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Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Economic analysis of the Gunjur-Kartong situation and beyond

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By Alagie Jinkang

Government of any given society must play it cards well to prevent chaos. Conflicts and even violence might be inevitable where economics and legal analysis of the ecology are handle poorly by the authorities responsible. For any democratic government to maintain its loopholes out of transparency, its economic and legal foundations must be strong. They must manifest beyond doubts that their policies and operations are to the best interest of the masses.

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Fishing, mining or the extraction (exploitation) of any natural resource is important for the development of any society. This is not news of course to any unattended development oriented citizen. Like the mining at Kartong, the fishing industry in Gunjur and the extraction of other natural resources in some closed or distanced locations within the Gambian territory should be promoted if it suits the developmental goals of The Gambia and the dwellers of that particular locality.

 

All exploitation activities on the Gambian soil must be stopped if the harms they inflict on our natural and social ecology are greater than the marginal gains (national benefits). That is to say, if the externalities are more than the gains, it becomes a government responsibility to legislate on the stoppage of any such activity.

 

But to the welfare of Gambian people and to the people of Gunjur-Katong and the dwellers of these mining sites, the government of The Gambia and the civil society and lovers of our fragile ecology must carry out a balance study of all such activities in other to protect our environment and maintain sustainability of our limited resources on the one hand, and, to provide economic opportunities where exploitation of a particular natural resource does less harm on the other. It is a matter of balance sheet on the harm and the good induced by any economic activity in natural resources, even though it is extremely difficult, if not unfair, to put human lives in a cost benefit analysis, a sacrifice of a resource for a greater gain can be given a chance.

 

And in situations like ours where the land belongs to the state and other economic activities are not as promising, citizens must engage their authorities to present a balance sheet on every government led economic activity that can potentially pause an environmental threat on the community, and the Gambia as a whole.

 

To begin with, let us look at the economic growth of The Gambia with all natural resources inclusive. Apparently, agriculture and tourism are the main economic pillars that sustain the people of The Gambia, (needless to go into that transparent analysis) and this is even truer for both Gunjur and Kartong. But let say the people of Gunjur Kartong are not farmers and cannot attract tourism, then our analysis will be different. Maintaining that both Gunjur and Kartong are strong farming communities and both are a source of attraction for tourism (than many other local communities), and that the fishing and mining activities will directly affect the growth of both industries negatively without producing outstanding economic growth to The Gambian people as a whole, no economics analysis will support the exploitation.

 

If by any means, the extraction of any type of natural resources will meaningfully elevate the GDP of The Gambia, ‘commensurable’ compensations should be given to the dwellers of both Gunjur and Kartong where necessary and the mining operations will continue to boom the economic status of the nation regardless to whether the dwellers support it or not.

Unfortunately, exploitation of natural resources by these venture capitalists are sometimes too difficult to ascertain all the externalities: (a) because there is generally very little government control and most of the times the exploiter has more economic power, (b) the technological and knowledge asymmetry between the victims (community and government affected) and the exploiter are usually the major causes of the maltreatments and deliberate negligence (the two are usually in a polarised relationship, usually to the greatest advantage of the exploiter), and (c) the clandestine contracts and inhumane and unfriendly extractive activities are usually a result of bad governance (largely induced through corruption and embezzlement of public funds that should be directed to other national needs instead). We must be clear here that some form of extraction must be done anyway, when and how it should be done must be the exclusive legitimate power of Gambian citizens.

 

In a situation where the citizens of Gunjur and Kartong do not benefit from the activities at all, and the benefits are not enjoyed by the Gambian people, no bad government will continue with such economic ends. However, if employment is provided, infrastructure sustained or is/to be improved and agriculture unaffected, the fishing or mining should go ahead.

 

Even where the tourism sector is brought to a standstill, agricultural activities affected, and the people of Gunjur and Kartong benefit nothing directly from the activities, our main concern should be what are the most productive economic and sustainable means to our developmental goals? Are we for the exploitative capitalists adventurists or the agricultural and tourism industries? In any case, wherever such an exploitation happens, there is always a give and take relationship. It can be that we relinquish our environment and good health for nothingness as it has generally been the case, or, we can wake up and defend our ecology with laws that are fairer to our sustainable livelihood paradigms. We must not allow rich continents or unfair contracts to destroy our ecology. We must be able to provide for our own needs without destroying our natural and social ecology and we must also not compromise future generations’ ability to satisfy their own needs. It’s a dual process.

