Joyful return to The Gambia, but there are major challenges ahead
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
Gambian refugees return to Gambia after fleeing to Senegal.