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Highlights of the opening session of the First (1st) Consultative Meeting between the government of the Gambia and Gambians in the Diaspora, Kairaba Beach Hotel, Kololi, the Gambia 3rd – 4th January 2012

 

The First Consultative Meeting between the Government of The Gambia and Gambians in the Diaspora was convened in Banjul from 3rd to 4th January 2012. The Consultative Meeting was organized and coordinated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, International Cooperation and Gambians Abroad on behalf of the Government of The Gambia.

The purpose of the meeting was to, among other things, provide useful information on the activities and challenges of Gambians living abroad thereby creating an opportunity for Government to see how best it can use facilities under various bilateral engagements for the benefit of Gambian nationals living abroad. It was also meant to bring together nationals outside The Gambia and agencies of Government to establish a network meant to discuss ways and means of harnessing the potential and talent of Gambians in the Diaspora with a view to facilitating their participation in, and their full contribution towards the successful implementation of The Gambia’s short and long term national development objectives, in particular the Programme for Accelerated Growth and Employment (PAGE) and the Vision 2020.The First Consultative Meeting was chaired by His Excellency Ambassador Mawdo C. Juwara, Permanent Secretary 1, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, International Cooperation and Gambians Abroad.

The opening ceremony of the First Consultative Meeting was attended by Her Excellency Aja Dr. Isatou Njie Saidy, Vice President of the Republic of The Gambia, the Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly, Cabinet Ministers, the Secretary to Cabinet, Members of the National Assembly, Members of the Diplomatic and Consular Corps, Senior Government Officials, Gambian nationals living abroad, representatives of the private sector, civil society, the Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs), the media, and a cross section of invited guests.ra with a view to facilitating their participation in, and their full contribution towards the successful implementation of The Gambia’s short and long term national development objectives, in particular the Programme for Accelerated Growth and Employment (PAGE) and the Vision 2020.The First Consultative Meeting was chaired by His Excellency Ambassador Mawdo C. Juwara, Permanent Secretary 1, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, International Cooperation and Gambians Abroad.

In his introductory remarks, His Excellency Ambassador Mawdo C. Juwara welcomed the Gambians in the Diaspora back home and thanked them for taking time to participate in the Meeting. He indicated that the Meeting between the Government of The Gambia and Gambians in the Diaspora provided the needed opportunity to engage each other on discussing matters of common interest vital to the realization of The Gambia’s development aspirations. In his view, the Meeting will result in coming up with strategies which will enable both the Government of The Gambia and the Gambian Diaspora to pursue the smooth and successful implementation of the national development objectives such as the Programme for Accelerated Growth and Employment (PAGE). In addition, Ambassador Juwara indicated that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, International Cooperation and Gambians Abroad will continue to serve as a conduit of interaction between the Government of The Gambia and Gambians in the Diaspora.

In delivering a keynote address on behalf of the Secretary General and Head of the Civil Service, Mr. Saikou Kawsu Gassama, the Secretary to Cabinet at the Office of the President, registered his delight in taking part in the First Consultative Meeting between the Government of The Gambia and Gambians in the Diaspora. He welcomed the participants who have come from near and far and thanked them for their enthusiasm in participating in the Meeting. Secretary to Cabinet Gassama highlighted that the Government of The Gambia under the dynamic leadership of His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr. Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh, President of the Republic, has been committed to reducing poverty and improving the well-being of its population since the design of its first development strategy in 1994.

Having been invited to speak on behalf of Gambians in the Diaspora in the course of the First Consultative Meeting between the Government of The Gambia and Gambians in the Diaspora, Madam Fatou Bomm Bensouda, Prosecutor- Elect of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague registered sincere appreciation for being given the opportunity to deliver a statement on behalf of the Gambian nationals abroad. Madam Bensouda thanked the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, International Cooperation and Gambians Abroad for organizing the Consultative Meeting and for extending an invitation to her person. She further thanked the Government and people of The Gambia for the support rendered towards her election as Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Madam Bensouda highlighted that the Gambian nationals living outside the country have immense potentials to contribute towards the national development aspirations of The Gambia. Already, she highlighted, remittances from Gambian nationals living abroad constitute a significant input into the Gambian economy. Furthermore, the talents of these Gambian nationals could be utilized in the quest for the implementation of short term and long term development objectives. She went on to say that the gathering should not expect to have all the issues of common interest and concern addressed and resolved in two days. She then expressed hope that at the end of the meeting, a robust action plan with time frames and implementation responsibilities will be developed relevant to ‘the way forward’.

