A pan-Africanist at heart and by example, he is likewise recognised as a great visionary; patriotic, philanthropic, development-oriented, poverty-sensitive, and a person of vast creativity and resourcefulness. He has a strident flair for justice and fair play. His achievements speak volumes.
It was in the late eighties that the First Republic probably made its most noticeable development impact. The Economic Recovery Programme (ERP) was set in motion (1985–1989) with its sequel the Programme for Sustainable Development (PSD) – 1989 and after). The strategic objective of both those economic adjustment programmes was to ensure maintenance of existing assets including public structures and infrastructure. This was to be done alongside keeping the Dalasis internationally competitive by means of a series of systematic currency devaluations prescribed, steered and monitored by the Bretton Woods Institutions, the IMF and the World Bank.
Other macro-economic adjustments followed, chiefly heavy investments in the directly productive sectors (fisheries, agriculture, tourism); divestiture and privatisation of government commercial service institutions; and the promotion of small and medium scale manufacturing industries, among other economic measures. Some benefits began to be realised in the years immediately subsequent to the ERP. By 1991 the exchange rate was only eight (8) Dalasis to the Pound Sterling. Procurement of basic commodities was made possible and affordable even for most middle and junior income earners, on account of the availability of the requisite hard currency on the market.
Agricultural production and productivity was on the ascendancy propelled by the availability of affordable agricultural inputs to farmers, namely fertiliser and good seeds. The programme of village seed stores regained importance in the farming cycle. Favourable, if not lucrative, agricultural pricing polices provided incentive; and credit-buying was hardly known. Food security at household level looked attainable. Even where food production was at times diminished by effects of near-drought years, it was personal incomes and a good dalasis parity on the market, that provided the necessary purchasing power to procure imported goods. With a steady growth rate of 5% per annum, economic growth registered positive; a pride compared to other growth rates in the sub-region.
However by 1992, and within a short space of time, this seemingly encouraging scenario was to become only an economic flash in the pan. What started as an illusion later turned delusion. The hard earned gains of the ERP and the PSD started to dissipate and ultimately crumble under the weight of wide-spread corruption. It was corruption of a scale never known before in The Gambia: corruption that was virulent, rampant, contagious, and unbridled. People in public places suddenly began a scramble for personal enrichment. Unscrupulous civil servants and their political masters and collaborators as well, seemed to want to plunder everything in sight within the country’s coffers. A selfish and egocentric trend then emerged, viciously characterised by land-grabbing led by the controllers of the land themselves. Parading fancy cars became the order of the day: who could drive the fanciest cars, live in the most beautiful house, have the most number of compounds? Who owns more personal fortunes, or assets fixed or moveable? Who could become one of the biggest names in town…. talk of the town? Who could stand up to the highest level of pomp, ceremony and conspicuous consumption? The state could not deliver with little foreign exchange, very few roads, little infrastructure, two hospitals, very few health centres, sub-standard airport, no television, no university or sufficient schools, etc, etc. Therefore, and inexorably, the wheels of economic recovery creaked lamentably towards a grinding halt. The president of the First Republic, Sir Dawda, seemed to be losing grip on things, as the state of the economy down-spiralled. The Gambia was already in a big hole; all that was left was a solemn burial. But God Almighty did not allow that for such beautiful and God-fearing people of The Gambia. So, as things continued to down-spiral, as both gloom and doom seemed to hover ever so closely over this beautiful country and these beautiful people, God seemed to manifest Himself with all His glory on July 22nd, 1994. It is a day always to be remembered in Gambian political history.
The revolution was a welcome event for nearly all Gambians including members of all the political parties then existent.
