Greenwich Mean Tme zone UTC+00:00
Capital City Banjul
Currency Gambian dalasi
National Day 18 February
THE REPUBLIC OF GAMBIA’S new High Commissioner Frances Blain arrived in London at the end of last year. He returns to live in the capital after almost 40 years; his last posting was as Counsellor at the High Commission from 1977-79. He’s observed the vast “economic growth and prosperity” that has taken place since but acknowledges that his return to the UK fits nicely with his passion for reading Shakespeare and Dickens!
From a young age, Mr Blain found himself influenced by his uncle, the late Eric Christensen, who was appointed Secretary General and Head of The Gambia’s Civil Service, and Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “Given that these were highly dignified and prestigious positions in The Gambia’s government, I was highly impressed by him.” That’s not to forget his own parents, “who were both very loving and supportive, although my father was quite a disciplinarian!”
After joining The Gambia’s civil service in November 1970, Mr Blain’s first position was with the Registration of Voters, which meant he travelled the length and breadth of the country. Subsequent assignments included serving as Senior Assistant Secretary and Deputy Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and The Gambia’s Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the UN. From 1983, Mr Blain spent 20 years with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), completing posts as Principal Officer in the UNDP offices in Jamaica and Pakistan, Resident Representative and Resident Co-ordinator of the UN Development System in Liberia, Principal Officer in the Division for External Relations at UNDP Headquarters and Deputy Director of the Special Unit for Technical Cooperation among Developing Countries. The Economic Community of West African States then called him to duty as its Special Representative in Liberia in 2003, during which time he helped negotiate the peace agreement that led to the election of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as Liberia’s President. He believes his “experience working with the UN and in ECOWAS will naturally enable [him] to make substantive and valuable contributions on key topics at meetings at the Commonwealth Secretariat and the FCO.” Mr Blain completed this assignment in 2005, then in May 2018, he was called out of retirement by President Adama Barrow and appointed Ambassador of The Gambia to the UK.
After his arrival in the UK, Mr Blain’s initial focus was on “The Gambia’s fast-tracked re-entry into the Commonwealth of Nations. Raising The Gambia’s flag at Commonwealth Secretariat on 8 February 2018 to mark The Gambia’s re-entry into the Commonwealth was one of the most memorable moments of my career.”
“Now this important objective has been achieved,” he continues, “I am confident that the British government will be favourably disposed to increase its assistance in support of The Gambia’s socio-economic development.” This includes helping develop human resources such as Commonwealth scholarships as part of a coordinated effort to increase and strengthen national capacities in various areas. With the collaboration of key British institutions like the British Chamber of Commerce, DIT, the City of London and the International Chamber of Commerce, he also intends “to mobilise FDI from the UK to The Gambia and identify potential investors particularly in the key areas of agriculture, agro-processing, private sector initiatives, energy, manufacturing, tourism and infrastructure.” Furthermore, the Gambia High Commission and The Gambia Tourism Board are currently discussing potential methods of increasing tourist numbers from the UK to The Gambia with various tour operators and flight carriers. He also intends to explore upgrading the laboratory of the Faculty of Medicine of the University of The Gambia. Concerted efforts are therefore being made at all levels to harness this goodwill into concrete and tangible development assistance. He concludes: “Following The Gambia’s re-entry into the Commonwealth, our government will continue to ensure the effective functioning of democratic processes within the country, and every effort will be made to further strength relations between The Gambia and other countries, particularly in key areas of trade and investment, economic and infrastructural development, education, health, rule of law and cultural exchange.” However, Mr Barrow comments, “recent high-level visits to The Gambia by a number of foreign dignitaries, including former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, as well as UN, EU, ECOWAS and AU dignitaries cumulatively indicate the goodwill that the international community has for President Barrow and his government.”
What does the High Commissioner believe is The Gambia’s greatest diplomatic challenge? “This rests on work to effectively mobilise the support of the international community to acquire the financial resources required to implement The Gambia’s National Development Plan 2018-21.”