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Living in The Gambia
I enjoy traveling around West Africa, especially around culturally rich regions blending nature with modern infrastructural developments. Both my air and road travels around this ECOWAS subregion in the last 15 years has been both instructive and enriching for me. I have been culturally immersed with diversity in languages, religion, culture, food, architecture, climate, economic life, flora and fauna.
The knowledge acquired, cannot be quantified in monetary terms, and i will recommend this educational tours to our youths to enable them appreciate and tolerate other cultures, thus reducing conflicts and disputes among neighboring countries. Somewhere else, i have written and held several seminars on working and living in Ghana about 11 years ago.
Today, the success story of Ghana is evident to all and this country Ghana, has emerged as one of the best economies in the subregion. Again, i am introducing another emerging great economy to you, The Gambia.
Before the whole world flood here, and you’ll be left out, why not take my advise seriously and invest, work, live or holiday in this beautiful country to experience what I’m talking about? I love this peaceful country blessed with hospitable people. Gambians welcome you with natural inspiring smiles. The Gambia is bounded round by an historical river, rich in natural resources of sea foods, animals and healing powers. Welcome to The Gambia, the smiling coast of West Africa.
From the natural beauty of Makasutu Village, historical sites of Kunta Kinteh village, James Island, Kachikally Crocodile pool, Kanilai Farm, and so many other sites to the beaches and people, you will hardly want to leave. Little wonder, there are so many repeat tourists coming to The Gambia for the past 10-15 years that I’ve met. They come from all over Europe, Americas, Asia and Africa. At the beach, the beauty of the Sea, the sand and sun will remind you of Mother Africa.
How about the investment climate, very favorable and investor friendly.With a stable economy with a single digit inflation rate and currency exchange of US$1.0= GMD26 (As at 9th April, 2010). The Gambia is a multicultural country with a lot of immigrants from West Africa, Europe, America, Middle East and Asia permanently living as investors, working with several NGOs, some retired investors while many others are engaged in importation businesses and owned several shopping malls.The Gambia is home to investors, volunteers, professionals pursuing their career, and holiday makers who has made this peaceful country their destination. Welcome to The Gambia, where there is no discrimination based on religion, creed, color, race, gender, social status, disability and with zero tolerance to corruption. Read on! Alsamadeh!
The major markets are in Banjul, Serrekunda and Brikama. Here, you can shop for staple foods like fish, meat, vegetables, clothings, jeweleries and fashion accessories. The locals welcome people with natural smiles after exchanging the religious greetings: “Asalamalekun”, meaning, peace be unto you. Traditionally, Gambian women go to market daily to buy what to cook.They can be seen with the plastic baskets with holders thronging to the busy markets to shop for fresh fish, meat, vegetables and take time to greet each other asking after each others’ families, relations and get updated about current social events and other women gossips. Some of the elites, however, prefer to shop in shopping malls around Kairaba Avenue, and buy foods in large quantities to store at home.
Mini-markets, or what some call supermarkets are all over the Greater Banjul area competing with the traditional markets. There are also the neighborhood shops, called “Fulah Shops”, owned mostly by Mauritanian citizens and in some cases by Guineans. This is the place to get the locally made bread called, “Tapalapa”. This is usually a long banana shaped clay oven baked bread that is usually transported on bicycles by the suppliers early in the morning, mid-day and sunset time. I prefer buying this, when fresh, it’s soft and more appealing than the stale hardened and uninviting ones. A full one goes for D5 and the half is D2.50. The bread is usually sold with a nice spread of butter, mayonnaises, egg, potato and spiced with jumbo or Maggi sauce depending on the buyer’s preferences.
There is also “Senfu”, which has a crumb nature and much cheaper, being sold for D3 for a full roll. However, i noticed the “Senfu” is not as filling as the “Tapalapa” that can keep me going for the whole day, like a bowl of “Fufu”, which is the energiser for most Nigerians, Ghanaians and Sierra- Leoneans in The Gambia. The local “Fufu” unlike the ones found in Ghana and Nigeria are made from “Saddam Rice”, as it is called locally, by milling it into powder and cooked into a solid paste in a pot. The most popular lunch meal, among Gambians, is the jollof rice, locally referred to as ” Benechin”. Different types of stew are prepared to eat the rice meal like”Plasas”, “Super ganja”, “Damoda”,etc. I enjoy the Gambia breakfast meal of “Thura Girthe”, which is very rich in protein. This is a mixture of well pounded rice cooked with milled groundnut and eaten with a spread of yogurt “Sour Milk”.
