Prominent Gambian opposition activists who were active supporters of the coalition have called on the President elect Adama Barrow to place high priority on reforming the country’s institutions especially the judiciary, choose a “robust cabinet” of technocrats and improve on small nation’s human rights record.
Madi Jobarteh, a Gambian human right activists currently studying abroad, said the “22 years of tyranny” in Gambia “has severely damaged and weakened our institutions and polluted our constitution”.
“Their priority should be to set up a robust cabinet that is not composed of politicians but by technocrats and experts with modern and progressive mindsets who will modernise our governance system and economy. Then they need to engage in the restructuring of our statecraft, i.e. to conduct constitutional, legal and institutional changes in order to set the stage for a democratic dispensation,” Madi told The Standard.
“Another priority is to engage in active civic education in order to empower the people and strengthen our sense of sovereignty and patriotism as means to prevent the emergence of dictatorship again. Of course they would also have to set up various commissions of enquiry to establish the truth about the corruption and atrocities of AFPRC/APRC misrule and ensure justice.”
Samsudeen Phatey, a Gambian journalists and an activist based in United States, said the new government should “prioritize economic and private sector growth” and review the country’s tax policies.
“They should immediately review the tax policies to help startup businesses to thrive and attract foreign investors to outsource jobs to The Gambia,” Phatey told The Standard.
“It is therefore important for the new government to focus on trade deals rather than foreign aid, and immediately engage the EU to release budgetary aid that is being withheld, and get the U.S. government to restore our status in AGOA and the Millennium Challenge Cooperation.”
Kemo Conteh, a consultant on governance and public administration, said what the small country needs is “meaningful economic transformation that links us with the rest of the modern world through ECOWAS, AU and the UN”.
The activists also emphasized that the new government must ensure transparency, accountability and efficiency in the public service if it were to deliver on its promise of building a new Gambia.
Grappling with weakened public institutions and shortage of foreign direct investment, Gambia has a public debt of about 110% of its GDP, estimated D47 billion.
And 48% of the 1.9 million people of the small country are living below a dollar a day, the income poverty determinant for the World Bank.
Poverty from a multidimensional perspective which is determined by looking into healthcare, education, energy access and others is about 58% of its population.
The poor country with a budget of little over D14 billion also has wage bill of close to D3 billion, thus Gambia government was advised in past years to conduct an austerity measure in its highly inefficient and overstaffed civil service.
Agriculture also used to employ 71% of the country’s population but it has declined to employing 31 percent of the population in recent times while the service sector took the lead.
Gambia, which exports peanuts and rosewood, is one of Africa’s slowest growing economies, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) says.
In recent years, fears of Ebola in the region had kept tourists away while drought cut agricultural output.
More than 10,000 Gambians have arrived in Italy by sea this year, having crossed the Sahara and the Mediterranean, making them more likely than any other African nationals to take what is known locally as “the back way”, EU data shows.
The little country also has many mining areas including Kartong, Sanyang and Batokunkou, located towards the south of the Gambia River in the southwest of the country within the West Region.
However, Halifa Sallah said during campaign that mining in the country has been operating in total secrecy without media and citizens knowing what are being mined, how much revenue is being generated and where the money goes.
“The excitement of having a new government after so many years may keep people from leaving Gambia, at least for a while,” Richard Danziger, regional director of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), told Thomson Reuters.
“But unless we see more job creation or other opportunities there is no reason for there to be a dramatic change in migration patterns,” he added.
The poor country has had tens of millions of euros in aid from the European Union (EU) blocked in recent years due to concerns over human rights violations during Jammeh’s rule.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the EU’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said last week that their institutions were ready to support the country.
“With the departure of Jammeh, the problems with funding should disappear,” the diplomat added, citing aid that was frozen by the EU due to concerns over rights abuses.
Aid agencies said they hoped Barrow’s victory would spur donors to invest in Gambia and tackle issues ranging from high rates of malnutrition to vulnerability to rising sea levels.
Nearly one in 10 Gambians do not have enough to eat, said the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
“The international community should not wait to be contacted but rather start engaging the new government,” said Carla Fajardo, country representative of the Catholic Relief Services.
While celebrations continue on the streets of Banjul, many Gambians say that boosting development and stemming the flow of illegal migration will be no easy task for Barrow’s government.