Saturday, October 7, 2017

SeneGambia Federation: Has Jammeh made the case?

The just concluded Gambia - Senegal Economic Forum where impediments to the economic integration of the two countries were discussed, there's a renewed interest in some form of a closer association - both economic and political - between the two countries.  This dialogue - in one form or another - is as old as the two sister countries.  As we are fond of saying, Senegal and The Gambia are condemned by both history and geography to make the relationship work to the advancement of both parties.

On July 15th 2014, we wrote a blog post entitled : SeneGambia Federation: Has Jammeh made the case.

Enjoy !!


Could it be that Yaya Jammeh is succeeding where the United Nations had failed in the early 1960's, and Kukoi Samba Sagnia's failed 1981 coup d'etat making it possible (if not inevitable), the political union between The Gambia and Senegal.

The Gambia's viability as a sovereign state has always been suspect  because of its small size and poor resource endowment.  As a result, the United Nations, prompted by the United Kingdom, studied and eventually concluded that The Gambia's economic and security viability at Independence can only be assured by federating with Senegal.

The political leadership of the People's Progressive Party rejected the idea and so did many Gambian politicians.  There were a few exception, including I.M Garba-Jahumpa who entertained the idea of some form of a political association between the two states, a position influenced by and consistent with his Nkrumaist/Panafrican greed.

At Independence in 1965 to 1970 when The Gambia graduated from its grant-in-aid state status from Britain,  the political leadership's main preoccupation had been to prove to the rest of the world that the smallest independent country in Africa could be, and is viable as a state when the national budget was being financed by internally-generated resources from taxes and excise.  Loans and grants from the World Bank and similar financial institutions became the primary sources of loans on concessionary terms that kept those who still questioned the country's viability at bay, at least until Kukoi struck in the 1981 coup which saw the destruction of both lives and economic infrastructure.  Business confidence was shattered.

Many of us have argued that The Gambia never fully recovered from the 81 coup d'etat, even though significant gains were made from the period of the Economic Recovery Program (ERP) period in 1985/86 to the period commonly referred to as the program for Sustained Development (PSD) period in 1992 until the Jammeh-led coup d'etat in 1994.  It must be noted that former was a World Bank/IMF-lead effort and the latter was a home-grown effort led by Gambians.

The Confederation between Senegal and The Gambia came about as a result of the 1981 coup d'etat, therefore borne out of security necessity and not economic, political, social and cultural necessities.  It is interesting that in spite of the damage done by the 1981 coup, the ERP was able to restore the economy to a level strong enough to compete toe-to-toe with our bigger neighbor.  In fact, the Gambian economy was better managed and far more efficient that Senegal's.  We became the "supermarket of the sub-region" because of better set of policies brought about by the liberalization of the economy.  The Banjul port became more efficient than the bigger Port Autonome de Dakar.

All of the comparative advantages built were lost during the 20 year dictatorship under Jammeh.  The institutions that were built and straightened under the Jawara regime have either been destroyed completely or sufficiently weakened to render The Gambia a sitting duck, unable to fend off any predatory or external threat, on the security side.  The security threat by rogue elements is a real threat now (as opposed to the Jawara era) because of the belligerent and high-risk foreign policy of a regime that toys with Hezbollah and other terror groups in the sub-region.  It warrants the concern of Gambian politicians.

On the economic front, Gambia's viability is threatened by its inability to compete with Senegal because of an economy that continues to be mismanaged by a group of incompetent supporters of the dictatorship.  The country has been emptied of its youthful population who have decided to vote with their feet to Europe in search of fortune and freedom, two commodities that are lacking in Jammeh's Gambia where the economy is contracting, thus cannot provide the much needed jobs for a growing and youthful population, and the State is becoming increasingly militarized.

Even tourists are fleeing the country because of the heavy presence of the military is tourist resorts and access to public beaches has been restricted to exclude ordinary Gambians, especially the young.  Not to be outdone, highly trained young Gambians have abandoned Gambia for their new homes in London, Paris, Geneva, New York and across the globe.  They will never come back to work for pittance in a highly insecure and hostile environment.  They may come to visit grandma and grandpa and few relatives still in the Gambia.  This is the reality and we can thank Yaya Jammeh.

The next government to succeed Jammeh will inherit an extremely weak, and essentially dysfunctional and bankrupt State.  Regardless of the type of a succession hand Gambians will be dealt, the policy toolbox must include the option of a more formal and comprehensive association with Senegal which must be put before the people in the form of a referendum.  Whether Gambians realize it or not, Jammeh is making a strong case for this scenario to be a very viable option.  We know the issue is a very emotional one, and thus prone to irrational thinking but Gambians must consider an association with Senegal as part of the debate.

A frank and open debate of the issue is necessary.  But to do so successfully, we must check our parochialism (some would say patriotism) at the door and look at the raw and hard facts.  Will the association be beneficial (economic, political, social, cultural) to Senegal, and thus entertained, and even encouraged?  It can no longer be business as usual.