At the launching of the National Development Plan (NDP) at State House on Tuesday, President Adama Barrow called on Gambians to work towards and nurture national unity. Mr. Barrow emphasised the point by recollecting how people of different political persuasions relegated their individual interests and beliefs to the advancement of the collective national interest during the political turmoil that followed the presidential elections in December 2016. “During the difficult days [last year], we were stronger as a nation because we were united; we were stronger because the people were behind the coalition; the European Union, ECOWAS, United Nations and African Union were behind the coalition. That unity must be maintained if we are to make a headway as a nation,” President Barrow said.
Reflecting on the gravity of the issues the coalition government has had to grapple with, Mr. Barrow told the gathering that his government inherited serious challenges, not least of which was the all too prevailing phenomenon of lack of opportunities for young people, an increasing number of which became disillusioned with the situation in the country. He added that the socio-economic malaise drove “… thousands of our young people to undertake the risky journey across the Mediterranean sea in search of a better future.” He further lamented that the mismanagement and bad governance under the previous government both drove and kept young productive citizens overseas, such that the country could not avail itself of the much needed skill and expertise of such people: “Similarly, many of our able and distinguished sons and daughters, in the Diaspora, were forced to live in exile due to the repressive environment that prevailed, thus depriving the country of vital human capital and resources needed to fuel the growth for economic and social transformation of our society,” he said.
Mr. Barrow said that since coming to power, his government has undertaken many measures to address these challenges. Among these measures include stabilising the economy, restoring public confidence in the government, strengthening democratic institutions and addressing the energy crisis. He nevertheless underlined his government’s awareness that even more needed to be done to surmount the challenges facing the country. “However, I am aware that more must be done, and urgently. That is why I tasked my government to draw up a new National Development Plan (NDP) to provide greater clarity and focus for government action, citizens’ engagement and also for our development partners who are eager and stand ready to assist us,” he stated.
In a brief assessment of the NDP, Mr. Barrow indicated that the document is the result of input from different sources, chief among which is the Manifesto of the Coalition of the political parties that defeated the previous regime and the Government Compact agreed during a retreat of the Cabinet from 5th to 7th May 2017.
In what could be interpreted as a call to Gambians to cultivate the habit of taking ownership of national development initiatives, Mr. Barrow intimated that while the support of development partners may be forthcoming, such support will come to naught unless the people for whom it is meant are ready to roll up their sleeves and make the most of the support: “The development partners will support us but the ultimate work to develop The Gambia depends on the citizens of the country,” Barrow said.
The launch of the National Development Plan 2018 – 2021, Mr. Barrow went on, signifies his government’s commitment to implement projects and programmes that will bring about a progressive, vibrant and all-inclusive society. He reassured the gathering that a successful implementation of the plan would not only ensure the achievement of government’s medium-term development aspirations but also contribute to the realisation of their global and regional commitments such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and African Union’s (AU) Agenda 2063.
Also speaking, the European Union Ambassador to The Gambia, Attila Lajos reminded the audience that less than a year ago, President Barrow took oath, officially and solemnly marking the passage to the “New Gambia,” noting that the day was an anniversary of the arrival of EU Commissioner Mimica in The Gambia with tidings of assurance of EU support to Gambia’s long overdue democratic transition, as well as the development of the country.
He observed that “So much has happened since then. Democracy is deepening its roots. Parliamentary elections were successfully held…. The country has remained stable and secure; despite isolated incidents, there was no outbreak of violence or unrest. This is due to the wise-ness (sic) of the Gambian people but also to the efforts of the government in strongly harnessing the much-needed security sector reform.”
Ambassador Lajos stated that while much progress has been realised in the economy, national reconciliation and freedom of expression, there is a critical need to address people’s expectation from what he termed the peace dividend, noting that the people want to benefit from democracy in their daily life: “We should not disappoint them. It is the government’s responsibility, and we the partners can –and will – humbly accompany.”
For her part, Madam Vabah Vayflor, ECOWAS ambassador to The Gambia, said the launching of the National Development Plan has a direct link with the ongoing security reform agenda and by extension, the ECOWAS sub region. “At ECOWAS family, we are passionate about the Gambian story… if and when Gambia gets it right, the whole ECOWAS gets it right. The ECOWAS Mission has followed with keen interest happenings within The Gambia in the last one year and must say that despite the twist and turns that would normally characterise such transformative environments, The Gambia must be applauded for moving in the right direction with regard to stability, peace, security and development. Nevertheless, we equally acknowledge that there is a lot more work to still do; this is the reason for which we are here today,” she stated.