In an exclusive interview with our magazine, The Gambia’s ambassador to the European Union, H.E. Mrs Teneng Mba Jaiteh, talks about the strengths of her country, outlines the bilateral relations, offers specific advice regarding three specific domains and explains what The Gambia is doing to attract more foreign investment.
- Could you briefly present The Gambia for exporters: What are its strengths and opportunities?
The Gambia, a small country in the West Coast of Africa, is fondly referred to as “the Smiling Coast of Africa”. Known for its rich tourist attractions, The Gambia has diverse opportunities for business, trade and investment. The Gambia lies in the Sahel Savannah region of West Africa, with mild temperatures in the European winter months as well as beautiful beaches making it an ideal destination for tourists. Thus, opportunities abound for investments in the tourism and allied sub-sectors including investments in hotels, especially up-market ones. As an agrarian economy, there is a huge potential in agro-processing.
The potential in investment lies in all areas, especially in agro-processing, particularly horticulture, animal husbandry, fisheries and light manufacturing and assembling. To coordinate all investment promotion as well as exports, the government of The Gambia created, through an Act of Parliament, The Gambia Investment and Export Promotion Agency (GIEPA) which operates as a One-Stop-Shop facility where all the needs of any investor or person interested in starting a business (import and export) are supported and processed. GIEPA advises and assists in the necessary paperwork to effectively register a business and provide the necessary incentives there are to ensure that the business is profitable. The government has also created favourable laws to protect investments.
- Why is it interesting today to make a move to The Gambia for investors?
The Gambia is perhaps the safest country that has enjoyed relative stability throughout its history as a nation. Despite being a small country, The Gambia is ideally located close to the sea, with a navigable river almost dividing the country into two. As it is nearest to a huge market that exists within the neighbouring ECOWAS block, it provides huge market access assurance to exporters. The ECOWAS market has over 250 million consumers and a rising middle class with taste for diverse goods and services. Transaction costs are also minimal, with a modern and efficient port facility that is increasingly modernizing its handling operations of cargo and container to become one of (if not) the cheapest port in Africa. Currently, the port of Banjul is embarking on a massive port expansion programme in tandem with its plans to become a hub for West Africa.
The Gambia also boasts a youthful, friendly population and investors would also find enormous amount of relatively cheap qualified labour. The laws also flexibly allow for the use of expatriates by investors when it comes to skills that cannot be so easily found in The Gambia.
With the coming of a new government, The Gambia now offers a new image and is gaining admiration from all quarters, including from the European Union, which is now actively supporting our endeavours to restore democracy and the rule of law and to achieve the stability needed to spur economic growth and development.
- Could you draw the landscape of the import and export between The Gambia and Belgium/ the European Union?
The European Union constitutes our biggest trading partner in terms of exports, mainly to the United Kingdom. Trade between The Gambia and Belgium is mainly in the area of second-hand vehicles and a few consumables. There is abundant room for improvement here because of proximity and the ease of transport, including easy air access via Brussels Airlines.
- Could you point out 3 sectors of interest and specific projects where Belgian expertise could be used?
- Energy access—especially renewable energy has huge potential. The Gambia has a coastline with quite a good wind potential as well as an abundance of sunshine. We also have the River Gambia that has potential for mini-hydro electric energy systems. Therefore, investments in Renewable Energy would not only be an end in itself but also a means for developing greater opportunities in manufacturing and value-addition.
- Agro-based Industries – especially in tropical fruit, vegetables and oilseeds (groundnut) also has a lot of potential. Agriculture employs the bulk of the population, especially women in horticulture business. Therefore, investments in processing will not only provide good returns but would guarantee and provide additional jobs for the youthful population. The costs of production would be very low, comparatively, and there is a ready market both in the sub-region as well as further afield.
- Bulk Importation, Assembling and Processing: The Gambia has established a “free-zone” near the airport, which is not very far from the sea port. This can be used for the processing and re-export of bulk goods. Our efficient port services, abundant and competitive labour force, peace and stability in addition to the proximity to both the rest of the African sub-continent as well as to Europe, make The Gambia an ideal location for such business.
- Would you have a specific message to the Belgian-Luxembourg business community?
Our message to them is to come to The Gambia and explore the opportunities. The Gambia presents a huge opportunity and we are already emphasizing a renewed partnership with the West and we are particularly keen about building stronger business and commercial ties with Belgium. The timing could not be better with a renewed vision, an open economy and a favourable government.