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 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
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
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
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 communities themselves.
By Abdoulie Mam Njie