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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

Market forces rule, OK.

Presenting the 1989/90 budget to Parliament last June, the Gambian Minister of Finance and Trade, Mr Saihou Sulayman Sabally painted the picture of a robust economy. “ The Gambian economy “, he said, “ is now in its third year of growth, exceeding 5% per annum. This has resulted in the first sustained increase in overall real incomes for more than a decade... The private sector activity has increased sharply and business confidence is high. The country’s current foreign obligations are being met, foreign arrears are being reduced and The Gambia’s international financial standing has improved dramatically “.

Mr Sabally’s transparent elation was reflected so much among officials in Banjul that news of the sudden collapse of the Senegambian Confederation-a structure upon which observers have for years placed considerable hope for the future of The Gambia-was received not only with the characteristic calm of The Gambia but with a certain air of confidence in the resilience of the Gambian economy to such an external shock.

For a country of only 11 000 sq km, almost surrounded by Senegal and heavily dependent on one crop, groundnuts, this was surprising, particularly when nothing on the ground bears out the official optimism (the continuing low standard of living and widespread unemployment, for example) and when only weeks after Senegal tightened border controls, hotels in The Gambia were rapidly running out of cooking gas, sowing panic among hoteliers at the beginning of the tourist season.

The Gambian reaction may be based on a feeling that the economy has taken a course which has “ builtin self-defence” mechanisms that will ultimately defeat the kind of measures being taken by Senegal. The fact is that The Gambia, which has always had a liberal economy by African standards, has adopted in recent years a new non-interventionist policy which most economists have described as ultra-liberal.

Mr Sabally ascribes the new policy to the lessons that have been learned in the past four years or so of IMF-inspired structural adjustment which were, among other things, that “ in tandem with political freedoms, economic operations at all levels must be given the freedom to take economic decisions “, and that “ the pace of economic growth cannot be forced through Government intervention that results in budget deficits, excessive credit creation or rapid increase in foreign debt”. It is the duty of the Government, he said, to create a consistent set of incentives “ to encourage the optimal utilisation of all productive resources in the economy”.

There is no doubt that this policy, coupled with such factors as foreign goodwill and patronage have produced, within a short time, spectacular results in stabilising an economy that was deeply in trouble in 1985 with roaring inflation, irregular supplies of essential commodities such as rice and fuel, arrears in the service of external debt, huge budget deficits, a weak reserve position, an acute shortage of foreign exchange and widespread loss of confidence and lack of new investment in the country.

A combination of internal and external factors led to the crisis which actually began as far back as 1980.

They include notably, the fall in the output and world prices of groundnuts, increased costs of food and fuel imports and increased public expenditure. Indeed the situation became so bad that The Gambia had to abandon its Second Development Plan to adopt a Public Investment Plan (PIP) for which funds were sought from donors at a conference in London in 1985. The PIP was soon, though, to be integrated into a Structural Adjustment Programme when the IMF and the World Bank came in demanding changes.

The Government adopted a recovery programme which, first, concentrated mainly on the removal of the disparities in exchange rates and prices, the stabilisation of the balance of payments and the reforming of the public sector. A floating regime for the Dalasi, the national currency, was introduced and the foreign exchange market was liberalised ending the Central Bank’s monopoly. In September 1986 the IMF provided The Gambia with an approximately SDR 10.9 million adjustment facility.

Inflation was brought down from 70% in 1985 to 10.9% in 1987 through the removal of subsidies in such areas as health and transport and through the judicious issue of treasury bills and strict limits to bank credits by the Central Bank. Between 1988 and 1989 alone, banks sold some 804 million Dalasi worth of foreign exchange to the public, a 55 % rise on the period 1987-88. Although the value of the Dalasi has fallen significantly, the gap between the official and parallel markets has almost disappeared. The civil service was pruned and brought down to a manageable size and a number of parastatals have been slated for sale.

