Gambians clearly remember 23rd July in 1994, when the then 29-year-old young army lieutenant, Yahya AJJ Jammeh, leader of the group that toppled the PPP regime, addressed the nation for the first time after the takeover, giving reasons for their action. The positive words uttered by then Chairman Jammeh are still echoing in the minds of many people. In a cool and calm atmosphere amidst great hope of optimism, Chairman Jammeh who addressed the nation through the national radio said:
"The reasons for this takeover are basically that the PPP [Peoples' Progressive Party] government was supposed to be democratic and accountable, but this was never the case as there had never been an Independent Electoral Commission. There was outrageous and rampant corruption, to a scale that the nation's coffers were looted by few individuals and that majority of Gambians are poorer today [at the time of the Revolution] than they were in 1965.
The action is taken to rescue our dear motherland from the strangle grip of a corrupt and undemocratic system. The new government will institute measures to ensure public accountability, welfare, equal distribution of the national cake, state transparency and just system of justice for all."
18 years today since the birth of the Revolution, the Jammeh-led government did not go against these vouches, which have since been translated into actions through the quantum developments that leaped The Gambia and positioned it among the fast developing countries in the sub-region. Indeed, transparency, probity, accountability, democracy, and justice have for the past 18 years been the benchmark of the Revolution. Gambians today have not been disappointed with the current regime given what has been achieved in this relatively short period.
It is apparent that running a country with its resources yet to be fully exploited is an uphill task. So it is obvious that detractors will not relent in their well calculated schemes to discourage a genuine mission. Even though there are persisting challenges, however at 18 years today, The Gambia, one of the smallest countries in Africa has triumphed remarkably in virtually all spheres of the socio-economic development endeavours - all these due to the unassuming and exemplary work of the leadership.
It is an open secret that even those who criticised the president or failed to accept his government's achievements within The Gambia and Africa as a whole, have now awakened to the fact that the Gambian leader has become a leading figure in Africa's emancipation strides, particularly in the campaign to rid the continent of the bondage of abject poverty, underdevelopment, all forms of colonialism including economic, rampant political upheavals and so on.
Today, majority of Gambians pride themselves to be citizens of the Smiling Coast of Africa thanks to the selfless sacrifice and continued hard work of President Jammeh, whose development is being felt in every facet of the Gambian society. With his Vision 2020 development blueprint, President Jammeh has initiated and accomplished many pro-poor projects in the country; designed to improve the living standards of Gambians and empower them to a brighter future.
For majority of Gambians, the July 22nd Revolution is more than a coup in that it is one that came to usher in more developments that were long yearned for. The Gambian leader, aware of the fact that so much time was wasted by the previous regime, built a nation that the citizens wanted, and started the construction in earnest. Gambians have and continue to be amazed by the giant developments registered in all sectors ranging from road construction, education, agriculture and health, to the building of democratic institutions, amongst a host of others.
Jammeh, during his first address to the nation vowed that "the regime will at all times maintain a free liberal economic policy that will open doors to international bonafide investors". This has been proven by the leadership at this stage of its mission. Today, the Gambia has become a safe haven for all kinds of investors from across the globe.
The gov't maintains a transparent system in dealing with these investors, and genuine ones have since stayed and explored the vast investment opportunities of this country. The investments are easily seen in many critical sectors of our economy. Compared to the First Republic where few banks existed, today, up to 14 commercial banks are operating in The Gambia with all of them making huge profits under stiff competition; something that symbolises the steady growth of the nation's economy.
In fact, according to the World Bank country brief on the Gambia, the nation's banking system has been one of the sources of strength of the country's economy. Banks are generally adequately capitalised and liquid, with the banking system's capital adequacy ratio reaching 19.3 percent at end-June 2011, well above the 8.0 percent minimum threshold stipulated by the 2003 Financial Institutions Act, according to the brief.
Investors have partnered with the government to invest in critical sectors like agriculture. An example of such public-private partnership is the first-ever Gambia Food and Feed Industries, a new manufacturing giant located at Kamalo along the Banjul-Serrekunda Highway. This industry will no doubt push agricultural production and create markets for not only Gambian farmers but also others in the sub-region. In addition to that, investors have sealed deals with the government to explore the God-endowed oil of the country, and such was manifested with the recent granting of operational licenses to Camac Energy and Oranto respectively in addition to others that came before them.
Much skepticism were initially thrown out at the declaration by the leadership that The Gambia has oil that it will exploit, but they have been proven wrong as more multinational companies continue to show interest to tap this priceless resources. Investments have also been made in the hotel and hospitality industry, where ultra-modern hotels and facilities have been built; housing and construction sector where real estate investors invested heavily; as well as other sectors of the economy.