Madam Bensouda concluded by indicating that the Government of The Gambia can also assist Gambians in the Diaspora in several ways. To her, the recent expansion of the mandate of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to underscore the “Gambians Abroad” has alerted Diaspora Gambians to the fact that there now exists a formal institution directly charged with the responsibility of their affairs.  For example Gambian Diplomatic Missions abroad will henceforth be in a position to provide more comprehensive consular services to Gambians Abroad. Furthermore, the latter will have greater space to be able to partake of and contribute to the country’s political, social, and economic development agenda.

In delivering his welcome statement, the Honourable Dr. Mamadou Tangara, Minister for Foreign Affairs, International Cooperation and Gambians Abroad welcomed all the participants to the First Consultative Meeting between the Government of The Gambia and the Gambians in the Diaspora. He also thanked them for attending and participating in the Meeting. Minister Tangara highlighted that the high profile nature of the Consultative Meeting is a manifestation of the commitment towards the achievement of the goals and development aspirations of The Gambia, under the dynamic leadership of His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr. Yahya A. J. J. Jammeh, President of the Republic of The Gambia.

The Honourable Dr. Tangara stated that the Gambian Diaspora could be seen as a resource for development in the sense that it can provide intellectual capital. He further indicated that the last few years have witnessed significant brain drain from The Gambia to the developed countries and that it was time to tap into the skills and know-how of Gambian nationals abroad for the benefit of the country. Moreover, Diaspora financial resources come with fewer, if any conditionalities as opposed to Official Development Assistance (ODA). These resources according to the Honourable Minister could help reduce aid dependency. The Gambian Diaspora could hence provide financial capital for trade and investments which could generate employment and be a source of livelihood for Gambians.

Minister Tangara concluded his welcome statement by highlighting that a unit will be created within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, International Cooperation and Gambians Abroad to handle Diaspora affairs in consultation and in collaboration with other relevant stakeholders and institutions.

In delivering the opening statement of the First Consultative Meeting on behalf of His Excellency the President of The Republic, Her Excellency Aja Dr. Isatou Njie-Saidy, Vice President of the Republic of The Gambia welcomed the distinguished brothers and sisters from the Diaspora as well as the other invited guests, and thanked them for participating.

During her statement, Her Excellency the Vice President informed the plenary that the Government of The Gambia recognized the need for new approaches to be conceived in pursuance of its development aspirations, bearing in mind the present global challenges, chief among them being the recent global economic crisis as well as the socio-economic and geo-political crisis in various parts of the world. This, according to Her Excellency the Vice President has prompted many countries, including The Gambia, to look inwards and engage in frequent dialogue and consultations with Gambians inside and outside the country in order to map out appropriate strategies to mitigate the impact of these challenges. She further highlighted that for the national development objectives of the country to be effectively implemented as desired by the Government of The Gambia, it requires, inter alia, the active involvement of all patriotic Gambians irrespective of where they reside.

At the close of the opening ceremony, the plenary commenced work in earnest by witnessing presentations on the Overview of the Gambian Economy and the Programme for Accelerated Growth and Employment (PAGE) made by the Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs. Also a presentation on Migration, Development and the Gambian Diaspora was made by His Excellency Ambassador Crispin Grey Johnson. The presentations at the plenary were meant to give background and bearing to the deliberations particularly those which were to be subsequently engaged by the Thematic Working Groups.

In giving an overview of the Gambian economy, the representative of the Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs indicated thatthe Gambian economy has been growing over the past five (5) years on an average of 5.5%. He further highlighted that the main drivers of economic growth for The Gambia remain the agriculture sector and tourism industry. In his presentation on the Programme for Accelerated Growth and Employment (PAGE), the representative from the Finance Ministry highlighted that the latter is The Gambia’s National Development Plan (NDP) for the period 2012-2015. He further said that the PAGE is the successor to the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper II which has been completed in 2011, and that the main objectives were to improve employment levels, improve Per Capita Income, improve human development, improve gender equity, and improve country competitiveness.

In the course of his presentation on Migration, Development and the Gambian Diaspora, His Excellency Ambassador Crispin Grey Johnson noted that it has been well documented that nationals in the Diaspora can bring tremendous benefits to their countries of origin. In fact, it was well known that it is because of the initiatives taken by their nationals that certain countries have been able to accelerate the pace of their industrial development, boost their external trade, promote tourism and support the social sectors, thus making significant contributions to their socio-economic development. He cited countries such as Israel, China and India, which have benefitted enormously from the activities of their nationals abroad to spur their economic and social development. He also indicated that it was on account of the activities of Diaspora nationals in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean that European countries were able to begin and sustain the industrial revolution, and increase their trade advantage which together, constituted a most potent engine of growth and development for them.

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