WASHINGTON - Since the departure of Gambia’s long-time ruler Yahya Jammeh, newly elected president Adama Barrow’s government has been taking steps to restore the economy, rule of law and political reforms after two decades of one-party rule.
Gambia’s vice president recently visited the United States to “thank its partners for the help they provided during her nation’s political impasse,” she said. In an exclusive interview with VOA, Fatoumata Jallow Tambajang also spoke about the challenges her country is facing, such as a lack of water and electricity, and possible currency depreciation.
“It is relatively normal to have African countries lacking certain infrastructure development … but it’s hard to understand that a small country of the size of 1.8 million people at this stage of development lack electricity and water. In the rural areas women are still using the well system; water and sanitation are poor, the health sector has been really been fragmented.”
On proposed cuts in international aid from the U.S., Jallow Tambajang said “America’s the Big Brother. If America has a cold and sneezes, everybody gets a cold, so it is important that they realize that many in the rest of the world are looking up to them in terms of democratic culture … financial, economic and policy support.”
Her position joins many in asking the new administration to reconsider “particularly ... USAID, which is usually present in many developing countries, has been playing a critical role in supporting the development agenda of countries and cutting budgets would obviously affect those institutions.”
Jammeh & ICC
She says former President Jammeh’s 22-year rule was challenging.
“There were no freedom of expression, freedom of association, institutions were dormant because of his dictatorial handling of the state. There were lots of political persecutions,” she said.
Jammeh, who lost the election in December to Barrow, first congratulated his opponent and later refused to accept the result.
He only stepped down after pressure from regional leaders, who sent troops to Gambia to force him to leave, and the international community’s outcry.
While Jammeh had said his country would get out of the International Criminal Court, the new administration has indicated its commitment to staying with the body, not because of one individual, but because of what it does and what it stands for,” Jallow Tambajang said.
Critics have said the former leader was given a clean slate just to get him to leave and it will be hard to prosecute him for the alleged crimes committed.
Jallow Tambajang says a person is never guilty until proven guilty in the eyes of the court … “prosecuting Jammeh should be confined to the legal system. This new democratic government doesn’t want to interfere with the other arms of government and wants a clear distinction between the executive, legislative and judiciary.”
ECOWAS / African Union
She says it was the work of members of the Economic Bloc of West African States (ECOWAS) under the leadership of Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and the African Union that played a critical role by using the traditional African dialogue but also the U.S., Britain and other bilateral donors.
Jallow Tambajang says it’s important to indicate that during the crisis, Barrow was inaugurated at the Gambian embassy in neighboring Senegal.
“We owe his Excellency Macky Sall and the people of Senegal a big thank you because they’ve shown the brother and sisterhood that exist between the two countries is real. They share the same culture and traditions. It also demonstrated that Africans can handle their own problems.”
On reports that the former president left the country with lots of cash, Jallow Tambajang says “the experience we’ve had is that he has acquired a lot of assets but we won’t make a statement on the magnitude of the misappropriations simply because we want to make it an evidence-based matter.”
This new administration, which won through a coalition of eight political parties “is not here to perpetuate itself and has a 3-year agenda to create a new foundation for democracy where people will have opportunities to work, where the private sector can be provided with an environment to grow and be the engine for development,” she pointed out.
Women & transition
Gambia’s vice president credits women for playing a critical role in the peaceful transition of power after December’s elections. In general, after being involved in women’s issues for more than 30 years, “women are progressing and their status is improving. Of course that’s not a call for complacency,” she said, but “when you look at it from the economic status, women have predominantly occupied the informal sector but are increasingly being visible in the formal sector. For many years they’ve taken the back seat but they are now creating their own space and are no longer accepting to be silent.”
Despite some successes in sub-Saharan Africa, Jallow Tambajang, who is also the country’s Minister of Women’s Affairs, says gender equality and women’s empowerment was universally adopted within the framework of the United Nations. Hence, governments have to be held accountable because it’s their responsibility to ensure there is progress on an annual basis.