Op-Ed: America’s Steadfast Support for Gambian Democracy
The sixteen months my wife and I have lived in The Gambia have shown us why this is known as “The Smiling Coast” – from Kartong to Fatoto we’ve experienced unrivaled hospitality, vibrant and diverse communities, learned about the rich culture and history, and of course eaten the most wonderful Gambian cuisine. Our time here has also reinforced the importance and strength of the deep and broad relations between the United States and The Gambia, and we are privileged to further the ties that bind us together.
This Saturday, July 4th, the United States celebrates our Independence Day. Americans around the world stop to reflect on the importance of democracy, inclusive and representative government, and fundamental freedoms. With COVID-19, this year’s celebrations will look different. Here in The Gambia, our Embassy Team will not be able to host our annual event to celebrate the occasion with our Gambian friends. But one thing that remains the same is our unshakable commitment to the people of The Gambia.
The courage shown by Gambians to vote for peaceful, democratic change in December 2016 inspired the world. The commitment to publicly examine the truth of abuses committed and seek justice and reconciliation inspires the world. The ongoing efforts to reestablish the foundations of human rights and human dignity, of representative and accountable governance, of equal access to justice, continue to inspire the world. I commend President Barrow and the members of his Cabinet, the elected representatives in the National Assembly who are speaking on behalf of their constituents, and most importantly the people of The Gambia for your continuing commitment to peaceful, democratic change.
The United States continues its commitment to support The Gambia’s implementation of the National Development Plan (NDP), which is an ambitious roadmap for foundational change. Our shared goal is to see an independent, self-reliant, and successful Gambia, which serves as a pillar of stability, democracy, and economic vitality in the region. U.S. assistance is primarily targeted at improving the Gambian government’s ability to effectively deliver services to the Gambian people, and the Gambian people’s capacity to serve as drivers and architects of their own development trajectory. The United States’ vision of The Gambia of the future is a country that no longer needs aid and – thanks to the drive and capacity of the Gambian people – can respond to the needs and demands of its people.
Below are just a few examples of our robust engagement over the past year:
Building Government Capacity: Last year over 50 Gambian security officers attended training at the International Law Enforcement Academy’s (ILEA) Regional Training Centers. We sponsored Technical advisors to the Security Sector Reform and government budgeting and debt management reform efforts. Our programming is helping National Assembly Members represent their constituents and fulfill their constitutional duties.
Supporting Communities and Organizations: We provided over $750,000 to support The Gambia’s capacity to combat Trafficking in Persons. The United States also committed over $1 Million to support victims and encourage the participation of civil society in the TRRC. Mulitple villages through The Gambia have benefited from small grants to dig wells, purchase rice mills, or install solar power banks through our Ambassador’s Self-Help Fund. This past year our Public Diplomacy Section sponsored a computer lab at the school for the deaf, vocational training for marginalized women and girls, and a weeklong camp for young leaders from the rural regions.
Addressing Development Needs: The MCC concluded a comprehensive assessment of “binding constraints” to economic growth, and focused on supporting Gambian efforts to address inefficiencies in the generation and distribution of electricity, with accountability for revenue collection and energy sector investment. We hope to re-start the program now that The Gambian government’s work to combat trafficking in persons have resulted in lifted restrictions on assistance.
And of course we cannot overlook that the United States is the largest contributor to the budgets for most if not all United Nations agencies that are hard at work in The Gambia supporting the National Development Plan and related efforts, from agriculture to health, to security and justice sector reform, to education system improvements, and many more efforts.
I feel extremely privileged to be the American Ambassador to The Gambia at this unique and momentous time in Gambian history, and to continue the longstanding tradition of American support for the Gambian people.
(P.S. – our favorite Gambian dishes are chicken Domoda, Super Kanja, and Yassa…and of course Benachin. While one can find similar dishes across the region, the key ingredients which makes Gambian food the best are the warmth and hospitality of the Smiling Coast.)