(JollofNews) – Last week, there was so much to comment on that I was spoiled for choice. So I think it will be good to start with an article in The Point newspaper featuring the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) country report on the current dismal economic outlook for the Gambia.
The article must have set off fire alarms everywhere in Banjul. The amount of debt shouldered by the Gambian Government is now the equivalent of 12 months total Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This means that as of end 2014 the total income of the Gambia is only to an amount equal to its debt and unless there is a considerable shift in policy, fortune, and donor support, the Gambia by end of 2015 will owe more in debt than it produces over this current 12 month period.
The report also stated that the local banking system is struggling to meet the Gambian government’s requirements in terms of borrowing in order to finance its responsibilities.
Further to this, the banks are also struggling to meet the credit requirements of private business in the procurement of business transactions.
The IMF have not minced there words that if corrective measures are not undertaken with immediate effect, the Gambia’s economy could remain in the doldrums for some considerable time with a depleted resistance to any further external shocks, and greatly reduced import cover set to fall by a further third. The report gives several reasons for this situation, mainly the Ebola outbreak, affecting tourism, crop reduction due to poor harvests and reduced donor support from multilateral institutions.
The report also highlights the drain on the government’s revenues by under-performing public services such as NAWEC, Gamtel and Gamcel. I find this news astonishing and I’m certain this is not what President Yahya Jammeh wanted to hear. Clearly, all these poor economic indicators places incredible strain on the Dalasi with inevitable jobs losses and a significant reduction on the size and capability of government itself, the army and overseas diplomatic requirements, not to mention a potential catastrophic blow to daily commercial activity.
To make matters even worse, inflation has risen sharply with food inflation being hit the hardest making life very miserable for the overwhelming population of Gambians. In this, I have said many times that the introduction of VAT impacts upon the poorest in society as this tax does not discriminate against the size of income of the consumer. The poor pay the same price for commodities as those with a better income. When a community is taxed unfairly and disproportionately, liquidity and flow of capital becomes greatly diminished and does not go as far in what it can purchase.
The Gambia is currently in its winter period and with several months to go until the start of tourism in mid-October things are likely to get much worse before they start to get better. No doubt families are very much dependant on remittances from the Diaspora with even greater pressure placed upon the youth to commit to perilous journeys in search of incomes from the better-off nations.
Also last week, there were several reports in the online papers about President Jammeh’s alleged remarks against gays and the Mandinkas. These remarks make very uncomfortable reading and I have again written to the British Foreign Secretary to canvass Britain’s current position on these issues. I also asked about the current country information on the British Embassy’s website and what safeguards are in place to protect Brits visiting Banjul. From an Englishman’s point of view, all citizens should have equal rights and equal opportunities. Whilst we are entitled to hold our own personal views on the rights of minorities, we must always respect our laws and current legislation with all the rights and protections contained within our laws. You either sign up to full democratic values and human rights or you withdraw to a new position fraught with conflict and risk. My own opinion is that you cannot allow any section of society to face discrimination no matter how inconvenient.
The best position for the Brits is to avoid any area where all are not welcome. If the gay community face a dangerous threat to life or liberty, we must act accordingly. Africans, Asians and other migrants across the globe who come to the UK are allowed to retain there beliefs and lifestyles without hindrance, fear or favour. All we ask is the same. Indeed many of our professional people who heal the sick, procure housing and pay benefits, teach in our universities or enter government, come with their own preferred lifestyles. It’s what we do and it’s who we are. I am yet to hear of any African that I know complain about the gay community while they are here with us in the UK. People everywhere tend to conform to their own way of living. The right to the pursuit of happiness and to love who we choose is fundamental to our beliefs. I don’t mind at all if Africans prefer a different point of view. It does not bother me the least. .
Another story worth mentioning was the proposal by ECOWAS to set a presidential term limit. I am disappointed that the proposals were shelved after opposition from the Gambia and Togo and I agree with Foroyaa newspaper that it the thought that counts. But perhaps the moment was loaded with trepidation. Could you imagine giving yourself the sack? Maybe this is one occasion where a referendum could be included within the next cycle of general elections. Sometimes, I tend to think that Africans are still not totally comfortable with democracy. The younger next generation with education and access to the internet may show the older generation where the future lies. Change is inevitable. It’s a question of time leading to maturity. Maybe President Jammeh’s incredible run of luck is finally coming to an end. Perhaps he is to sell all the government buildings and move into his new air conditioned tent. Happy belated birthday Mr President.