In his 2016 New Year message to Gambians, Jammeh boasted of reducing hunger and malnutrition by 7.7% in 23 years which works out to an average annual of 0.36 per cent. The population of The Gambia almost doubled during the same period from slightly over 1.0 million to 1.9 million. No wonder, the incidence of poverty continues to increase at an alarming rate. 69 per cent of Gambians, according to UNDP Human Development Index, are living below the poverty line, defined as anyone living on $ 1.25 or less. The Gambia is still low income despite the promise by Jammeh to transform the country into a Middle Income Country (MIC) by 2020; it is still food-deficit country with a subsistence economy despite his repeated and unfulfilled promises since 1994 food (rice) self-sufficiency.
Children in Central River and Upper River Divisions are suffering from kwashiorkor which is an extreme form of malnutrition that the regime of Jammeh has been concealing from the public for three consecutive years. And according to Jammeh’s own Finance Minister, there is no respite in sight when he warned the National Assembly a couple of weeks ago that 2016 is going to be another difficult year, after two successive years of decline of agricultural production.
The nation’s farmers were expecting to be informed of the market arrangements for this year’s groundnut buying season and about the legal status of the Gambia Groundnut Corporation (GGC), a bankrupt Agency that ironically has monopoly over the sub-sector. What is the legal status of the proposed National Food Security, Processing and Marketing Corporation (NFSPMC)? Has the GGC been subsumed by NFSPMC as mooted by the regime several months ago? Gambian farmers feel abandoned by their government because it is January and still no official announcement has been made regarding the producer price for their produce. These should be the priority areas of the regime. Let us get our national priorities right.
Yaya Jammeh also tried - in the lamest of fashion - to explain to Gambians, and particularly to Gambian Christians, why he declared The Gambia an Islamic Republic, without national discourse or any form of warning of any kind. His rationale for tampering with the secularity of the state is that Muslims constitute the majority which, in the eyes of a myopic and erratic leader, is sufficient – damn what anyone thinks. If majority rule justifies preemption of minority rights, then Sir Dawda missed his chance of renaming the country The Islamo-Mandinka Republic of The Gambia.
Jammeh also used the occasion to telegraph to the IMF, World Bank, AfDB and the rest of the development community that he intends to ignore IMF advise, by continuing to intervene in the foreign exchange market. He evidently had convinced himself that his intervention will correct what he described as “certain distortions and market failures that resulted in the continuous dwindling of the value of the dalasi against foreign currencies.” Yaya Jammeh did not stop at that. He proceeded to suggest that what he’s doing is no different from what the U.S. Federal Reserve or the Bank of England would have done in managing a financial crisis – an absolute misrepresentation of the facts. These Central Banks are independent of the executive branches of their respective governments as the CBG was empowered by law. But since Jammeh is the law, I guess we are at the mercy of the dictator.
By his unilateral actions in the foreign exchange markets, Jammeh has set us back to pre-January 1986, i.e. before the dalasi was floated and an interbank market for foreign exchange created, allowing the dalasi to float freely – a system that served the Gambia and its economy well. Yaya Jammeh is determined to destroy that too, as he’s destroyed so many component parts of a financial infrastructure that was painstakingly put together by Gambians at tremendous cost. The retrenchment that took place during the Economic Recovery Program that resulted in many Gambians losing their jobs is a distance but painful reminder of the sacrifices that many made to reconfigure Gambia’s economy that was the envy of our regional partners. Jammeh has squandered it all.
Realizing that his market interference is not supported, not only by the IMF and other donors but by a hamstrung and marginalized business community, he tried, in the same message, to say that his regime “subscribes to the principles and spirit of the free market system”, expecting Gambians will buy his bale of goods. Happily and finally, Gambians know better and can now see through his every bumbling move. Jammeh will destroy the economy for his own individual selfish business interest. It is such a human catastrophe that a head of state legally permitted to engage in business, consuming all his time at the expense of the economic and social welfare of not only the Nation but individual businesses that must compete with him in a rigged market.
As we usher in the New Year, all opponents of this incompetent regime must rededicate ourselves to the restoration of democracy and the rule of law in a country we love and hold dear. We must, at the same time, recommit ourselves to the peaceful removal of the cancer, from Gambia's our body politic.