By the end of 1987 The Gambia had registered sufficient positive results for the authorities to be convinced that the way ahead resided in a market-oriented economy-where the growth of the productive sectors, agriculture, manufacturing, fisheries and tourism-are determined by the level of private initiatives and investment.

Impressed by the results and The Gambia’s economic orientation, the IMF, late in 1988, provided a three-year credit equivalent to SDR 20.5 million under what it called Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility (ESAF). The World Bank, the African Development Bank and The Netherlands government, on the other hand, also agreed to provide a loan totalling US$ 34 million towards the programme. The IDA has indeed already provided SDR 17m to The Gambia. This was ratified by Parliament last June. Understandably, the loan will be used mainly for balance of payments support.

These developments no doubt provide the basis for official optimism for the 1990s but they mask the factors that could negate all the efforts: the mixed fortunes of the various sectors of The Gambian economy-their strengths and weaknesses, the fact that The Gambia remains heavily dependent on foreign aid, most of which is in the form of outright grants for capital projects and, to some extent, budgetary support, and the debt burden which currently amounts to $ 355 million.

With no mineral resources, and only its people, the River Gambia, its limited land space, beaches and coastal waters as assets, the task of development would appear daunting. Openness and friendliness towards foreigners, it is true, have so far paid The Gambia rich dividends in foreign assistance, and in tourism. This may or may not continue. The River Gambia’s vital role in agriculture in a naturally dry country is limited by saline intrusion. The country’s forest resources have been depleted. There is therefore not much for a country to sing and dance about.

Agriculture: emphasis on food production

Agriculture, accounts for about 55% of GDP. It has, since the birth of The Gambia as a nation, been dominated by one crop, groundnuts. In the early ‘60s groundnuts played a pivotal role in the development of the country: production rose steadily from an average 94 000 metric tonnes between 1961 and ‘65 to a high 131 000 mt in 1966, earning a reasonable income for The Gambia. The industry was, and still is, managed by the Gambian Produce Marketing board (GPMB), a non-profit organisation which was set up not only to maximise farm-gate prices for farmers but to ensure adequate revenue from groundouts for the government- responsibilities the Board discharged fairly adequately.

The GPMB, however, was to spread its tentacles into the Gambian economy, becoming involved in everything closely or remotely connected with groundnuts, from transportation through storage and processing to export. It was to take responsibility for cotton when the latter became the focus of efforts at diversification of exports.

Production of pricipal crops in the Gambia 1978-1988

Sixty percent of groundnut sales to the Board is accounted for by the Gambia Cooperative Union and the remainder by operators licensed to buy from the farmers. Alternatively the farmers sold groundnuts directly to dealers across the border in Senegal, attracted not only by the convertible CFA franc, which for many years was more stable than the Dalasi, but also by the ease with which they disposed of them (transportation across the border was sometimes easier than across The Gambia). This trade which elsewhere is known as smuggling is described in The Gambia as the centuries-old practice of “cross-border trade “. Figures on The Gambia’s annual groundnut production are therefore unreliable. The FAO estimates show output of 126 000 mt in the 1967/68 season, 130 000 mt in the 1977/78, 150 000 mt in 1982/83 and 110 000 mt in 1986/87. Sales to the GPMB, however, do provide some bases upon which the strength of the groundnut industry has been measured over the years. Purchases by the Board between 1973 and 1977 averaged 132 000 metric tons. They plunged dramatically to 78 000 mt between 1978 and 1982 due mainly to bad weather and pest invasion. The GPMB purchase figures as disclosed to The Courier reveal not enough quantities reaching the Board in recent years. In the 1987/88 season, for example, the GPMB purchased 63 000 mt and only 24 000 mt by September 1989 (see table below).

