(JollofNews) – The European Union has withdrawn millions of euros of funding from Gambia due to its poor human rights record, according to an EU spokesman, at a time when the mainly Muslim West African nation is looking more to the Middle East for support.
An EU spokesman told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that 13 million euros ($16 million) of aid has been blocked due to lack of progress in several areas of human rights including the recent introduction of a tough law against homosexuality.
This was the last slice of a 75 million euro aid package that was set to run for six years from 2007 in one of Africa’s smallest and poorest nations.
The decision comes as relations between Gambia and the EU become increasingly strained with the 28-member bloc debating whether to release 150 million euros of development aid to Gambia – a major sticking point between southern and northern European nations.
Gambia and President Yahya Jammeh face global condemnation for a poor human rights record with criticism mounting as the new law in October introduced “aggravated homosexuality” as a crime punishable in some cases with life in prison.
The EU decided unanimously that Gambia was contravening an international accord that stipulates aid can be delivered only in return for progress in human rights but Gambian officials accused the bloc of promoting “decadence and ungodly behaviour”.
“We will continue to press for improvements related to our human rights concerns, and if progress is achieved, this will have an impact on funding decisions,” the EU spokesman said by email, adding a decision was expected next year.
Attempts to contact the Gambian government for comment went unanswered.
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Critics say withdrawing funding from Gambia would make way for other donors whose human rights policies are less stringent and in a region where Islamist militancy in northern Nigeria and northern Mali is fuelling instability.
Gambia is one of the world’s most aid dependent countries with about one third of its 1.8 million population estimated to be living below the global poverty line of $1.25 a day.
Data from charity ActionAid for 2009 showed it as ninth in the list of top recipient nations with aid accounting for about 62 percent of total government expenditure.
Initially, southern EU states had insisted that Gambia continue to receive support in a bid to stem the flow of economic migrants from West Africa reaching European shores. Northern EU states pressed for sanctions.
The EU is a major donor, providing $29 million of $139 million in overseas development assistance in 2011-12 from the 29 members of the OECD’s development assistance committee.
But in November, Gambia cut off dialogue with the EU soon after Jammeh returned from a visit to Qatar where he said he had secured funds for transport and agricultural development.
Earlier this year, Gambia signed agreements with Turkey for assistance on policing and health, local media reported.
Gambia continues to receive support from the Kuwait Fund, which has pledged more than $80 million during Jammeh’s two decades in power, according to the Kuwait Fund website.
Phone calls to the Kuwait Fund went unanswered.
“It’s not surprising that Jammeh is seeking funds from other countries where homosexuality is outlawed,” said a diplomatic source in Brussels, adding that Qatar and Kuwait had equally poor records on gay rights.
But some diplomatic sources said this shift in aid could have an impact on large, impressionable youth population with little or no access to jobs.
“Their loyalty might be bought through aid, sometimes by those sympathetic to the Islamification of the region,” said one diplomat.
($1 = 0.8049 euros) (Reporting by Misha Hussain; Editing by Ros Russell and Belinda Goldsmith)