Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Gambia's withdrawal from the Commonwealth : Another dark chapter in the country's history

The decision to withdraw Gambia's membership from the Commonwealth by Yaya Jammeh is arbitrary, capricious and totally devoid of reason.  It also marks another dark chapter in the country's history since the military takeover in 1994.  The Gambia has been a Member of the body since independence from Britain in 1965.  The Commonwealth is a collection of 54 countries made up largely of former British colonies.  The Gambian regime did not advance any reason for the abrupt withdrawal except to say that Gambia "will never be a member of any neo-colonial institution."

The Gambia's economy is dominated by two sectors of agriculture and tourism with roughly 22% and 10% of GDP respectively.  Tourism is also the second largest foreign exchange earner in the Gambian economy after agriculture, and British tourists form the largest single group to visit this sliver of a country surrounded almost entirely by Senegal.  This abrupt and senseless decision to withdraw will undoubtedly impact negatively on the number of British tourists to visit Gambia in the years to come.  

The impact of the decision on the struggling economy will extend far beyond tourism because it will signal and further reinforce the negative image of The Gambia as a hostile destination for foreign investment.  Of course, if there are any Co-operation Agreements between The Gambia and The Commonwealth Fund for Technical Cooperation (CFTC) which is the technical assistance arm of the organization, these will be terminated, or summarily suspended until further notice.  Traditionally, CFTC has been very active in capacity-building in the judiciary by providing The Gambia with judges of high caliber and integrity from other Commonwealth countries, and has also been a source of financing of legal training to numerous Gambians in the past.  

The Gambia  has one of the worst human rights record of any country in Africa and the Commonwealth. The abrupt execution of nine death-row inmates in August of last year drove this pariah state further into diplomatic isolation.  Britain and other European Union members jointly and individually criticized the extra-judicial executions and the over-all human rights condition in the country which to the issuance of a 17-point check list of governance issues that the EU demanded the government to address and provide mitigating measures with timeline acceptable to the organization.   There has not been satisfactory response to the EU demands resulting in the withholding of critically needed development assistance from Gambia's single biggest donor.      

The decision to withdraw membership from the Commonwealth will come both as a surprise to ordinary Gambians as well as the high echelons of government.  It also signals worse things to come for a country that has been reduced to a narco-state status with a crumbling economy based on the cocaine trade.  With increased international and diplomatic isolation comes less external pressure to a government that has become increasingly repressive and erratic, posing greater danger to a population has has been, and continues to be, abused by government that is not accountable to neither the citizenry nor to the Comity of Nations.  Rough times ahead for Gambians living under the government of Professor Yaya Jammeh.