• Friday, March 01, 2024
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The Gambia: Allure of the smiling coast of Africa

The Gambia

Visiting The Gambia a first and second time has always left one with this strong longing for another. The reason is quite simple. Living in a society where life and living are tasking, one cannot but long for an escape which this small country with its warm people and caressing weather provides.

Arguably, the smallest country in Africa where the entire population is estimated at two million, The Republic of the Gambia is an interesting destination, especially for tourists who, since the country’s independence in 1965, have been feasting on its huge natural endowments for tourism.

Gambia is a small country, no doubt. The entire country sits on a small land area measuring 11.295 square kilometers, about 4361square miles, which is bordered by the deep blue sea called Atlantic Ocean. But nature is always kind and so, compensates for whatever man in his short-sightedness sees as disadvantage.

Gambia is fondly called ‘The Smiling Coast of Africa’ and there are several reasons for this enticing sobriquet. Unlike its West African neighbours where the population is huge and the economy is buoyant, yet the people are hungry, angry, aggressive and agitated over anything and everything, the Gambia has a large dose of smiles from both nature and fate.

This agriculturally fertile country, dominated by farming, fishing and tourism with its capital in Banjul and English as its official language, has a warm weather and the usual wet and dry seasons. Around March, its weather is cool and usually characterised by chilly breeze which is warm for European tourists.

Tourism in the country is the equivalent of Nigerian oil. It has become the fastest growing sector of the economy as visitors coming in every year are drawn by its beaches, birds, sunshine and the culture.

As a country, Gambia is known for its friendliness and warm hospitality together with a captivating people living with the peace, security and relative political stability which has been the case since independence in 1965. This, indeed, is the major reason the country is known as the smiling coast of Africa.

One very fascinating feature of this country is its people. Unlike the starry eyes and scary, heavily bearded faces that stare at visitors on arrival in some bigger African countries, what visitors like see in the Gambia are a people that are very friendly and always wanting to talk and shake hands. They are very nice people always with warm smiles on their faces.

Seedy Bittaye, an official of the Gambian Investment and Export Promotion Agency (GIEPA) epitomises these qualities. “My name is Seedy, an official of the Gambia Investment and Export Promotion Agency (GIEPA),” he intoned, brimming with a warm and smiling face, at a dinner hosted for visiting Nigerian investors by Mustapha Njie, CEO, Taf Africa Global, in Banjul recently.

Seedy smiled to everybody within his table where yours sincerely was also seated. “Presently, tourism is the mainstay of our economy. But after 22 years of dictatorship under Yahya Jammeh, we want to diversify our economy which is why GIEPA was created,” he explained.

He assured that the country welcomes visitors with open hands, especially foreign direct investors, pointing out that in post dictatorship, Gambia needs to get all the foreign investments it could get and these investments were needed in agriculture, energy, real estate, manufacturing, etc, disclosing that investors enjoy tax incentives, stress-free access to land and 100 percent freedom to repatriate funds.

Njie, an outstanding entrepreneur and savvy real estate investor and developer, is another interesting personality who, in spite of his wealth and global exposure maintains a low profile with humility, generosity, hospitality and friendliness that are infectious.

As the pioneer real estate developer in his country, Njie does not see that as an undue advantage. Rather he sees it as a moral burden which demands a spirit of accommodation from him. “As the pioneer developers, I believe we have a role in helping others to come up. We look at it from the nationalistic point of view. My success should not be measured in terms of what I do as Taf, but in terms of the number of younger investors and entrepreneurs I bring on board to be like me”, he told this reporter.

The Gambia has eight indigenous groups and in addition to these, the country is home to fairly large communities from neighbouring West African countries. The country’s reputation for hospitality is second to none in Africa. Gambians live harmoniously in communities, freely exercising their religious and cultural traditions are recognised all over the world for their spontaneous warm smiles and their peace-loving nature.

The people have an interesting lifestyle. Their dressing is religiously simple and responsible. Even in the capital Banjul, except for a very few cases, the lewd dressing that has debased womanhood in other African cities are non-existent, thus highlighting their attachment to real African cultural values.

Despite this simplicity, the fashion industry in the country is thriving and their men and woman are fashionable without looking obtuse or provocative. There are many tailors and fashion houses within the Tourism Development Authority (TDA) area and in Kairaba Avenue, close to the tourism area. There one finds authentic African fashion or a fusion of European and African clothing.

“Young women in the country like colourful and flowery dressing. “Fashion shows take place all year round here,” a native who did not want to disclose her name said, citing the Gambian Fashion Weekend that showcases young Gambian fashion designers and regional designers yearly”.

As pointed out earlier, Gambia is a tourism destination. Beaches, hotels and resorts are all over the country. Banjul, which is the capital city, is a popular area for tourists. The population of the city is only 34,828, with the Greater Banjul Area, which includes the City of Banjul and the Kanifing Municipal Council, having a population of 357,238 (2003 census). It is located on St Mary’s Island (Banjul Island) where the Gambia River enters the Atlantic Ocean. The island is connected to the mainland by passenger and vehicle ferries to the north and bridges to the south.

In most of the hotels, tourists are seen swimming ceaselessly in the generously provided swimming pools and sunning themselves by the pool side. At Sunprime Hotel, Tamala, which is in the heart of Banjul, there were over 20 white tourists enjoying the country’s warm weather.

Besides the allure of beaches and resorts, The Gambia also offers opportunities for investors in various sectors of its economy, especially in real estate where investors are assured of about 8 percent rental income in the country’s active rental market. This contrasts sharply with Nigeria where rental income is about 5 percent per annum.

Isatou Touray, the country’s vice president, has assured investors of not only the safety of their investment, but also that the country was now ready and open to business, disclosing that opportunities exist in a new project in the country called GIETAF which is a joint venture between Taf Africa Global and the Gambian government.

Njie took it further, noting that as a small country, Gambia needed ‘big brothers’ from Nigeria to come and invest, not only to help the country and its economy to grow, but also to empower its citizens by creating jobs for them.

“I want to liken The Gambia to Dubai, which like us, has no natural resources but is a success story. Much of the investments you see in Dubai are owned by foreigners. We want to replicate that here. We want The Gambia to be the Dubai or Singapore of West Africa and we want Nigeria to play a leadership role here,” he pleaded.

 

CHUKA UROKO