Prior to the surprised announcement by the Gambia government, on Thursday 14th November 2013, that it is cutting diplomatic ties with the Republic of China on Taiwan, the two countries enjoyed a fruitful and beneficial bilateral relationship to the admiration of almost every Gambian.
Unequivocally, The Gambia and Taiwan over the years have proven to be a sample of excellent bilateral ties.
This is manifested in the numerous forms of support being offered to The Gambia by the Taiwanese government, as well as The Gambia’s strong diplomatic support to Taiwan in the international arena, over the past 18 years.
The ROC has been one of the key donors to The Gambia, since resumption of diplomatic ties in 1995.
Since then, Taiwan has continued to provide funding in all vital areas of our economy such as agriculture, health, education, defence, infrastructure development and information technology.
For instance, the permanent Taiwanese Technical Mission stationed in Sapu has been working closely with the Ministry of Agriculture to boost the country’s food self-sufficiency drive.
The mission, which also provides some of our local farmers with fertilizers, power tillers and seed nuts has, no doubt , helped boost the country’s agricultural sector with transfer of technology and high production yields for farmers.
In the area of health, Taiwan continues to support the sector with annual grant of $600,000 to Gambia’s health sector; provides equipment to health facilities, and sends in mobile medical teams to provide free medical care to Gambians, on a regular basis.
In fact, at the time of this surprised announcement, there were a group of seven medical doctors in the country providing free medical services to the Gambians.
The maternal health programme supported by Taiwan in the Upper River Region has helped improved the health status of women and children in that region.
With regard to education, currently there are over 200 Gambian students studying at various universities and colleges in Taiwan, thanks to the generosity of the Taiwanese government. Most of them are on a Taiwan government full scholarship, either through Taiwan ICDF, MOFA or other ROC institutions.
Several others have already graduated from Taiwanese universities, and are now working for the Gambia government in various sectors, contributing to our nation-building.
Annually, the ROC embassy also provides a $6000 scholarship package to the University of The Gambia to sponsor needy and deserving students.
An annual US$700,000 donation to the President’s Empowerment of Girls Education Project (PEGEP) has been forthcoming.
And the list could go on.
The construction of Sifoe and Mayork senior secondary schools by the Taiwanese government, also provides more Gambian students access to high school education in the West Coast Region.
On information technology, the recent establishment of Gambia Digital Opportunity Centre funded by Taiwan, the donation of computers and ICT accessories to the National Assembly and other government departments are all boosts to our Silicon Valley aspirations.
Most important, also, is Taiwan’s support to the Gambia Radio and Television Services satellite project.
Furthermore, the donation of seven patrol boats to the Gambia Navy and training of our military officers in military academies in Taiwan are all making an impact.
The establishment of Taiwan Culture Centre in Gambia and recent donation of US$1million to the Youth Development Fund and provision of MAN engines to the three ferries that are out of service are other rewarding interventions.
From our records, it was discovered that Taiwan has pump in millions of Dalasis for even events like the presidential inauguration; the building of an extra road around the President’s Office, rehabilitation of Old Police Line Barracks, procurement of vehicles and buses for local governments, fencing of Banjul international airport, supporting the upkeep of Cuban doctors and building oil reserve tanks for military barracks; and, again the list goes could on and on.
With these and many other interventions from Taiwan, in our view, the people of this country and government owe a huge debt of gratitude to the government and people of Taiwan, by all accounts.
In fact, Taiwan has become a household name in The Gambia, thanks to their support to the critical sectors f our economy.
And that was the reason why, we believe, the majority of Gambians will be suprised with the recent move by their government.
The leadership of the two countries has always expressed their resolve in maintaining and strengthening ties.
While covering the visit of Taiwan’s President Ma to The Gambia last year, this reporter could recall President Yahya Jammeh saying to him at Ming Daw Senior School that The Gambia will remain true friends of Taiwan and will do anything they want.
The Gambian leader has been quoted on many occasions as describing Taiwan as a true and genuine partner of The Gambia.
“Let me reiterate that The Gambia’s commitment to cementing the ties that bind our two nations and our resolve to stand steadfastly by your side in your quest to take your rightful place within the global community of nations will never wane”, President Jammeh pledged (see State House website).
President Ma once told the Gambian leader that: “One thing I admire about Your Excellency is the priority that you give to education, because the number of students that are studying in Taiwan exceeds 200.”
On the other hand, The Gambia has also been very supportive of Taiwan in its quest to have more space in the international arena.
The Government of The Gambia has also been relentless in its call for a just treatment of the case of Taiwan by the international community.
Consequently, last week’s u-turn by The Gambia Government stunned the people of this country, and the international community.