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Friday, September 25, 2020

On US-Gambia relations

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 Shocked by the ‘misery’ he was greeted with upon his landing, Roosevelt scolded colonial Britain for the neglect of The Gambia. History books, devoid of dissenting opinion so far, gave an account of how Roosevelt’s encounter with The Gambia informed the setting up of what has become known as the United Nations. This dispensation created conditions for the guarantee of the rights of all persons, regardless of race or religion, from their right to personal liberties to their right to national sovereignty.

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Even though the beginning of interactions between the United States and this part of the world could probably be traced back to the pre-Atlantic Slave Trade era, it was not until after The Gambia gained independence in 1965 that formal diplomatic relations between the two countries were established. Every available indication had pointed to the existence of cordial bilateral relations, since then. And, opportunities for a growth of the relations seemed limitless. What binds the two countries for this long is genuine mutual interest in the protection and promotion of global peace and security, respect for human rights and improvement of the wellbeing of the citizens of both countries. 

 

Evidently, there have been meaningful bilateral engagements in the form of military assistance and security cooperation, trade and cultural exchanges, Peace Corps volunteer support and the fight against terrorism and such vices as drug and human trafficking as well as money laundering. Thanks to these efforts, for instance, the United States has undoubtedly found a reliable partner in The Gambia in its global policing ventures against terrorism. In return, the Gambian military through US military assistance, are better equipped to safeguard the country’s territorial sovereignty and contribute to restoration of peace where needed. 

 

At another level, people-to-people interactions between Gambians and Americans have been getting stronger. A growing number of US citizens have found a home in The Gambia, away from their home in the US. Some have opened up businesses in The Gambia; others are helping in other areas like education and community development. Besides, US brands, such as Coca Cola are important in the country’s socio-economic life.  Reciprocally, a large chunk of the current crop of intellectuals in The Gambia, studied in the US and some cabinet ministers are known to also have US citizenship. There remains in the US more Gambians, studying and working, and more are preparing their back packs, ready to leave. For example, a US city, Glenpool, elected into office Gambia-born Mamadou Ceesay, as mayor. 

 

Therefore, when the US government in 2004 reduced trade barriers with The Gambia, through the Africa Growth and Opportunity (AGOA), a core of America’s economic engagement in Africa, hopes of better relations between the two countries could not be misplaced. Progress was made though minimal. According to available statistics, Gambian goods exports to the US in 2013 amount to US$2 million, a 383 percent increase from 2012, while US goods exports to The Gambia in 2013 were US$36 million, down 28.9% from 2012. This ranks The Gambia as America’s 186th largest goods trading partner with US$37 million in total (exports plus imports) goods trade during 2013. 

 

While this result is admittedly far from the desired target, the good news is that efforts were being made to improve the situation. In October this year, the Gambia Investment and Export promotion Agency (GIEPA, in collaboration with American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham), held a two-day workshop to raise the awareness of Gambian entrepreneurs about AGOA and ways and means they can properly utilise the opportunity it presents. Besides, Africa-US trade summit, convened by President Obama in July this year, was expected to inject a new life into the trade partnership. 

 

Therefore, the termination of The Gambia’s membership of AGOA, which takes effect January 1, is quite regrettable. It is one of the series of undesirable events unfolding between the two countries, inviting the question: Where are US-Gambia relations heading? The diplomatic fences between the US and The Gambia have cracked. Analysts pointed out that two of the requirements for AGOA membership, which is in fact renewed every year, are that a country “does not engage in activities that undermine US national security or foreign policy interests” and “does not engage in gross violations of internationally recognised human rights”. Is the gay question at play?

 

Without doubt, there are minimum human rights guarantees that every country should measure up to. But the US and The Gambia should be guided by their history, commonalities and mutual state interest to strengthen their relations while working to smoothen the rough edges. No system of government in the world in prefect. The US is far from being one. The Gambia, for instance, will not severe ties with the US because of the latter’s support to Israel against Palestinian Muslim brothers. The country’s position has laudably been that every country, including the US, should work together to bringing about lasting solutions to the Israel-Palestinian problem. In a similar vein, the US should positively work towards perfecting the imperfections of The Gambia, rather than force it into international isolation. 

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