Tue, Nov 19, 2013 - Page 8 News List

Banjul-Taipei diplomatic rupture

By Sidi Sanneh

The personalization of Taiwan financial aid package is perhaps the main reason for the break in diplomatic relations. Jammeh became the face of everything Taiwan. The checks are presented to him or his vice president at State House.

The huge scholarship program is directly under Jammeh’s control. He is the one who selects the recipients, often without regard to qualification and/or aptitude or competence. It is ironic that one of the reasons advanced for seizing power was that the former regime awarded scholarship to children of the “elite” and ruling party supporters, yet Jammeh personally selects scholarship recipients from a pool of supporters of his political party and from members of his Jola tribe.

The personal demands of Jammeh on his Taiwanese friends have been unrealistic, be it financial or otherwise. He was not held in high esteem by some officials in both the Taiwanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and at the embassy in Banjul. Taiwanese in both Taipei and Banjul have used words like “greedy, selfish and self-centered” to describe Jammeh because of the manner in which he spends financial aid and other demands he makes that were considered unreasonable.

Until the rest of the facts that led to this abrupt rupture are known, it is safe to say that the cost-benefit analysis of the symbiotic relationship brought about because of the checkbook diplomacy has finally caught up with the parties.

It has proven to be an expensive proposition from the point of view of Taiwan given the continued diplomatic isolation of the Gambia, which is frustrating to Taipei, because it sees the withdrawal of membership from the Commonwealth as self-inflicting.

After all, what use is one diplomatically isolated country to another equally diplomatically isolated country.

Jammeh will now be looking toward China, if he has not already started, to replace Taiwan. China will certainly welcome the Gambia into the China fold, but not under the same type of arrangement that Jammeh has enjoyed for 18 years with Taiwan.

China’s Africa policy, like its investment strategy has evolved over the years. Faced with a rapidly growing economy with a rapidly growing population, China has to feed its hungry factories to maintain the pace of economic growth and development.

It sees Africa’s natural resource potential as an integral part of its economic development strategy. Although it has huge investments in countries like Angola, Guinea and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, China has elected to work closely with regional organizations, including the African Union.

The Gambia obviously lacks the natural resource endowment of a DR Congo to enjoy the huge investments from China. It is, however, possible for the country to benefit from regional power projects or road transport projects linking major commercial ports and points within the Economic Community of West African States with Chinese investment funds.

Any diplomatic relationship that will eventually be struck between China and the Gambia will not be as cozy as the one between Jammeh and Taiwan. Until then, we will try and piece together what really happened and why that led to this abrupt separation between two former close friends and allies.

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