The Gambia has recently ratified major international agreements such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, and is a signatory to the 1990 goals of the World Summit for Children. Encouraged by the publication of UNICEF's Progress of Nations 1997, which gave The Gambia high marks in certain measures of development progress, President Jammeh's government has enthusiastically pursued plans to further these objectives.
The 1997 report ranked The Gambia first in Sub-Saharan Africa for its 56% reduction in under-five mortality rates in the past two decades. Such progress is especially good news because child-survival statistics are also a good indicator of progress in other societal factors including nutrition, health care, access to safe water and sanitation and the status of women in the community.
Indeed, The Gambia has made such progress in the status of women that the country was ranked first in the number of women at senior governmental decision-making levels, including the Vice Presidency. The report noted that 19% of ministerial-level posts, both elected and appointed, are currently held by women, compared with only 14% in the United States, and 7% world-wide.
In March 1999, the government of The Gambia and UNICEF signed a five-year master plan of operations designed to improve services for women and children. The main objectives outlined in the agreement is to further reduce the infant and under-five mortality rate, cut the maternal mortality rate by 20%, reduce by 50% children' s malnutrition rates, reduce female illiteracy by 10%, increase primary school enrolment to 75%, increase access to safe water and sanitation, and improve the protection offered to children at risk. The Office of the President will co-ordinate the program with the participation of UNICEF, governmental institutions, and NGO's.
The UNICEF executive board has approved a total of $8.6 million for the implementation of the program. President Jammeh's government is also working closely with the UNDP to implement the objectives for the Gambia's overall development outlined in his Vision 2020 mission statement: "To transform The Gambia into a financial centre, a tourist paradise, a trading, export-oriented agricultural and manufacturing nation, thriving on free market policies and a vibrant private sector, sustained by a well-educated, trained, skilled, healthy, self- reliant and enterprising population, and guaranteeing a well-balanced ecosystem and a decent standard of living for one and all, under a system of government based on the consent of the citizenry."
In order to tackle these ambitious objectives, the UNDP has developed a plan in collaboration with the Gambian government to concentrate on the key areas of ec9nomic management, poverty alleviation, and governance. The government of The Gambia is currently in the second phase of its 12-year economic management program during which the UNDP will support the Department of State for Finance and Economic Affairs in efforts to increase capacity in budgeting, accounting, financial management, auditing, and resource mobilisation.
The UNDP will also attempt to rekindle the interest of other donors to help in these efforts. Poverty alleviation is the top priority in the country's development agenda. In collaboration with the UNDP, the government of The Gambia has developed a National Poverty Alleviation Programme (NP AP) which addresses the enhancement of the productive capacity of the people, the improvement of access to and the performance of social services, the building of participatory capacities at the local level, and the promotion of participatory communication processes.
The overall objective of the program is to improve basic needs through self-reliance. To assist the NPAP, the UNDP aims to reduce the percentage of the population living below the poverty level, to eliminate food-poverty , to increase the school enrolment ratio of girls, and to reduce infant and maternal mortality rates.
The Gambian government has also prepared a comprehensive Governance Programme framework for the country in collaboration with the UNDP. This program seeks to establish and strengthen democratic and administrative institutions and processes to ensure a participatory , transparent and accountable governance system based on the rule of law. The UNDP's support will focus on the refonn and strengthening of constitutional, parliamentary, electoral, and legal and judicial processes; strengthening public management and administration; the decentralisation of local government systems and institutional structures for popular participation and management of development; and encouraging arrangements for civic education.
The ultimate results of these reforms will be the independence of the Electoral Commission, the National Assembly and the Judiciary; increased capacity for efficient public sector management; timely conduct of free and fair elections; equitable public media coverage for all political parties and interest groups; increased voter turnout; and increased female representation in positions of power and authority at national, divisional, district and grass-roots levels.
With a stable government, a population afflicted by none of the ethnic strife endemic in many African nations, a strong commitment from organisations such as UNICEF, the UNDP and various international NGO's and most importantly, the energetic and enthusiastic leadership of President Jammeh, the youngest African Head of State, The Gambia is poised to continue making great strides in development progress in the next century .