BANJUL, Gambia: The European Union announced aid worth 225 million euros ($240 million) for The Gambia on Thursday as President Adama Barrow warned that the nation was “virtually bankrupt” due to economic mismanagement by the former regime.
The EU froze assistance to The Gambia in December 2014 over the dire human rights record of former president Yahya Jammeh, whose security services were accused by rights groups of extrajudicial killings, torture and forced disappearances.
Barrow’s victory over Jammeh in December’s election is seen by foreign donors as a new chance for human rights and the rule of law to be better respected in the tiny west African nation.
Neven Mimica, European Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development, hailed “a peaceful democratic change in The Gambia” and said the bloc was “fully committed to engage with President Barrow and his government.”
Immediate financial assistance of 75 million euros would target food insecurity and unemployment and help improve the nation’s roads, the European Commission said in a statement.
A further 150 million euros would be disbursed following a future visit by an EU delegation, it added.
Barrow said in a speech at the signing of the aid deal that The Gambia had just two months of foreign exchange reserves left, and described “an economy that is virtually bankrupt and in need of immediate rescue.”
“Most public enterprises are debt-ridden and underperforming including the energy sector,” he said, adding that youth unemployment had rocketed.
Specific funding worth 11 million euros will go towards creating jobs for young people in a nation that currently sends the highest per capita number of migrants across the Mediterranean to Italy.
“To stem the current migration trend, it is crucial to step up job creation and create more meaningful income opportunities at home,” said Trade Minister Isatou Touray.
Jammeh is accused by Gambians of land grabs and taking over businesses for his personal gain, while new Interior Minister Mai Fatty alleged last month the former president took $11 million from state coffers before heading for exile in Equatorial Guinea.
Foreign Minister Ousainou Darboe said human rights concerns would be “speedily addressed” by the new administration, and that the process of rejoining the International Criminal Court would begin soon.
The Gambia notified the United Nations in November that it would withdraw from the ICC on Jammeh’s orders.