The Gambia urgently needs a comprehensive aid package to help it overcome both the recent political crisis and decades of misrule by the outgoing president.
President Jammeh finally conceded the result of democratic elections and left the country last night in the face of concerted pressure by the regional bloc ECOWAS, the African Union and the UN. United Purpose (UP) is calling on Britain, the EU and other international donors to move fast to back the peaceful democratic transition secured through determined African-led, internationally-backed co-operation.
The aid agency, one of the few international NGOs with a programme on the ground in Gambia, said that an estimated 200,000 people, half of them children, had fled their homes over the last week, fearful of violence after the incumbent president Yahya Jammeh refused to honour the election result and leave office.
Around 45,000 of those had crossed the border into Senegal, with up to 150,000 people taking shelter in the countryside, which is already extremely poor and is struggling to cope with the sudden influx of new arrivals, said UP. Some of the displaced people will return to find their homes and businesses have been looted, and will need immediate help to get back on their feet. The very poor, who make much of the population, risk being pushed over the edge, added UP.
Kathryn Llewellyn, chief executive at United Purpose, said:
“For the last few days Gambians have been on a knife-edge, as they’ve waited to see whether the election result will be honoured and power transferred to the democratically elected new president.
“Despite this fear, it is extremely positive to see Gambia’s neighbours, the African Union and the UN have worked together to solve the crisis, in strong contrast to the spirit of ‘every country for itself’ which seems to be taking root elsewhere.
“Once the political transition is over, we need to see the international community rally round to help the Gambia. Progress and development have stalled under Yahya Jammeh’s rule, but with the democratically-elected new president Adama Barrow there is a golden opportunity to reverse this and ensure a sustained rise in living standards for his people.
“Gambians need help to deal with the culture of repression and cronyism. They are excited to be able to participate in the new democracy. But overcoming the fear and silence instilled in people from years of living in a police state will not be easy.
“With so many Gambians fleeing to Europe in recent years, Britain and the EU also need to put their money where their mouth is on helping tackle the root causes of poverty and repression driving so many Gambians to make the dangerous journey to Europe by backing efforts to entrench democracy and development in Gambia.”
The immediate priorities for any aid package for the Gambia should be to restore predictable food supplies and to support displaced people to return home, say UP. Over the coming few years there need to be programmes to help create jobs for young people who make up the bulk of those fleeing the country and strengthening civil society to embed democracy, they add.
United Purpose staff in the both the UK and the Gambia are available for comment. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Notes to editors
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Gambians made up 8.1% of migrants arriving in Italy, behind only the much larger nations of Nigeria and Eritrea.
United Purpose is one of the few international aid agencies present in Gambia with programmes including job creation, agriculture, irrigation and peacebuilding initiatives.