The Jammeh administration in its quest for national reorientation and reconstruction had the foresight to give priority to education in view of the fact that Africa's underdevelopment has to a large extent been attributed to ignorance and lack of a strong and skillful human resource base. In this light, since the 430 years rules of the British and PPP regime failed to produce a university for the nation that will train the citizens to become actors of their own developments, President Jammeh conceived the idea of putting this structure during the transition.
In fact, we learnt that when the Gambian leader conceived this brilliant idea, the group of "so-called" intellectual panels that were set up to study the feasibility of setting up this structure, told the ambitious Revolutionary Council that they needed 20-30 years before a higher educational institute of that level could be established. But this made no sense to President Jammeh [then chairman of the AFPRC] who subsequently rejected the recommendations.
Amazingly, he was able to put up a University Extension Programme in 1995 before instituting a full-fledged university in 1999-200. This citadel of learning has today produced hundreds of Gambians who have been trained on home soil and have since taken their rightful places in the national development strides. This year, during the seventh convocation ceremony of the UTG, the Faraba Banta Village Project, the home of the university was inaugurated. Plans are at an advanced stage to build an ultra-modern university. Many analysts describe the university as the greatest and most heart touching project of the 1994 Revolution given human resource development as key to the sustainable development.
In addition to the university, several schools (lower, middle and senior) have been built throughout the country. This has culminated in greater access to education as well as the bridging of the disparity gap between boys and girls. Again scholarship schemes such as the President's Empowerment for Girls' Education Project (PEGEP) amongst others were personally set up by President Jammeh to sponsor thousands of students both within and outside the country.
In fact, according to The Gambia Millennium Development Goal Status Report 2010, the MDG targets set on the proportion of pupils starting grade 1 who reach last grade of primary school has been attained. The Gambia is on track to attaining the MDG targets set for net enrolment in primary education and literacy rates among the population aged 15-24 year; and that target set on gender parity in primary and lower secondary schools has been attained and the country is on track to reach target set for parity at senior secondary by 2015, according to the said report. The World Bank country brief on the Gambia also indicated that there have been important gains in education and health indicators in recent years.
The Gambia economy has remained remarkably resilient since the onset of the global financial crisis, according to the WB country brief.Real GDP growth is estimated to have risen by 5.6 percent in 2010, down from a high 6.3 percent growth rate in 2009, and is projected to rise by 5.5 percent in 2011. The good performance of the agriculture sector in recent years and of the groundnut sector in particular, explains The Gambia's strong economic recovery since late 2008.
This is a sector that continues to be given a high priority by the Jammeh Administration. Before the advent of the Second Republic, few health facilities were in place. But today standard hospitals have been built across the length and breadth of the country, equipped with modern medical equipment. The most notable health facilities brought by the Jammeh Administration are the AFPRC General Hospital in Farafenni; the Sulayman Junkung General Hospital in Bwiam; and the Serrekunda Hospital.
Furthermore, a pediatric hospital has been built in Kanilai, plus an unprecedented number of major and minor health centres across the country. These strides made medical services accessible and affordable with minimum charges of only D5 per person. Also, women enjoy free maternal health service; reduction in maternal and child mortality; and improved life expectancy.
According to the World Bank country brief, The Gambia has performed relatively well on a range of health indicators.Child immunization coverage is relatively high, consisting of 87 percent for DPT, 92 percent for measles and 97 percent for tuberculosis (2005/6 NCHS/WHO).
In addition to all these, the President's Alternative Treatment Programme (PATP) has also complemented the strides made in the health sector. Initiated by the Gambian leaderon 17th January, 2007, as part of his crusade of saving humanity from the scourge of complicated diseases, the treatment programme has since its inception treated thousands of patients.
They underwent different treatments such as HIV/AIDS, hypertension, asthma, diabetes, infertility and so on, as can be testified by many. Most of these patients, some of them foreign nationals, have now gone back to their various societies and are performing their respective social responsibilities.
Like health and education, agriculture has also been given adequate attention by President Jammeh. His ambition for a redirection in this sector dates back to the transition when he championed the "back-to-the-land" call initiative aimed at ensuring that the nation achieves food self-sufficiency.
Since agriculture is the mainstay of the country's economy and a lifesaver for the citizens, providing over 70 percent of employment, President Jammeh continues to encourage and inspire more Gambians into farming through his pragmatic and exemplary farming activities. He is of course seen in Kanilai during his annual leave toiling hard on his vast farms.
