge Corporation - if its one and the same - was selected over other Chinese companies since it is a bilaterally-funded project by the Export-Import Bank of China on concessional terms (2% interest) in the amount of approximately $177 million.  

In a recent newspaper interview, the Minister of Works, Transport and Infrastructure was quoted as saying that "we should pray for a President who comes regularly with sound EOs (Executive Orders) to expedite the development of this country."  Such a statement being uttered by a minister in the midst of the Commission of Inquiry that is highlighting the flagrant use (or misuse) of presidential power suggests a degree of insensitivity to the plight of the Gambian taxpayer.  The tone-deafness is equally perplexing.

We want to reassure the minister, if one is needed, that we will continue to make as much noise as possible to ensure that The Gambia is not plunged into another disastrous experiment in unchecked power of the executive.  It is no longer business as usual.

Even for projects financed bilaterally, domestic companies are encouraged to compete.  There is no indication that there were other Chinese firms involved in the selection process, in this case, that led to choosing China Bridge and Road.

It is in Gambia's interest to insist on competition among qualified firms for the award of such contracts - both in terms of pricing and quality of service.  An open and transparent procurement system must be encouraged and institutionalized, incorporating all the proven best practices associated with this form of committing public funds for the purpose of improving the lives of  all Gambians.

The new government of Adama Barrow cannot afford to maintain a totally discredited system that had bankrupted nearly all of our SOEs that finally led to the ouster of Yaya Jammeh from State House.
                                                       
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Tuesday, October 10, 2017

How America helped create dictator Yaya Jammeh

Here's some more background information to help our readership understand and appreciate the deliberations of the Commission of Inquiry into Jammeh's illicit wealth and the role America played in creating the person we now know to be one of the most brutal and corrupt dictator Africa has ever seen.

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Former U.S. Ambassador and Gambian dictator

Former Deputy Head of Mission
















Speaking on the phone to Bruce Knotts, the former Deputy Head of Mission to The Gambia he opined that Ambassador Jackson McDonald's efforts which succeeded in the lifting of U.S. sanctions against the Jammeh regime as well as providing Yaya Jammeh with financial support only to return to Washington to become the Gambian dictator's lobbyist certainly could appear as inappropriate.

Knotts did not make a direct accusation but said that Jackson's actions in his official capacity followed by his financial benefiting personally as Yaya Jammeh's lobbyists "smelled" to high heavens.

Ambassador Jackson had just assumed office in Banjul in 2001 shortly before the presidential elections which was considered by the opposition and many credible international observers as neither free nor fair.  That notwithstanding, Ambassador Jackson certified the elections results and with that action lifted the US sanctions against the regime of Jammeh that was in place since July 1994 when the 29 year old Lieutenant Jammeh, fresh from military training in the US.

The lifting of those sanctions by the US did not only strengthened the dictatorship of Yaya Jammeh but it also strengthened the personal friendship between the two.  The "rendition"program also saw the inclusion of The Gambia as one of those "black holes" where Al Qaida suspects were held, interrogated, sometimes tortured before being transported to Iraq and other sites across the globe, including GITMO.

McDonald's lobbying firm, Jefferson Waterman International (JWI), secured a lucrative contract from
Yaya Jammeh to spruce his image in Washington.  We have written extensively on the cosy relationship between Jammeh and JWI through Ambassador McDonald, a relationship that his former Deputy called "unethical" and borders on "corruption" because the lifting of sanctions allowed American taxpayers money to be used by the Jammeh regime in, what appears to be, in exchange for lucrative lobbying contract after Jackson left the foreign service.

JWI was not the only one doing business with the tyrannical ruler.  A second K Street lobbying firm that was doing business with the Gambian dictator was BRG Government Affairs LLC.  According to its Department of Justice filings, the contract appears to have been terminated on 31 December 2013 following protests against the firm that had ties with Haley Barbour, former Mississippi Governor and powerful Establishment Republican.

