Banjul-Madrid ties strengthened

Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Ties between the Republic of The Gambia and the Kingdom of Spain have been further strengthened with the signing of a bilateral cooperation agreement for the period 2009 to 2012.

This development which resulted from the two-day visit to The Gambia by the 1st vice prime minister of Spain, Her Excellency Maria Teresa Fernandez, enables the Kingdom of Spain to categorise The Gambia as a priority country in their international cooperation agreement master plan for the next 3 years. The agreement, signed by Foreign Affairs Secretary of State Dr Omar Touray and Dona Soraya Rodriquez, Spain’s secretary of state for Cooperation, was reached on Monday at State House in Banjul.

Speaking at a meeting held at State House, President Jammeh reiterated his strong conviction that the fruitful ties binding the two peoples will be mutually beneficial to both parties.  He noted the immense contribution of Spain in the socio-economic development of The Gambia, pointing to its earlier investment in the area of tourism as an example.

He also cited the fact that thousands of Gambians are working in Spain, taking care of their families back home in The Gambia. "Our relationship has moved from political to social, and we have Gambians and Spanish married, thereby enhancing globalization," President Jammeh said. Commenting on the phenomenon of illegal migration which is said to have been a prominent reason for the Spanish vice premier’s visit, President Jammeh noted that the two countries are working together to curb the threat.

He stressed that the Kingdom of Spain is not  hostile to migration as there are thousands of Gambians living in the Kingdom illegally, most of whom call that country home, yet they are not being deported. Putting a definite stop to the phenomenon of illegal migration, according to the Gambian leader, might be impossible, but, he noted, if all hands are on deck, it can be minimized to manageable levels.

To this end, Professor Jammeh noted that his government had proposed that the "most cost effective way of dealing with the phenomenon is to come up with agricultural projects."  This, he said, will provide more employment opportunities for young people than any other initiative one thinks of. In this regard, President Jammeh solicited assistance from the Kingdom of Spain in the form of technical support which can help in establishing viable agricultural projects across the country. The initiative, he noted, will focus entirely on the youth folk. He also noted that the problem with his government’s agricultural sector is the lack of agro-processing and marketing facilities; pointing out that if these initiatives are in place, Spain can rest assured of a drastic reduction of the phenomenon in The Gambia within four years.

The Gambian leader used the opportunity to inform Vice Premier Fernandez de la Vegas that The Gambia has great potential not only in the sectors of tourism and agriculture, but also in fisheries, petroleum as well as mining. While assuring her of his government’s resolve to curb the phenomenon, President Jammeh commended the visiting Spanish premier for her donation to the Gambia Navy, noting the "great" role this unit of the army can play in this crusade.

He also commended the Spanish government for appointing an ambassador to The Gambia. Speaking earlier, Her Excellency Maria Teresa Fernandez expressed extreme gratitude to the government and people of The Gambia for the hospitality and warm welcome accorded to her and her delegation. She also expressed their sincere wish to expand the mutual cooperation between the two countries in the areas of politics, economics and all other development aspects.

She noted that the signed bilateral agreement will define a framework within which the two countries will carry out joint action projects for the next three years. "The government of Spain has now included The Gambia as one of our strategic priority countries within the context of our co-operation plan for the next three years," she revealed.

Vice Premier Fernandez de la Vegas further revealed that her country has developed an integrated approach to deal with the phenomenon of illegal migration, and that they had designed a strategy, together with African countries during the Rabat Summit, which seeks to approach the issue from all perspectives. She added that this strategy will also create the right conditions that will avail young people opportunities without having to risk their lives in the quest for greener pastures. "Spain is proposing a high level meeting with ECOWAS before the summit of the next G20 heads of states. I hope that this proposed meeting will be an opportunity to create joint solutions to the phenomenon," she said.

Reiterating her government’s resolve to work with The Gambia both at the bilateral and multilateral levels, Vice Prime Minister Fernandez used the opportunity to introduce the new Spanish ambassador to The Gambia, and also commended President Jammeh for  appointing a Gambian ambassador to Spain. She concluded her speech by saluting the Gambian leader for his efforts to empower women.
At the end of the ceremony, the two leaders exchanged gifts.

Visit to GTTI
Earlier on, as part her schedule, Her Excellency Maria Teresa Fernandez visited the Gambia Technical Training Institute (GTTI) campus in Kanifing. She was said to have visited the campus check the progress of Spanish sponsored projects being taken care of by the institute.

Visit to The Gambia Navy
At the navy base in Banjul, her second port of call, the Spanish 1st vice prime minister presented on behalf of her government, two brand new vehicles, 5 motorcycles, a brand new speedboat and some communication materials to The Gambia Navy.

In his remarks, Major General Lang Tombong Tamba, chief of Defense Staff of The Gambia Armed Forces (GAF), thanked the Spanish government for the gesture. He noted that the donated equipment will be helpful to the navy in the execution of their duties. For her part, Maria Teresa Fernandez reiterated her government’s commitment to the ties between the two countries. She advised the beneficiaries of the Spanish projects in The Gambia to make the best use of them.

Aja Dr Isatou Njie-Saidy, vice president and secretary of state for Women’s Affairs, on behalf of President Jammeh, thanked the Spanish government through its 1st vice prime minister, for their support to the Gambia Navy.

VP Njie-Saidy described the cooperation between The Gambia and Spain as a strategic one, adding that this is the second time that the government of Spain is helping The Gambia Navy. According to her, the donated equipment will be useful in curbing the menace of illegal migration as well as in safeguarding The Gambia’s territorial waters. She finally extended, on behalf of President Jammeh, The Gambia government’s gratitude to the government and people of Spain.

The presentation was attended by Chief Justice Abdou Karim Savage, secretaries of state, and IGP Ensa Badjie, among others. The team also had a short cruise on the River Gambia, using navy boats, before heading to the office of the vice president.

Signing of the agreement
The meeting at the vice president’s office at State House saw the signing of the agreement by representatives of two governments – SoS Dr Omar Touray on behalf of The Gambia, and Dona Soraya Rodriquez, Spain’s secretary of state for Cooperation on behalf of her country.

SoS Dr Touray expressed delight at signing the agreement, which he said will constitute a key pillar in The Gambia’s relations with the Kingdom of Spain. He hailed the fact that Spain has now categorised The Gambia as part of its priority countries in their cooperation agreement for 2009-2012.
The Gambia’s ambassador to Spain, Kebba Touray, also reiterated the importance of the signing of the bilateral cooperation agreement.

Visit to Bakoteh Women’s Garden
The last port of call for the visiting Spanish 1st vice prime minister was the Bakoteh Women’s Garden, where she presented 40 milling machines to the Spanish funded Women Empowerment Project in The Gambia, through the Women’s Bureau.

This Spanish funded project is valued at D40M, and it entails 25 vegetable gardens across the country. The Bakoteh Women’s Garden is one of them. Accompanied by Her Excellency Aja Dr Isatou Njie-Saidy, the Honourable Speaker of the National Assembly, Fatoumata Jahumpa-Ceesay, secretaries of state and other dignitaries, Madam Maria Teresa Fernandez and delegation had a conducted tour of the garden. Yankuba Colley, mayor of the Kanifing Municipal Council, delivered the welcoming remarks at the ceremony.

At the end of her two day working visit, 1st vice Prime Minister Fernandez left Banjul for Madrid.  She was seen off at the Banjul International Airport by VP Isatou Njie-Saidy, Speaker Fatoumata Jahumpa-Ceesay, secretaries of state and other dignitaries.
Author: By Hatab Fadera & Assan Sallah