With presidential elections knocking hard on the door, President Yahya Jammeh has a mammoth task to garner the electorate’s support for the radical changes his government wants implemented in its vision to turn The Gambia into a middle-income country by 2020.
The registration of voters for the elections which will take place over the next two years has been hailed as the most successful yet. Observers say the Independent Electoral Commission in The Gambia has to all intents and purposes done a splendid job of registering voters for three upcoming elections in the country, beginning with the presidential elections on 24 November, those for the National Assembly in the first quarter of 2012 and local government polls in the first quarter of 2013. For the first time the 780,000 registered voters will use biometric identification at the polls, which will see President Yahya Jammeh’s ruling Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC) vying with opposition parties to maintain its supremacy.
Going by the political situation over the last five years, it is unlikely that the opposition will make much of a dent on the APRC. This is because the opposition parties have been involved in internecine battles and in the process have alienated the electorate.There is already a groundswell of support for the APRC as the country prepares for the presidential election. Jammeh himself is confident that he will score a landslide victory, saying recently that the APRC “will teach the opposition a lesson” in the November polls.
President Jammeh has supported the voter registration process because he believes it will strengthen the democratic process in the country: “This is your democratic right and your contribution to the governance of your country. If you have a right to vote and you failed to register to get the voters’ card, where is your constitutional right to democracy?” he urged at a State House speech lauding the exercise.
Jammeh will be looking for overwhelming support from the Gambian electorate as his government implements a wide-range of economic reforms aimed at achieving its Vision 2020 programme, which seeks to transform The Gambia into a middleincome nation by 2020. However, this can only be achieved through political and economic stability, and so far, The Gambia has been a politically and economically stable country in a region routinely bedevilled by armed conflicts and the attendant economic instability, as attested by some of its neighbours.
The long-term policy objectives of Vision 2020 are to transform the country into a dynamic middle-income country in six mainstay sectors: agriculture, industry, trade, tourism, financial services and human resource development. The country’s leadership is well aware that it needs to achieve more to address the challenges in the next few years, and help accelerate growth and reduce poverty in the long run. To strengthen implementation of its poverty-reduction programmes, the Jammeh government is also putting in place policies aimed at removing inequalities that encumber access to sources of economic opportunities.
To achieve all this, the government will have to continue its commitment to macroeconomic reforms aimed at facilitating private sector growth, improving public sector management and increasing the priority given to human development. The government is also focused on sustaining the strong level of economic growth of the last few years, particularly in the areas of agriculture, tourism, trade, energy and infrastructure, as well as information and communication technology (ICT) and housing.
These are some of the issues that Gambian voters are interested in. In September 2006, Jammeh was re-elected as the candidate of the APRC with 67% of the votes cast. International observers described the election as fair. Legislative elections in January 2007, which were marked by splits in the opposition, returned the APRC to power with 60% of the votes. It is therefore no surprise that with a strong mandate, the president retains firm control over government policy formulation.
Using this mandate, Jammeh has also pushed gender issues to the fore.
The government has acknowledged that the realisation of gender equality requires empowerment of the most affected (women and girls) and the mainstreaming of gender perspectives in all sectors by all actors in the development process. The country has, therefore, been promoting equal access for men and women to human capital development opportunities.
Important policies, including strengthened nutrition and antenatal care, have contributed to a lowering of the maternal mortality rate. Girls’ enrolment in education has increased significantly, including through a scholarship programme for senior secondary students, and girl-focused initiatives for basic schools.
Education, education, education
One of the MDG targets that the government is expected to meet is the one relating to the increase in primary school enrolment. Not only has The Gambia managed to set up its own university, it has also encouraged more girls to enrol in a universal primary education programme that is set to transform the literacy level of the country.
The gross enrolment rate (GER) for the country stands at 91%, which in theory means that only about 9% of school-age children are out of school.
To cope with the demand for education, the government has built over 1,000 classrooms for lower basic, upper basic and basic cycle schools.
The government is of the view that at the current rate of development, the country should be able to achieve universal primary education by 2015.
This is backed by an investment in education of about 22% of the national budget, the largest among the ministries.
The government has adopted a National Education Policy for the period 2006-2015, which focuses on expanding and improving the quality of education.
During this period, gender parity was attained at the basic cycle level. At the senior secondary level, the overall GER almost doubled, but the gender gap at that level is still significant.
The government has programmes to recruit and retain qualified staff, including hardship allowances and improved working conditions for teachers assigned to rural areas.
Given all these plans for Gambians it is quite understandable why Jammeh and the APRC are confident of triumphing in the upcoming elections.