March 2017

Gambians are ready to rebuild their country


A United Nations (UN) inter-agency mission to Gambia was deployed in February to assess the main challenges to peace, development and human rights in the country and identify potential areas of UN support to the government and the people. Following my participation in the mission I am confident that the UN, including the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) can assist Gambia set on a stable, prosperous path.

Gambia has long been fraught with deep social and economic inequality. More than 60 percent of its people live in poverty. Data from Gambia Bureau of Statistics indicate that almost 30 percent of the active labor force is unemployed, with slightly higher unemployment rate in the rural areas (31.1 per cent) than the urban area (28.4 per cent). Moreover, unemployment is highest for the youth (39 per cent).

According to some estimates, Gambians make up the second biggest contingent of migrants from West Africa, despite the country's small population size. Although not considered a money laundering hub, the true extent of such activity in Gambia is unknown. In 2015, the country hosted 14 banks serving just 1.7 million people, adding to money laundering concerns. World Bank data indicate that no more than 10 percent of the population of the Gambia has bank accounts.

What are the next steps needed?

The process of nation building that is needed in Gambia requires careful design, calibration, and implementation. The UN and UNDP must work closely with national stakeholders alongside relevant regional and international partners to help ensure timely and effective support to the new government’s efforts to stabilize the country and undertake urgent reforms to promote democratic governance, respect for the rule of law and human rights, socio-economic recovery, sustainable development and peace.

Macro-economic and fiscal stability

In the area of macro-economic stability, the government needs urgent direct budget support, and potentially debt relief for long-term stabilization. In addition, the national planning coordination mechanism needs to be strengthened to improve effective integration of sectoral planning and regional directives in national development plans and legislation. There is need to support the Gambia Bureau of Statistics to improve collection, analysis, production, and dissemination of quality and reliable data, for economic planning and policy making.

Development issues

Poverty, inequality and exclusion in Gambia stem from limited productive natural resources; limited resilience capacities to climate change and external shocks; disproportionate distribution of growth benefits between urban and rural areas; limited jobs for youth and women; restrictive productive assets for women; limited institutional capacity for oversight; and absence of state-supported social safety nets. There is a need to mobilize resources to address these issues and to work with the government to align resources with national priorities while addressing risks to the achievement of national development objectives.

Transformation of the security sector

The security sector needs to be professionalized and placed under effective oversight. The military is in urgent need of de-politicization and the police require demilitarization. Both require right-sizing. Security institutions need to be placed at the service of the population, rather than above and brutalizing them. This would require immediate, medium-term and long term support from the UN and other international actors.

Inclusive governance, dialogue, and elections

Gambians are experiencing an open political environment for the first time in almost a quarter of a century. The new administration should continue to demonstrate its commitment to inclusiveness by ensuring the inclusion of all political, ethnic and other affiliations in governance. The rhetoric might be aggressive and adversarial but these contribute to laying the foundations for a culture of dialogue and debate.

Human rights and transitional justice

The Gambian government will need assistance to increase legal and technical capacities to establish a Transitional Justice Mechanism (TJM), including the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), in compliance with international standards.

In order to establish a functioning National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in line with the Paris principles, additional technical support is needed in terms of legal provisions, procedures, training and support to guarantee the NHRC's independence and operational capacity.

In addition, support to the judiciary is needed to improve access to justice and the independence of the judiciary in line with international basic principles. The need to support the Parliament and the Ministry of Justice to harmonize national laws with international human rights instruments was also identified as was the need for comprehensive constitutional reform.

In terms of next steps, the international community should be organized in a coordinated manner at the national, regional and international levels to ensure timely and targeted support to Gambia.

Peace, stability, human rights and effective governance based on the rule of law are important conduits for sustainable development. Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will require that all stakeholders are responsive to make sure Gambia becomes a better country for its people.

Gambia is not a post conflict country. What happened was a political transition. All the omens therefore seem well aligned for UNDP and the international community to support Gambia demonstrate the realizability of the new international consensus on sustaining peace.

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