I have just come from what was scheduled to be a brief ten minute meeting, but actually lasted about an hour and a half as the staff here at Yundum bid a fond and emotional farewell to Mr Chen from the Taiwanese Technical Mission. There have been close links between The Gambia and The Republic of China Taiwan for many years and Mr Chen has been in the Gambia since 2011 working to help the farmers improve rice production and expand the area of rice which is cultivated. He is a hard working and likeable young man, very open and frank and although I have not had a great deal of contact with him personally, I know from my colleagues that he has achieved a great deal over the past two years.
Unfortunately, although the Taiwanese have contributed a great deal in the past to the development of the Gambia there has been a sudden and unexplained rift in the relationship as President Jammeh recently declared unilaterally and without any explanation that he was breaking off diplomatic ties with Taiwan, and as a result a couple of days later the Taiwanese announced the closure of their embassy here and the withdrawal of their technical mission. That was only just over a week ago but Mr Chen leaves tomorrow and called this afternoon to say goodbye. An impromptu ceremony was hurriedly organised in the conference room and we sat round the table and ate biscuits (all that could be provided at short notice) while each person in the room made a short speech thanking Mr Chen for his contribution to the development of the Gambia and wishing him well in his future. Apparently he is flying straight to South America to continue with a similar development mission in Nicaragua.
No one here, or at the Taiwanese Technical Mission knows the reasons for the severing of ties but it seems the decision was made by the President himself and his decision is final and not to be questioned. Now the Gambian rice growers must try unaided and without financial support from the Taiwanese to put into practice the improved techniques Mr Chen and his team have been promoting. In the absence of other outside aid to fill the gap, this seems to me a backward step.
In addition to the support inside the Gambia, the Taiwanese government have also sponsored a number of students each year (I think there are about 250 Gambians studying at university in Taiwan at present as guests of the Taiwanese), and the first announcements from Taiwan indicated that they would all have to return home in January, but from Mr Chen’s remarks this afternoon I think the Taiwanese government have decided to allow them all to complete their studies, even if they have only just begun a four year course. As several of the speakers this afternoon noted, diplomatic links are constantly changing so perhaps we can hope that before the last of these Gambian students fly home, more cordial links will have been restored and the Gambians and Taiwanese can once again enjoy a fruitful and mutually profitable relationship.
Meanwhile “Goodbye Mr Chen, safe journey, and the very best wishes for your future from the staff of the Department of Agriculture!”