Our correspondent Ousainou Bayo was recently in Brussels to attend the 51st National Day celebrations hosted by the country’s ambassador to the European Union. He reports.
The Gambian ambassador to the European Union, Her Excellency Mrs Teneng Mba Jaiteh, has invited friends of The Gambia and travel enthusiasts to visit the country. “The Gambia prides itself as a choice destination for all categories of tourists. We do not only have beautiful weather, sandy beaches, beautiful hotels and eco-lodges but also offer great services and the friendliness and warmth of our people, which has earned us the nickname The Smiling Coast of Africa,” she said.
Mrs Jaiteh was speaking while welcoming her guests at a reception marking The Gambia’s 51st independence celebrations held at the ACP House in Brussels. The ambassador reminded her guests that it was on 18 Febuary 1965 that the constitutional instrument of independence was handed over by the then Duke of Kent, representing The Queen of England, to the then Prime Minister of The Gambia, Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara, in the capital Banjul, making the West African nation the 37th African country to be independent.
Ambassador Jaiteh told her guests that since the Second Republic came into being in 1996 “under the dynamic leadership of His Excellency Shiekh Professor Alhagie Dr. Yahya A J J Jammeh Babili Mansa”, democratic governance had been further strengthened with the establishment of new democratic institutions including, for the first time, an Independent Electoral Commission and Ombudsman’s Office.
The envoy said that The Gambia though relatively a small nation geographically, has been able to establish a strong presence in the international Arena – both by its membership of international organisations and the presence of its citizens in such forums. She thus used the ocassion to introduce the presence at the ceremony of Mrs Fatou Bensouda, Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, whom she described as “one of our greatest ambassadors, a formidable woman in her field”. Similarly, the ambassador also recognised the strong support of her predecessor, Ambassador Mamour Alieu Jagne, who is now the Chef de Cabinet to the Secretary General of the ACP[African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States].
Ambassador Jaiteh said that there had been dramatic changes in the past 51 years in The Gambia, adding that a lot of these achievements were made in the last 20 years under the APRC-led government, which has impacted positively on the standard of living, life expectancy and economic growth in the country.
She however told the gathering that despite the numerous achievements, The Gambia still faces a number of challenges in the government’s efforts to transform the country into a middle-income economy by 2020, as enshrined in the national development blueprint, Vision 2020. She said that the country’s economy continues to be battered by exogenous and endogenous factors, the most recent being the Ebola outbreak in 2014 and 2015 and the Sahelian drought of 2014.
Mrs Jaiteh said that although there were no recorded cases of Ebola in The Gambia, its tourism industry, which is one of the most important drivers of economic growth, was almost brought to a complete standstill. She explained that the goverment was forced at the macro-economic level to reprioritise its expenditure by providing emergency resources to Ebola prevention and mitigation programmes, leaving a negative impact on the budget.
The Sahelian drought in the 2014 cropping season, she continued, “also led to huge losses in our agriculural productivity, export earnings, farmers’ incomes and food security”.
Mrs Jaiteh said that the 2015 agricultural season however showed much improvements in yields, which would hopefully translate to higher farmer incomes.
She applauded the high level of international collaboration with all the Ebola frontier countries which has finally brought the disease under control. As a result, the tourism industry of The Gambia is beginning to show signs of recovery.
In conclusion, Ambassador Jaiteh said, “I would like to recognise and appreciate the strong collaboration that we continue to enjoy from our development partners both bilateral and multilateral, notably the European Union institutions”.
She also thanked “the hard work and dedication of all the philanthropic associations that are active in The Gambia complementing government’s efforts in sectors such as education, health, water, sanitation and agriculture”. Similarly, she praised Gambian diaspora associations in countries under her jurisdiction for responding to the embassy’s call for partnership.
The occassion was graced by, among others, a high turn-out of members of the diplomatic corps and representatives of The Gambia’s development partner institutions in Brussels.