The Gambia - Domestic policy



Following the 1994 coup, the European Union (EU) suspended all but humanitarian aid and funding for existing projects. The United States suspended all assistance, as did the World Bank, which cut its assistance until a plan for returning The Gambia to civilian rule was in place. Because development assistance constituted about 25.5% of Gambia's gross national product (GNP), an estimated 20% of Gambia's labor force became unemployed. Over 10,000 workers lost their jobs in tourism, and considerable revenues in sales taxes, airport departure taxes, and income taxes were also lost. There was also considerable capital outflow as some established businesses moved their operations to the more stable neighboring Guinea-Bissau or Cape Verde. By reducing the transition timetable from four to two years, Jammeh was able to restore donor confidence.

Jammeh has adopted a development blueprint he calls "Vision 2020," which he claims is achievable five years ahead of schedule if Gambians are willing to rise to the challenge. Vision 2020 focuses on three sectors: agriculture, exports, and tourism, and is supported by ancillary projects such as the Trade Gateway. The goal is to transform The Gambia from a middle- to a high-income country. Jammeh envisions a number of policy measures including the transition of a number of West African states outside the franc zone to a common currency, the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO), as a stabilizing force that will strengthen sustainable growth. He wants to see more local ownership of hotels, development of cloud-seeding technology for drought control, and more commitment on the part of Gambians to their groundnut industry. He has been criticized for his recent crackdown on foreigners, in particular young women from the subregion working in the hospitality industry, but he insists he is not antiforeigner.

Despite slippage in 2001 and early 2002 in the budget deficit and in attempts to slow the growth of domestic debt, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved a new three-year US $27 million poverty reduction and growth facility (PRGF) for 2002–05. The IMF expects the administration to privatize parastatals, to improve the regulatory environment for business, and to increase budget transparency. Although real GDP slowed to 3% in 2002, it was expected to pick up in 2003 to 4–5% supported by donor assistance, rising tourism, and improved agricultural output. In September 2002, donors approved The Gambia's poverty reduction and strategy paper (PRSP), pledging a total of US $115 million over three years to fund PRSP activities.

Politically, Jammeh has been accused on attempting to accumulate power for himself and his party by changing the constitution, and changing laws such as the right of communities to elect their local leaders. In 2002 a National Media Commission was established that would permit the government to close newspapers and radios, and to send journalists to jail for violations of the Media Act such as inaccurate reporting. Changes to the criminal code deny the accused the right to bail. Jammeh has allegedly instituted a policy to dismiss civil servants suspected of failing to support the party line, and the opposition complains of intimidation and denial of the right to hold meetings or to campaign freely about the country. Critics have called for government to publish the Assets Committee report, which was established after the coup to recover national assets, but Jammeh so far has refused to do so.

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