Jammeh sinks     Kolley            Gaye              Jatta

By Our Western Division Correspondent Wise Man.
Paid For and Commissioned by the Freedom Newspaper.

Gambia’s economic collapse is taking its toll on the impoverished population. Commodity prices are skyrocketing on a daily basis, with the government lacking sound solution to the economic downtown. Almost, all prices have gone $80 percent higher. The country’s import cover has reduced dramatically. Local businesses have stopped importing goods into the West African country, in protest against the Government’s forced “price control” mechanism to tackle Gambia’s worst economic crisis ever recorded in history. The importers said they are applying “wait and see” situation since the country’s business climate “was hostile and unpredictable.” They also lamented about the high cost of foreign exchange to order basic commodities, such as rice, sugar, cooking oil among others. There is no indication that things might change for the better, as the government had created the conditions for local importers to hold their hands for now. Repeated appeals made by Trade Minister Abdou Kolley for the private sector to order goods failed into deaf ears. The business community here says they want a “liberal economy” where business stakeholders would not be forced to dance to the government’s tunes in terms of commodity pricing. Rice, which is the country’s main stable food is out of reach as I filed this report. In  the town of Serre-Kunda for example, a bag of rice  is costing D650 dalasis, which is  the monthly salary for  some Government Civil Servants. The average Gambian lives below poverty line, designed by the United Nations. Affording a dollar meal,  is a rare thing to come by in the Gambia today. About 60 percent of the population cannot afford two dollar meal.

One must hold a senior government position or hired by non-Governmental Organizations before they could afford balanced and decent meal. Already, malnutrition and growing hunger continues to grip the populace. Our Western Division Correspondent Wise Man has been touring the locality to see first hand about the worsening  economic situation in rural Gambia.

About 90 percent of rural Gambian folks interviewed by the Freedom Newspaper lamented about the Government’s inability to end the country’s economic crisis. The Government they said” has been neglecting pressing economic matters” to the detriment of Gambians. They said, they regretted voting for the Gambian leader who they accused of “down playing” the current economic crisis with his “fake aids cure” propaganda. Many village elders are disappointed by the current state of affairs. They have been praying for “God’s divine intervention” to end the growing hunger in the country.

With few weeks before the rainy season, the impoverished populace are faced by  lack of seed nuts, faming equipment, bad shelter, and access to a balanced diet. In one locality, the community complained about starvation and hunger related deaths. They said Gambia’s economic collapse was taking its toll on the old, the young, the sick and  the low class families. A father of ten kids said he had only one back of rice to feed his family in the next three months. The local corn, which he uses to feed his family is almost  about to run out.

Most of these farmers relied on their yearly harvest to meet their immediate family needs. Gambia’s Gross Domestic Product known as (GDP)  is mainly drive from Agriculture and Tourism. For the past four years or so, the Government of  President Yahya Jammeh has been unable to purchase farmers nuts. This was attributable to lack of funds to market the farmers nuts. Private sector interventions to end the nightmares of the faming community yielded no fruits. Farmers continued to sell their produce on credit.

In a bid to win the confidence of the farming community, the Gambian leader Yahya Jammeh self appointed himself as the country’s Agriculture Minister. Jammeh’s coming into the Agriculture Ministry brought “untold” suffering to the farmers. Again, the problem of credit buying took centre stage. Farmers morals grossly dwindled over the years. Access to personal loans, seed nuts and farming equipment was a priority under the leadership of Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara. But under Jammeh’s leadership, the farming community complained about “neglect, marginalization and betrayal of trust.” They accused  President Jammeh of not fulfilling his past promises to meet their needs and aspirations.

Knowing that  he had no solution to the collapsed Agriculture industry, President Jammeh hired his chief propagandist Yankuba Touray to head the said Ministry. Touray who was jobless at the material time, answered to Jammeh’s invitation without hesitation. With little or no formal education on Agricultural matters, Touray found himself at a Ministry, where he relied on its technocrats to run the institution.

