In a national poverty assessment study conducted by the ILO
and published in 1992, an estimated 33 percent of the urban population
were identified as "food poor" and 75 percent of the
rural population are estimated to suffer from food-poverty during
the "hungry season" in Banjul.
Given the low levels of inequality within and among communities
in The Gambia, particularly those in rural areas, it is difficult
to isolate particular pockets of poverty, it must be dealt with
in a holistic and integrated manner.
Historically, it has always been Government
policy since independence in 1965 to improve the Gambian people's
standard of living. This policy has been pursued in different
ways over the years. Among developments which has taken place
were the provision of transport infrastructure and implementation
of productive projects in the rural areas from the 1970s.
The major causes of poverty are illiteracy, rapid population growth,
lack of skills, poor health, limited
access to production inputs, drought, insufficient household labour,
the levelling effect of extend household system ("shared
poverty") and the attitudes of the people including fatalism
and superstition. These are compounded by limited access to financial
institutions, low awareness of the political process and poor
overall communications. Poverty is most pronounced in the North
Bank, Lower River and Upper River Divisions with 50 per cent or
more of households below the food poverty line. Using these criteria,
it is evident that the majority of the population of The Gambia
are not able to adequately satisfy their basic needs.
A round Table Conference held in Geneva in April 1994 endorsed
the SPA, with The Gambia's development partners and UN
specialised agencies pledging their support.
In the context of current government efforts, as outlined in the
PSD and as part of an overall attempt to define the longer term
direction of a development strategy for the country, the process
of formulating a Poverty Alleviation Strategy was started in 1991
with the assistance of the UNDP.
The formulation process adopted a participatory approach, recognising
that if a successful strategy is to be developed, it would have
to aim at building consensus and mutual understanding, and involvement
of all elements of the population.
A national dialogue was thus initiated to begin the public debate
about the direction of development efforts. The strategy lies
on a two-pronged approach combining (i) macro-economic and sectoral
policies aimed at alleviating poverty and improving social services,
and (ii) a people centred participatory process which involves
local community in managing their development.
It is based on four pillars in terms of its objectives. These
are (1) the enhancement of the productive capacity of the people,
(2) the improvement of access to and performance of social services,
(3) the building of capacity at local levels and (4) the promotion
of participatory communication processes.
It was against this background that a Round Table Conference held
in Geneva in April 1994 endorsed the SPA with The Gambia's development
partners and UN specialised
agencies pledging their support.
Following a change of Government in July 1994, and despite the
fact that the Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council (AFPRC)
fully endorsed the SPA, the Gambia's development partners suspended
all new development assistance. Thus the process suffered a standstill.
However, in spite of the limited resources, the AFPRC Government
embarked on the socio-economic component of the Transition Programme
to Civilian Rule, in the construction and operation of schools,
health centres and skill centres, all of which directly enhance
the realisation of the SPA objectives of increase productive capacity
and access to social services.
These efforts were fortunately being complemented by assistance
by the Islamic Development Bank through the financing of the construction
of middle schools and survey on food security to be undertaken
by the National Food Security Committee. The Swiss Government
is also financing a livestock project. The Government, development
and communities must face the challenge that we propose to change
the way we do business.
This will necessarily be difficult as there will be pitfalls,
as happens as a young democracy renews itself for the next generation.
It will form new partnerships and flexibility, realising that
this Programme is not one of Government, but the collective action
of one million people who share the same dreams, aspirations and
hope. It is for this reason that even with the change of Government,
maximum support should be have been given to the Strategy by development
partners even if this were to mean doing so either through NGOs
or directly to the communities themselves.
By Abdoulie Mam Njie