Saturday, April 5, 2014

Of bread, rice and ferries: The story of Jammeh's Gambia

The level of incompetence displayed by Yaya Jammeh and his regime has surpassed the "denno sabi" (clueless) and "choonay" (amateur) levels, and entering the theater of the absurd; borrowing the lingo of the former Vice President B.B. Dabo's apt description of the Jammeh regime as a bunch of clueless amateurs.

Ample evidence exists to show the inability of the Jammeh regime to manage the Gambian economy either because of recalcitrant behavior and its lack of will to implement prudent macroeconomic policies.

Local inflation has been emerging as a problem for a decade with no concerted effort, on the part of the regime, to control the level of spending resulting in domestic borrowing that is pushing prices upward despite warnings from the International Monetary Fund.  High domestic borrowing, coupled with the fact that wages have been frozen at their pre-1994 level, has eroded the purchasing power of Gambians to levels never experienced before.

The price of a loaf of bread is expected to hit the D7.00 to D8.00 per loaf range on Monday because as a source told me "a bag of flour was D1,400.00 and now they've added D300.00 on top of it."  The price of a bag of rice is now in the region of D1,800.00 and expected to hit the D2,000.00 mark within weeks.  These are unsustainable levels that can only spell trouble for a regime that is already in the ropes as it popularity with the general populace continues to sink.

The prices of basic foodstuffs are going up at a time when petrol (gasoline) prices continue to go up - raising the price of electricity, one of the most expensive in the world - as petroleum products continue to be in short supply.  The suppliers of these basic food stuffs, like meat, fish and vegetables are constantly being harassed by revenue collectors of all sorts, ranging from agents of the Gambia Revenue Authority (GRA) to local government tax collectors, driving prices even higher.

As we speak, there are four ferries moored, and out of service at the Banjul Ports.  The two ("Johe and Kanila) have been out of service for two weeks or more.  The other two (Kansala and Aljandu), which were "inaugurated" as new ferries by Jammeh when, in fact, he knew they weren't new ferries (one was 27 years old) but refurbished. It turned out that the two ferries were of inappropriate designed that needed special ramps, and that there's only one opening for loading and off-loading cars, trucks and passengers.  With no appropriate ramps at both the Barra and Banjul end, these ferries cannot be used.  The Greek partner in the joint venture that purchased these two vessels are currently threatening to sue The Gambia to the tune of €40 million for breach of the joint venture deal.

The inability of the regime to maintain regular, reliable and safe ferry service is in shape contrast to the previous regime that Jammeh ousted claiming ineptitude and corruption as justification.  Under the Jawara regime, there has never been a day without ferry service between the strategic and highly sensitive geographic points connecting the southern half of the country to it northern flank.  This has led many Gambians to ask if a regime can be so incompetent not to be able to run a regular ferry service, how can the same regime be expected to run an entire country without the current debacle with catastrophic consequence unfolding in The Gambia.