The Gambia is a small country in West Africa and is entirely surrounded by Senegal except for its coastline on the Atlantic Ocean. English language is the official language. The Gambia’s economy is dominated by farming, fishing and has excellent natural spots for tourism. Previously, the United Kingdom and many EU countries constituted its major domestic export markets. However, in recent years, the United States, China and Japan have become significant trade partners of The Gambia. Despite that, The Gambia looks forward to developing a strong economic partnership with Russia and former Soviet republics.
In this interview, Alieu Secka, the CEO of The Gambia Chamber of Commerce and Industry, (who is also an accomplished corporate governance expert, industry leader, entrepreneur and business practitioner), recently shares his thoughts about opportunities available for potential foreign investors in his country with Kester Kenn Klomegah, an independent researcher and policy consultant on African affairs in the Russian Federation and Eurasian Union.
In your objective assessment, what can you say are the current achievements or gains in the economic sphere under President Adama Barrow?
Since last year, The Gambia’s economy has begun to rebound. Firstly, the foreign exchange rates have been steady throughout. Secondly, inflation is contained, and most importantly, The Gambia’s export cover has risen from 1 month to over 4 months. Economic growth is expected to continue to rise up to 4% in the coming year.
How has your organization promoted the country’s business and investment potentials abroad, especially towards Russia and Eurasia (for example, Kazakhstan, Belarus) direction?
The Gambia Chamber of Commerce is the private sector partner to the government. It has direct links with many Chambers of Commerce worldwide and is member of the International Chamber of Commerce, and receive enquiries throughout the globe. We have attended various state missions and business forums with the both President Adama Barrow to Belgium, France and Turkey, as well as with Ministers elsewhere. We share stories of business opportunities, plus our work with partners and give interviews to media houses throughout. Last year, we signed an MOU with Belarus Chamber of Commerce and hope we can expand to Russia and other Eurasian countries.
Can you discuss the main economic sectors that are currently attracting foreign investors to The Gambia?
The Gambia has tremendous potential for businesses from Russia and Eurasia in many sectors such as infrastructure, agribusiness, health services, tourism and education. As The Gambia prepares to host the next Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) in 2019, foreign direct investment is expected to peak including the Airport, Gambia Ports Authority, industries for agri-processing and packaging, and new luxury hotels to be built.
I should also mention that tourism is one of the biggest foreign exchange in The Gambia contributing some 18% of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and we have tried to work with some Russian travel companies to bring Russians to come enjoy the beautiful sandy beaches on the Atlantic Ocean and tropical weather year-round, build resorts to Russian taste etc. Cement production also has huge potentials as we see building construction expansion expanding each year.
What challenges still remain in order to make way for optimizing foreign involvement in various economic sectors?
Air access is still a challenge for many entrepreneurs, even though we have regular schedule flights on Brussels airlines 4 times weekly and on Royal Air Maroc daily, and some 50 flights weekly from our tourism source markets. Unfortunately, these tourist flights mainly from England, Holland and Spain are seasonal, and therefore I believe this further provides an opportunity to invest for direct flights to Banjul.
What investment incentives and kinds of business support have been made available for foreign investors in the country?
The Gambia offers an attractive package to FDIs including tax holidays from 5 to 8 years, duty-free on equipment, access to land and affordable labour, 500 hectares of arable land for agriculture. Both The Gambia Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and Gambia Investment Promotion Agency, plus many other ministries and agencies will support investors to achieve their target goals including business registration and permits within 24 hours.
Over the past few years, which external countries have been active in The Gambia? Can you also discuss the kind of economic spheres there are engaged in and possible reasons why?
The traditional investors in The Gambia have been the British, Lebanese and Indians. Increasingly, more Turkish and Chinese companies are showing interest and investing in The Gambia. Many foreign businesses are in the real estate, tourism services and hotels, infrastructure development, renewable energy, fisheries, trading in essential commodities like rice, sugar, oil, building materials etc. Many products are imported from Asia, South America and re-exported or transited to neighbouring countries, making The Gambia the supermarket of southern Senegal, Guinea Conakry, Bissau, Mali and others in ECOWAS.
Do you see Russians as potential investors and/or partners for business and investment in your country? As the CEO of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, would you advocate for a broader economic cooperation between Russia and The Gambia?
The Gambia and Russia have recently opened an embassy and consulate respectively, meaning that there is political will to strengthen relations between the two countries. It is now for Russian businesses to come and enjoy the sun, peace and paradise that The Gambia offers in all sectors of the economy as we have seen them invest in Turkey and elsewhere.
There are good reasons why there are so many British tourists flock to The Gambia, and 1 out every 3 return many times. Also, there is a new free economic zone being developed that can yield tremendous returns for processing and imports to the region with a market of more than 300 million, despite our small population of 2million. The Gambia is also presently considering applications in the oil industry.
At Gambia Chamber of Commerce, it is our obligation to support all businesses and where necessary to introduce local partners. We will welcome the strengthening of economic cooperation between Russia and The Gambia, and will work with the embassies to facilitate and receive business leaders so that they can experience the warmth and benefit from our unique location known as the “smiling coast of Africa.” As CEO, I look forward to the first delegation of Russian entrepreneurs, as we had welcomed Russian travel agents and media to The Gambia, when I was Chairman of The Gambia Hotel Association.