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 Peoples 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 Gambias 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. Im 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
· 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
its a new Commission. The headquarters have only recently been
inaugurated. I have a feeling that soon we will be seeing the results of its
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 Organisations 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 weve 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. Its 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
theres 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
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, thats 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 countrys
groundnuts at prices determined by market forces.
· The EEC has made substantial
contributions to the development of The Gambia. What are your expectations from
- 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.