In his traditional New Year message to the Gambians, President Jammeh has defended his pronouncement declaring The Gambia as an Islamic State at a meeting held in Gunjur, Kombo South, late last year.
The pronouncement which has stirred controversy among his critics who branded it as “unconstitutional”, Jammeh argued, was on the basis that The Gambia is a majority Muslim country.
The Gambian leader, however, called for tolerance among Christians and Muslims in the country.
“Recently, I pronounced The Gambia as an Islamic State and Republic on the basis that the majority of Gambians are Muslims and the need to uphold the country’s Islamic identity and faith in an environment where the rights of all citizens would be safeguarded and respected,” he said.
“In this respect, I call on both Muslims and Christians to continue living together peacefully and work in harmony for the common good of the country regardless of our ethno-linguistic differences.”
In mid to late last year, the Gambian dalasi has nosedived against major currencies like US Dollar, Euro and British Pounds, following which the government intervened to set the exchange rates.
This does not go down well with opposition and the International Monetary who claimed the exchange rates should be left to the determination of the market forces but the President, in his New Year message, said their actions were “necessary”.
“Meanwhile however, we will continue with our reform agenda to ensure that the macro-economic situation of the country is improved to facilitate increase in revenues, buttressed by rational public expenditure, stable interest and exchange rates and low inflation. We have however had the unpleasant but necessary task of intervening in the foreign exchange market to correct, in the immediate term, certain distortions and market failures that resulted in the continuous dwindling of the value of the dalasi against foreign currencies. This intervention is meant to promote and protect the interest of the citizenry of this country; and it is not in any way different in principle from similar measures taken in the developed countries to manage their financial and economic crises,” he said.
“However, contrary to what others believe, my government subscribes to the principles and spirit of the free market system and will continue to promote and encourage honest private sector participation and contribution in all sectors of The Gambian economy. This is in fulfillment of our responsibility but we also expect all actors in the economy to participate responsibly and meaningfully for the benefit of all.”
The farmer President has also renewed his resolve for the attainment of food self-sufficiency in the country, saying “the most formidable yet surmountable challenge of the Year 2016 is the attainment of national food-self sufficiency as a foundation for graduating into a net exporter of food by 2018”.
He said if the government succeeds in attaining food security in the country, “hunger, mal-nutrition and poverty will be eradicated in The Gambia sooner than expected”.
“What we should focus on now is to redouble our efforts and implement more effective and efficient food production and processing strategies. My government is firmly committed to provide the conducive Environment to the farming community. I therefore call on all to work together with a sense of common purpose for the achievement of this target,” Jammeh added.
Speaking of his Government’s achievements in the past year, the President said: “2015 has been associated with remarkable and significant milestones in our quest to transform The Gambia into a highly developed country, God willing. Our performance in the implementation of the 2015 MDGs has been impressive. We have made significant progress in reducing poverty; some education related targets have been surpassed, some health-related targets met; and we are on track and have registered appreciable inroads towards the attainment of other targets. The highest points of this cluster of achievements have been the reduction of hunger and mal-nutrition from 13.3% in 1992 to less than 5% in 2015 and the availability of clean potable water to over 80% of the population. These levels of performance warranted the receipt of prestigious awards of excellence from the FAO and the AU respectively.”
The President said his Government success in the implementation of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals within the context of our National Visions has fortified their “resolve to transform the Post – 2015 challenges into opportunities for further improvement in the welfare of our people”.
“Already, government, in collaboration with the UNDP and other partners have commenced consultations on the prioritising and mainstreaming of the sustainable development goals as well as exploring innovative private sector financing and making the investment environment more attractive to enhance the availability of funds for their implementation,” he said.
The President said his Government will continue to pursue the country’s national interests both internally and externally based on the nation’s interests and in conformity with the religious values as well as on the basis of mutual respect.
Jammeh also called on Gambians to dedicate themselves to the development of the country and shun “tribalism”.