The USAID funded Gambia Governance Reform Activity, GGRA, officially closed out yesterday at a ceremony held at the Sir Dawda International Conference Centre. Under the project, implemented by the International Republican Institute, IRI, and the International Foundation of Electoral Systems, IFES, The Gambia was supported to emerge from a brutal dictatorship to a free society. This happened through the provision of support for capacity building to the Independent Electoral Commission, IEC, the National Assembly, the civil society, the government among others.
Delivering her keynote speech at the ceremony, the US Ambassador to The Gambia Madam Sharon L Cromer, said the US is proud to partner with the people of The Gambia as the nation strives to strengthen its democracy in the wake of the historic events of 2016.
She further disclosed that the USAID’s Gambia Governance Reform Activity, or GGRA, was specifically designed to help the nation transition from authoritarian rule to a truly free society.
“Over the past three years, the U.S. Government, through USAID and its implementing partners, IRI and IFES supported the efforts of Gambian leaders in government and in civil society to move key democratic reforms forward.
The GGRA also enabled Gambian Civil Society Organisations to fully participate in the constitutional reform process and despite the rejection of the proposed new Constitution, the drafting process was highly inclusive. A wide cross-section of Gambians, including women, people with disabilities, and urban and rural communities participated”, the ambassador said.
She disclosed that the USAID-GGRA activity provided technical assistance, including legal advice to the National Assembly and civil society on major pieces of legislation that have shown The Gambia’s commitment to transparency, accountability, participation, and inclusion.
These, she said include;
o the recently passed 2021 Access to Information Bill,
o the 2021 Elections Amendment Bill,
o the 2020 Persons with Disabilities Bill,
o the 2020 Women’s Reservation Bill, and
o the 2019 Anti-Corruption Bill.
“The passage of these bills is critical to The Gambia’s democratic journey. The United States will continue to partner with The Gambia in pursuit of a stronger democratic framework. The United States was honored to be able to support the first post-transition elections in The Gambia. Everyone in this room that worked to ensure free, fair, and peaceful elections in The Gambia should be proud,” the ambassador said.
“Over 300,000 citizens were reached through the voter education efforts. These initiatives played a major role in mobilizing voters in what became an extremely high voter turnout in a presidential election with over 90% of registered voters turning out to vote. The GGRA also trained the largest citizen observation mission in The Gambia’s history for the presidential polls. Over 460 short-term observers and 50 long-term observers, all Gambian citizens, created an environment for credible elections to take place. This was also the first election where citizen monitors deployed long-term observers to witness the voter registration exercise, providing greater transparency,” the ambassador said. She added that the USAID and its partners also responded to the needs presented by the COVID-19 pandemic across development sectors. GGRA supported the development of Electoral Safety Guidelines for the coronavirus, which were adopted by the IEC and posted in all 1,554 polling stations on the presidential election day.
On his part, the chairman of the IEC, Alieu Momarr Njai, said he is personally sad that the GGRA is closing out. ”I wish the project is not ending because of the immense contribution it has made to the work of the IEC,” Mr Njai said. He then went ahead to enumerate the many areas of intervention of the GGRA which profoundly helped strengthen the work of the IEC towards delivering a free and fair election. These he said include voter registration and education as well as capacity building for the Commission’s workers.
The Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly, Seedy Njie, represented by the deputy majority leader Hon Abdoulie Ceesay expressed the profound appreciation of the National Assembly to IRI for their immense support over the years and USAID and the US Embassy in the Gambia for making available the required funding for The Gambia Governance Reform Activity which he said made an impact in the Assembly’s governance infrastructure. He then listed over dozen areas of intervention in the work of the Assembly supported by the project.
The opening ceremony then proceeded with a power point presentation of the general overview of the GGRA activities by Rene Travies from the IFES.
Later in the day, four panels of deliberations covering the US Government support to constitutional reform, Women’s Reservation Bill, support to more democratic elections in 2021-2022 and the future agenda of Gambian democracy were conducted followed by a question-and-answer session. The whole day programme was chaired by Sunday Alao, Interim Programme Director of the IRI and attended by a large section of the Gambian community drawn from politicians, media, civil society among others.