Thursday, September 19, 2013

Nothing is looking good for Jammeh

The slide towards total and absolute diplomatic isolation and economic decline of the Jammeh regime continues.  First, the British Home Office issued a travel advisory for The Gambia, specifically targeted at British tourists planning on visiting The Gambia this season, warning about continued deterioration of security environment characterized by frequent arrests of ordinary citizens. Second, the United States Embassy in Banjul issued a press release announcing the conclusion of a three-day visit to Banjul of Ms. Sue Ford Patrick, the new Casamance Adviser resident in Dakar - a visit that signals the end of the free hand Jammeh seemed to have had in Africa's longest running regional conflict.  Third, the IMF's consultation mission report is essentially saying that Gambia's economy will get worse before it gets better.  The British advisory can only accelerate the downward spiral of a weak economy caused, in part, by self-inflicting wounds by Jammeh who insists on acting as Gambia's Central Bank.

The British travel advisory could not come at a worse time.  It's timing is reminiscent of the one issued immediately after the coup in July 1994.  It can be argued that the timing of the current one has the potential of being more devastating because it is coming at the heels of what is about the weakest the economy has ever been since Independence.  The slight recovery of the tourism sector, the second most important contributor to GDP after agriculture, that was registered last year may be reversed in 2013-14 season because of the advisory causing more suffering to ordinary Gambians who rely on the sector for their livelihood.  The regime is not helping its own cause when it continues to deploy security personnel at numerous check points all across the country, giving the environment the semblance of military occupation. Bodies of victims of violence being washed ashore on beaches frequented by tourists - like the one reported in today's newspaper, The Point - only goes to reinforce claims that Jammeh's Gambia is unsafe, not only for tourists but for local folks.

The regime is not faring any better on the diplomatic front either, both regionally and internationally.  At the regional level, ECOWAS has all but stop actively engaging the regime in Banjul, after the regional body declared the last presidential elections not to be free and fair.  Bilateral diplomatic engagements have also been deliberately kept at a minimal by Jammeh's neighbors because of his reputation as a regional drug baron and an arms trafficker at a time when the United States anti-drug and counterterror activities in the region have significantly increased.  The Casamance conflict was the last of the diplomatic playing field left open for Jammeh to claim relevancy.  It seems that even this option is now being denied the protector of Salif Sadio by the Americans.  Ms. Patrick, the newly-installed Casamance Adviser embedded in the U.S. Embassy in Dakar, will, henceforth ensure minimal interference from Banjul.  Arms trafficking will be checked, and the economic exploitation of the southern Casamance's forest cover reduced significantly.

To cap it all, the economy which has been the primary driver of all the other activities has shown weakness that has worried even the most optimistic IMF officials.  The value of the dalasi continues to decline because of the continued interference by Jammeh, threatening the flexible exchange rate mechanism that has been in effect for nearly three decades.  There is evidence that capital flight is taking place to neighboring countries and remittances from abroad are expected to fall.  And when the British advisory is added to the mix, there will be more rough times ahead for a regime already under pressure from within, and isolated diplomatically from without.