One does not need to be an expert in development studies to know that development needs to be prioritised. Development advocates have not only stopped at advancing need-based approach to development, but more importantly, rights-based approach. This is premised on the notion that individuals are endowed with rights that are sacrosanct and it becomes the responsibility of every government to cater for these rights and ensure that a dignified and a prosperous life is attained. Africans can never escape from the clutches of poverty and general underdevelopment once our governments fail to recognise our problems and prioritise in addressing them. Our governments cannot afford to deliberately ignore the plight of our people in the name of fostering bilateral and multi-lateral ties with so-called development partners.
Scottish-born international political economist, Adam Smith once warned that “no society can flourish of which the greater part is poor and miserable”, that “the real tragedy of the poor is the poverty of their aspirations”. In addition, he warned that “it is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interests”. Kwame Nkrumah equally warned in the introductory chapter of his famous book, Neo-colonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism, published in 1965, a year before he was consumed by a military coup, that “the less developed world will not become developed through the goodwill or generosity of the developed powers. It will only become developed through a struggle against the external forces which have a vested interest in keeping it underdeveloped.”
Mr President, it is for this reason that those of us who are flatly in denunciation of aid are calling on the government under your leadership to be aware of these realities. It is only when our governments on the continent are cognisant of these facts that our development will be prioritised where the rights of our people such as right to life through proper health care system and guarantee of food security through a well-developed agricultural system, right to quality, affordable, accessible and relevant education, all of which shall be the combined forces of sustainable development.
Mr President, it was on the news that the foundation stone for the construction of a US$50 million conference centre has been recently laid. It behoves all genuine Gambians to ask why the construction of such a facility when the stolen millions by Jammeh are yet to be recovered, when our economy is in total bad shape which your government said it is registering steady progress on; when our hospitals are starved of drugs and equipment that ought to ease the work of our health practitioners-as people continue to die of preventable and curable diseases; when our only public university does not even have labs for its science students to carry out experiments before graduation; when we struggle to get access to drinking water on a daily basis and for the provincial area I will add ‘clean drinking water’. I am not in any way insinuating that the money involved in this construction is coming from the coffers of The Gambia Government, but it shows that our government does not lay priorities before their ‘development partners’ as far as their relations are concerned.
This might be a grant and not a loan, but as a government that is here to rectify the evils of the past, a better option for investing such an amount could have been forwarded to those providing it. It was the same misplaced priority that a multi-million dollar forensic lab is to be constructed to curb crimes. When people cried foul of such a move by your government, the Interior minister came out to justify it on the claim that the money is not coming from The Gambia Government. But this only reminds us how our development is dictated by outsiders.
In addition, have we asked ourselves why the Chinese are interested in building a conference hall for us? Of course a keen follower of Chinese diplomatic relations will understand that, as oppose to Taiwan’s ‘check-book-diplomacy’, China has what it calls ‘development-oriented diplomacy’. This development-oriented diplomacy is not in any way centred on human development per se, but on infrastructural development. Why infrastructural? The answer is simple. When building the infrastructure, it is Chinese engineers who will come on the ground and do the work and the money will go back instead of staying in the country. If our partnership is going to be of mutual respect and benefit, let them train a good number of Gambians as engineers so that we would not rely on their engineers in the long-term to build our infrastructure. Therefore, the only ‘benefit’ we will have is the structure. US$50 million is not 50 million naira or dalasi! Those who witnessed the construction of the Independence Stadium in Bakau saw Chinese engineers doing the work and in fact got a place called China Town in the now NYSS and PIA premises where they were living during the construction period.
Furthermore, it has now been revealed that every year, engineer graduates from China join over 37 million Chinese engineers around the globe to do their works in different parts of the world. A study has also revealed to us that China once decided to invest US$15 billion dollars in building roads and railways in Zambia just to get access to the country’s D600,000 barrels of oil a day. Your government has accordingly signed a duty-free trade with China.
I wonder how effective and fair trade can be between a bigger and a much smaller economy when in comparative advantage we have very little or virtually nothing to offer. The logic there is, Chinese will have easy access to our markets, even the local ones and compete with the local people. The environmental damage on the beach of Gunjur should be a concern. In fact, a recent report has indicated that bribes were given to the alkalo and some youths by a Chinese company to do what they are best at which is a threat to environmental preservation. In fact, where this facility is to be constructed is a wildlife park. Our environment is threatened Mr President in the name of bilateral ties. I do not know who your advisers are, but they are not giving you the right advices. May God help The Gambia.
Yours in the service of the nation.