By Omar Alieu Touray
In a study on the foreign policy of the Gambia under Sir Dawda Jawara, I suggested that further research should be undertaken to assess the change and continuity that the moves by the Jammeh Administration would represent for The Gambia’s foreign relations. Over the years, “Gambianists” and Gambia’s own scholars have made several attempts to examine the Gambia’s foreign policy under Jammeh, but the opaque nature of the regime in Banjul meant that sources were both inaccessible and considerably scanty.
With a new government in the offing, it is hoped that students of the Gambia’s external relations will have access to quantitative and qualitative information that will enable them to complement their preliminary findings about the foreign policy of the Gambia under Jammeh. The present write-up is a precursor to such an exercise.
The international reaction that greeted the outcome of the Gambia’s 2016 presidential elections is significant in many respects. From a diplomatic perspective, the reactions bestowed on the incoming government international recognition that constitutes the bedrock of any diplomatic relations. It also signals the dawn of a new era with respect to development cooperation between the Gambia and three of her traditional development partners: US, EU and the United Kingdom.
For many years, the Gambia and these partners remained at loggerheads over the question of democracy, good governance, and respect for human rights. As a result, development support to the Gambia witnessed a steady decline.
The Gambia Government’s intransigence in the area of human rights led to the US Government’s decision to take a number of punitive measures against Banjul. Washington suspended the Gambia’s eligibility to benefit from the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) in June 2006 (barely six months after the country was declared eligible for MCA funding). Approvals made by MCA from 2004 to 2015, include the following: Senegal: US$433 Million, Benin US$307 Million, Burkina Faso US$481 Million, Sao Tome US$7 Million, Lesotho: US$360, and Cape Verde: US$110 Million. The premature rupture could not allow us to determine the volume of resources the Gambia would have received from the MCA. However, the volume of support that selected African countries have received from the MCA shows that the suspension constitutes a major loss for the Gambia. The Gambia was also suspended from duty-free market access facility that the Clinton Administration offered to African countries under the African Growth Opportunities Act (AGOA).
Similar disagreements over governance and human rights issues led to the suspension of support from both EU (the largest grant donor) and the United Kingdom. Development support from the EU came mainly in the form of grants from the various cycles of the European Development Fund (EDF) made available to the Africa, Caribbean and Pacific group of states (ACP), within the framework of the Cotonou Partnership Agreement and earlier agreements (Lome I,2,3,4). Resources allocated to the ACP group under EDF 9, EDF 10 and EDF 11 were €13.5 Billion, €22.7 Billion and €30.5 Billion respectively.
To benefit from the EDF resources, each ACP country develops, in collaboration with the EU, a Country Support Strategy (CSS) and a detailed implementation plan called the National Indicative Programme that identifies country priorities and implementation modalities.
Allocations to the Gambia were €58.2 Million, €70.5 Million, and €33 Million under EDF 9, EDF 10 and part of EDF 11 respectively (2000 to 2016). Sectors earmarked for support under the various EDFs include rural development, transport and regional connectivity, capacity development, budget support, agriculture and food security. Transport sector accounted for the bulk of the resources. Road works financed include Bara-Amdalai, Mandinaba Seleti, Soma-Basse, Basse-Sabi, TransGambia, Banjul-Barra Ferry Terminal, Sabi-Welingara. At this stage we are unable to determine the rate of disbursement of the various EDF allocations, but we invite Gambians to judge for themselves whether these funds are real development support or “chicken change” as President Jammeh would like Gambians to believe.
Gambians should also see for themselves whether these road networks were Jammeh’s largess to the Gambia or concrete outputs of development cooperation with the EU.
Relations between The Gambia and the United Kingdom have never returned to the level they were at under Jawara. Although British bilateral development assistance to a number of countries witnessed a sharp decline from the early 1990s, it was the disagreement over governance and human rights that accounts for dwindling levels of support to the Gambia. The United Kingdom has nonetheless provided support to important sectors such as education and the judiciary. Between 2004 and 2011, UK provided some 11 million pounds to support activities in four main areas: £3.11 million for legal capacity building programme, £4.28 million for education sector, £2.02 million for financial management programme, £1.68 million for civil cociety capacity building.
As relations between Banjul and London deteriorated over human rights issues, British aid to the Gambia was phased out and DIFD left Banjul. Jammeh’s decision to pull the Gambia from the Commonwealth did not only represent another low in Gambian-British relations, it also engendered additional financial burden on the national treasury in the form of rent that the Gambia has now been required to pay for the premises of its Mission at the United Nations in New York. Until then, the rent of the Mission was covered by the Commonwealth Secretariat.
It is clear that the government’s intransigence in the area of human rights and governance has cost the Gambia a lot. At the international level, the country has lost valuable friends and with it, significant development support. Therefore, the challenge before the coalition 2016 Government is to revive these relations by ensuring greater respect for human rights and good governance. These are no foreign norms – as Jammeh would like us to believe. They are inalienable rights of every Gambian.