By Mustapha Darboe and Omar Bah
It is coming to a year since President Adama Barrow defeated the former autocratic ruler Yahya Jammeh but progresses as to whether the Coalition government has delivered on its promises are a matter of debate in the country.
The former ruling Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction led by Jammeh, now in exile in Equatorial Guinea, has often argued that Gambians have regretted voting them out.
But a former opposition under Jammeh and now the agriculture minister who has been arrested 22 times, Omar Jallow, said in defence of his government that he is glad APRC enjoys what they denied Gambians in their two decade-rule.
“The most meaningful change that has happened now is the freedom that the people are enjoying… And we should make this freedom the basis of the democracy we are building,” Jallow told The Standard.
“We have allowed APRC to hold rallies, speak freely without intimidation and that is what I could not do in the past 22 years. I went to jail for 22 times just for expressing my views. So I am happy that they can say it…”
The Gambia currently faces significant challenges including higher public debt at D58 billion, energy crisis, indebted and inefficient public institutions and higher youth unemployment at 38%.
The current government claims it inherited the broken economy but almost a year into office, some activists and opposition figures are doubting their capacity to deal with the various problems.
Nothing has changed
The national youth mobiliser of the Gambia Democratic Congress, Modou Cham, said although the country is enjoying freedom, Barrow’s government is yet to initiate any serious project that will impact on the lives of Gambians. “Nothing has changed as far as Jammeh’s past draconian dictatorial policies and bad laws are concerned,” Cham said. Cham also said the government is failing on its promises of justice for all citizens because there are at least 23 soldiers in custody for more than 72 hours without being brought before a court of law. This is contrary to the Constitution which states under section 19 that person arrested must either be released or brought before a court within 72 hours.
However, a leading rights activist in the country, Dr Amadou Scattred-Janneh, believes the government has made great strides towards protecting the rights of the people.
Dr Janneh, a former minister under Jammeh who was sentenced to life for distributing T-shirts protesting against the regime, added that in the area of electricity much efforts are needed.
“Well, we have seen phenomenal changes since Yahya Jammeh was removed from power to this day; not only in the efforts of the government but also as civil society and the Gambian populace in general,” Janneh said.
“Government has also respected our fundamental rights, which is very important. Perhaps much more important than infrastructural development.
“But as far as establishing steady electricity supply is concern and things of that nature we have a long way to go. But that may in a sense be attributable to the depth in which Yahya Jammeh took this country.”
Janneh said as activist they will continue campaign until the draconian media laws and other discriminatory laws are amended, “saying such laws and the electoral reforms cannot wait.”
The Gambia has been both on the list of the Least Developed Countries and Heavy Indebted Countries in the world. The economy of the small nation has not been doing well. This weakened growth within the economy coupled with fiscal indiscipline of the Jammeh regime which further increased the need for domestic borrowing.
An IMF economists, Bernard Mendy, revealed last month that greater number of bank within the domestic economy were heavily relying on Treasury Bill, with some getting as high as 78% of their revenue from it.
The lessening of domestic borrowing by the current government has pushed down interest rates but Muhammed Jagana, president of the Gambia Chamber of Commerce and Industry much needed to be done to boost growth.
“The interest rates is coming down but before some of the fundamental changes in the economy happens, it has to take time… It will take some time before you see certain investment from banks into the productive sectors of the economy but it will come,” Jagana told The Standard.
“The people have high hopes and I think the government will have to think of creating jobs especially for the young people. A high number of youths are returning home from Libya and elsewhere and the government has to devise plans on how to create jobs for these people.”
“The energy has been a major challenge in Gambia and it is a drain on the economy. For small and medium businesses, it is almost impossible to operate with the way the current load shedding is going. It is something that Nawec is trying to solve but in the meantime lots of small businesses are suffering.
“The hopes and expectations are much more than what government have delivered so far… The acceleration of the growth of the economy is something that should be made a priority.”