As Cherno Njie and Papa Faal, the two Gambian-Americans facing a two-count charge under the Neutrality Act of trying to unseat a foreign friendly country of The Gambia, the role that the United States played in creating a despotic and tyrannical regime like the one in Banjul is worth bringing to the attention of the world.

According to Bruce Knotts,  the personal relationship between Jackson McDonald and Yaya Jammeh "was extraordinarily and inappropriately close."  There is always "the fear that American diplomats will forget that they work for the American government and become too close to the host government," Mr Knotts opined, "Ambassadors to serve a dual function of representing their country and explaining their host country to their home country."  He proudly proclaimed the following: "I never forgot that I was working for the American government.  Jackson was working for Yaya Jammeh and showed that when he retired and went onto Yaya Jammeh's payroll."

Ambassador Jackson also went to work to see that Jammeh qualifies for AGOA which has since been expunge from the list of eligible African countries by Presidential Proclamation which took effect 1 January 2015.  However, President Obama's action, though welcomed, did little to nullify the impact of his invitation to the White House in August of 2014 of Yaya Jammeh, a known human rights abuser and someone who has refused cooperating with the US government in the case of the two Gambian-Americans who went missing while on a visit in The Gambia in March/April of 2013.  The Gambian dictator used the photo opportunity granted by President Obama by using the images printed on t-shirts that were distributed at political rallies in The Gambia is clear contravention of the rules for the use of the images.

Deputy Ambassador Bruce Knotts did not only ran afoul of his boss, he was in trouble with Jammeh too.  The American diplomat's compound/residence was violated before he was thrown out of The Gambia so that he will not act as Ambassador after McDonald's tour of duty ended.  Mr. Knotts was against the indefinite detention of Baba Jobe, even though he knew he was not clean, because it contravened Gambian law.  He said he was on the side of the rule of law.

The relationship between Amb. McDonald was so useful to and supportive of Jammeh's dictatorial and repressive tendencies that when the American diplomat's tour of duty was about to end, "Yaya Jammeh did all he could, even petitioning the Department of State to keep Jackson McDonald as U.S. Ambassador to the Gambia.  The Department of State reminded Yaya Jammeh that Jackson McDonald was the U.S Ambassador, not the other way around", according to the former American Deputy Ambassador to The Gambia.

It is to be noted that the Gambian dictator has named the military health facility at the Bakau barracks the "Ambassador Jackson McDonald Military Hospital" and he's been bestowed with Jammeh's highest civilian honor, both honors that should have been declined by the American Ambassador because of what Yaya Jammeh represents.

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Why the JWI campaign was personal

At the 31st sitting of the  Commission of Inquiry into the illicit wealth of the former Gambian dictator, Yaya Jammeh, U.S. Ambassador Jackson McDonald came up on several occasions in connection with the procurement of numerous fire engines purportedly for the Gambia International Airport and sixty-five (65) 'John Deere' tractors supposedly for Jammeh's agriculture program.

We are re-posting this blog post we first published on 1st November, 2013 as background information to help our readership appreciate and understand the information being revealed.   Happy reading.
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Ambassador Jackson McDonald 
   
It is now official.  The lobbying contract between the K-Street firm of Jefferson Waterman International (JWI) and The Government of The Gambia has been terminated.  In its filings with the Justice Department to report on its lobbying activities, as required by law, it shows that the contract has been terminated  effective October 2013.*  It is unclear if the termination was mutual because it was to run for another three years at a total cost of $4 million.  The President of JWI is retired Ambassador Jackson McDonald who served as U.S Ambassador to The Gambia from 2001 to 2004.   Let us be clear, the contract was fro JWI to spruce up the image of a dictator whose human right record was appalling where democracy flourished under a democratically-elected government until replaced by military coup d'etat when extrajudicial executions, disappearances, torture, rigged elections and false imprisonment became the norm of a once democratic country with a liberal economic policies.  

