Since 1994 The Gambia is led by the Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council (AFPRC), under the rule of president Jammeh. The party claims to be an inclusive institution, organizing new elections every five years. Yet, if we take a closer look at the recent history, this institution has proven to be quite “empty”. Some arguments to uphold this statement are :
- The AFPRC was not chosen by the people as their government, they achieved power with a presidential coup, overthrowing the ruling party at that time, the PPP (The People’s Progressive Party).
- In the year 1996 the first elections with Jammeh as president where held. Only the biggest competitor, the PPP, was banned from the elections.
- In 2011 the conditions under which the elections were held, were described as not being fair, free and transparent, by the ECWAS (the Economic Community of Western African States).
- Since the elections of 1996, several members of opposite parties have been arrested. Some were accused of planning a coup and fled, although this planned coup was never proven.
The Gambia is divided in eight LGA’s (Local Government Area’s) and 37 districts. Each district has his own Chief, who reports to the LGA’s and is appointed by the government. In the daily lives of the Gambians, a lot of people live in villages. The head of a village is called the “Alkalo”, a position mostly obtained by heritage, since most Alkalo’s are the oldest male of the founding family of the village. All Alkalo’s have to report their occupations to the Chief .
The latest constitution in The Gambia should provide for a strong presidential government, one parliamentary chamber (legislative), an independent judiciary and the protection of human rights. If this goal had been achieved, we would consider The Gambia as a strong state with a centralized power. Unfortunately, bribery of the executive body (policemen) and the judiciary is still a daily problem in The Gambia . Therefore, we would call this an “empty” institution with no centralization.
The economy of The Gambia relies mostly on tourism, agriculture and remittances inflows. It is vulnerable to shocks, as showed in 2014, when the harvest was small due to poor rains and when tourism declined due to Ebola.
Agriculture accounts for over 70% of the employment, while it only accounts for a third of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). This has to do with the fact that a lot of people cultivate their own food and are (partly) self-sufficient. When they do trade products on markets, this mostly goes via informal ways. This means it isn’t registered so it won’t be reflected in the GDP.
There is a free market in the Gambia: it has a liberal, market-based economy. But because most people are self-sufficient, the market is small. There is an export market in agricultural products as well.
The institutions which are relevant for our internship is the local government of which in particular the Alkalo's are important. We have to ask permission to the Alkalo to continue with the project and to give workshops. Furthermore, we will have to deal with police checkpoints when driving to villages.
The villages are extractive institutions because there is no provision of public services in a level playing field, it is not stimulated to undertake innovations and the system of law is not unbiased. The Alkalo allocates the land between the farmers. What is most important for us is that if someone wants to do something new, e.g. building a large solar dryer with villagers or starting a business with that, that person has to ask permission to the Alkalo. It is important to do this through the right persons as intermediators; otherwise it is seen as disrespectful .
Every few miles on the road, there are police checkpoints. These are an extreme extractive part of their institution because at large tourists or white people in general can only get through if they bribe the police officers. However, we learned from the previous group that it helps to tell about why we are in The Gambia and what we are doing to help the local inhabitants. Also, it helps to always keep smiling and to flatter the person you are talking to, according to experienced travellers in The Gambia .
Chapter 2 (accessed at 23-09-2016):