Joy­ful re­turn to The Gam­bia, but there are ma­jor chal­lenges ahead

The Star Early Edition - - WORLD - MEL FRYKBERG

BAN­JUL: 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.

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

In ad­di­tion to the eu­pho­ria over suc­cess­fully forc­ing Jam­meh to de­part after he re­peat­edly 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, 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 that The Gam­bia faces tough times once the eu­pho­ria dies down.

Re­fer­ring to Jam­meh’s loot­ing of The Gam­bia’s state cof­fers of $11 mil­lion, Grey-John­son said: “He took the equiv­a­lent of ap­prox­i­mately R168m which he stole over a twoweek 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 said.

Fur­ther­more, The Gam­bia’s tourism in­dus­try, one of the coun­try’s big­gest cash re­ceipts, has been dam­aged with the evac­u­a­tion of over 1 000 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 theft.

In ad­di­tion to the dev­as­tat­ing blow Jam­meh has 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.

“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 re­gard­ing the con­di­tions he agreed which en­abled Jam­meh to leave,” 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.”

Some­body is go­ing to have to bear the brunt of that back­lash and in all like­li­hood it will prob­a­bly be Bar­row.

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

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

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

PIC­TURE: EPA

Gam­bian refugees re­turn to Gam­bia after flee­ing to Sene­gal.

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