The UK and The Gambia have a long history and strong cultural and family connections bind our people together. There are over 60,000 British nationals that visit the ‘Smiling coast of Africa’ every year and they account for a large proportion of the tourism revenue received in The Gambia. In essence, we want to see The Gambia become more prosperous and as such we are serious about building a long-term partnership with The Gambia for generations ahead. We believe that this relationship should be based on mutual respect and mutual benefit.
The UK is a genuine friend of The Gambia and in any relationship there is always going to be differences of opinion. As friends of The Gambia we will always raise our concerns with The Gambian Government in order to have frank and open discussions about them. One of the UK’s key aims globally is to strengthen the global commitment to universal human rights, the rule of law, democracy and respect for all. Although each country is independent and sovereign, we all live in an interconnected and globalised world and it is in all our interests to work together to achieve our common interests.
****Why should it be a problem for The Gambia to leave the Commonwealth?
The Commonwealth is a voluntary organisation so countries can apply to join it, as well as choose to leave it if they wish to. It is unfortunate that The Gambia has left the Commonwealth family. The Commonwealth is an organisation based on shared values, which respects the independence of each member. It is inaccurate to describe it as ‘the British Commonwealth’: the UK has no privileged position or unique role in it. The Commonwealth acts in the interest of all its members, and operates by consensus. There are also many benefits from being part of the Commonwealth, for example the Gambia benefited from Commonwealth scholarships, technical assistance programmes, capacity building training and a range of development programmes. In fact for every £1 that the Gambia put into the Commonwealth over the past 5 years it got £13 back through these programmes.
Leaving the Commonwealth also has wider implications. One person asked if Gambians could still join the UK Army. There are over 300 Gambians currently serving in the British Army and around 20 in the British Navy – they will not be affected by the change. However, now that The Gambia has left the Commonwealth the British Army does not expect to continue to recruit Gambians into the Armed Forces unless they also qualify for British or another Commonwealth country’s nationality.
It also means that Gambian nationals in countries where the Gambia does not have diplomatic representation will no longer be able to call on British diplomatic missions for consular assistance.
****What support is the UK giving The Gambia?
The British Embassy and the UK Government provide a range of support to The Gambia through both multilateral and bilateral support. I thought it would be useful to highlight some of this cooperation below.
The United Kingdom is a long term contributor to many multilateral organisations who work within The Gambia including–
· The UN and many of its agencies – (UNICEF, UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) (which in 2012 announced £3 million for The Gambia as a result of the food crisis)
· International Monetary Fund (IMF)and World Bank
· African Development Bank
· African Union (AU)
· Commonwealth (including the Commonwealth War Graves Commission who maintain the Fajara War Cemetery)
· Save The Children
· International Committee of the Red Cross
EU (Multilateral Support)
The United Kingdom also contributes 15% to the European Union overseas Aid Budget. This aid budget gave 73 million Euros to The Gambia from 2008 - 2013. The estimated UK contribution was 10.5 million Euros or over 500 million dalasi.
This funding has gone towards:
· Building 270km of roads in The Gambia
· Improving food security and agricultural productivity
· Improving drainage and sanitation in The Gambia and increasing access to safe water in rural communities
· Increasing access to justice
· Strengthening the capacity of the Gambian government to deal with the impact of climate change
2012 Food Crisis Support (Bilateral Support)
In August 2012 the UK government through the UK Department for International Development (DfID) donated £500,000 (over 24 million dalasi) to The Gambia to help with the food crisis. The money was given to the World Food Programme office in the Gambia to purchase life saving food for 45,000 Gambians.
NDEA Support (Bilateral Support)
The British Embassy has provided ad hoc support to the NDEA to help their work in combating illegal drugs. Last year the British Embassy purchased an incinerator for the NDEA to help them safely dispose of confiscated drugs in addition to the donation of a 4X4 vehicle and drug testing kits.
Chevening Scholarships (Bilateral Support)
The British Embassy currently sends two Gambian students to the UK each year for a fully paid master’s programme. The Chevening programme has been running in The Gambia since its creation 30 years ago. So far over 70 Gambians have benefitted from this scholarship programme.
Bilateral Programme Fund (Bilateral Support)
Every year the British Embassy funds civil society and NGO projects in The Gambia. The projects can be focused on a wide number of areas including – human rights, poverty alleviation, sustainable environment, culture, water and sanitation, education and business development and the maximum each project can bid for is £5,000. The Embassy typically funds 8 of these projects each year.