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close this bookThe Courier N 119 Jan - Febr 1990 - Dossier National Languages - Country Report: Gambia (EC Courier, 1990, 100 p.)
close this folderCountry report: The Gambia
View the documentMarket forces rule, OK.
View the documentAn interview with Sir Dawda Jawara
View the documentThe demise of the Senegambian Confederation
View the documentThe Gambia-EEC Cooperation

An interview with Sir Dawda Jawara

“We have adopted quite a radical approach...”

Al-Haji Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara has been President of the Gambia since 1970. He had earlier been Prime Minister for Jive years. His leadership has been described as “unusual “ in Africa by the Chairman of the US Senate African Affairs suh-committee, Mr Paul Simon. For almost 24 years, Sir Dawda Jawara and his party, The People’s Progressive Party, have allowed democracy and the respect of human rights to flourish in the small West African state. His government has now adopted a liberal economic policy that has beau/, to yield interesting results. The Courier spoke to him.

· Mr President, what is it it? the nature of The Gambia that the principles of human rights and democracy rook hold early on, for a long time, in a continent where they are no/fashionable?

- It is difficult to answer this question precisely. Certainly one cannot divorce it from the nature of The Gambia and from our history. The fact is that our Party, the PPP, has, right from its inception in 1959, drawn up a constitution which emphasises democracy and human rights, and even though these had not been fashionable in Africa, particularly from the time most African countries were achieving their independence (Ghana in the late ‘50s and many others in the ‘60s), we steadfastly tried to adhere to these principles. It has not been easy, but we have, as you have said, maintained them up to the present day. Of course we have every reason to believe now that this is the correct path and we will continue along it.

· The OAU Commission on Human Rights has its headquarters here in Banjul. Do you consider this as an honour, a recognition of The Gambia’s respect of human rights? How will it operate?

- The Commission has been opened. We of course consider it a great honour to this country. As to how it will operate, there are nine Commissioners elected by the OAU, and of these, one is a Gambian. They have a chairman who is Gabonese.

The Commission is quite independent of any government. Each Commissioner has been elected in his personal capacity. I’m sure they have already started functioning’ receiving complaints from groups of citizens who have something to complain against their governments in the area of human rights. Of course, a Member State can also bring complaints against another Member State.

· But are Member States prepared to adhere to the findings and rulings of the Commission on complaints?

- There is a set procedure for the Commission to process complaints and then bring them to the OAU. This has yet to be done. As you know it’s a new Commission. The headquarters have only recently been inaugurated. I have a feeling that soon we will be seeing the results of its work.

Already we have seen some benefits in terms of a changed attitude towards human rights among the Memberr States.

· These are interesting times international relations. The tension between the East and the West has reduced considerably and we are beginning to witness the salutary effects on Southern Africa. How do you see the situation in South Africa itself evolving?

- Yes, indeed, we are seeing tremendous changes, almost a revolution in attitudes, especially between the superpowers which, of course, is having salutary effects on the approach to regional conflicts around the world, and Southern Africa is no exception. We have seen definite changes, which Pm sure are partly due to this general detente in international affairs. We have seen the change from Botha to De Klerk in South Africa who, of course, sounds much more conciliatory, much more open in his approach to the South African problem, the problem of apartheid and the democratic rights of all South African citizens. We have, of course, not seen any tangible results yet in President De Klerk being in charge. hut we welcome the change in attitude But I think the evolution of this process would be welcome if, for example, the Zimbabwean model is adopted in South Africa, so that a formula could be found whereby the black maority are given their rights-a majority government is established-and whereby the rights of the minorities are protected. I think the Zimbabwean model can be very useful in the case of South Africa.

· You have been the Chairman of ECOWAS. The Organisation’s achievements have no’ been much. What do you think has stalled progress?

- I ceased to be Chairman in June, at the 12th Summit of ECOWAS, which was held in Ouagadougou. I handed over the Chairmanship to President Compaore of Burkina Faso. Of course, the next summit of ECOWAS, the 13th Summit, will be held here in Banjul. Preparations are going on satisfactorily and we hope to host that summit in May 1990. 1 agree with you, progress in ECOWAS has been quite minimal. There have been tremendous setbacks in implementing the protocol on the free movement of persons, goods and services; trade liberalisation has been very slow, and monetary union is yet to be implemented. The first two are really the life and soul of any community of this type: trade and movement of persons, goods and services. The difficulty, I think, has many sources. First of all, as far as trade is concerned, we still have the colonial legacy whereby the trade of the colonies was really an appendage of those of the colonial masters. This has not changed to any great extent: ECOWAS trade is far more between ECOWAS countries and the metropolitan countries in Europe than it is among Member States. We reckon that inter-ECOWAS trade is well below 10% of trade in the region. This is a big setback to the setting up of our economic community. We have also witnessed setbacks in the free movement of persons, in particular. All is not lost, though. As far as monetary integration is concerned, ECOWAS is actively studying a report which has been commissioned to find out whether the region or the sub-region can have a single currency. This is actively being considered and it is a thing that is quite feasible.

