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
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
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
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
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
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 partners,
NGOs 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
By Abdoulie Mam Njie