I met retired Ambassador Jackson McDonald in 2001 while we were both living and working in Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire.  He was serving as Deputy Chief of Mission at the United State Embassy as I was serving as Executive Director at the African Development Bank.   He had just been nominated by George W. Bush to be the next American Ambassador to The Gambia.   To help prepare for his new role, and also to help in prepare for his Senate confirmation hearing, someone proposed that he reach out to me for a briefing.  He called, introduced himself and I immediate complied.  He invited me to a dinner an the Nuit de Saigon, a trendy Vietnamese restaurant in Deux Plateaux.

It didn't take him long into the dinner that he knew my position regarding the Jammeh regime.  I was not only highly critical of his overall handling of the economy, but I was particularly appalled at his human rights record.  I think he was taken aback not because of my strong criticism of the Jammeh regime but because I was able to reconcile my positions with the fact that I represented the interest of The Gambia, among four other countries, on the Boards of Director of the Bank.  My response was that my views about the government may be critical of the regime - views that I have expressed on the Board of Directors on a couple of occasions, but they were not inconsistent with my role as a Member of the Boards.  As long as The Gambia was servicing its loans, and abiding by the fundamental rules governing membership, it can continue to draw against its rights to access financing.  I implored him to press Jammeh to improve the human rights record and to allow for a more open election process, among a list of other issues.   I left the dinner thinking that the newly nominated Ambassador was going to make human rights his top priority which he promised.   

Ambassador McDonald left soon thereafter for Washington to prepare for his confirmation hearing and subsequent posting to Banjul.  We kept in touch and exchange emails.  When things started really deteriorating, the communications slowed and eventually stopped.  I have been in the business long enough to know that the personal views of a representative (be it a Board Member of a development finance agency or Ambassador) must be balanced against current policy, as in my case at the Bank, and national interest as in the case of Ambassador McDonald.  But is so happens that the promotion of human rights and a free and fair elections were always a top priority for the U.S. government, and yet during Jackson's tenure human right conditions deteriorated dramatically and political intimidation reached new heights.  Remember the 2001 presidential election campaign?  Granted Ambassador McDonald assumed office in October, few weeks before the 2001 elections but was present when electoral fraud was documented to be rampant, opposition party leaders and supporters were intimidated, beaten and jailed.  The Ambassador, in my view, did not come to the aid of Gambians whose rights were constantly being trampled on my a dictatorial regime. This is view held by many including those not holding strong political views but were keen followers of Gambian politics.    

On the economic management front, I had always felt that Jammeh was interfering too with the economy.  In October 2001, the BBC described the Gambian economy as "still work in progress, with much of the government's efforts spend on reducing poverty."  By now, Jammeh has established the reputation of being undisciplined which has exasperated donors to the point of almost discouraged the IMF to extending further loan facility.  This was the period that the effects of the seizing of the ALIMENTA facilities at the Denton Bridge were beginning to be felt across the economy with limited processing facility for the groundnut harvest.  Alimenta had won arbitration and Gambia was to pay $11.2 million to the grain giant for loss of earnings and investment - a payout that caused Gambia to miss IMF performance criteria that year.

These were developments that occurred under the watch of Ambassador McDonald which, in my view, were not handled with the proactive zeal that I expected of him.  At least, I expected that much from my friend.  It would seem that he had an excuse for every excess of Jammeh.  His relationship has become very cozy for the liking of many, including opposition leaders who felt that the Ambassador was more interested in protecting Jammeh than the opposition leaders by not speaking out more forcefully against the dictator.  To eliminate any doubt in the minds of Gambians that the outgoing Ambassador with a friend of the dictator, the Military Health Center at the Bakau Depot carries the name The Jackson McDonald Military Health Center as a passing gift.  No other American Ambassador has ever received such honor from Jammeh who built a reputation of being anti-American, anti-UK and anti-West.