Gambians eat together. Small groups of between 5-8 people are usually seen eating from the same bowl, and yet, when a visitor appears, he or she is beakoned to still join them and share out of it. This is the true love, i’m yet to see anywhere. If you think there is no free meal anywhere, you’re wrong; come to The Gambia! This explain the reason for very low or non-existent crime rate. At least, a lunch meal is guaranteed for anyone living in The Gambia. Food is shared, no one goes home hungry. The women also waste a lot of food by always preparing a lot expecting visitors to join them when serving their meals. They package the rice meals in large wide bowls with a cover and wrap it in a traditional manner with cloth, that will secure the food from spilling and carry to their husbands at their respective working places for them to eat with colleagues. Sometimes, they go travel long distances, to deliver the foods, like a family living in Lamin and the husband working in Serrekunda.
The official working hours is 8am- 4pm from Monday to Thursday. Friday is half day. Most of Gambians are Muslims, and they go for the Friday Special prayers in the afternoon. Although, the “African time” concept is still prevalent among the people, this is common with the government workers, the private sector is better. Most serious business appointments start from 9am, even though, they are scheduled for 8am.
The major reason sometimes for arriving at work late, can be as a result of unavailability of commercial vehicles to transport workers to their respective places of work. Even, at places of work, Gambians do not forget to take their Chinese herbal tea called ” Atire”.
GAME OF FOOTBALL
A first time visitor, to The Gambia will think the game of football has it’s origin from here, because of the love and passion attached to this game. There are quite a number of playgrounds that are never kept idle because of the teeming youths that religiously train and play daily matches, especially in the evenings after work or school. Similarly, on weekends, first thing in the morning, you will notice everyone exercising or playing the game they love most; football.
The discussions of most of these youths that constitute half of the country’s population is centered on the European matches. Teams like Manchester United, Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal, Barcelona, Real Madrid, AC Milan and other big teams have passionate fans in The Gambia.
There are many Football Viewing centers that are making a fortune showing the live matches to most Gambian. Although, some of these youths might not know the capital of Nigeria, they often tell me it’s Lagos, but they certainly know all the European Club Managers, first line ups and transfers of these key players, not to talk about the latest scores in the premiership or championship.
The Gambia’s national team, called the “Scorpion” is adored and you dare not say anything bad against this team in order not to incur the wrath of my football lovers. A loss in game when “Scorpions” play, will turn the entire country into a grave yard, “a mourning period”. But with a win; the Brazilian samba dancers will envy the dance steps of both the young boys and girls singing: “ho, ho ho ho, ha,ha,ha,ha..haleyomii”. Therefore, to make friends with Gambians is so easy, just pick up a football topic!
The climatic conditions of The Gambia is slightly different from other ECOWAS countries. There is only one cycle of rainfall which starts around June and ends around October. It is usually hot during the raining periods, unlike other countries that experience cold periods.
The Hamattan period starts from November to February. However, the weather experiences erratic changes sometimes. The beaches are clean and provide succor to visiting tourists that want to experience the beauty of the sun, the sea and the sand of The Gambia.
There are several beaches to visit. From Banjul beach to Palma Rima, Senegambia and up to Sanyang. There are so many private beaches along this line. Most white tourists called “Toubabs” are usually welcome at these beaches that have attractive traditional bars with natural juice, canned drinks, barbecue and special packages for visitors.
The menace of “bumsters” have been curtailed and there are tourist police patrolling most of the busy beaches to deter the “unsolicited friends”. The beaches are besieged by almost all Gambians during festive periods or during major musical concerts or shows.
A visitor arriving The Gambia around Easter or Christmas will think all Gambians are Christians, with the celebration and partying. Similarly, around the Muslim festivals of “Koriteh or Tobaski” will give one the impression that there is no single Christian in town.
