Gambian Tourism Faces 50% Revenue Loss From Political Uncertainty
Thousands of U.K. and Dutch tourists have been evacuated from The Gambia, a tiny West African country popular with European vacationers for its beaches, as troops from around the region gather at the border in neighboring Senegal.
Tourism has become the fastest-growing sector of The Gambia’s economy. The country, population about 2 million, is marketed to vacationers as “the smiling coast of West Africa,” BBC reported.
Tourism accounts for 18-to-20 percent of the country’s revenue, according to Sheikh Tejan Nyang, vice chairman of a Gambian tourism association. Revenue from tourism will likely fall more than 50 percent in the wake of the country’s current political unrest, Nyang told The Guardian.
The sector will have to be rebuilt just as it was after the 1994 coup that brought longtime ruler Yahya Jammeh to power, Nyang predicted.
The Gambia’s democratically elected new President Adama Barrow prepared Thursday to be sworn into office despite Jammeh refusing to step down.
Barrow said the inauguration would be held Thursday as scheduled in the Senegalese capital, Dakar, Al Jazeera reported. Representatives of West African heads of states were expected to attend the swearing-in ceremony.
Troops from Senegal, Nigeria, Ghana, Mali and Togo are at the borders of Senegal, waiting for orders to intervene and unseat Jammeh, who is no longer the country’s legitimate ruler, according to the constitution.
Jammeh has ruled The Gambia since a 1994 coup. Wednesday was meant to be his last day in office after Barrow won the Dec. 1 presidential election. Jameeh claims voting irregularities in the election and demands a new election. The Gambian parliament granted Jammeh three more months of rule, BBC reported.
At least 26,000 Gambians, mostly women and children, sought refuge in Senegal this week fearing violence, the U.N. refugee agency said, citing Senegalese government figures.
Some former cabinet ministers who resigned in recent days have also left Gambia, AP reported, according to CBC.
Hundreds of foreign tourists were evacuated on special charter flights, while other continued to relax poolside despite the political turmoil. Gambia is a popular beach destination in winter, especially for tourists from Britain, its former colonial ruler.
“This never happened before,” said Robert Gwynne, a British tourist who has been vacationing in The Gambia for 11 years and was evacuated two days into his two-week trip. “I don’t understand what’s going on,” he told The Guardian. “The government shouldn’t have let it go this far. This place is going to be dead. I feel sorry for everybody here. It’s going to take years for tourism to pick up again.”
The 15-member Economic Community of West African States says it is seeking U.N. Security Council endorsement to use “all necessary measures” to help remove Jammeh. The U.N. Security Council was expected to vote today on endorsing a West African military intervention, Al Jazeera reported.
ECOWAS chose Senegal to stage troops because it almost surrounds The Gambia, BBC reported. Nigeria says it sent fighters and other aircraft, along with 200 personnel, to Senegal Wednesday. Nigerian Navy vessels are on standby. A warship sailed from Lagos Tuesday that will “have the task of evacuating Nigerian citizens while putting on a show of force,” BBC reported. Ghana provided ground troops.
ECOWAS member countries include Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo.
“Things are getting into place and ECOWAS forces are ready to intervene if needed after midnight if we can’t find a diplomatic solution to the Gambian crisis,” said Col. Abdou Ndiaye, spokesman for the Senegalese military.
The Gambia’s armed forces are made up of about 2,500 troops.
In and around Gambia’s capital, Banjul, shops were closed and streets quiet with tour operators evacuating tourists, Al Jazeera reported.
Some Gambian citizens have died trying to leave the country, including Fatima Jawara, 19, the goalkeeper of the national women’s football team, who is presumed drowned in the Mediterranean while trying to reach Europe in search of a better life.
Jammeh initially acknowledged Barrow as the winner of the Dec. 1 vote, but later rejected the results. Earlier this week, he declared a state of emergency. On Wednesday Gambia’s national assembly approved extending his term by 90 days.
Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz met with Jammeh Wednesday to discuss the crisis, AP reported. Afterwards, he told Gambia state TV, “I am now less pessimistic (Jammeh) will work on a peaceful solution that is in the best interest for everyone.”
In October, Jammeh said Gambia would leave the International Criminal Court, which he described as the “International Caucasian Court.”
Jammeh seemed bent on increasing Gambia’s isolation on the world stage, AP reported. In 2013 he left the Commonwealth, a group made up of mostly former British colonies, saying it was a neo-colonial institution.”
He also upped verbal attacks on the LGBT community, promising to slit the throats of gay men and saying the LGBT acronym should stand for “leprosy, gonorrhea, bacteria and tuberculosis,” according to AP.