The slump in the tonnage purchased by the GPMB in a decade when world prices of groundnuts have fallen badly meant huge reductions in foreign exchange earnings from the product. This partly explains the profound crisis that has shaken the GPMB and the groundnut industry as a whole: the Board, anxious to encourage farmers. has had to buy groundnuts at prices far above the world market prices and the Government has had for several years now to subsidise the parastatal, including paying off its debts with the Central Bank. The GPMB which had been a source of income for the Government thus became a drain on its resources, making the Board an inevitable target in the Government’s overall structural adjustment exercise. It will no longer receive subsidies from the Government. Its ancillary activities, particularly in transport, are to be privatised, and it has to compete henceforth, at the buying level from farmers, with operators who no longer require to be licensed.

Although there is widespread fear that the GPMB will sink under competition, at the Board’s headquarters in Banjul the future is viewed with that same air of confidence that is noticeable among officials about the direction of the economy as a whole. The entire Board, which The Courier had the good fortune to interview at one of its regular sessions, feels there has been too much unnecessary worry about the GPMB’s survival. They point to their “ impressive “ achievement of the 1988/89 performance contract which saw the GPMB reduce its operating loss from 28 200 000 dalasi in 1987/88 to 5 300 000 dalasi. But this was due almost entirely to “tighter control over operating costs and lower interest charges” on loans paid to the Central Bank. The Board has still to prove its commercial viability. A factor in its favour is that it remains the only export outlet for all groundnuts and groundnut products. What the reforms have done in essence is to relieve the GPMB of the responsibility of guaranteeing prices to the farmers. The extent to which competition at the buying level will rationalise the groundnut industry, improve output and farmers’ income is yet to be seen. What is clear is that the GPMB is banking on farmers continuing to sell their groundnuts to their cooperative unions or societies which are under contract to sell to the Board and on their preference for the “ cash on the spot “ policy which operates in The Gambia to the “chit system” in Senegal where operators buy now and pay later. “The price has to be substantially attractive for any farmer to sell across the border”, says the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, Mr Amadou Taal, who estimates that in the short run there are bound to be price differentials but in the long run “ both countries will have to be influenced by world market forces”. The virtue of the exercise, in the opinion of the Permanent Secretary, is that “ from now on farmers will not be expecting a fixed price for the year”. They could sell to the GPMB or to the private operator depending on the highest bidder. Meanwhile, GPMB’s Managing Director Mr Saihou Drammeh and his Board are figuring out how to operate in this “ slightly modified environment”, feeling they would take “ adequate measures “ to “ operate on a commercial basis”.

All figures in metric tons

If the GPMB found groundnuts tough to crack in recent years it has found it easy going with cotton. Introduced as far back as 1965 as part of The Gambia’s diversification attempts with a project financed by the African Development Bank in the Upper River Division (URD), production rose to 1 175 tonnes in 1978 fell to 99 t in 1979 before rising steadily and reaching 2 500 t in 1985. Although output has fluctuated ever since because of adverse weather conditions, it has nevertheless remained close the 2 000 tonnes mark (1 847 t in fact in 1988/89 with the area under cotton cultivation rising from 1 166 hectares in the 1987/88 season to 2 698 ha in 1988/89). All cotton production is exported.

The Gambia’s diversification thrust, however, has been not so much toward cash crops as towards the production of foodcrops given the escalating costs of food imports-a major factor that contributed to the country’s recent economic difficulties. It remains a heavy burden. In 1988, for example, food accounted for nearly 30% of total imports. Emphasis has been on the production of coarse grains-maize, millet and sorghum-and production increased consistently until in the 1988/89 season when it fell from 72 000 tonnes in 1987/88 to 70 680 t. In support of this grain policy, a number of OECD countries have donated milling machines which have been installed in the rural areas to lighten the task of women who traditionally grew and processed these crops.

It should be noted that the policy of improving the condition of women and making their contributions to development more effective is being taken seriously in The Gambia. A large number of agricultural projects specifically directed at them are being set up all over the country by donors, including the European Economic Community. The EEC has, among others, a women’s vegetable gardens project in Pirang and an integrated rural agricultural development project in the Upper River Division involving women. Mr Taal, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture expects the EEC to concentrate on the production of coarse grain in the URD, for while it is true that there have been increases in foodgrain production in recent years, he says, it is important that the rate of increase in output should outstrip the population growth rate, which is estimated to be 3.4% annually, if The Gambia is to achieve self-sufficiency in food and bring an end to the scourge of heavy food import bills.

