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  REPORT - The GAMBIA
 

THE GAMBIA RIVER HAS MARKED THE LIVES OF THE 1.7 MILLION RESIDENTS OF THIS TINY NATION. HUNDREDS OF YEARS AGO, SLAVE TRADERS USED IT TO ACCESS THE FORTRESS ON JAMES ISLAND. TODAY, WITH NEW BRIDGES AND DAMS PLANNED, THE RIVER HAS ANOTHER MEANING: MODERNIZATION. BUT PERHAPS ITS MOST IMPORTANT CONTRIBUTION? TRANQUILITY
A history of peace

President of The Gambia Yahya Jammeh, who was re-elected for his third term in 2006

The Gambia River is a dominating feature of life in The Gambia. This great West African river stretches from the country’s Atlantic coast 186 miles into its interior, dividing residents into north or south bank inhabitants. Steamers can navigate the river for 140 miles inland, which, for the first 80 miles, is fringed with mangrove-covered banks, later giving way to red cliffs topped with green vegetation. Dotted with ferries, fishermen in dugout canoes and cutters loaded with groundnuts, the river offers the occasional glimpse of hippopotami and crocodiles surfacing, and baboons playing along its banks.

Alex Haley, who wrote the American novel Roots, said that it was the Gambia River that helped him trace his ancestors. Of the few African words passed down in his family, Kamby Bolongo had survived. He discovered that bolongo was a moving water, or river, in Mandinka, the language of The Gambia’s main ethnic group. Later, when he traveled to Jaffure, a village on the north bank of the river, his theory was confirmed. The Mandika language does not have a ‘g’ sound; the river is thus pronounced Kambiya rather than Gambia.

The tranquility of the river is reflected in the peaceful nature of those who reside along its banks. Located around the flood plains of the Gambia River, and occupying an area roughly half the size of Maryland, is Africa’s smallest nation. Geographically surrounded by Senegal on all sides except for its 50 miles of Atlantic coastline, The Gambia is one of West Africa’s most peaceful nations, and according to the World Economic Forum, one of the top three least corrupt countries on the continent.

The nation’s love for peace extends beyond its borders. The Gambia has played an important role in regional peace processes – it recently hosted the African Union Summit, and President Yahya Jammeh, who was reelected for his third term in 2006, has been actively involved in mediating the Guinea-Bissau peace process and ensuring stability in the Senegalese region of Casamance.

“Peace and stability are indispensable pre-requisites for human development. Without them, we cannot move forward,” states the President. “If we live according to tribes, there is bound to be conflict; and if we live based on races, there’s bound to be racism. Our diversity in color and culture is the strength of humanity, and as far as we are concerned, religion should be a unifying factor rather than a dividing factor.”

The stability that has reigned in The Gambia since President Jammeh assumed power in 1994 has allowed the country the freedom to achieve significant economic progress. Today, The Gambia boasts a liberal, market-based economy, a growing tourism industry and a thriving re-export trade built around its port. Growth has been above 6% for the last few years, infrastructure has been strengthened and continues to be expanded, and the country is open to foreign investment. Bold steps are being taken to ensure the country’s goal of achieving developed status by 2020.

“To achieve Vision 2020, we must ensure that our citizens acquire the skills required through quality education. That is the strategy. It is not just about reaching Vision 2020 but sustaining it,” says the President. “Next, we must create an environment conducive to development, an atmosphere that gives investors confidence, and one in which the private sector is the engine of growth. For the private sector to be competent and realize its potential, there must be a transparent relationship with the government. Whatever we do in this country is in partnership with the private sector, and the private sector is indispensable in the achievement of Vision 2020.

“This country has always been cited as the smallest country on earth. However, good things can come from small countries like ours. My vision was to make The Gambia one of the best countries in the world. If a small country like Singapore can do it, why not The Gambia? My hope was to make the smallest country on earth the best country on earth. To this day, that is the vision that I have.”