This is the beauty and diversity of the Gambian hospitality and tolerance of other religions in The Gambia. The people enjoy good music. The local artists are adored, some of whom are Jalibah Kuyateh, Titi Kololi, Freakie Joe, Asan Njie, Olugander and Sambou to mention a few.
The women, both young and old, enjoy dancing. The very physical dances of jumping and kicking the air is common and i often wonder where the women get the extra energy and strength from. Some young men that are not used to these dances, dare not challenge these women in a dancing competition, if they do not want to be hospitalized.
The entertainment industry is therefore very vibrant. Most people relax by watching Nigerian, Senegalese and Ghanaian home videos. There are several video rental shops to pick the latest Nigerian films from. Most of the banks and hotels show foreign channels like DSTV, CNN, AlJAZEERA, EUROSPORT etc.
PAID WORK IN THE GAMBIA
Except for ECOWAS nationals, that are allowed to work freely in some key government sectors like Education and Judiciary, other nationals are only allowed to work as expatriate and have to go through a scrutiny and get approval from the immigration department, before they can be permitted to work with the government.
However, investors are allowed to bring in their work force, provided they abide by the immigration laws of obtaining a work/residential permit. Openings exist all year round for qualified teachers in Senior secondary schools all over the country.
Most of the vacancies are usually filled by Nigerians, Ghanaians, Senegalese, Sierra-Leoneans, Liberians and a handful of other ECOWAS nationals. Openings also exist for lecturers in University of The Gambia, several professional training institutes and other tertiary institutes like Management Development Institute (MDI), Gambia College and Gambia Technical Training Institute (G.T.T.I).
Although, the private institutes remuneration is higher than the government pay scale. Most of the secondary schools in the provinces are in need of teachers, most teachers rather prefer to transfer to the urban cities leaving the rural villages without qualified teaching force.
Government subsidized schools remuneration package for non-Gambian teachers are between D3,500-D4,000 per shift (Morning or afternoon) depending on the entry level experience and qualification. The private schools pay between D4,500-D10,000, depending on the school and experience of the teacher.
Most schools prefer teachers that have gathered “Gambian experience”, meaning, they must have taught in The Gambia for some years to understand the system. Combining both shifts means more income. Most government schools prefer to pay full salary for the morning shift and half salary for the afternoon shift. There are other several opportunities of income earning, by organizing study classes for the students after close of school by some teachers. Most teachers often change school to those paying more, and every term witnesses a mass drift of teachers around.
The coveted schools are: Marina International, SBEC, Zenith, SOS, Scanaid and West African International. Linguistics and sciences are the preferred subjects often in high demand. English language, English Literature, Mathematics, Further Maths, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Agric Science, Applied Electricity etc, are “hot cake” subjects for most schools.
ECOWAS qualified teachers (M.Sc, B.Sc & HND holders in the subjects listed above) are usually being employed in secondary schools in The Gambia.
Other professionals needed to work in the private sectors are:
1. Lawyers with LL.b degree that have successfully completed Law school and called to Bar to work as
Magistrates/Judges with the Ministry of Justice.
2. Professional Graphic & Website Designers.
3. Professional Advertisers.
4. Desktop & Laptop Repair Technicians.
5. Automobile Technicians.
6. Theater Arts & Dramatic artists.
7. Film Directors & Producers.
8. Professional Actors & Actresses.
9. Radio & T.V Programme Presenters.
10. Fish Breeding & Farming
11. Aquarium Making & Gold Fish Rearing.
12. Leadership Development Trainers.
13. Trainers in unique skills & vocations.
14. Cottage Industry set-up trainers ( Body creams, soaps, cartons, shoe polish etc.)
The financial industry has witnessed a phenomenal growth with addition of more banks joining the league recently, bringing the total number of banks to fourteen in The Gambia. Most of these Nigerian banks are opening up branches and will need more staff.
Although, it is far cheaper to hire the locals than expatriate by the banks, because of the special tax paid for not hiring Gambians. The same rule applies to the Hotel and Tourism industry. The Non Governmental Organizations, NGOs are allowed to bring in their personnel.
Volunteers are also welcome in The Gambia. Volunteers can have a cultural immersion and gain international experience in this peaceful country. For holiday makers, i will recommend visiting this small but unique country for those in search of a Peaceful, Affordable and Memorable African Retreat (PAMAR!)