Women, on the other hand, are organising themselves into potent forces for development. With the establishment recently of their political forum, the National Women’s Council and Bureau, things are moving fast. A Women’s Development

Project has been launched. This aims at improving literacy among rural women, teaching them basic skills and helping them engage in income-generating activities, particularly in handicrafts and agriculture. To this end, the Gambian Women’s Finance Company has been set up with a loan from the World Bank to provide credits, not normally obtained through the formal banking system, to rural women.

Overall, farmers have the opportunity of meeting face-to-face with President Jawara annually. The latter, has, over the past five years, established the practice of touring the country every year to discuss the farmers’ problems with them.

If there is an area in which The Gambia’s drive at self-sufficiency is producing handsome results it is in the production of rice. Both swamp and irrigated rice are being developed. Output has been rising since the early 1980s. Last season, for example, paddy rice production increased from 20340 tonnes in the 1987/88 season to 23 520 tonnes.

Considerable hope is being placed on the Jahally Patcharr scheme which involves a large number of smallholders using imported rice strains on an irrigated area of 1 500 hectares.

Reportedly producing the highest rice yields per hectare of any farm in the world, the scheme accounted in 1984 for at least one-quarter of The Gambia’s total production. It has continued to perform well. Plans are now afoot to complement it with another scheme - a tidal irrigation rice project at the MacCarthy Island Division which will bring 5 000 hectares under cultivation and involve 10000 farmers.

Simple farming tools are now being produced locally thanks to the SEGAMCO factory, a Gambian/Senegalese joint venture which was set up recently. With a soil conservation programme at Demba Kunda and the Good Seed Programme multiplication scheme at Marembe, The Gambian government obviously takes agriculture very seriously. The results are not only seen in the output of coarse grains and rice but in the production of fruits and vegetables as well. Output of those are up, with export earnings in 1988 reaching 543 000 dalasi, 60% up on the 1987 figure.

Although the smallness of The Gambian economy and low world market prices affect agriculture, there is no doubt that pests and diseases and the weather are the greatest constraints. Ricefields and farms are often invaded by weaver birds and locusts. With the international help, The Gambia has been able to contain the threats though not without considerable losses. Geographically, The Gambia is located in the Sahel where rainfall is scanty and droughts are regular occurrences. This makes irrigated farming extremely important. This, however, is realistically possible only up to a point along the River Gambia because of saline intrusion from the sea. Pump irrigation is widely practiced in the country but its impact is limited. For years a project to build a barrage/bridge at Balingho on the River Gambia to control saline intrusion and thus protect investment in the existing and future irrigation projects has been planned. Nothing has come of it. According to the Minister of Economic Planning and Industrial Development, Mr Demba Jatta, there have been various studies on the project. Some of them were favourable, others were negative because of environmental concerns.

But the project has not been abandoned as some officials in Banjul seem to suggest. “ What is being done presently”, he says, “ is mobilising the resources for its realisation”. The project is not only important for agriculture, it is vital to The Gambia’s future energy needs, heavily dependent, as it is, on fuel imports and no prospects of oil discovery in the country. Informed sources indicate that the issue is not so much the absence of resources (a number of donors have indicated their willingness to participate in the financing of the project) as the caution that Senegambian politics demand (see the article on “The demise of the Senegambian Confederation “).

As far as the livestock industry is concerned, The Gambia is making good progress. Except for the year, 1984, when drought affected herds, the production of meat, eggs, chicken, milk, etc. has increased substantially and so also have the allied products of hides and skins. These performances are largely due to good and efficient veterinary services and the use of improved strains. For example, the use of the trypano-resistant N’Dama breed in cattle rearing.

