By Mustapha K Darboe
BANJUL, Gambia (AA) – Gambia’s president said Wednesday his government wants exiled former president Yahya Jammeh to face trial and is in talks with Equatorial Guinea on ensuring that.
President Adama Barrow told Anadolu Agency his government is in the process of building a case against the autocratic ruler before taking any legal action to ensure victims of Jammeh’s regime get justice.
“We are more than willing to engage Equatorial Guinea in bringing Jammeh to justice. We are even engaging them at the bilateral level and at the level of the African Union,” Barrow said.
“For certain, there will be justice. That is why we are having all these commissions of inquiry into the financial activities of Jammeh and his rights abuses. Before one takes any legal action, you must establish the truth first, and that is what we are doing.”
The president of Equatorial Guinea, Teodoro Obiang Nguema, told French media a couple of weeks ago that he is open to reviewing any legal petition Gambia sends him on bringing Jammeh to justice.
“I will review it with my lawyers,” he said.
Jammeh ruled Gambia for 22 years, during which he was accused of human rights abuses through ordering the killing and disappearance of political opponents.
Barrow defeated him at polls in December 2016, but no one has been brought to book for crimes committed under the autocratic ruler, though nine of his former intelligence officers are standing trial for the murder of an opposition activist.
- Security failure
Barrow has been brought to power through the help of regional troops on orders of the leaders of the Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS.
Since their intervention, the regional troops are still in charge of security in the country, and Barrow has not visited a single military camp since, fueling rumors of his mistrust in the army.
On Sunday, two Gambian army deserters who fled with Jammeh to Equatorial Guinea sneaked back into the country through the airport with the help of insiders who are still loyal to Jammeh.
Barrow admitted that the incident was a huge “security failure” but insisted that his army is loyal to him, despite claims that they are more loyal to Jammeh.
“There is no security threat, but we have to be vigilant…We have accepted that it was a serious security failure and we are going to learn from it,” he said.
“There is trust between me and the army, and we are doing a lot as far as the military is concerned. The environment today for the military is far better than it was before. They are better treated today, with utmost respect,” Barrow said.
“We are reforming. I am the commander in chief of the army and all their files come here…There is a lot of training going on, and even some of our soldiers are going to Senegal for training very soon.”
Barrow said his government is establishing a military academy as part of the reform efforts.
- Economic challenges
At the time of his takeover, Gambia’s economy faced several challenges, including depleting reserves, higher public debt and rising poverty, according to figures from the finance ministry.
But Barrow said he has changed the trend despite these challenges.
“It was a very difficult year, but we have made progress. The first target we had when we came to power was to stabilize the economy and boost the reserves. We had found less than one month import cover, and now we have over four months [worth of] import cover,” he said, referring to the number of months of imports the country’s reserves can pay for.
“Our progress has been praised in the area of the economy. Traffic at the Gambia Ports Authority has increased significantly, meaning people and goods are coming into Gambia. The government’s revenue has increased.
“The tourism sector has done very well this year. We used to have between 100,000 to 150,000 tourists in the country. This year, we are expecting over 200,000 tourists. And from here, we are [shifting] to an all-year round tourism season instead of six months.”
He also said they are negotiating debt relief from their international partners.
According to the country’s central bank, as of the beginning of the year, Gambia owes its creditors over $1 billion, or about 120% of its GDP.
“This year, our debt stock has gone down by 12%. And because the economy is growing, we have reduced domestic borrowing. This has brought down interest rates from banks and private businesses can now get loans,” he said.
Meanwhile, Gambia is also recognized as one of the countries that produce the highest number of migrants going to the EU through the Mediterranean Sea.
After the regime change in December 2016, about 1,500 migrants have returned from Libya, adding to the country’s unemployed youth population.
But Barrow said they are making fast moves.
“We have just launched a youth empowerment project that is going to create about 11,000 jobs for the youths in three years’ time…We are also mechanizing the farming system in the country,” he said.
The Gambian leader also spoke about the prospects of Gambia having offshore oil reserves near Senegal’s discovery well.
He said they have already given licenses to two companies that are working on exploring the four potential wells the country has.
“By the timeline we are given, exploration is likely to start by June this year,” he said.