Banjul-London ties at a glance: High Commissioner Morley tells it all
Friday, August 17, 2012
relations between The Gambia and her former colonial master, Britain spanned
over many years dating back to the colonial era when the small West African
country was ruled for many centuries. But even after The Gambia attained independence from the Great Britain on
February 18, 1965, the two countries maintained a consistent bilateral
relationship and friendship characterised by mutual respect for each other.
Even though with challenges as expected in any relationship, the two countries have enhanced this very historical and bilateral ties through their diplomatic missions in both countries, as well as through multilateral establishments such as the European Union. But what is the current state of this relationship that binds the governments and the peoples of these countries? Well, this edition of the Bantaba explores the answer through this marathon interview with the British High Commissioner to The Gambia, His Excellency David Morley.
Morley, who assumed official diplomatic assignment in the country on December 2nd, 2011 after presenting his letters of credentials to the Gambian leader, spoke extensively about the bond existing between the two nations. He now faces the daunting task of further enhancing this relationship, especially in consolidating the gains registered by his predecessor, as well as exploring new avenues that will keep the two nations glued to each other. A seasoned diplomat, Morley also touched on other interesting emerging developments that you would find interesting.
Please enjoy the interview.
Bt: High Commissioner thank you for accepting this interview. I will begin this interview by asking the events currently unfolding in the Great Britain – I mean the 2012 Olympics. How meaningful or important is this event to your country?
HC: As I’ve said before, this is the third time we have hosted an Olympics and it is proving immensely successful.Team GB has already exceeded its record haul of medals won in Beijing thus hitting the target set by the British Olympic Association for these Games. There is huge support and enthusiasm for the event all across the UK and there was great support for the Gambian sprinters during their races. They clearly gave their all and deserve praise for their efforts.I think anyone who doubted London could produce one of the best Games the world has ever seen has been proved very wrong.
One of the reasons London won these Games was its emphasis on creating a sporting legacy for generations to come and I’m hopeful this will happen.These Olympics will leave in place five world-class sporting venues for the future UK sports stars of the next generation. The whole of the UK certainly has Team GB and Olympic fever.
The Paralympic Games due to start later this month will also be an important event for London and the UK.Over 2.1 million tickets have already been sold for Paralympic events.
Bt: Your Excellency, The Gambia and the UK have had a longstanding bilateral relationship dating back to the colonial times. What is the state of the current Banjul-London ties?
HC: From where I sit, relations seem pretty good. My government has a great deal of respect for many of the achievements of President Jammeh and his Government, often in the face of very serious and challenging obstacles. My colleagues in London get on well with the Gambian High Commissioner in London who does a good job for your country.
As I always
say, the 40-50,000 British tourists who come here every year can’t all be
wrong. They would quickly and
easily go elsewhere if they didn’t feel safe and comfortable here. And many
Gambians live, study and work in the UK. Our two communities have many ties.
British NGOs and charities, both in country and offshore, continue to work hard supporting Gambian communities. The partnerships between the parties are a pleasure to see, and many have been going for a long time. Again, they would not be able to be so effective without an underlying stable bilateral relationship.
and officials here, with whom I interact on a regular basis, do their very best
to help me deliver my objectives. They are always extremely cooperative and helpful. And we will always do whatever we can
to help The Gambia achieve its own objectives – for example we offered strong
support to Mrs Bensouda’s ICC candidature and were delighted when she bagged
But I will never become complacent. There are always bumps in the road in any bilateral relationship, but here I have found that when these occur they are resolved quickly, discretely and effectively.
Bt: At what level do you want the ties between The Gambia and UK to move to, especially during your tenure in office here as your country’s representative?
HC: I am
realistic in appreciating that the development and future direction of this
country does not necessarily lie with its old friends. Your government’s economic strategies
clearly identify emerging markets as the best source of potential new
Regional matters dominate the local agenda – for example the Senegambia Bridge and the wider relationship with Senegal (especially on the Casamance), security issues (Mali and Guinea Bissau), relations with ECOWAS and the AU, establishment of The Gambia as an important hub for trading, inward investment and other purposes, and many other things.Looking beyond the region, The Gambia’s relationship with Taiwan will always be crucial.
I am also realistic in that during the last few years the High Commission here has got a lot smaller. There are just two UK-based officers at the High Commission now (my Deputy and me), so a lot of my work during my first year has been managing local expectation, especially on aid matters. This partly reflects the downturn in the UK economy – the British Diplomatic Service has had to take its fair share of public sector austerity measures.