The fisheries sector has also come on strong in the past three years. As well as growing private interest in industrial fishing, two artisanal fisheries projects have resulted in an increasing number of Gambians and foreigners (mostly Senegalese and Ghanaans) taking up fishing as a full time occupation and in the doubling of the catch. One of the projects, funded by the Italians, involved the provision of facilities to fishermen in the Kiang West area. Completed in January 1989, the catch rate per fishing unit of the project has already attained the 98.9 kilos per day deemed necessary to make the scheme viable, so much so that the authorities now want to extend it to five villages in the North Bank and Lower River Divisions. The second project, which is being funded by the EEC, is focussing on six villages along the South Atlantic coast. The project started in 1988. It involves the training of fishermen and the provision of fishing equipment and essential infrastructure for storage, drying, smoking and marketing. With the Gambian coast believed to be rich, particularly in such high-value varieties as shrimps and lobsters, the future of the fishing industry looks bright. A visit to any of the coastal villages involved in the EEC project at the landing hours of the fishermen is enough to convince one of that bright future at the sight not only of the quantity of fish being brought ashore, but the large number of people involved in the industry.

Expanding manufacturing and the private sector

Because of the very narrow agricultural base and limited domestic market, The Gambia’s manufacturing sector is very small, accounting for 8.9 % of GDP. There are set-ups in beverages, palm oil, and salted, dried and smoked fish. (Investments are being sought in fruit and vegetable processing, exploration of tataniferous sands, the manufacture of glass products and biscuits, pharmaceuticals, groundnut butter and confectionery). Otherwise the industrial and commercial sectors are dominated by parastatals: the GPMB (groundnuts and groundnut products), the Gambian Utilities Corporation (electricity and water supply mainly), the Gambia Commercial and Development Bank (finance), GAMTEL (The Gambia telecommunications company), the Gambia National Insurance Corporation and the Livestock Marketing Board. But the Government is set to change that with its divestment policy. Already it had sold the Nyambu timber sawmill and is offering for sale a number of public enterprises, including the National: Trading Corporation (which was converted into a limited liability company in June 1988), Seagull Coldstores, the Banjul Breweries and Africa Hotels Ltd. Others like Ferry Services, the Dockyard and the Gambia River Transport

Company are slated for divestment. If successful, it will broaden the commercial sector.

The Gambia’s overall industrial policy, as seen, aims at the transformation of what resources are available locally. It also aims at the assembly of goods for which The Gambia has comparative advantage in the sub-region, as Mr Alieu N’Gum, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Economic Planning and Industrial Development told The Courier. But it raises not only the question of the attractiveness of The Gambia to foreign investors but also the issue of foreign control of the economy. Although there are schemes like the Private Enterprise Development Project and investment promotion bodies like the National Investment Board, which aim at encouraging Gambians to go into business by providing advice and credits, it is clear that whether in pursuing the privatisation policy or in setting up manufacturing units, The Gambia needs foreign investors and foreign skills. On the latter, although Gambia’s education policy is geared towards the development of indigenous skills, the country relies a good deal on other West African countries for its vital personnel needs. They tend, in this regard, to see a West Africa without frontiers, once more, an illustration of Gambian open-mindedness. Furthermore, there are a large number of technical assistants from a variety of other sources. As far as foreign investments are concerned, they see the fact that there are no constraints whatsoever on foreign investors, which is in tune with their liberal policy, as a big incentive. The Development Act was revised recently to make it possible for an investor to have all the approval he needs to go into business within 90 days of application and provide him with all necessary information.

A booming re-export trade

If the smallness of the manufacturing sector has not been felt in recent years, it is because of the rapid growth of the re-export trade. The Gambia’s traditional exports are, of course, groundnuts and groundnut products, fish and fish products and fruits and vegetables. The last two have become? particularly in the past few years, important sources of foreign exchange: Gambian horticultural produce as well as shrimps and lobsters are increasingly being exported to neighbouring countries and Europe. But it is the re-export trade that has seen a spectacular growth. Commodities such as rice, flour, sugar, tea and textiles are imported for re-export to Senegal, Guinea Bissau, the Republic of Guinea, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Mali and even as far as to Sierra Leone. Inevitably the computing of The Gambia’s balance of trade is a, complicated affair. What is certain, however, is that the country’s trade deficits are minimised by the strength of the re-export trade which has become the second fastest growing sector of the economy after tourism.