It is this cozy relationship between the two men that got me going, so to speak, once I learned of the contract between Jefferson Waterman International where Ambassador McDonald is President and Yaya Jammeh.  Prior to good public with my petition against the contract with change.org, I had made several attempts to reach out to him to see if the matter can be worked out privately.  That was my prefered choice.  But when he ignored my emails and phone calls to his office and website, I decided to go public. Along the way, I join DUGA-DC in a protest in front of the JWI offices last year.  I am now happy that the entire episode is over.  This chapter is closed.   The lessons that should be drawn is that lobbying firms will be risking their reputations if they continue to ignore calls to refrain from dealing with dictators like Jammeh who has very bad international press.  Firms will be entering into such contracts at their our peril.  Entering into business deals, especially lobbying contracts to spruce up their tattered images is high profit margin but with very high risks.

Let me go on record to say that Ambassador Jackson McDonald is a good man.  He made a bad business judgment in this case by trying to cash in on a relationship with a character whose international reputation is nothing to write home about.  I am certain that after Ambassador Jackson's experience with Jammeh, his firm will stay away from dictators who prey on their citizens by denying them the very basic of human rights and freedoms that we all enjoy in America and Europe.

Africa is the new business frontier with high economic growth.  In fact, of the ten fastest growing economies in the world, eight of them can be found in Africa.  Therefore, business opportunities are increasing and are presenting themselves in many sectors which present choices that never existed before.  Therefore, there is no need to do business with unsavory characters, not only in Africa but in the United States as well.  One simple rule that I tell my business associates and partners to apply in selecting where and with whom to do business in Africa :  if it bad for America, it is bad for Africa too.   Unfortunately, Ambassador McDonald did not apply this rule when he entered into a contract with one of Africa's dwindling pool of dictators.

*Corrigendum :  The termination was October 6th 2013 and not June 2013 as reported in an earleir version of this blog. My apologies    



Senegal's new Foreign Minister makes first visit

President Barrow with Senegal's Foreign Minister 
Barrow, Kaba, Darboe and staffs  











Senegal's new Foreign Minister finally made his much anticipated first trip to Banjul today. According to the press release from State House, Mr. Sidiki Kaba was acting as Special Envoy of the Senegalese President to President Barrow to convey the message of bilateral cooperation and "reiterating President's Sall's commitment to the spirit of friendliness and good neighborliness between The Gambia and Senegal."

The other purpose of Mr. Kaba's visit, according to the release, was to introduce himself in his new functions as Senegal's Foreign Minister.  Prior to assuming his new post, Mr. Kaba, a human rights activist, was his country's Justice Minister.

In addition to paying homage to President Macky Sall in recognition and appreciation of Senegal's leadership in The Gambia's transition from 22 years of dictatorship to his country's, President Barrow reassured the foreign Minister that the two leaders will continue to consult each other on regional and other issues of mutual interest.

Regional integration appears to have been on President Barrow's mind, especially after the recently concluded Gambia-Senegal Economic Forum in Dakar that placed great emphasis on finding ways to overcome the obstacles at the border crossings, impeding the free movement of goods and peoples between the two sister countries.

Accompanying his Senegalese counterpart to State House was Gambia's Foreign Minister, Mr. Ousainou Darboe, accompanied by his senior staff.   Also present were the Senegalese Ambassador to The Gambia, H.E. Salieu Ndiaye, who accompanied his Foreign Minister.  

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Saturday, October 7, 2017

SeneGambia Federation: Has Jammeh made the case?

The just concluded Gambia - Senegal Economic Forum where impediments to the economic integration of the two countries were discussed, there's a renewed interest in some form of a closer association - both economic and political - between the two countries.  This dialogue - in one form or another - is as old as the two sister countries.  As we are fond of saying, Senegal and The Gambia are condemned by both history and geography to make the relationship work to the advancement of both parties.

On July 15th 2014, we wrote a blog post entitled : SeneGambia Federation: Has Jammeh made the case.

Enjoy !!

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Could it be that Yaya Jammeh is succeeding where the United Nations had failed in the early 1960's, and Kukoi Samba Sagnia's failed 1981 coup d'etat making it possible (if not inevitable), the political union between The Gambia and Senegal.

The Gambia's viability as a sovereign state has always been suspect  because of its small size and poor resource endowment.  As a result, the United Nations, prompted by the United Kingdom, studied and eventually concluded that The Gambia's economic and security viability at Independence can only be assured by federating with Senegal.

