Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Gambia: A rudderless ship

Gambians woke up to the news that Yaya Jammeh meant business when he, and he alone, decided that Gambia was withdrawing its membership from the Commonwealth because he considers it as a neo-colonialist organizations. Gambians were also greeted with the announcement from State House that "the pegging of dollar exchange rate to the dalasi has been repealed" by him since his word is law, and thus doesn't need the National Assembly.

On the question of his withdrawal from the Commonwealth, The Gambian dictator reassures the world and anyone in it who doubts his resolve that the decision is final and not subject to negotiations.  He warns his former Commonwealth colleagues that he will not be entertaining any 'special envoys' to him, as the Nigerian President has just done, for the purposes of having him reverse his decision.  To save taxpayers money, Jammeh is advising them to stay home rather engage in futile exercise because nothing can make him change his mind about the neo-colonialist Commonwealth.

The decision to leave the Commonwealth, according to Jammeh's statement, "was based on the principle that we do not want to be a part of any colonial or neo-colonial institution."  Forget about Jammeh changing his mind because the "Commonwealth remains at best a neo-colonialist and at worst an animal farm..."  In case doubt still exist about Jammeh's determination to quit the organization, he informs his bi-lateral partners, whom he decides to keep, that he's "reached a point of no return," a claim that enjoys universal consensus that the whole episode is preposterous.  When Jammeh seized power illegally in July 1994, his first foray into international politics was to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Edinburgh in 1997, his first and only visit to Britain in his 19-year dictatorship.  At the time, as he was trying to gain international acceptability and legitimacy as he had just completed the electoral phase to civilian, democratic and constitutional rule in The Gambia.

At Edinburgh, Jammeh assured his colleagues that he will further demonstrate his commitment to the Harare principles which emphasised the diversity of the Commonwealth and its shared inheritance in " language, culture and the rule of law', in addition to the commitment to "democracy, fundamental human rights and sustainable development."   He has been struggling to keep to his promise on all of these fundamental principles since 1997.  In fact, his record has steadily grown worse since Edinburgh which may have motivated him, in part, to preemptively jump ship before he is faced with the specter of suspension.  Perhaps, as some have suggested, the Bretton Woods institutions will be next neo-colonialist organizations to withdraw from since they are all headed and/or controlled by powerful Western countries, including the United States and France.

Jammeh's decision to peg the exchange rates was never a National Assembly decision and thus to say he was "repealing" rather than "rescinding" his own decision is a way of reminding Gambians, as if they need to be reminded, that his word is law.  When Jammeh seized power, he found an economy that was on the upswing after a series of painful structural adjustments including the adoption of a floating exchange rate mechanism.

In a series of recent moves, Jammeh unilaterally pegged the forex rates thereby usurping the powers vested in the Central Bank.  He did not stop at that but proceeded to close all bureaux de change and rounded up licensed dealers causing panic in the market.  The disruption led to more market uncertainties which resulted in the withdrawal of some key players as well as small operators.  In fact, some have since left for neighboring countries where the business environment is more friendly. Therefore his assurance that he is committed to the flexible exchange rate is inconsequential because the damage has already been done.  It will take years to recover, and only under a new government.  The business community has no confidence in the ability of Yaya Jammeh to refrain from interfering in the market because he is an active player in it by virtue of the fact that he is one of the biggest businessmen in the country. Therefore, as long as he is in power and engaged in running his business empire while performing part-time duties as president, confidence in the economy will remain low.