The boom in this trade is due mainly to The Gambia’s low import duties and liberal import policy, made even more liberal since the start of the structural adjustment programme. As the Comptroller of Customs, Mr Sarian Ceesay told The Courier: “There is no restriction on imports and exports, no restriction on the movement of capital, no price approvals. Unlike in some neighbouring countries where customs formalities are cumbersome, where importers have to deal with agents who deal with customs officials, here in The Gambia, importers have direct access to customs officials. They can sort out their problems with the customs within a short time”.

The collapse of the Senegambian Confederation has resulted in Senegal tightening controls on exports and on transit goods from The Gambia at all border crossings with the latter. Not surprisingly there were fears that this move would strangle the re-export trade and create enormous problems for the Gambian economy.

While The Gambia reacted calmly to the situation and adopted a “ wait and see” attitude, Mr Ceesay believes in what he calls the “invisible hands of the laws of economics”, that is, that if one tries to “ use artificial means to restrict certain things the law of economics will take its own course “.

The truth is that the Gambian reexport trade is based on demand by importers in the neighbouring countries and not necessarily on The Gambia’s drive to sell imported goods to them. The problem of transit is therefore much more the affair of the importers than of The Gambia. Experts estimate that even with all the problems that will arise from the new situation (delays and higher costs) importers would still find it cheaper to import through The Gambia than through elsewhere.

This aside, The Gambians see the re-export trade as having become so much of mutual benefit to them and to some powerful communities in Senegal that the latter are expected to exert pressure on their government for a relaxation of the controls. A new regulatory bilateral agreement on goods in transit or on exports from The Gambia to Senegal cannot be ruled out. It should be noted that it is in the area of customs cooperation that the Gambians estimate that much progress had been made under the Senegambian Confederation.

Tourism: the sky is the limit

The extent to which the collapse of the Confederation will affect tourism is yet to be seen. Some of the facilities used by hotels in The Gambia are imported from Senegal. In August/September when relations worsened between the two countries hotels began rapidly to run out of cooking gas as Senegal tightened controls, creating panic among hoteliers, and forcing some to look frantically for alternative sources of supply. Tourism has become the fastest-growing sector of The Gambia economy. It contributes as much as 10% of the GDP and now employs some 7000 people directly and indirectly. Tourist arrivals have increased from 86 000 in 1986/87 to 112 800 in 1988/89. This figure is set to rise further in the 1989/90 season. A number of factors explain the increasing attractiveness of The Gambia as a favoured destination. Apart from the friendliness of the people, the country is peaceful and stable. It is only 5½ hours flight from Europe and provides almost all the facilities that other, further-off, destinations can boast of: fine “unspoilt” beaches as the Gambians like to describe their coastline, good sunshine and warm temperature. For lovers of nature, there are over 4 000 species of birds to watch and there is the Abuko nature reserve where the Gambian authorities have created a mini-park for some lions, crocodiles and other familiar African wildlife.

Fifty-five percent of visitors to The Gambia are British, 15% Scandinavian mostly Swedish, 14% French, and 4% Germans. Promotional campaigns are continuing throughout Europe and the Gambians are so impressed by the response of visitors that they plan to make tourism an all-year-industry and not just a seasonal one that takes place between the months of October and April. They also plan to extend the Tourist Development Area (TDA), which currently covers the area between the Atlantic Hotel in Banjul along the coast to the newly-established Senegambia Hotel, to Brufut. There are at the moment about 14 tourist hotels providing altogether 4 000 beds. More hotels are being planned, for as far as the Gambians are concerned the sky is the limit in tourism. They do not see a point where the number of arrivals will become unacceptable. “ As long as The Gambia is a favoured destination we will accommodate tourists”, says the Minister of Information and Tourism, Dr Lamin Saho.