His government has since 1994 been making giant efforts towards agricultural mechanization in view of the fact that the nation cannot be food self-sufficient and export surplus without the former [mechanization]. This was manifested at the start of last cropping season in which the Gambian leader distributed at least 178 brand new tractors to all the regions and districts of the country in anticipation for a major assault on food insecurity.
Despite the fact that a woeful crop failure was registered during last year's cropping season due to erratic and poorly distributed rainfall, these tractors together with the massive investments in millions of dollars by the government and its development partners are expected to reinforce the anti-hunger crusade of the country in the 2012 cropping season.
Furthermore, the government this yearentered into partnership with John Deree, a leading world agricultural mechanization firm to provide equipment to the Gambian farmers through government to expand production in many areas including irrigational agriculture. Efforts have also been made by the government to diversify this sector as much as possible and introduce well recommended new seed varieties, especially from the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Aware of the indispensability of a good road network in the overall national development strides, the Jammeh administration put roads construction high on its development agenda. This is due to the fact that a good road network contributes to poverty reduction and improved livelihood.
It is more important to agricultural production as it makes linkages between production centres and markets. So given the greater ambition of President Jammeh in trying to make the nation a food basket, he made sure that obstacles like lack of road network that will deter him from achieving that objective are tackled. This is why the entire country is today almost connected together.
The most notable roads infrastructure projects are the 168km Kombo Coastal Road; the Barra-Amdallai road; 13km Mandinaba-Seleti road; 193 km Soma-Basse road; 23 km Basse-Wellingara road; Westfield-Mandinaba road; the rehabilitation of the Westfield-Banjul Highway; as well as the Trans-Gambia Highway, which is currently at an advance stage of construction.
Wider democratic participation
The advent of the July 1994 Revolution saw a radical move towards greater democracy and good governance. Even though The Gambia was one of the few multi-party democracies in the sub-region before the July 94 takeover, the country's democratic process have been consolidated by the Jammeh administration beyond the imagination of many Gambians. Unlike the previous government where there was nothing like the Independent Electoral Commission, and a permanent secretary at the Ministry of Local Government serving as a returning officer in general elections, the Jammeh-led goverment set up for the first timein the history of The Gambia this all important democratic body, the Independent Electoral Commission.
Previously referred to as the Provisional Independent Electoral Commission (PIEC) during the transition before being reconstituted, it is tasked with the responsibility of conducting free, fair, transparent and credible elections in The Gambia. The institution has not fallen short of its responsibilities as it has conducted four presidential and parliamentary elections that are highly credited by independent international observers including the Commonwealth and the African Union Observer Teams.
The Gambia today has more political parties that are allowed to exercise their democratic rights and expressions. These parties operate freely and contest in all general elections. In fact, the country continues to witness the birth of new political parties, the latest being the Gambia People Democratic Party [GPDP] formed by Henry Gomez, and the Gambia Moral Congress [GMC] formed by Lawyer Mai Fatty. The emergence of these new political parties is a pointer that there is a greater confidence in the democratic process of the country; as well as that of the Independent Electoral Commission.
Of all the elections held since 1996 to date, there has never been any report of election rigging, fraud or irregularities, and these are facts confirmed and attested to by international observers, who always praise the country's electoral process. Other democratic strides include the setting up of the National Council for Civic Education; the Alternative Dispute Resolution Secretariat [ADRS]; the Office of the Ombudsman; the separation of powers between the three arms of government - the Executive, Legislature, and the Judiciary. Each of these arms of government is independent and is functioning efficiently without interference. Before 1994, the country lacked a Supreme Court and had to go to the Privy Council in London, but today this has been a thing of the past.
As part of the democratic process, the Jammeh Administration has granted licenses to several media outlets both print and electronic.
Zero tolerance for corruption policy Inline with its commitment to promote accountability, the government has since adopted a 'zero tolerance policy' towards corruption. It has since set up many independent commissions of inquiry to probe into malpractices or other corrupt activities in the public sector. From 2011 to this year, very effective commissions of enquiry have been set up by the leadership. Among them are Lands Commission, Fertilizer Commission, Tax Commission.
Recently, the National Assembly passed into law the establishment of a Permanent Anti-Corruption Commission that will address issues of corruption and othermalpractices as part of efforts to make the country corruption-free, where public funds and properties will be accounted for. Once put in place, corruption will have no space to rear its ugly head in the country.
These are the few projects among a host of others that is being brought to limelight as we join President Jammeh, the architect of the July 22nd Revolution and custodian of modern day Gambia, in celebrating the 18th anniversary of the Revolution slated for Sunday in low-key format.
Happy July 22nd anniversary, Mr. President.