 

For the purpose of simplicity, let say $2 million is the output of the agricultural sector and $1 million from the tourism industry, and with these $2 million altogether, the Gambian GDP still remains very low and with the operations of the mining and fishing industries, a $50 or more million increment is added to the GDP and is such activities are compensated by lesser environmental harms, it will be unwise to oppose just for the sake to it. But unfortunately, this is not the case.

 

Let us suppose that the people of Gunjur and Kartong are unhappy with the mining or fishing industries because they are reluctant to abandon their ‘unproductive’ farms for such activities and are happier with showing their culture and beautiful beaches to tourists, or the mining activities are a potential source of nuisance, however, where development is the main concern, the Gunjur and Kartong people might remain to be unhappy but the economic analysis will give way to the mining and fishing activities to continue. And even when the government (or the mining company) pays 50% of the total output of the mining industry to the government ninth form of taxes and only 20% per cent to the dwellers of these communities as injunctions or compensations, it is still more profitable for the mining industry to continue operations both for the welfare of the Gunjur and Kartong people and to that of The Gambia as a unit.

 

It appears to me more as a problem of our own technological underdevelopment to maximise our own resources compounded by our governments incompetence to regulate the activities of these venture capitalists rather than anything else that is the cause of our present situation.

At the worst stage, supposing that the mining industry is more promising and sustainable towards our economic goals (and positive conditions), even though the old culture of agriculture and tourism are abandoned, is less important. The economic and legal analysis might only give compensations to those whose livelihoods are directly affected by this mining industry regardless to whether the mining industry is itself a Gambian or not. Even were the products of the industry are to be sold to the local dwellers or not, this is not sufficient for the mining industry to seize its operations if the taxes it gives to the government are greater.

 

When we turn our lenses to welfare economics, Gunjur and Kartong dwellers will still have to adapt with the new development. The land which belongs to the government must not be used for unproductive means especially when matters of development are at stake. Cultures are lenses of perceptions, sources of moral reality and are not static. Culture itself is developmental from philosophy to practise. The culture of both Gunjur and Kartong are embed in one or more other cultures in The Gambia and even though their cultures must not be arbitrarily altered, it must also welcome ‘development’ where necessary.

 

If the economic analysis of the government of The Gambia favours mining and fishing industries at a profitable and sustainable rate and these profits (regardless to whether they are totally consume by corruption or not) make up the GDP grow, the activities must continue from this angle. Even welfare economists look first at where there are resources and later distribute them. We must first recognised the economic realities behind our activities and then rightfully allocate resources accordingly without ignoring the harms that come with every exploitation.

 

For any mistake from the government to abandon the mining and fishing activities to win votes from the local people of Kartong or Gunjur, given no importance to economic and ecological analysis first, still the people of Gunjur and Kartong under any circumstance are not maximising the utilities of their resources. They will not be make better off. It will be more effective and efficient when the conflicting parties meet to reach meaningful conclusions for peaceful development.

 

Since this analysis is about a state owned resource and not a private property, we should give it a general overview and a critical evaluation before compounding mistakes for or against our developmental visions. The government legally will support it activities and can also do so without threatening or imprisoning the opposing voices. Detaining citizens for their opposition to activities happening in their environment will restrict the activities of the locals and promote the activities of venture capitalists but will not tell good of a legal activity (if at all it is). And detaining or imprisoning there citizens will only eat into the GDP without any economic justification especially over matters that could be easily solved by breaking a cola-nut between the parties in conflict.

 

This analysis’ main attention has, of course, centred on the fishing and mining activities which the author considered as both a solution and a problem in the Gambian political atmosphere. For any progress into mining the natural resources of The Gambia, the locals must be given the active part, the central role. That is, they must take part in the decision making process and transparency should dictate every other thing therein. When transparency is assured, the Gunjur-Kartong people will be less violent. But where mining, fishing and other activities continue to be done clandestinely or without any careful consideration to the environment, “disappointments” like that claimed by the youths of Gunjur -Kartong will prevail and then we are all dead in the long run, inevitably.

But what if a bigger problem than what is at play should happen because of the fishing and mining activities? Still economic analysis has a better solution. Economic analysis will prevent or lessen the harms the harm by appropriately dislocating those lives that are affected by the activities. Even though this will bring another economic analysis in settling these people to new homes, it does not really matter if the GDP highly depends on their dislocation.

 

The government of The Gambia and the direct victims of Gujur-Kartong and other places, can/should/must work together to find an fairer developmental plan that is less harmful to the Gambian natural and social ecology (also as a gateway to other inevitable exploitations in an increasingly globalising world).

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