The Gambia's consul general to the Republic of Italy has described political stability as a sine qua non to economic development, saying the prevailing stability in the country has made it attractive to investors.
In an exclusive interview with the Daily Observer Friday afternoon at the offices of the Foreign Affairs Ministry in Banjul, Professor Avv. Francesco Cristina di Santannera, who is also The Gambia's counselor to the Republic of San Marino, said this country stands out among a host of countries in terms of economic and political stability.
"Rome at the time of the Roman Empire was not built overnight. So this country is lucky in the sense that it has political stability, friendly people, no criminality, and this is an advantage because serious investors with their bank account will not go to any country where the environment is not comfortable.
If you look at the map of the world, how many countries are with that kind of environment like The Gambia? Not many. If the investors can find political stability, friendly people, as well as educated citizens, they are attracted to come. So with all these that The Gambia has, what better conditions can they find elsewhere that are not here," the seasoned diplomat, who came to Banjul with the maiden Italian flight and some investors remarked.
Consul General Santannera, who has been representing The Gambia in Italy for the past two decades and has been a driving force behind today's tight bilateral relations between Banjul and Rome, said he has been engaging the private sector and entrepreneurs in that European country to explore the nation's investment opportunities.
"Now I am engaging the private sector more to come and explore the investment opportunities in The Gambia. This is because as you know, the financial and economic situation in the world, particularly, in the north region of the globe, is not very comfortable. Sure I realised that many investors leave for new destinations where there is political stability, where the tax is bit reasonable. So I had meetings with several group of investors in Italy and I had presented a lot of projects.
Fortunately, we came to Banjul with a maiden flight from Italy called Neos. We came here with the chairman of the company, staff of the company, and some Italian entrepreneurs. We had meeting on Thursday at the Gambia Tourism Board office in the presence of the Tourism and Culture minister, and other stakeholders in the tourism sector," he told the Daily Observer.
This aircraft that will fly Banjul-Milan, according to the Gambia's chief diplomat to Italy, is important for the country not just for tourism, but also for trade in that there will be exchange of goods between the two countries. He hinted that they are working to have this flight operate all year round, indicating that negotiations have already been started on that issue.
"The group of entrepreneurs that came with me are interested in investing in The Gambia and one already has a draft project to present to The Gambia Investment and Export Promotion Agency (GIEPA)," he indicated. The investors, he added, are ready to invest and employ local people, who would be trained first in Italy before their employment. "They are in the country and had meeting with local entrepreneurs here who might be interested in joint venture. But what is important is that investors are coming," he assured.
Quizzed on how optimistic he is that these entrepreneurs would eventually invest in Thee Gambia, the consular general was again unequivocal with the type of environment the country has.
He reiterated:"The environment is a positive one. Most foreign investments are going out of Italy, Italian investors and entrepreneurs are going out looking for new destinations, and so I want to involve these people to come here because this is a country where the climate is nice, the people are wonderful, and there is a political stability. Also important about the country is that the politicians are open; you go to the minister, knock the door and talk with him/her - that is unusual in Europe."
This flight company that would operate once a week from Milan to Banjul, the investors that came with it, as well as those that were brought before, according to Consul General Santannera, is a step towards transforming this country into what he called a very important nation in the world in terms of tourism, trade, amongst others inline with the Vision 2020 development roadmap.
Shifting his comments to the bilateral relations between Banjul and Rome, Consul General Santannera, who oversaw the first ever state visit between the two countries at the level of heads of state in 1998, described it as "tight".
"My main target over the years has been ensuring the cordial relationship between Banjul and Rome. When I was appointed, the diplomatic relationship between The Gambia and Italy was just a gesture on the paper. But slowly-slowly with the help of the government of The Gambia under the leadership of President Jammeh, I built the relations very tight.
In 1998, I was able to involve the government of Italy to invite President Jammeh for a state visit and this was the first visit between the two countries. The Gambian leader met with the Italian president and prime minister, as well as Pop John Paul II. But from that first state visit in the history of the two countries, we got several bilateral agreements signed in different fields such as Tourism, Interior, Health, and so on," he said.
Questioned as to which bilateral agreement between the two countries stand out among the rest, Consul General Santannera, who personally is supporting an educational project in The Gambia, pointed out the pact between the interior ministries of the two countries.
"We signed that agreement here when the chief of police and Interior minister of Italy came here," he recalled. Through this agreement, he posited, the government of The Gambia has received a lot of assistance from Italy including four-wheel vehicles for the Immigration Department, some equipment for the airport, as well as training incentives for the Gambians in Italy. He recalled that last year three groups of Gambians were in Italy for a month training course at different intervals such as in February, May, and October-November.
"All of them had the opportunity to stay there for one month in the police school and everything was sponsored by the Interior Ministry of Italy," he remarked.
"The third thing about this bilateral agreement is that since 2011, we had in Italy three Immigration officers of The Gambia working with the Italian police. They are part of group of Italian Police; they get the salary of Italian Police, they have accommodation, insurance covered and have all privileges like their Italian counterparts including social security. One is in Milan working with me at my diplomatic office; one is in Rome; and the other is in South Italy," he indicated.
Present day Gambia
Consul General Santannera who has been given Gambian citizenship by President Jammeh since 2007 did not end this long interview without commenting on the numerous development projects that have been the hallmark of the Jammeh Administration.
"I am sure you can remember how The Gambian situation was 20-25 years ago; you cannot compare that reality of the country with now. Today we have lots of roads, hospitals, electricity, street lights and so on. This is the proof that the government led by President Jammeh is doing a great job. You know the budget of The Gambia is checked by the World Bank, and I personally read that, and the WB is absolutely positive - 2009, 2010, 2011," he stated.
For more on this interview, read our subsequent Bantaba editions.