The Gambia has an active private sector and the government welcomes investment in all sectors of the economy. However, eight have been identified as "priority sectors," which attract a Special Investment Certificate (SIC) that provides a number of incentives including duty waivers. The eight sectors are agriculture, air services, energy, fisheries, Information Communication Technology (ICT), light manufacturing, river transportation and tourism.
There is a government agency dedicated to attracting foreign investment and promoting exports that provides guidelines and incentives to all investors whose portfolios qualify for a SIC. There is no legal distinction between the treatment of foreign and domestic investors but anti-Western discourse emanating from senior government officials has been of concern to many private sector operators.
The Gambia is a small market compared to some of its West African neighbors. There is a visible presence of foreign investors with significant investments in sectors including financial services where many Nigerian banks have established branches in the past 10 years. The tourism sector also continues to attract investments in hotel development with many new three- and four-star hotels. The energy sector, particularly power generation, transmission and distribution has attracted investments from Lebanon and Malaysia. There is a noticeable presence of Turkish and East Asian businessmen selling electronic goods and home appliances. There is also a growing interest in petroleum exploration particularly after the recent discoveries announced in neighboring Senegal
There are opportunities for investment in various sectors such as tourism and the hotel industry as well as agriculture for the larger West African market. There are also opportunities for cashew processing with one of West Africa’s biggest cashew growers, Guinea Bissau, less than a day away by truck.
The government, however, has a poor human rights reputation that has dampened investment prospects. After passage in 2014 of a draconian law mandating life imprisonment for persons engaging in acts of "aggravated homosexuality," denying access to UN Special Rapporteurs investigating reports of torture and extrajudicial executions, and ongoing reports of arbitrary arrests of journalists, human rights advocates, and civil servants, the U.S. government on December 24, 2014 suspended The Gambia from eligibility to participate as a trade beneficiary under the provisions of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).
As a result of U.S. expressions of concern about The Gambia's human rights record and the AGOA suspension, the government on December 29, 2014 issued a written directive to all Ministries, Government Departments and Agencies instructing that issues regarding agricultural matters and national strategic development objectives should no longer be discussed with U.S. authorities. The directive added that this information be disseminated to all Civil Servants working at the respective institutions. The practical effect of this directive has been to limit the ability of U.S. Embassy personnel to have substantive discussions with Gambian officials without their interlocutors’ first receiving permission to meet. These restrictions severely limit the ability of U.S. Embassy personnel to advocate on behalf of American companies and individuals seeking to do business in The Gambia.
The country has a functioning bank system, although in May 2014, the Central Bank took control over two Nigerian-owned banks due to concerns over bad assets and issues with capital reserves. The international parent of one of those two banks recapitalized the local subsidiary and the Central Bank relinquished control. There are currently no restrictions on the conversion of funds. Investors may repatriate profits and dividends through commercial banks or licensed money transfer agencies at prevailing exchange rates. Bank customers can also open foreign currency denominated accounts (FCDs).
Gambian law provides the legal framework for the protection of private ownership of property and for adequate and prompt compensation in the event of compulsory acquisition. However, in January 2013, the Gambian government cancelled petroleum exploration, development and production licenses awarded to at least two foreign oil companies. One of the licenses was reinstated in early 2015 and there has been no public discussion of any type of settlement with the other companies. There have been several land disputes over the past year involving the government and private owners. Most remain unresolved, with private property owners having few if any legal options if their property is seized.
American companies seeking to invest in The Gambia often find it useful to work through a local lawyer.