By Emil Touray
As part of his mid-year media engagement, the Gambian President, His Excellency, Adama Barrow, on Thursday, July 26, held a half-hour interview with Emil Touray, veteran journalist and president of the Gambia Press Union. Excerpts below.
Mr President, you have now been in office for the past six months, could you tell us the major gains your government has registered in this period?
The past six months was very challenging but I think we have made significant progress. We have inherited an economy that is virtually bankrupt with less than one month import cover. That is very serious and our domestic debt was very high. But with all that we were very committed.
So our first priority was to stabilise the economy. We made contacts with our partners and we were able to get budget support. Now we are seeing some progress, part of which is the going down of prices of basic commodities.
You made mention of budget support. Could you expand on this?
We sought for budget support because we needed money to stabilise the economy. We received money from the World Bank and European Union so that we could resuscitate the economy.
Could you quantify the amount you have received from these institutions?
We received an initial US$56 million from World Bank and EU and we are expecting more. The International Monetary Fund is also very committed.
You said you have inherited an economy that is crippled by the Jammeh regime, could you share with us updates on the current state of the economy?
We are working very hard but there has been a significant improvement.
Which countries have registered interest to invest in The Gambia?
I mention countries? but I can tell you the whole world – [in] Asia, Europe, America, Africa – have interest in investing in The Gambia. Lots of companies have expressed interest in investing in The Gambia.
We have heard the French and the Chinese are expressing interest in investing in the Banjul seaport. Could you share with us your ideas about this?
It is not only the French and the Chinese who are interested. Dubai and Americans have all expressed interest to invest in our port. It is now left to The Gambia. We will carefully make our decision as a country to make sure we have the best deal.
Who is the leading bidder among these people or businesses that have expressed their interest in investing in the port?
There is a lot of assessment being done and we have technicians who are looking into this – people who have knowledge in this area – to see what is best. These are high-level decisions that need a lot of negotiation. They require a lot of time and a lot of sectors are involved. The political will is there and as politicians, we are pushing very hard. Our geographical location is a good advantage and we need to expand that port to compete with our neighbours. So it is top on our agenda. We are expecting it sooner than later.
When your government came to power, one of the key issues discussed was the security sector reform. Has this started, especially with the Gambia Armed Forces?
We have started reforming the security sector. There is a staff audit going on and this time the armed forces are part of that. They have also reinstated a lot of military personnel who were wrongfully dismissed. There are a lot of things happening there.
There are individuals who suggested that The Gambia has more security officials, in the police and army, than it needs. Are you thinking of freezing recruitment in the security sector for the time being?
We always want to come up with the best decision for this country. In my own opinion, I want a sizeable army that is professional and capable. It is part of our reforms to also build a standard army which is easier with a sizeable army.
How do you intend to build a sizeable army?
That is what we are working towards. That is why we have initiated the audit exercise.
We understand that your government is making efforts to seek extradition of the alleged killers [Junglers] for former president Yahya Jammeh. Could you share with us your government’s efforts in this direction?
We are making efforts in ensuring that people who commit atrocities in this country are prosecuted. The Junglers are the ones we believe enabled Yahya Jammeh. So they will be very useful in the process of seeking justice for those who lost their lives under Jammeh.
Has your government reached out to your counterparts [in the sub-region with regard to seeking extradition of these men]?
We have reached out to our counterparts in Senegal, Guinea Bissau, Guinea Conakry and even beyond. We believe that Africa cannot move forward without collaborative efforts. The problem that happened in The Gambia was an African problem and the solution is also an African one. The countries are very willing to help us in the interest of justice and they are part of the countries that solved the problem in The Gambia. So they still want to continue to be part of the solution to the problems of this country. The security of this country is paramount…
Is there any evidence of threat from former allies of Yahya Jammeh from outside the country and within as is being claimed?
There are lots of rumours. Sometimes people exaggerate these things. There may have been contacts from here and there but I don’t think it is a threat as at now.
How does the current relationship between Gambia and Senegal affect trade and security in both countries and perhaps in the wider sub-region?
The mutual relationship between Senegal and The Gambia is of paramount importance. Senegal and The Gambia are the same people and if we collaborate we will all benefit.
The leader of the MFDC rebel movement in the Casamance has told RFI last month that they want to reach out to The Gambia as a transit point to travel to Italy to have peace talks with the Senegalese government. Did MFDC make any contacts to that effect?
No, they have not made any official contacts yet. I have met an Italian priest who is involved in this peace talks and as far as we are concerned, we will be part of anything that will bring peace to Senegal or its southern region Casamance. It is in the interest of both The Gambia and Senegal. Without peace, nothing is possible. If there is anything like that, we will fully cooperate.
Given your close ties with President Macky Sall, how could the MFDC fighters be assured that they would not be handed over to Senegal when they make attempts to use here as transit point to move to Italy for peace talks?
We do everything on principle. Principle is the guiding force behind whatever we are doing in this country. And when I said principle you know what I mean. We want to do things that are correct and we want to make sure we protect the rule of law.
We want to be judged for good things after office. If you want to solve a problem, you should not be part of a problem.
An investigation is being launched into the assets of President Jammeh and his associates and family members but beside that, do you intend to investigate his alleged crimes against Gambians?
We will not investigate Yahya Jammeh alone but we are going to investigate everything that happened for the past 22 years.
We will have a comprehensive report of whatever happened here. That is why we are calling on Gambians to give information to the Commission of Inquiry we have established… The world is a small place. There were people who were extradited from other places and the same can happen with Jammeh. But we can’t say anything until the Commission’s report is out.
There are people who are of the view that your government has violated the agreement it has entered into with Jammeh before he ceded power, what do you say to that?
Let me say Jammeh’s loyalists are the ones who were saying that. I have not signed any agreement with Yahya Jammeh or anybody. There was nothing that my government has signed [with him].