Fri, Dec 20, 2013 - Page 8 News List

Gambians demand answers on Taiwan aid

By Sidi Sanneh

We are normally not in the business of writing open letters. We prefer a face-to-face dialogue with government officials to communicate our concerns about our country, the Gambia, which we are watching drift helplessly into ethnic strife fueled — in part — by the ability of the dictatorship ruling it to convert or transform foreign assistance into a potent source of financing for the self-perpetuation schemes of a very corrupt, inept regime that continues to divide a once culturally and ethnically cohesive nation.

The regime in Banjul has used — and continues to use — development assistance programs in a preferential way that benefits areas and communities that the dictator perceives to be supporters. The regime also uses developmental aid as a cudgel by withholding it from communities on the opposing side of the political spectrum at the behest of its “idiosyncratic leader” — as Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials now describe Gambian President Yahya Jammeh.

This targeted form of development has become the hallmark of the Banjul regime and is proudly touted in public, as well as in political campaigns, as a means of punishing non-supporters and their respective communities.

Distance forces us to turn to an open letter to communicate with the government and people of the Republic of China (ROC), a move which was prompted by an article we read in the Taipei Times (“MOFA rejects most allies’ projects,” Dec. 17, page 4).

In that piece, we learned for the first time that the Jammeh regime has reaped benefits from vegetable and fruit plantation projects since 1995, when diplomatic relations were re-established between Taipei and Banjul. What is startling — but not surprising — is that “only 3.6 hectares of farmland has since been developed, benefiting only 90 farmers,” and this despite more than US$1 million being pumped into the project over the past three years alone. We would appreciate it if the Taiwanese government would answer this question.

In a country where 70 percent of its 1.8 million inhabitants are engaged in agriculture — a sector that is also the single biggest foreign exchange earner — cultivating only 3.6 hectares and impacting the lives of just 90 farmers is a disappointingly low outcome for an 18-year project. We think that the two governments need to provide an explanation for this result. Given that the Banjul government is a dictatorship where transparency is in short supply, I hope that Taipei will respond positively to our requests for details of not only this specific project, but all the projects in the Gambia funded by Taiwan since 1996.

Over its 18-year-long relationship with the Gambia, Taiwan has provided generous assistance to Gambians across broad areas of intervention. We will forever be grateful for your financial assistance, and especially your friendship, over the years. Many of us formed friendships with Taiwanese diplomats and development experts during those 18 years, relationships we intend to keep and cherish.

However, theses personal friendships do not obviate the reality that Gambians are in the dark regarding many of Taiwan’s foreign aid programs there. As we have shown, Taiwanese aid was closely guarded and centrally administered by the office of the Gambian president. With the cooperation of Taipei and in the interest of ensuring that its foreign aid policy is transparent, the Gambian people can be better informed of how and where the Taiwanese aid given in their name was utilized.

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