Today, Gambia’s Agriculture industry has been ranked as a “failed” sector, like many other Department of States in the country. Farmers interviewed by the Freedom Newspaper said they lacked faith into the current Jammeh leadership. The current government, they continued” is not a solution to our economic nightmares.” These concerned farmers said they preferred Jawara better than Jammeh. Jammeh they said ”only brought economic collapse and insecurity in the Gambia.” They added that Jammeh was bent on favoring his tribe men in terms of commodity prices.

Mr. Bah, a Civil Servant told Freedom Newspaper that the price of 50kg of rice in Serekunda was  six hundred and fifty dalasis (D650) while people in Kanilai and other Foni residents were buying it for D350  dalasis. He said people in Urban Gambia where being openly discriminated by the President for no justified reasons. ”I cannot understand how he can do that, when we all lived in one Gambia. A price for one is price for all. What is this discrimination all about?” he asked.

Musa Jammeh, a shopkeeper in Kanilai confirmed the story. He says they were given orders to sell a bag of rice at D350 dalasis, while in Urban Gambia the price was doubled. Jammeh told  Correspondent Wise Man that they have no option but to comply with the Presidential order.

For Lamin Fatty of  Brikama, Jammeh  treats Gambians with contempt, with his open divide and rule politics. Mr.Fatty told our reporter that he welcomes the move taken by the business community to stop importing goods into the country. He said it makes no sense for the local businesses to import goods, only to be dictated by the government how to sell their goods.

Cement and other textile materials prices  have also gone up. One Mr.Fadera a teacher has called on President Jammeh to resign since in his words” Jammeh has proven to be a liability to this country.” Fadera said the Gambian leader was doing disservice to his countrymen and women for failing to admit failure. He says Jammeh should consider resigning before many Gambians would die due to hunger related cases. He said President Jammeh should put aside “greed” and fear” of victimization  after leaving the Presidency and hand over the country to “committed and dedicated” Gambians to steer the affairs of the tiny West African country.

The Jammeh government is faced by international isolation due to its appalling rights and governance credentials. Many donors have ceased to extend helping hands to the government. They complained about lack of accountability, transparency and the government’s failure to tackle official graft, which observers here  say is now institutionalized in Jammeh’s regime.

Last year, the US Millennium Challenge Account suspended the Gambia from the global fund, while citing “gross rights abuses, growing corruption and lack of media freedom” in the former British colony, the Gambia. The firm says Gambia’s rights situation declined during the period in question, which disqualified the country,  from being a beneficiary to the US fund. A subsequent review on Gambia’s case was again denied. The coordinators of the fund said they were not convinced  that there was any changes in the Gambia in terms of “respect for the rule of law and good governance.” Yemen, which was earlier suspended was admitted following the country’s efforts to promote political freedoms.

As the situation appears, many Gambians are getting angrier by the minute and the hour. The country is at cross roads. The economic time bomb is about to explode. Almost, every sector of society in the Gambia, is hard hit by the major economic collapse. No one here knows what the future holds for the Gambia. Neither the government, nor the Civil Society can tell what the future holds. The situation is gloomy to be precise. Very unpredictable.

A spokesman of the Trade Ministry told the Freedom Newspaper that” if the current low import cover continues, the country might faced full blown food crisis. I foresee a major scarcity of rice in months to come. Our economic indications suggest that there is a dramatic decline in terms of importation. The economy is not moving. What that means you know it. People are consuming the remaining commodities, when no food is coming into the country. There is need for national conference to tackle this problem. The forced approach taken by the government to curtail commodity prices wouldn’t work. It would only worsen the situation.” said the Trade Ministry insider who wished not to be named.

Posted on Thursday, June 07, 2007 (Archive on Monday, July 30, 2007)
Posted by PNMBAI  Contributed by PNMBAI
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