By Bekai Njie
His Excellency, President Adama Barrow has revealed that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will soon open a diplomatic mission in The Gambia, starting with a Consular mission first. The mission will later be upgraded to a full-fledged embassy thereafter.
In a meeting with members of the Hajj Commission at the State House on Friday, President Barrow said that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has officially communicated this plan to him. The diplomatic development will further elevate levels of bilateral cooperation between Gambia and Saudi Arabia, whilst unlocking more windows of opportunity for the private sector also, he explained.
Saudi Arabia and The Gambia have a long history of bilateral cooperation since the First Republic. The Kingdom also stood by The Gambia and the government of President Barrow since assuming office in 2016. Gambia has been sending over a thousand pilgrims over the years to the Kingdom each year. In 2018, Gambia was allocated 1,700 pilgrims, representing the highest number of pilgrims ever to perform the Hajj from The Gambia.
In receiving the Report of the Commission, President Barrow thanked the Commission for a successful Hajj 2018, assuring them of government’s full support always, in order to make Hajj operations even better. This is the first time that the Gambia liberalises the Hajj operations, as state enjoyed monopoly over the airlifting and handling of pilgrims all by itself in the past.
Liberalsing the Hajj operations would bring competitions in the industry, which the President said is healthy especially when it is a positive one. “That is why this time, the Commission was able to airlift the maximum number of pilgrims allocated to Gambia by Kingdom of Saudi. Previous years’ showed only 1,400 pilgrims maximum. In 2018, the number increased to 1,700 because there was competition in the sector,” he said.
“My government believes the private sector can compete with government if the right environment is created. The 2018 is proof of this,” he said, noting that as a former private sector operator himself, he believes the sector can do better when the private operators are given the chance to participate. He is pleased and proud to have been the first president in 50 years that began the liberalization of the Hajj.
Emir of the Hajj Commission, Alhaji Ousman Jah, described this year’s Hajj as the most successful for the Gambia. The services were excellent, accommodations were standard (including five stars), and meals were mainly buffet throughout the process. All these were possible because they worked in partnership with private operators. He thanked the President for taking time to meet and discuss with them on issues surrounding the operations.