Opinion: A PROPOSAL FOR THE CREATION OF A NORTH CENTRAL REGION (NCR) IN THE GAMBIA

Friday, January 04, 2019

A Proposal to Constitution Review Commission (CRC) of The Gambia

December 31, 2018

1.         INTRODUCTION

The Gambia is the smallest country on continental Africa with an area of about 10,689 Km2, and an estimated population of 2 million in 2018.  The country is divided into 6 Regions (West Coast, North Bank, Lower River, Central River, and Upper River) and 2 municipalities (Banjul¸and Kanifing). These Regions are further sub-divided in Local Government Areas (LGAs), which are in turn divided in Districts, headed by Seyfos or Chiefs. Although Article 192 of the 1997 Constitution of The Gambia stipulates that the National Assembly can create “city councils, municipalities and area councils (which are together referred to as local government authorities), and the district in which each shall have jurisdiction,” it does not specify how to create new Regions. Article 192 of the 1997 Constitution also stipulates that the geographical boundaries of each LGAs “shall be determined by the Independent Electoral Commission.” Except for a name change from “Divisions” to “Regions” in 2007, the administrative boundaries and number of the Regions of the country have remained intact since Independence in 1965.

The on-going review of the 1997 constitution of The Gambia provides a great opportunity to re-examine the issue of the number of Regions in The Gambia, and specifically, the matter of creating a new Region from the part of the Central River Region (CRR) which is on the north bank of the River Gambia. This brief provides a backgrounder about the development challenges of CRR North, reasons why a new Region should be created in CRR North, and suggestions for how to go about creating the proposed new Region.

2.         THE CRR-NORTH DEVELOPMENT CONTEX

The Central River Region (CRR) is an important Region of The Gambia, for various historical, cultural, administrative, and economic reasons. The CRR is 2,894 Km2 or 27.1 % of the area of The Gambia, and had a population of 226,000 or 12 % of the population of the country in 2013. Janjanbureh, the administrative seat of the Region, is home to the what is claimed to the be oldest Methodist Church in Sub-Saharan Africa), and Armitage Senior Secondary School (opened in 1927),  the first public boarding school in the country, and alma mater of many distinguished Gambians. The first and former President of The Gambia, Alhaji Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara who led the country to Independence in 1965 hails from CRR, along with many other distinguished luminaries, including the present Vice President of The Gambia, Hon. Ousainou Darboe. CRR is also the breadbasket to the country, especially in terms of rice production, being at the heart of the rice producing zone of the country, and home to many rice development projects in the country.

The CRR is split along its entire length into two almost equal parts by the River Gambia, with CRR-South to the south of River Gambia, and CRR-North to the north of the river. The Region’s administrative capital is Janjanbureh (formerly called Georgetown) which is located on McCarthy Island on River Gambia.

CRR-North (with Kaur, and Kuntaur as its major settlements) had a population of 96,703 in 2013, compared to a population of 125,204 for CRR-South. Like the rest of the country, CRR-North has seen a significant increase in its population in the past 30 or so years. However, the rate of growth of its population growth ratehas been much lower than the national population growth over the same period. Various factors, especially rural-urban migration contribute to this decline in the growth rate of the population of the CRR.

CRR-North has also relatively lower scores in various indicators of socio-economic development, including access to information and communication technologies, employment, and education. According to the 2013 Census, only 3.5% of people in CRR-North had access to newspapers/magazines, compared to 15% for the national average.  Similarly, only 73.4% (compared to 87.1% nationally) of CRR-North had access to radio, and 31% of them (compared to 68.2% nationally) had access to television in 2013. Such limited access to sources of information seriously hinders development in all walks of life.

CRR-North also has significantly less economic activity than other parts of the country in terms of various other parameters. For example, only 1.2% of the economically active population of CRR-North in 2013 were professionals, compared to 1.9% for CRR-South. This discrepancy is probably explained by the fact that CRR-South has a larger population than CRR-North. In addition, CRR-South includes Janjanbureh (the Regional Capital for CRR and seat of many government offices in CRR), as well as Bansang (where the Bansang Hospital is located), and hence has many professionals working in various government agencies, NGOs, and public enterprises.

CRR-North also lower attendance rates, and school life expectancy than other parts of the country, according to the 2013 Census. While the 2013 gross attendance rate (GAR) for early childhood education was 71.7% in CRR-North, the GAR was 91.5 nationally, and 99.4% in urban areas. Similarly, the primary school net attendance rate (NAR) in CRR-North was 55.2% in 2013, compared to 69.4% and 76.2% for the national average, and urban areas, respectively. CRR-North also had the least school life expectancy (i.e. the number of years a person can expect in the future; 5.7 years, in contrast to Kanifing (11.5 years), as well as NBR and CRR-South, 9.0 years and 7.5 years, respectively.