Sir Dawda had in 1990 (or thereabout) made a very prudent decision, in many people’s view, to retire that year from government owing, as he put it, to longevity in office, coupled with age or health reasons. This decision was proclaimed I believe at Mansakonko (Pakalinding Community Centre) following his Meet the Farmers Tour of that year. Many welcomed it as a noble and selfless decision, including prominent members of his own government. There were some, like me, who then believed we would have another President Leopold Sedar Senghor who retired gracefully from politics in the 1980s to give way to a younger breed of patriots (Abdou Diouf being the acceptable successor). But here came a dramatic and surprising twist of events. Either petitioned or pressurised by some of his party stalwarts the learned sage decided to rescind his decision. The unfortunate event as it later played out, took place at the historic MacCarthy Square in Banjul which ironically came to be the landmark of the July 22nd Revolution.
At that point in time, some began to doubt the credibility and reliability of the PPP Government which by then had split into different rival factions. There came into existence two emerging PPPs each suspicious and critical of the other. There seemed to be disunity and divergence of allegiance within the Party. The conditions were palpable given an already crumbling economy.
The only enduring fact was that the PPP could not have been beaten any day by the ballot, easily, or if at all. Therefore on July 22nd 1994, the nation was visibly relieved and elated for a peaceful change – the July 22nd 1994 Revolution. For many, it was like God’s answer to the prayers of the nation. Some believed that the finger of God was present in the exercise – it was a successful exercise that went incredibly, even incomprehensibly without bloodshed!
It was a coup quite different from any coup the world has ever seen. Many gave a sigh of relief; some jubilated boundlessly, even if not in public. If the totality of events was anything to go by, Jammeh and the AFPRC were a God–send.
Even though the MV Murray County provided the pretext or else the context (the distinction is not important now) it is the courage and discipline of those young men that captured the day. On the morning of July 22nd, State House was besieged by a small but gallant infantry. Some were taken hostage while others either fled or carried to safety. The important fact: no blood was spilled, no hair harmed. Never had The Gambia, or the world, witnessed such military phenomenon!! Those young men were indeed “Soldiers with a difference”, while Sir Dawda must have surely gone down in history notwithstanding some unfortunate followers, as one of the most respected Gambians ever; he continues to be. May God bless him and his entire family.
His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhaji Doctor Yahya AJJ Jammeh (Babili Mansa) literally seized the reins of power at a time when this country was in the doldrums in all spheres of national endeavour: social, political, economic, cultural. He intervened at the moment when a whole nation, in economic terms, was about to be buried alive. But his battle was far from over; it had only just begun. Western governments which should have properly reasoned the justifications for the revolution, still refused to change policy; and they refused to recognise a coup or to give its government any iota of support. This was one of the early and formidable trials of the revolution. It presented the question: where could The Gambia then find that vital support, for development projects and even for balance of payment? The government naturally turned from west to east. Because God is everywhere, He is therefore in the east just as He is in the west: from World Bank to Allah’s Bank said the heroic leader. As this trial was going on so also the doubts of sceptics: can they run a government?! Will this military adventure go far? Do they have any knowledge of economic development? Should they not return to barracks where they belong? Who is this Jammeh and who is this Sanna Sabally, anyway?
By this time the sceptics were joined by detractors. The former were people who had doubts; the latter knew better but chose to undermine the event. But despite both sceptics and detractors, the new regime went on to prove themselves: the two years of the transition went by peacefully and abounding in finished projects such as Banjul International Airport, major hospitals, health centres, schools, roads, television station etc, etc. These were only preliminary examples of what was to follow, following from 1996: university, abundant schools, women empowerment …… should we count them all? They are here for all to see. All we can honestly and dutifully do is to thank President Jammeh and to pray for him.
God grant him long life, health, peace, joy and prosperity, him and his family, colleagues and well-wishers. May God grant him completion of his work and all good things he wishes for The Gambia and the great Gambian people.
Long Live The Gambia!
Long Live The Revolution!
Long Live His Excellency The President!
Grand Commander of the Republic of the Gambia
Illustrious Son of the Continent
Converter of Sceptics
Confounder of Detractors
Reproducer of Completed Projects
Friend of the Poor
Defender of Justice
Pride of Visionaries
Patriot of Patriots
Pan-Africanist through and through!
President and Head of State of the Republic of The Gambia Sheikh Professor Alhaji Doctor Yahya AJJ Jammeh Babili Mansa! Congratulation.]]>