I was last in The Gambia in January 2017 shortly after Yahya Jammeh lost the December 2016 presidential election to Adama Barrow and was forced into exile in Equatorial Guinea. ECOWAS and the African Union warned on 23 December that it would militarily intervene to uphold the results of the election if Jammeh didn’t resign by 19 January. Senegalese troops entered The Gambia and Jammeh fled into exile on January 20th leaving the country virtually bankrupt.
Wikipedia has the figures: “Adama Barrow’s special adviser Mai Ahmad Fatty alleged that in late January 2017, Jammeh had stolen $11.4 million from the state’s treasury and used a cargo plane to ship out his luxury vehicles during his last week in power. He added that the state’s treasury was virtually empty, which was confirmed by technicians in the Ministry of Finance as well as the Central Bank of the Gambia. About a month later, two senior ministers alleged that he had siphoned at least $50 million from social security, ports, and the national telecoms company. They also alleged that his private jet, which cost $4.5 million, was bought using the state’s pension fund. The government stated that his actions had left the country with a debt of more than $1 billion.”
Returning to the Gambia, the scale of the change since Jammeh was exiled is immediately evident, the arrivals tax ($20) is collected efficiently and immigration is smooth, bags are already in the arrivals hall and customs quickly x-ray bags to counter smuggling. I confess to feeling a little nostalgic for the chaos of arrivals in the past. Gambia has changed.
Then to the car and the wide new tarred highways to the new hotel. There are miles of newly tarred roads, two flyovers completed, and the third nearing completion.
At the airport, on arrival, there is a separate desk for people with residence certificates – it was busy when I arrived. There is a building frenzy with new residential and commercial properties being purchased by the diaspora and former holidaymakers as second homes. Revenues earned by letting these properties is unlikely to be remitted to the Gambia – the payment will go into accounts in the USA, UK and elsewhere.
The World Bank 2022 Poverty and Gender Assessment, reports that the national poverty rate declined from 48.6% in 2015 to 45.8% in 2019 but climbed again to 53.4 percent largely due to Covid-19 a trend exacerbated by food and other inflation caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. 7 out of every 10 rural dwellers are poor; compared to 3 out of every 10 urban dwellers. However, the larger share of poor people lives in urban areas in the more populous Southwest, mainly in Brikama.
The challenge for the Gambia now is to ensure that the living standards of those living below the poverty line rise.