Bt: The UK has a strong economy, but there isn’t much British investments in The Gambia, especially from its private sector. Are there any plans by your office here to strengthen this area by ensuring that the UK private sector explores the investment opportunities here?
HC: The UK economy is not all that strong at the moment, but I appreciate that as seen from here it might not look that way.Nevertheless it is vital that we earn as much as we can from exports of our goods, services and technology/expertise and that we concentrate on the most promising markets.
Regrettably, despite all the hard work by its ministers and officials, The Gambia remains a challenging business environment, especially for new enterprises. It scores very badly on the World Bank index. As a small country, with limited resources it will, sadly, always struggle to attract the new investment that it needs in order to thrive and grow.
But President Jammeh and his ministers here worked extremely hard to attract foreign investment, especially from within the region. I certainly take every opportunity to encourage British business to take a look at The Gambia. This is one reason why we opened the UK/US Business centre recently, and why we will be investing more money in its facilities as the year progresses.
Bt: High Commissioner, you officially began your mission in The Gambia on December 2nd, 2011 after presenting your credentials to the Gambian president. During an interview with the journalists at State House, you did indicate your support for the country’s Vision 2020 – that clearly outlines the government’s development objectives. How do you intend to support this Vision?
HC: The UK wants to see a successful and secure Gambia. Without a clear strategy no enterprise can succeed, and this country’s aspirations, and plans, as expressed in Vision 2020, seem to us to be entirely appropriate. A great deal of support, via the UN and EU programmes (many millions of dollars) is poured into The Gambia every year, focused on the relevant themes of Vision 2020.But only the Gambian people themselves can deliver the progress.
specific example of how we support the vision could be the resources deployed
by the UK government to offer consular support to all the thousands of UK;
unrepresented EU and unrepresented Commonwealth nationals who visit the country
every year. Without these tourists
The Gambia would struggle economically.
Bt: Now to the much debated issue of gay rights. In the recent past, we have seen some Western donor countries threatening to cut off aid to those developing countries, especially in Africa that are seen to have failed to respect the rights of the gays and lesbians in their countries. In your view, should the issue of respecting gay rights be a pre-condition to determine the provision of aid to poor countries that need it as they transition to economic prosperity?
HC: I’ve never spoken publically about this specific issue, insofar as it relates to The Gambia. As a foreign head of mission here, I do not think it would be appropriate to do so. But I am clear that the provision of aid should be determined by the need of the recipients. That is why I recently announced a grant of £500k to the people of The Gambia, via the WFP at the UN, who have been most affected by the food security problems encountered across the whole Sahel region. There are no pre-conditions to this grant.
When we have specific concerns about a government’s failure to protect its citizens’ rights, we will raise these directly (and privately) at the highest level of the government of the country concerned. It is often the people at risk of human rights abuses in developing countries that need our help the most.
the majority of UK aid is provided to countries indirectly through
non-governmental organisations or multi-lateral agencies. This is essential for
lifting millions out of poverty, getting children into school, and preventing
unnecessary deaths from disease or inadequate medical treatment. We do not apply conditionality
policy or partnership principles to this part of our UK aid programme.
Bt: Coming back to the ties between The Gambia and UK; your country’s military assistance to the Gambia through the Royal Gibraltar has been a very consistent and an outstanding bilateral engagement between the two. How much has this support assisted in the professional development of the GAF?
HC: It has been a genuine pleasure for me to see how well the relationship between the GAF and the RGR has developed in the last few years. Despite the serious cutbacks in the UK’s military sector, I’m pleased that we have been able to maintain our links. I’m well aware of the previous military ties between our two countries which go back a long way.I’d like to think that the RGR’s support has helped successive Gambian UNAMID detachments acquire their well deserved reputation for punching above their weight as a very professional and respected part of this vital operation.
Bt: We were made to understand that the UK’s Department for International Development office in the Gambia has been closed. What can you clarify on this and why the Gambia suffered from this move?
UK’s DfID office has closed in the country but this does not mean that DfID and
the UK are no longer supporting The Gambia. Just this week they announced
£500,000 to The Gambian branch of the World Food Programme. The decision to
exit The Gambia was made several years ago following a worldwide Bilateral Aid
Review on grounds of effectiveness, value for money and UK comparative
advantage. It confirmed a decision
made by our previous government in 2008 to close our bilateral programme in The
Gambia by 2011-12.