Another important development challenge faced by CRR-North is that it has the least amounts of rainfall in the country, and what little falls usually does so in an erratic manner. According to a preliminary report of a pre-harvest assessment of the 2018/19 cropping season, the lowest amount of rainfall in The Gambia was recorded in Kaur, in CRR-North.  With 75.7% of households in CRR-North depending on farming as their source of income, and with per capita food production able to meet only 39% of their food needs, it is not surprising that CRR-North also had the highest incidence of food insecurity in the country according to the pre-harvest season assessment of the 2018/2019 cropping season.

3.         WHY A NEW REGION?

As an important part of The Gambia, CRR-North can, under the right circumstances, make significant contributions to national development. Specifically, more attention needs to be given to the area to tap its vast potential as a breadbasket for, and tourism destination in The Gambia. CRR-North can also serve as gateway to the groundnut basin of Senegal, Eastern Senegal, and Mali, if Kaur can be developed into an inland port.

All of these potentials of CRR-North can be realized much more quickly and effectively if it is designated as a new Region of The Gambia. Such a step will not only benefit the people of CRR-North, it will also benefit our national development efforts and the attainment of the objectives of our National Development Plan (NDP). The reason for this is that a low level of development in any sector of the economy in CRR-North will pull the rest of the country down. For example, low levels of agricultural production and productivity in CRR will jeopardize our efforts to attain food self-sufficiency in the country. Similarly, the 2018 outbreak of foot and mouth disease of cattle and other animals in The Gambia started in CRR-North, demonstrating that inadequate extension and veterinary services in the area can pose significant threats to livestock development in the everywhere in the country.

Another important reason for creating a new Region in CRR North is that the Gambia government, NGOs, the private sector, and our development partners often disaggregate data on CRR into CRR North and CRR South, effectively referring to CRR North as a Region in every manner, except the name. For this reason, creating a new Region in CRR North would not pose any problems in the implementation of policies and programs, and would in fact validate the separation many have between CRR North and CRR South.

Creating a new Region in CRR North would also bring development and democracy closer to the people. The population of 96,703 that CRR North had in 2013 is much greater than the 81,042 population of LRR which is a Region of its own. As such, CRR North has the critical mass of people to make a vibrant Region, if one is created for them. Besides, creating a new Region will create jobs in CRR North because new government agencies will be located there, new businesses and NGOs established, and the economy will be generally boosted.

For these and numerous other reasons, it is proposed that the new Constitution of The Republic of The Gambia provides for the creation of a new Region in CRR-North, to be called North Central Region (NCR). Furthermore, it is proposed that Kaur is selected as the Capital of NCR, given it’s the largest settlement in CRR-North, has the infrastructure (e.g. the wharf) that can be upgraded, and is has a potentially large domestic and Senegalese market that it can serve.

4.         PROPOSED APPROACH TO CREATING A NORTH CENTRAL REGION

The on-going review of the Constitution of The Gambia is a great opportunity to create a new North Central Region (NCR) in the country, to be comprised of all of what is now called CRR-North. As a first step, the CRC can launch an online survey on the creation of the proposed NCR in particular, or the creation of new Regions in general. If there is enough support for the inclusion of NCR and other existing Regions in the new Constitution, the CRC can includein the Draft Constitution that will be subject to a Referendum, an Article or Chapter about the creation of new Regions in the country, and propose that NCR be created out of CRR-North.

In the unlikely event that there is not enough support for the idea of creating a new Region in CRR-North, the Draft Constitution should include an Article on the creation of new regions in the country because the 1997 Constitution is mute on the issue. Instead, the 1997 Constitution only stipulates rules and procedures for the creation of LGAs and Districts, with the IEC determining LGA. In contrast to The Gambia’s Constitution, Ghana’s Constitution provides detailed and clear procedures for creating new Regions in the country.  Indeed, Ghana held a referendum in December 2018 to decide whether or not to create six new Regions in a bid to boost development.

Conclusion

In conclusion, it is worth reiterating that the CRR-North has significant development challenges which will be most effectively addressed by creating a new Region out of it. Furthermore, it is worth noting that failing to do so will not only slow down development in that part of the country, it will also hamper progress toward the attainment of our NDP objectives. Ample evidence of this was shown in 2018 by the findings of the pre-harvest assessment of the 2018/2019 cropping season, and the outbreak of the devastating foot and mouth disease in CRR-North, and which went on to spread around the country. For this reason, the CRC is strongly urged to include the creation of the NCR in the Draft Constitution of the Republic of The Gambia it will present to the people of The Gambia.

Author: Katim S.Touray