|TRANSPORT AND COMMUNICATIONS|
Adjoining the airport modernisation project is another $11 million effort to create the phase one Airport Export Processing Zone under the Trade Gateway Initiative. With attractive inducement packages, the airport is expected to capitalise on the country's strategic location and aid the movement of goods between Europe (five and a half hours away), America (seven and a half hours) and the West African sub-region, which is only about one to five hours of air travel from Banjul.
The Banjul International Airport is already one of the best in the sub-region, crowning which it has been pronounced as a safe and secure destination by the Assessment Administration of the U. S. A. after satisfying international requirements (June 2000). Now, there are direct flights between New York and Banjul, with an Open Sky Agreement with American aviation authorities, Banjul airport hopes to attract more international flights. "Our airport is under utilised", Mr. Edward Singateh, State Secretary for Works and Communication laments. Blessed with the second longest runway in West Africa, a proximity to regional markets and facilities that keep it a shoulder above the sub-regional competition. Banjul International Airport truly deserves increased traffic.
The Gambia International Airlines (GIA) has signed an agreement with Namibia Airlines for the use of one the latter's aircraft to ply the relatively untapped sub-regional market. According to Mamsait Jallow, Director General of Gambia Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA), intergovernmental efforts to liberalise air space, facilitate exchange of traffic rights, harmonise regulations and standards as well as set seal on agreements to standardize air service agreements will cause an unprecedented opening-up of a market of 270 million.
Jallow states that the GCAA is positioning the Banjul Airport to take advantage of the imminent windfall, "we see ourselves as an airport that is in international business and to increase our national capacity, we have to develop a strategy of making this airport a hub which would rely on international connections and transits. So this is what directs our activities in gunning for the standards that would give us the recognition and renown, and that would eventually make us achieve our goal".
The Banjul airport remains an integral component in The Gambia's motion towards economic development and efforts to improve it have been yielding dividends. Since 1991 till date, passenger volume has doubled to 300,000 a year and aircrafts movements increased to 6000 from 2,500. Cargo troopers are also enjoying an annual growth of 10%. The GCAA is also going into commercial, non-aeronautical investments like the Duty-free shops and investments in the Trade gateway initiative.
Another equally important centrepiece to The Gambia's desire for prosperity is its seaport, around which the free export zones revolve. The Gambia Ports Authority (GPA) is already a lighthouse in the sub-region. Blessed with a collaborative Customs department, which is its selling block, the GPA offers vessels and traders a rapid, efficient and competitively priced turnaround service in less than 24 hours. Elsewhere, such efficiency is a difficult dream. Ibrahima Jagana, Managing Director of the Gambia Ports Authority, best explains the driving spirit. "The port is a competitive feature of the Gambia, we are thinking big as we aim to become a regional hub. What Singapore is able to achieve, The Gambia has the potential to achieve too."
Founded with a commercial orientation, the Banjul seaport has witnessed series of modernisation efforts, which has more than doubled its jetty. As it prepares to take the lead in the Trade Gateway initiative, the GPA is working to fulfil its corporate mission "to excel as a leading marinating centre for trade and logistics," by creating free port facilities around the port in order to encourage value-added activities and enhance the competitive advantage of the country in handling export trade. An earlier Bonded Warehousing Project done as a pilot project to the free-export zones is a huge success. "Three bonded warehouses covering 9000 square meters were constructed, all of which have been occupied," says Jagana.
Other bilateral projects, agreements and inter-port co-operation would see the Banjul port increase in efficiency. On the continent, cooperation with the ports of Ghana, Senegal, Cape Verde, South Africa and Port Nec will enhance the development of trade and transfer of technology. Others overseas like Taichung Ports and Harbours of Taiwan and the Ports of Houston, Texas, USA, will help bolster its international credentials. Discussions with the world's second largest ocean fleet, Evergreen Lines of Taiwan could, if and when it materializes, make Gambia the second country in Africa covered by Evergreen. This should enhance and improve export movement to all parts of Asia and create a superb window for West African goods in that part of the world.
Gambia's telecommunications industry, noted for its efficiency, would gain a boost next year when the GSM system, operated by ALCATEL, comes into full swing. According to Bakary Njie, Managing Director of state owned Gambia Telecommunication Company (GAMTEL), ALCATEL is also involved in the network extension of the subscriber base, presently at 20,000 to 50,000 lines by year 2001,thus complementing its efficiency index. In the sub-region, only GAMTEL could boast of a 60 percent call completion rate. A well-run and highly profitable enterprise, it is listed to pioneer the divestiture programme. About 50 out of government-held 99 percent shares could be for sale as early as 2001, the company's net profit for 1999 was US$ 3 million.
There is a growing emphasis on increasing the national access to Information Technology. A number of Internet cafes dot the streets of the urban areas, facilitated by GAMTEL's easy approval procedures. With a reasonable cost of internet facilities and an absence of taxes or duties on IT-related materials, The Gambia hopes to surf happily on the waves of information technology. The challenge, according to Mr. Njie, is to take the facilities to the rural areas and "put the country on a strong backbone of information."