The political leadership of the People's Progressive Party rejected the idea and so did many Gambian politicians.  There were a few exception, including I.M Garba-Jahumpa who entertained the idea of some form of a political association between the two states, a position influenced by and consistent with his Nkrumaist/Panafrican greed.

At Independence in 1965 to 1970 when The Gambia graduated from its grant-in-aid state status from Britain,  the political leadership's main preoccupation had been to prove to the rest of the world that the smallest independent country in Africa could be, and is viable as a state when the national budget was being financed by internally-generated resources from taxes and excise.  Loans and grants from the World Bank and similar financial institutions became the primary sources of loans on concessionary terms that kept those who still questioned the country's viability at bay, at least until Kukoi struck in the 1981 coup which saw the destruction of both lives and economic infrastructure.  Business confidence was shattered.

Many of us have argued that The Gambia never fully recovered from the 81 coup d'etat, even though significant gains were made from the period of the Economic Recovery Program (ERP) period in 1985/86 to the period commonly referred to as the program for Sustained Development (PSD) period in 1992 until the Jammeh-led coup d'etat in 1994.  It must be noted that former was a World Bank/IMF-lead effort and the latter was a home-grown effort led by Gambians.

The Confederation between Senegal and The Gambia came about as a result of the 1981 coup d'etat, therefore borne out of security necessity and not economic, political, social and cultural necessities.  It is interesting that in spite of the damage done by the 1981 coup, the ERP was able to restore the economy to a level strong enough to compete toe-to-toe with our bigger neighbor.  In fact, the Gambian economy was better managed and far more efficient that Senegal's.  We became the "supermarket of the sub-region" because of better set of policies brought about by the liberalization of the economy.  The Banjul port became more efficient than the bigger Port Autonome de Dakar.

All of the comparative advantages built were lost during the 20 year dictatorship under Jammeh.  The institutions that were built and straightened under the Jawara regime have either been destroyed completely or sufficiently weakened to render The Gambia a sitting duck, unable to fend off any predatory or external threat, on the security side.  The security threat by rogue elements is a real threat now (as opposed to the Jawara era) because of the belligerent and high-risk foreign policy of a regime that toys with Hezbollah and other terror groups in the sub-region.  It warrants the concern of Gambian politicians.

On the economic front, Gambia's viability is threatened by its inability to compete with Senegal because of an economy that continues to be mismanaged by a group of incompetent supporters of the dictatorship.  The country has been emptied of its youthful population who have decided to vote with their feet to Europe in search of fortune and freedom, two commodities that are lacking in Jammeh's Gambia where the economy is contracting, thus cannot provide the much needed jobs for a growing and youthful population, and the State is becoming increasingly militarized.

Even tourists are fleeing the country because of the heavy presence of the military is tourist resorts and access to public beaches has been restricted to exclude ordinary Gambians, especially the young.  Not to be outdone, highly trained young Gambians have abandoned Gambia for their new homes in London, Paris, Geneva, New York and across the globe.  They will never come back to work for pittance in a highly insecure and hostile environment.  They may come to visit grandma and grandpa and few relatives still in the Gambia.  This is the reality and we can thank Yaya Jammeh.

The next government to succeed Jammeh will inherit an extremely weak, and essentially dysfunctional and bankrupt State.  Regardless of the type of a succession hand Gambians will be dealt, the policy toolbox must include the option of a more formal and comprehensive association with Senegal which must be put before the people in the form of a referendum.  Whether Gambians realize it or not, Jammeh is making a strong case for this scenario to be a very viable option.  We know the issue is a very emotional one, and thus prone to irrational thinking but Gambians must consider an association with Senegal as part of the debate.

A frank and open debate of the issue is necessary.  But to do so successfully, we must check our parochialism (some would say patriotism) at the door and look at the raw and hard facts.  Will the association be beneficial (economic, political, social, cultural) to Senegal, and thus entertained, and even encouraged?  It can no longer be business as usual.
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