When Vice President Dr. Badara Joof raised this question during his (in) famous address to the newly constituted Cabinet, he undoubtedly raised eyebrows. To me, the question is salient and relevant.
Before delving into the question, let’s understand what foreign policy is. Foreign policy entails “general objectives that guide the activities and relationships of one state in its interactions with other states.”
Gambia’s foreign policy under Sir Dawda Jawara was, to a large extent, clear-cut and consistent. However, since Yahya Jammeh took over, the trend has significantly changed, with the latter pinpointing the direction of foreign policy based on his whims and caprices. For instance, immediately after he seized power in 1994, Jammeh severed ties with Mainland China by recognizing Taiwan, which is still considered by the former as a renegade state and is recognized by just a handful of countries, mainly in Africa and the Caribbean. Taiwan pursued cash diplomacy in its relationship with the Gambia bankrolling the Government’s numerous projects across sectors, particularly in health, education, and agriculture. In return, Jammeh used his appearances on international fora, particularly the UN General Assembly, to advocate for the independence of Taiwan. Apparently annoyed by Taiwan’s reluctance to fund some personal ventures, Jammeh unceremoniously cut ties with Taiwan in 2013 and re-establishing ties with Mainland China. The latter received the U-Turn with delight, rewarding Jammeh with a state-of-the-art conference centre and roads in the framework of China’s Road and Belt policy.
Likewise, Jammeh abruptly cut ties with Qatar without his government advancing any reasons behind the decision, though some suggest “the move was meant to satisfy his wife who was not happy with the Qatari authorities.”
When President Barrow came to power in 2017, he continued to benefit from China’s “benevolence.” President Adama Barrow called for a one-China policy in his address to the UN General Assembly. These fluctuations, or shall I call them diplomatic flip-flops, make me reflect more on VP Joof’s central question of whether the Gambia has a foreign policy. We, unfortunately, tend to premise our relationship with countries on temporary impulsive objectives rather than long-term goals aligned with our development aspirations.
The other question I might add here is, do all Gambia’s diplomats understand Gambia’s foreign policy if one exists? The appointment of a raft of President Barrow’s militants to high-ranking diplomatic positions sparked controversy in the country. I know elsewhere that diplomats, though they might not specialize in political science, undergo rigorous orientation to familiarize themselves with diplomacy and the country’s foreign policy and rise through the ranks. I think the President needs to appoint career diplomats to serve Gambia’s interests overseas. After all, maintaining diplomatic posts is costly; hence sound judgement should be made in the appointment process.
Basidia M Drammeh
The resurgence of military coups in West Africa, a region once considered a democratic success, is largely due to one or all of the following factors:
1. Weakness and naivety of leadership.
2. Weak institutions riddled with corruption, nepotism, and lack of capacity.
3. Failure to strengthen “human security” including health security, food security employment etc).
4. The rise of tribal and ethnic hegemony in political governance.
5. Insecurity from Terrorism and transnational organized crime ( drugs, weapons, human trafficking and other illicit activities).
6. The subversion of democratic governance protocols such as constitutional presidential term limits.
ECOWAS bears the burden of responsibility for such democratic reversals. The mantle of leadership in a democracy must not be taken as a luxury for self perpetuation. In a democracy Leadership means responsibility and accountability to the people. It is unimaginable that after 50 – 60yrs of Independence and Statehood , African nations are still struggling to provide the basic needs for the people in healthcare, education, agriculture, and basic structural roads for the people.
It’s shameful to see hospitals without even basic sanitation resources such as toilets.
It’s shameful to see our hospitals with underresource hardworking nurses and doctors.
It’s shameful to see schools without proper funiture and infrastructure.
It’s shameful to see schools with underresource teachers.
It’s shameful to see our youths turning into drug addicts and criminals.
It’s shameful to see our security forces without basic resources to respond to crime.
It’s shameful to see our poor farmers denied the resources targeting productivity in agriculture.
It’s shameful to see the people struggling to access basic electricity and clean drinking water
This is the stark reality fueling political instability in Sub-Saharan Africa. The people deserve better and governments must do better to survive the onslaught.
Binneh S Minteh