Tough times ahead for The Gambia

Senegalese Ecowas (Economic Community of West African States) soldiers guard the Statehouse in Banjul on January 24, 2017. New Gambian President Adama Barrow is expected to receive a security report this week facilitating his return to the country. Photo: CARL DE SOUZA / AFP

JOHANNESBURG – Hundreds of jubilant Gambians lined the streets cheering the convoys of Economic Community of West African (Ecowas) military vehicles which poured across the Sengalese/Gambia border last Thursday night.

Not a shot was fired and not a single person killed as Ecowas troops moved into The Gambia’s capital Banjul, securing it, before successfully pressuring former president Yahya Jammeh to step down and relinquish power to new President Adama Barrow who won last December’s presidential elections.

In addition to the euphoria over successfully forcing Jammeh’s departure, after he refused to accept defeat, there was enormous pride among Africans in the decisive action West Africa took in securing and strengthening democracy in that part of the continent.

However, Gambian national Jeggan Grey-Johnson, from the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA), and a Research Associate at the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA), told the African News Agency (ANA) during an interview that The Gambia faced tough times ahead once the euphoria died down.

Referring to Jammeh’s reported looting of The Gambia’s state coffers of $11 million, Grey-Johnson said: “He took the equivalent of approximately R168 million which he stole over a two-week period from Gambia’s Central Bank, the equivalent of South Africa’s National Treasury.

“This is a huge blow to Gambia’s economy, considering it was struggling even before the theft and that the country is one of Africa’s poorest.

“Our GDP per capita has dwindled over the years. Twenty-two years ago the GDP per capita was approximately $600 but today it hovers around $300.

“During the last few months business performance and profits have plummeted as the political crisis escalated,” Grey-Johnson explained.

Furthermore, The Gambia’s tourism industry, one of the country’s biggest cash receipts, had been damaged with the evacuation of over a thousand tourists last week.

“It’s also uncertain whether Gambia will be able to recover the stolen funds, due to the difficulties involved,” Grey-Johnson told ANA.

Questions have also arisen as to what the former dictator did with the money and how many people were involved in the looting. Did he use the money to bribe his way out, or did he use the cash to pay back some of the debt he accumulated over the years?

In addition to the blow Jammeh dealt The Gambia’s economy, anger has started to build as salaries go unpaid, the economy struggles to recover and people find it difficult to get their lives back together.

“Remember tens of thousands of Gambians who fled to Senegal are now returning and it is highly likely that their thoughts will return to the fact that Barrow was far too lenient with the conditions he agreed upon which enabled Jammeh to leave the country,” said Grey-Johnson.

“This included permitting Jammeh to miss three deadlines while he was busy looting the treasury and failing to arrest him when the deadline had passed, thereby preventing the looting.”

Acording to Grey-Johnson, somebody was going to have to bear the brunt of that backlash and it would in all likelihood be Barrow.

Turning to Ecowas’ intervention, Grey-Johnson said a source of pride for many Africans was the decisive and firm way in which Ecowas handled the West African crisis, especially against the background of the African Union (AU)’s feeble attempts at handling crises in Burundi, the Congo, Zimbabwe and South Sudan, to name just a few.

“Ecowas’ military intervention was perfect. There was the political backing to complement the military intervention which was essential,” Grey-Johnson told ANA.

“The organisation put its money where its mouth is, mobilised financial resources to get boots on the ground. These logistics are extremely complex as well as expensive.”

It’s far more complex than just marching in and extricating the wanted person he explained. There were issues of stabilising the situation on the ground and preventing the outbreak of hostilities.

Mopping up operations and the continued deployment of reduced numbers of forces on the ground to ensure safety until stability takes root – which could take anything from six months to a year – are also essential.

Ecowas proved it has the capability and the capacity to deploy troops at short notice as it’s done previously in Liberia and Sierre Leone,” Grey-Johnson told ANA.

“Furthermore, it also demonstrated collective political will to ensure that there is peace and stability in the West African region, simultaneously strengthening democracy in the area.”

But a political repercussion of Ecowas’ success could be increased scrutiny of the AU’s blunders and dissatisfaction with incumbent African leaders who cling tenaciously to power, to the chagrin of their collective populaces.

“God forbid that there is a strong functioning and robust AU when it comes to certain African leaders, including Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe,” Grey-Johnson told ANA.

“The last thing they want is that their own presidencies come under scrutiny.”

African News Agency

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