And it is not
only The Gambia that has been so affected.As a result of the Review, DFID has closed 16 country
programmes where it judges that others (e.g. the UN or the EU) are better
placed to have a long term significant impact. At the time
we agreed a responsible exit strategy with the government of The Gambia, and
other donors, to incorporate and sustain the gains made from DFID’s bilateral
programmes including funding for a National Expert at the EU Delegation in the
I find a certain irony in the fact that the UK now gives The Gambia more money than it did when we had a bilateral aid programme.We just don’t give it bilaterally. The UK continues to provide significant support through our increasing share of contributions to multilateral organisations including the World Bank, African Development Bank and the European Commission (plus of course the UN). Just one example – we contribute 20% of the EU’s 65 million Euro programme to this country.So while our continuing support may not be as visible as it was, it remains constant and growing.
Bt: Just recently, your government reached a decision to transfer the Visa Section of the Banjul High Commission to Ghana, thus creating hitches for Gambians traveling to the UK. What must have been the reason for such a move?
I thank you for the opportunity to clear this confusion up. The British High Commission in The
Gambia does still have a visa operation and no Gambian applying for a UK visa
has to travel to Ghana. The
decision to transfer visa issuing was made purely for financial reasons and it
isn’t only The Gambia where such a decision has been taken. Basically, like many other countries,
the UK can no longer afford to maintain visa issuing offices in every country.
Banjul visa office still receives applications, checks the applications and takes the fee. The application is then securely sent to Accra who process and produce the visa. The majority of hitches occur when applicants do not apply in time.The service is good, it just means people have to allow more time for their applications to be processed. That is especially true at this time of year, when the vast majority of applications are received. People can apply up to three months before they plan to travel and I encourage them to do so.
Bt: This decision has since been met with much discomfort from Gambians, especially the students wanting to pursue high education in UK. Any hope of reversing the decision, especially during your tenure in office here given the historical ties between the two countries?
HC: It is not impossible that as our technology improves, we will be able to review our operations. But I have no timescale to offer on this point, and I doubt that we will be in a position to do so in the foreseeable future as always cost will be a major factor.
Bt: What are the prospects for the Gambia’s development process?
HC: The food security crisis has damaged this country’s economy. As you know the agric sector is a vital earner of foreign exchange. And I am well aware of the trend in food prices. So The Gambia is going through a difficult period, especially when compared with the progress achieved during the last 5-10 years. And the global economic downturn isn’t making it easier to achieve growth and progress.
Bt: Recently, a Briton was murdered in the Gambia by Nigerian nationals. But the government also acted swiftly in bringing the perpetrators to book within 72 hours after the incident, which led to the subsequent sentencing of two out of the three to death. What is your take on the outcome of the judgment and the commitment of the authorities in the whole process?
HC: Just as
foreign heads of mission publicly comment on sensitive local cultural issues at
their professional peril, they must be cautious about being perceived to
interfere in the judicial affairs of the country to which they are
accredited! While well aware that
it has not been carried out here for many years, I would merely remind your
readers that EU member states are against the death penalty.
Bt: Your government has also supported The Gambia with a tune of £500,000 to tackle the current food crisis in the country. How much will this help to mitigate the plight of the poor farmers, who lost more than 70 percent of their total crop production during last cropping season?
should have a big impact on the lives of those worst affected and I was
delighted to be able to announce it. This money WFP informs me will fund the purchase and distribution of
over 1,096 tons of lifesaving food which should feed over 45,000 Gambians for
the next two months. But it
shouldn’t be looked at in isolation – the growing fund of donor support for
this crisis demonstrates that The Gambia has many friends across the region and
The wise and enlightening words of my two UN colleagues at my press conference on 6 August made the situation very clear. And it isn’t going to help in the medium to long term. The agric sector here needs to reform itself in order to be able to manage the impact of too little, or too much, rain as well as other climate related challenges, and in a sustainable manner. And I know that the government has plans to do this, also with the support of donors.
Bt: Finally, Your Excellency, what is your message to Gambians vis-à-vis the relations between the two countries?
HC: I would remind everyone that even though the UK is going through tough times at the moment we continue to want to see a better life for everyone here, and we will continue to do our best to help your Government achieve this. I also need to say a big “thank you” for the opportunity to live and work in your wonderful country. Both my wife and I are very happy here – it is just a shame that our time on The Smiling Coast is flying by so quickly.
Bt: Thank you so much Your Excellency for shelving other businesses for this interview.
HC: Thank you too.
Author: Hatab Fadera