1. ECOWAS CITIZENS
The government welcome investment in all sectors, special attention is, however, given to Agriculture because of the importance of food security to any nation. Other sectors like Real Estate & Properties, Mining Industry, Hotel & Tourism, Health, Education, Manufacturing and Agro- allied Sectors are key areas to go into and get government incentive, in tax relief and total support.
ECOWAS citizens enjoy free movement of persons and goods within the 16 countries block, the required capital needed to re-locate to the Gambia to work, live, invest or holiday is far less than what is required to settle down in other ECOWAS countries. With the electricity tariffs coming down (thanks to the government initiative), NAWEC, the electricity company is doing her best to guarantee stable supply of electricity and many businesses solely rely on this stable electricity supply.
Incidences of armed robbery attack are very rare. I have not noticed or witness or hear about armed robbery attacks in the last six years. I only read in one of the newspapers, one or two times, about such attacks in the provinces some few years ago. People move about without fear of molestation or attack. Petty mobile phone theft are usually common.
The residential houses are affordable, and rents of one to three months advance payments, are demanded. The people are warm and hospitable. For as little as D500 per month, a room can be rented around the busy areas like Brikama, Latrikunda, Lamin,Tabokoto, Wellingara and Coastal road areas.
The 2-bed room apartments with all the conveniences goes for between D1,500-D2,500 per month in these areas depending on the finished taste and proximity to the busy highways. ECOWAS citizens can enter and settle in the country with opportunities to start small businesses.
For these wise residents in the country, there are several businesses to choose from and do effortlessly in this investment friendly country. Anyone coming to The Gambia for the first time, must first of all plan and prepare, knowing what to do and where to stay and having adequate information about the culture and business climate.
2. WORLDWIDE INVESTORS ( MEDIUM/ LARGE SCALE BUSINESSES)
The specific areas, wise investors, can rush into to invest presently, from our detailed research findings are:
A) Setting up a private University with residential campus to attract all ECOWAS citizens.
B) Eateries like MacDonald’s, Chicken George, Mr. Briggs, Sweet Sensation, Tantalizers, TFC, etc
C) Botanical Garden/ Love Garden around the Tourist areas.
D) Building low Cost Homes to be sold or rented out to people.
E) Ground nut processing factory.
F) Feed Mill for Poultry, Rabbitry and Turkey Production.
G) Cashew Processing Factory (CNS Oil, brake oil, glue, rubber,electrical wires etc).
H) Natural Juice canning factory ( Fruits like mangoes, orange, lime etc abound).
I) Fresh Flower production and export.
J) Fish Canning/ Food packaging for export.
There are other 90 businesses we have surveyed to be potential instant money earners for wise investors to take on. Kindly request for a detailed project profile on this. The Gambia Investment Promotion and Free Zones Agency, (GIPFZA) welcome investors with unique offers of tax relief, government support and non-bureaucratic processing of necessary documents to allow for quick set-up and investment in The Gambia.
To have a fair idea of the business climate, i recommend that all potential investors read the latest business directory (The Gambia Business Directory).
INFRASTRUCTURAL DEVELOPMENT & BUSINESS ENVIRONMENT
The Gambia, though small, but has a robust economy with fourteen commercial banks, four GSM companies, a good number of airlines plying the subregion and the outside world. There are more than five daily newspapers, around eight radio stations and many hotels of international standards including the 5-star Sheraton Hotel.
The major roads from the airport to most busy commercial centers like Kairaba, Brufut, West Field, Senegambia, Brikama, Latrikunda and Banjul are all tarred with well lighted street lights. Clean, fresh and treated pipe borne water is available to most homes 24hrs uninterrupted.
Communication and internet services are quite cheaper than most other countries. The cost of starting a business in The Gambia is far cheaper both in the short term and long term. The real estate business is enjoying a great boom with 30% return yearly on investments, and the Meltdown phenomenon is not easily noticeable in The Gambia.
The Gambia is a tourist destination and repeated visitors are common in this wonderful and peace loving smiling coast of The Gambia. Although, The Gambia is a tax based economy, the government makes substantial earnings from Tourism and exportation of agricultural commodities like Groundnut, Fishes, Cotton and solid minerals.
