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Key findings
  • Key public services dominate the list of problems that Gambians want their government to address, led by health care and water supply. Infrastructure, education, and security also rank in the top 10.
  • Health care: Six out of 10 Gambians (60%) – including 99% of the poorest citizens – say they went without needed medical care at least once during the previous year. But a slim majority (52%) say the government is doing a good job of improving basic health services.
  • Infrastructure: More than six in 10 Gambians live in areas served by an electric grid (63%) and piped-water infrastructure (69%), but only about one in 20 (6%) live within reach of a sewage system. Only four out of 10 (42%) enjoy a reliable supply of electricity. Among citizens who tried to obtain water, sanitation, or electricity services from the government during the 12 months preceding the survey, almost three-fourths (72%) say they found it difficult to get the services they needed, and about one in eight (13%) say they had to pay a bribe.
  • Education: A majority (56%) of respondents approve of the government’s performance on education, although only 43% say it has become more effective in addressing educational needs.
  • Security: A slim majority (54%) of Gambians say the government is doing a good job of reducing crime. But among those who sought police assistance during the previous year, more than half (56%) say it was difficult to get help, and one in five (20%) say they had to pay a bribe.

Efficient and effective public service delivery is a necessity for citizens’ well-being (Armah- Attoh, 2015). However, in Africa, access to quality public services remains a challenge. According to the Mo Ibrahim Foundation )2018), “the average African public service displays a lack of capacity, … with higher costs than in other regions and large country disparities.” In the Gambia, prominent human-rights activist Madi Jobarteh (2017) has criticized public service delivery as “incredibly inefficient.”

Since the defeat of former President Yahya Jammeh in the December 2016 election and the liberalization of the political environment, Gambians have grown bolder in demanding quality public services. For example, in November 2017, a group of activists using the hashtag #OccupyWestfield organized a march to protest poor water and electricity services (Touray, 2017). In March 2018, Gambian doctors in public hospitals embarked on a sit-down strike to demand health-service and Ministry of Health reforms as well as the resignation of the thenminister of health, who had blamed service-delivery problems in part on doctors stealing medicines to sell them in their private pharmacies (Camara & Ceesay, 2018; Sarr, 2018). In September, teachers followed with a strike for better remuneration (Jawo, 2018).

While the protest was quelled by the police (Fatu Network, 2017a, 2017b) and doctors and teachers returned to work within a month, these events have highlighted popular dissatisfaction with public service delivery in post-Jammeh Gambia.

This dispatch analyzes Gambians’ perceptions and experiences with regard to major public services that citizens want their government to prioritize: Health care, infrastructure (including water and electricity supply), education, and security. Findings from Afrobarometer’s 2018 survey show that while citizens are appreciative of the government’s efforts, many are going without needed medical care and lack access to reliable electricity, not to mention sanitation. Views are mixed on whether personal security is improving, and a majority say police assistance is difficult to obtain.

Sait Matty Jaw

Sait Matty Jaw is the national investigator for Gambia.

Thomas Isbell

Thomas Isbell is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Institute of Democracy, Citizenship and Public Policy in Africa, University of Cape Town.