· The Senegambian Confederation has more or less been frozen or suspended. How do you see the future of relationship between The Gambia and Senegal?

- Well, the Confederation has come rather abruptly to an end, to our great surprise, because we do feel here that it was achieving some of its purposes. As far as the future relations between us and Senegal are concerned, both Senegal and The Gambia stress the special relationship which has always existed between the two countries, even before the Confederation, and I hope that this will continue. It is likely that soon after the winding up of the Confedration has been completed the two Governments, maybe the two Heads of State, will come together and see what can be put in the place of the Confederation, how we can in fact implement this special relationship between the two countries.

· Does this mean the suspension of on-going projects; for example, the project to improve road and telephone links between the Gambian town of Basse and the Senegalese town of Villengara?

- Well, suspension is the wrong term to use; actually, the Confederation has not been suspended, it has been dissolved-completely dissolved along with everything that relates to it. It is even stated in the agreement dissolving the Confederation that all contracts have come to an end so that, even if there was any contract going on (which as far as the road is concerned there has been none, just a project under study), that contract would have come to an end, and matters would have to be resolved with the contractors. The dissolution of the Confederation has been so total that really anything that we do now will have to be based on a new initiative on a bilateral basis.

· The Gambia owes a great deal of its continuing economic recovery’ to increased flows of external aid, some of which are outright grants. To what extent is the country’ moving towards a greater self-reliance in budgetary matters?

- As far as the budget is concerned, there is a subsidy to the extent of 5.6% of GDP. In the context of our Economic Recovery Programme, it is envisaged that external dependence of the recurrent budget on subsidies will be reduced to 5 % next year, and gradually from there on. The subsidy on the development budget is much heavier because about 60 % of the project costs are financed by external loans and 27.5 % by grants. Nevertheless, we still hold fast to the philosophy of self-reliance our slogan is tesito which means belttightening-or much more than that. The reality is that we could only be self-reliant if our efforts at sustainable growth yield the desired results in the short and the longterm. But, as you know, there are certain handicaps-internal as well as external. The internal handicaps are: a weak economic base, limited savings and a low level of investment. The external constraints, of course, are tremendous. The one that easily comes to mind is the debt-burden which weighs heavily on our economies. Of course, The Gambia is by no means alone in this predicament.

· The Gambia relies heavily on a single crop, groundnuts. You have made efforts to diversify, hut how optimistic are you about achieving a broader-based economy?

- It is true we rely mainly on groundnuts as a main export crop, but for many years now we’ve been trying to diversify our economic base, both in the agricultural field and in other areas. Cotton has been a crop which we chose, particularly in the eastern part of the country, URD (Upper River Division), and parts of MRD (Middle River Division). Sesame has recently come in as another crop which could supplement groundnuts as an export cash crop. It is quite promising and I understand there are markets available for it. It’s a good crop to bring in for diversification because even without an export outlet it provides a good oil seed for domestic use and it has been very useful in that regard. Horticulture is coming on as a way of diversifying our agricultural export produce. Livestock is another area which we are working on. The ITC is a research institute which is doing good work on livestock. Tourism is of course another area which is developing, helping us to diversity our economic base. Our focus here is the TDA (the Tourism Development Area), which has been set aside for the development of tourism to supplement upcountry tourism. This industry will act as a stimulus to artisanal industries. Fisheries is another area which can diversify our economic base, and this too we are working on. (Fisheries is an area in which we are cooperating with the EEC.) In diversifying we do not overlook the need for the rational and more efficient use of our resources. Last but not least, we are encouraging private investment. The response has been considerable. There is a great deal of interest in private investment.

· You have established this unique practice of touring the country to see the farmers face-to-face. What effects has this had on you, personally, in the governance of The Gambia, anti what has the response of the farmers themselves been?

