Gambia Economic Outlook
Economic performance and outlook
In 2014, the economy experienced exogenous shocks caused by erratic rainfall and spillover effects of the regional Ebola crisis, causing GDP growth to fall from 5.6% to –0.2%. Growth rebounded to 4.4% in 2015 but declined to 2.2% in 2016 due to policy slippages, electoral uncertainty, an unusually short rainy season, and a three-month border blockade by Senegalese transporters. GDP growth rebounded to an estimated 5.1% in 2017, driven primarily by agriculture and services, and is projected to stabilize around 4% over the medium-term, depending on the new administration’s ability to conduct a robust transition, attract investors, and lay the foundations for economic transformation.
Higher spending pushed the budget deficit from 1.7% of GDP in 2008 to a peak of 10% in 2014, before settling at 9.5% in 2016. The deficit was financed largely from domestic borrowing. Domestic debt stock rose from 37.1% of GDP in 2013 to 67.9% in 2016, contributing to a sharp increase in total public debt stock, from 83.3% of GDP in 2013 to 120% in 2016. The 2017 budget is consistent with stabilization objectives to contain the deficit to 2.5% of GDP. Inflation reached 7.2% in 2016, up from 6.8% in 2015, driven by high food prices and depreciation of the dalasi against the U.S. dollar since November 2016. Inflation is expected to decline to 6.9% in 2018, benefitting from the normalization of monetary policy and a rebound in agricultural production. The current account deficit narrowed from 15% of GDP in 2015 to 8.7% in 2016 due to favorable terms of trade and moderate rebound in trade. The trade deficit decreased from 25.7% of GDP in 2015 to 17.9% in 2016. For 2017 and 2018, imports are expected to rise from 34% of GDP in 2016 to 38% in 2018, contributing to an increase in the current account deficit to 10% of GDP in 2018.
The country has been on a difficult recovery path following the December 2016 elections, but key partners are re-engaging. The substantial resources that they have provided have increased official reserves from 1 month of imports in December 2016 to 3 months in August 2017. The political changes open a new window of opportunity. The country is preparing a long-term strategy, the National Development Plan, 2018–2021, which focuses on accelerating inclusive growth and generating employment opportunities. A donors roundtable to mobilize resources is scheduled to begin in 2018. Tourism, the second largest contributor to the national economy, is booming. To consolidate these gains, the sector needs to improve its competitiveness and address supply-side constraints that stifle growth. Remittances, which account for 10% of GDP, remain the main source of foreign exchange earnings and are expected to increase 5% a year.
The country remains vulnerable to shocks due to its size and overreliance on tourism and subsistence rain-fed agriculture. Energy shortages pose a major challenge. Insufficient access to electricity supply (47% at the national level) makes the cost of electricity among the most expensive in Sub-Saharan Africa ($0.26 per kWh). Rapid demographic changes are fueling intense urbanization. The poverty rate remained largely unchanged between 2010 (48.1%) and 2015 (48.6%). However, the number of poor people increased from 790,000 in 2010 to 930,000 in 2015. The high share of youth unemployment in total unemployment, about 70%, is pushing young people to seek alternative means of livelihood, including migration and illicit activities.