It is mandatory for every resident to have a TIN number(Tax Identification Number) before a bank account can be opened. New buildings are coming up daily and it is common sight,to see most of the property owners advertising their phone contacts for those interested in renting or leasing these properties from high rise buildings in Senegambia axis, Kairaba, Fajara, West Field, Tallinding, Tabokoto, Abuko, Lamin, Yundum etc.
Gambians in diaspora are rushing home to invest in this high yielding property sector. A visitor that last visited the country a year ago, will notice a remarkable difference in this infrastructural developments. The Gambia is a clean country, especially with the introduction of the monthly cleaning exercises, called “SETSETAL”, which is a special cleaning day for everybody on the last Saturday of the month between the hours of 8-1pm and thereafter there is free movement.
Municipal officials go around to ensure the wastes are properly disposed and ensure compliance to the law, that all shops and businesses most be closed and no movement of commercial vehicles, until the end of the cleaning exercise.
Health wise, it is safe to live in The Gambia, because the health delivery system is very efficient and well equipped with the best medical personnel in The world. There are various health centers, well spread around the country with ambulances standing by to quickly evacuate emergencies to Royal Victoria Teaching Hospital, RVTH, Banjul where complicated cases are usually taken.
Visitors coming for the first time, therefore, are advised to take the appropriate vaccinations recommended. ECOWAS citizens must take vaccinations against yellow fever, meningitis, Polio etc and ensure these are stamped on their Yellow Card, this is even taken more seriously, when traveling by road through Benin, Togo, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Mali and Senegal to The Gambia. Not having a valid Yellow Card could cost you a fortune in fines you’ll be asked to Pay!
Medical services is free to Gambians, except the registration card which is D5 only. ECOWAS citizens are, however, required to pay for cost of treatment and hospitalization, depending on the treatment. Tourist visiting The Gambia are advised to have a Travel Insurance when visiting
Transportation within the country is affordable. Moving from one location to another is quite easy. There are three categories of commercial road transportation. One, is the commercial Bus, that only allow maximum of three passengers on a row which is convenient, unlike four on a row in several other countries. This type of buses go around the major destinations like Banjul to Serrekunda (D6), Banjul to Tabokoto (D10), Banjul to Brikama (D15), Serrekunda to Senegambia (D5) etc.
The second category is the yellow and green painted taxis that take people for D5 a drop or chartered services for most tourists and locals, called “Town Trip”. The last category, are the green painted and branded “Tourist Taxis” for tourists from and to the airport, hotel areas, most beaches and historical sites for new visitors. They are more expensive than the yellow painted ones.
Except when it is very important, first time visitors are, however, encouraged to avoid going out around the rush hours, like 7-8am and 4-6pm, especially when commuters are going to or returning from work. From Tabokoto, Lamin, West field, Serrekunda and Brikama in the morning to Banjul and returning back home in the evening is always very hectic and expensive to take a taxi. The bus-stops are usually congested and the traffic chaotic around these periods.
There are many well organized tour operators with luxurious air conditioned buses to pick from and to the airport all visitors and tourist that arrange their visits through them. They also partner with most hotels on tours to historical sites and around the cities.
There area ferry services available to transport people across the River Gambia. From Barra to Banjul is D25 only. Visitors can come in to the country either by land through The Gambian border with Senegal at Hamdallah, or from Guinea and Cassamace, Senegal through Basse. By air is through the only airport at Yundum. The Banjul International Airport, one of the best in the subregion with the longest run-way and modern radial facilities installed.
The airport is not always busy and travelers should always inform someone to pick them at the airport, especially during the weekends when commercial activities are low. However, tourist taxis are available at any time for between D500-D800 depending on the distance, usually between 15-30km from the airport.
There is a Bureau de Change at the airport to change money from other currencies like Euro, dollars, pounds and CFA to Dalaisi. For Visa Card carriers, there is ECO Bank ATM at the airport. Bank PHB and Trust bank also have their ATMs at the airport.
On arrival in the country, when you hear “Nagadef?”, meaning how are you, just answer “Jamarek”, meaning i’m fine. After a hand shake, say “Jerejef”, meaning thank you.
Jerejef, Jarama, Baraka (meaning thank you in 3 different local languages).
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