- The “ Meet the farmers” tours, which is the name the media has given them have been extremely useful to the Government, because they enable me and my entourage (which includes ministers and high officials, non-governmental organisations and members of the diplomatic corps) to meet the people in their own areas, in their own fields and swamps and so on. I think there’s no better way actually of getting the feel of what the people really want, what their aspirations are, and what their successes and limitations are. We discuss problems frankly. This enables us to understand the nature of these problems and how best to approach them. So I think it is useful both to the Government and to the farmers.

· Your successful IMF-inspired structural adjustment programme has not been without social costs. What measures has your Government taken to alleviate the hardship?

- We had to address what has now come to be called social dimension of adjustment. When we embarked on implementation of the Economic Recovery Programme, we had to take some very painful decisions, for example, retrenchment of a certain number of employees in the civil service, reducing subsidies and in some instances stopping them completely, implementing cost recovery, for example in the health sector- charging patients so that there is some recovery or partial recovery of costs of services and medicines and so on. All these, of course, have their negative impact on particularly vulnerable groups. We recognised this and have decided, along with the UNDP and UNICEF, to carry out some research, so that we can approach this problem more intelligently.

We have, however, early on in the Programme-which of course started in 1985-tried to help those civil servants who were retrenched by making some resources available to IBAS (the Indigenous Business Advisory Service) which works with the Ministry of Economic Planning and Industrial Development, to help them to use their retirement benefits, supplemented by IBAS, to set up businesses in horticulture, poultry, or whatever. This has been extremely effective. It is our intention to increase the resources available for this. We have also, in the cost-recovery exercise in the health area, made exceptions for groups which are considered vulnerable, like children, pregnant mothers, those suffering from communicable diseases, etc. These are the initial measures we are taking on the social dimension of adjustment. As I have said, we are now carrying out specific research into this in conjunction with UNDP, UNICEF and others and when this is completed, we hope that we will mobilise resources which would be directed at these vulnerable groups to help them counter the negative effects of the adjustment programme.

· Is the Government prepared to see the Gambian Produce Marketing Board, GPMB, go to the wall if it finds competition too tough in your overall liberal policy?

- Yes, and this applies to all our parastatals, really. We have to reform or modify them considerably. Those parastatals, or parts of parastatals, which we think should continue are actually being made the subject of a performance contract. The GPMB is one of them. We have hived off some of its activities which are not quite commercial in nature and we have signed a performance contract with it on what remains. If the GPMB can make it commercially, that’s well and good, but if it cannot, of course, it can go to the wall. The Government used to subsidise GPMB heavily to enable it to pay a certain price to the producer for groundnuts, rice and cotton, but these subsidies have now been removed completely: they were reduced gradually over the last two or three years. The GPMB is now asked to purchase the country’s groundnuts at prices determined by market forces.

· The EEC has made substantial contributions to the development of The Gambia. What are your expectations from LomV?

- The EEC is one of our main partners in development. Their assistance has been welcome in the areas of agriculture, fisheries, education, health and communications. And recently we have seen a new approach. in which EEC assistance on a multi-sectoral basis is concentrated on a chosen geographical area, in this case the Upper River Division, one of our administrative regions, where an integrated programme has been set up. Given this extent of our cooperation with the EEC, we are naturally interested in the outcome of the LomV negotiations. As developing countries, the focus of our interest really lies in trade and development finance, especially at a time when commodity prices have fallen badly and are still falling. Most of our trade with the EEC is in primary commodities and prices have been falling in real terms. and there has been no real increase in the quantum of EDF resources in the previous Conventions. It is my view that Stabex has been one of the most imaginative and popular innovations of the Lomonventions. Nevertheless we are aware that there are areas of disagreement between the ACP Group and the EEC: the ACP Group wants to expand the coverage of Stabex to include more processed products and the EEC wants to restrict it as an agricultural instrument. Similarly, the disbursement of EDF resources is also constrained by complicated and time consuming procedures, which we hope LomV will further rationalise and simplify. I remember saying exactly the same thing when we were negotiating LomII. We have further noted that there has been agreement between the EEC and the ACP relative to the principles of equality, respect for sovereignty and non-reciprocity in trade and in the application of the outcome of LomV negotiations-with the exception of the control of natural resources, especially in the fisheries sector. Of course, we look forward to working out a balanced agreement that will address all remaining contentious issues such as non-discrimination in trade and the dumping of toxic wastes.

Interview by A.O.