The extent to which The Gambia is benefitting from tourism, however, remains the subject of criticisms by development experts. True enough, they say, the industry earns foreign exchange, provides employment and has down-stream effects on agriculture and the handicraft industry. But the majority of tourists, they point out, come with package tours which have been paid for abroad, leaving the country with little gain. The Gambia loses out in another way. Dr Saho admits that there are very few Gambians actively involved in the industry, in terms of investment. There are one or two who own hotels or cafes, the rest are just employees. The industry is overwhelmingly in the hands of foreigners.

Low standard of living

In a way this discrepancy in tourism (an industry that is booming with very little benefit for the people) reflects more or less the dichotomy in the economy as a whole: macroeconomic indicators showing rapid economic recovery but no visible improvement in the standard of living of the Gambians. The structural adjustment exercise meant the removal of subsidies and retrenchment of public employees. Although President Al-Haji Sir Dawda Jawara indicates in his interview with The Courier, that measures have been taken and will be taken to alleviate the effects, unemployment is still widespread, purchasing power is still very low despite the fall in inflation. There have been price increases in such basic items as sugar (36%), rice (16%), groundnut oil (15%), fruits and vegetables, meat, fish and eggs. Not only have subsidies been removed on transport, there are not enough buses for city commuters. Indeed transport in Banjul is a nightmare; irrespective of the payment of transport allowances to workers, the roads are almost impracticable with nearly all the streets dug up in projects that are advancing at a snail’s pace to provide the capital with a sewerage system and improved telephone, water and electricity services. Even works on the approaches to Banjul (the Second Highway Maintenance Project and the Banjul/Serrekunda Highway Project, which once came to a standstill after the original contractor ran off with nearly 80 % of the funds allocated to it) are proceeding painfully slowly. These and many other projects throughout The Gambia depend on foreign finance.

Considering its size and population, its dependence on one crop, groundnuts and on a narrow range of other activities, its heavy dependence on external finance for capital projects and it heavy debt burden (indeed for the foreseeable future the country will continue to face heavy debt-servicing despite generous rescheduling and some write-offs) the Gambian government’s ability to influence the pace of the country’s economic development in the coming years is obviously limited. Its option for a market-oriented economy-to rely on market forces to determine exchange rates, the interest rates as well as the allocation of resources to the productive sectors of the economy-would therefore appear logical. It would be interesting to watch whether The Gambia which has been in the forefront of democratic practices in West Africa is blazing the trail in economic liberalism.

Augustine OYOWE

Yundum: no economic spin offs from the shuttle

When the National Aeronautic’ Space Agency (NASA) indicated early in 1989 that the Gambian international airport, Yundum, would be its first choice in an emergency landing, of its shuttle spacecraft, there were hopes that the decision would bring considerable economic spin-offs for the Gambia. It was assumed that it would mean the upgrading of Yundum to meet the shuttle requirements: lengthening the 4000-metre runway, for example, by an extra 300 meters at either end and having some 60 or so staff on the ground.

US sources in Banjul, while confirming NASA’s choice have revealed to The Courier that nothing practically is planned for Yundum. The airport, as it is, they say can receive the shuttle which will I automatically deploy its safety catchnets on hitting; the tarmac.

It should be noted that the choice of Yundum by NASA was based purely on technical grounds. NASA has already alternative emergency landing sites in Morocco and Spain, but Yundum, unlike those two sites, lies directly below the shuttle’s southern trajectory, which will make it easy for the spacecraft, in the event of engine failure on take-off, to simply glide down onto the Gambian airport. The Moroccan and Spanish bases suffer from not being on the path of the shuttle which, in an emergency, would require at least that some of its engines are working for the spacecraft to be manoeuvered for a landing.