When my mandate began, in 2018, it was not long after the end of the dictatorship (Yahya Jammeh’s two decade rule). The new government was already adopting several reforms at the same time, overhauling the constitution, the judiciary and the security sector, and the UN had allocated funds for peacebuilding.
Truth and Reconciliation
An important development was the establishment of the Truth, Reconciliation and Compensation Commission (TRRC), supported by the UN and other partners.
People were enthusiastic to join the commission, which has been very important for the country. Expectations were high from the victims, from the population, but also from various partners. It was important that it be a Gambian-driven process, to avoid influence from outsiders. We helped set it up and provided the necessary expertise to run it.
The Department of Justice needs to be strengthened, because they are leading that process, and this is the first time they have had to deal with a case like this. Here again, we are providing expertise to work on a roadmap that will lead to the implementation of the Commission’s recommendations.
We are involved in communication linked to the process: we want to ensure that communities, local authorities and civil society all know the role they have to play and manage expectations. These reforms will not happen overnight, they will take many years, and we need to make sure that is understood.
Now is the time to put reforms into practice. So far, the government has released a white paper that approves almost all of the recommendations. The COVID 19 the pandemic slowed down the process, but I think they are still determined to do more.
Laying a strong foundation
It is crucial to have a government that shows leadership. If not, you can outline a vision for where you think the country should go, but you will get nowhere.
We have supported the government’s creation of a strategic planning and delivery department within the Office of the President. We have trained the staff and shown them best practices in other countries.
When we arrived, there was no minister for gender equality, so we advocated for a new ministry to be created, and we are seeing progress in terms of women’s empowerment.
Coming out of a twenty-year dictatorship, where human rights were violated, we supported the creation of a National Human Rights Commission, which is fully functional and in many ways a central institution, which will oversee the implementation of the TRRC.
Going forward, it is crucial for The Gambia to succeed in building strong institutions, something that is true for all countries. If the institutions are weak, you cannot implement any plans and you waste resources.
I think this country is going in the right direction. We have many more partners now and the donor community is growing. After a five-year period, the transition is almost complete and we have helped the government lay the foundations for most reforms, policies and strategies.
To change lives for the better
In addition to supporting the reforms, we have been an active partner in developing the economy, empowering women and climate action.
In terms of the economy, where tourism plays an important role, UN agencies have focused on providing education for young people and vulnerable groups such as returning migrants, and providing them with seed capital to start their own businesses. Returning migrants often feel like a burden to their families, but with our help many of them have been able to thrive.
Unfortunately, this is a country where there is significant violence against women, including female genital mutilation. Sometimes women don’t want to talk about the violence they face, so we’ve created hotlines they can call and built centers where they can go for treatment and support.
The climate crisis is affecting The Gambia, especially in terms of flooding; last year was the worst flood here in 38 years. It may not be on the scale of the floods in Pakistan, but for a small country with a small population, it had a big impact.
Our authorities provided food and shelter to those displaced by the floods and provided clean drinking water, but we are also helping the population to adapt and be better prepared before the next flood arrives.
I am convinced that we have changed life for the better in The Gambia. We are still at an early stage, but I believe that we have created a solid foundation for development and that we will see even greater impact in the next five years, and see the country develop in a cohesive manner, in all regions of the country, with none left.