It is the wisdom of the legendary Booker T Washington that “at the bottom of education, at the bottom of politics, even at the bottom of religion, there must be for our race economic independence”.
True as this statement is, when I saw a top Barrow administration official state that their motto for this year’s independence celebration is “economic independence is possible”, I laughed. This is the most ridiculous statement I have ever heard this government utter. For me its similitude is that of a guy constantly diving into the sea and claiming that his body will never be wet.
The problem with this government is that those in charge think they are intelligent and we are dumb. But the reverse is the raw truth.
Economics is not magic; it’s a science. Economies are built with resources, be it physical, natural or, in this knowledge economy, #human ingenuity and resourcefulness. To attain and maintain a strong and independent economy, you need to not only harness and protect your resources; you also need to invest in human capital development.
The Barrow administration is doing the very opposite of what is required:
from giving away natural resources like fish and black sand to Europe and China; to the deportation of our economically indispensable young men and women in the diaspora; Barrow and his gang of corrupt and inept officials are destroying the very fabric of our economy.
Our marine resources are being over exploited by the Chinese. Do you remember the case of the fishing trawler caught doing illegal fishing and the conversation the ship owners had with a top government official agreeing with them to bribe him and his minister US$100,000 so they could go free?
The Gambia is exporting black sand worth hundreds of millions of dollars to China. This ugly and opaque deal is being run by a close associate of President Barrow. To date, Gambians don’t have a clue how much money is being made out of this.
A serious government interested in economic independence would have created the necessary industrial facilities to process this black sand into finished goods like tiles for higher value and export; while creating employment for the economically marginalised masses of young people in this country.
So instead of creating jobs for the youths, this government is exporting jobs and helping the West to deport our youths into poverty. The tourist industry used to be of great help for the youths; but this government’s promotion of the all-inclusive system has enabled the rich hoteliers to deprive our youths and women operating on the fringes of the industry of their source of livelihood. The foreign exchange expected from tourism is all kept in the banks in the West while the poor masses deal with the negative side of tourism.
We used to have a global brand called Banjul Breweries that was generating jobs and employing young Gambians. The reckless fiscal policies of this government led to the closure of this company laying off hundreds of Gambians and sending this company away to set up shop in Senegal for production, only to use The Gambia as a warehouse.
You have all heard our trade minister saying it is okay for Gambians to import our goods through the port of Dakar when we have our own port. Dakar is expanding its port with foreign direct investment. Our port is stuck in mediocrity due to bribery and corruption that sent away the same fleeing investors that are developing the Senegalese port today.
Our land resources are also being given away to foreigners while poor Gambians are being evicted from their lands due to poor land management by this corrupt administration.
The latest saga is in Foni where this government admitted leasing out the land owned by poor farmers to an Indian. Will a Gambian ever own a plot of land in India?
They sold our seas and our land. I’m not sure about what is happening to our air space; but the horrible fish meals being established here by the Chinese are not only over-exploiting our marine resources and polluting our pristine beaches; they are also polluting the very air that our children are breathing.
Human resources development is also suffering greatly in this era. Teachers in public schools are on the verge of a sit-down strike due to nonpayment of allowances. An already broken educational system cannot afford a sit-down strike that will only affect the kids of poor people because the children of the ministers and top government officials are all going to private schools. Talk of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer as stated in the Holy Bible.
A state controlled commercial bank is giving out multi-million dollar loans to companies run by relatives and close associates of the president with insufficient collateral; and, yet, you want us to believe that we shall attain economic independence?
If your central bank is bedevilled with (de facto) contingent liabilities, then what future does your economy have? Instead of directing resources to educate our youths, this government is endangering the very fabric of our economy.
Human resources are the quintessential engines of growth and economic independence in our modern knowledge economies. If the Barrow administration is unwittingly destroying the growth and development of this resources base, then how can we attain economic independence?
A country that used to be the supermarket of West Africa earning million of dollars through the re-export trade is now ceding that competitive advantage by encouraging her citizens to use the port of Dakar to import goods.
Talk of cluelessness at its zenith. This brings to mind the timeless wisdom of the legendary Bob Marley:
“In the abundance of water
The fool is thirsty
Yes, literally, we are starved of the benefits of water: a viable productive port, when God has showeered us with this life-giving resource in abundance at the shores of Banjul.
With the outpouring of goodwill from both development partners and foreign investors during the past five years, the Barrow administration could have expanded and transformed the port of Banjul; but as clearly attested to by no less an authority than Vice President Isatou Touray many potential investors and donors ran away from the country due to greed and corrupt solicitations by government officials.
I feel really hurt hearing the trade minister making such a ridiculous statement as this at the National Assembly: “the regional policy of Ecowas is to encourage free movement of goods and services and the fact that ships are using Dakar for goods coming to Banjul is a bonus to the economy. What classic boneheadedness powered by a servile mental attitude! Why should we care about Ecowas policies on free movement when our neighbours have deliberately implemented policies to stifle free movement thereby virtually killing our re-export trade?
The Gambia surely needs economic independence but we can never get that from a Barrow-led government. We need fresh minds and hands at the helm of affairs to emancipate this country from the shackles of economic servitude. That effort must continue as we head for the National Assembly election in a couple of weeks.
The author is a former research economist and National Budget Director. He is a prolific author and motivational speaker. He served as Secretary General and Minister Presidential Affairs in the second republic. He is now eyeing a seat at the National Assembly as he seeks his party’s endorsement to run for the Busumbala Constituency seat.