By Alagie Manneh
A number of Gambian economists have countered comments made by the trade minister that using the port of Dakar for goods inbound for The Gambia is a “bonus to the economy”.
Seedy Keïta made the statement while answering concerns by lawmakers last Thursday over the high volume of goods bound for The Gambia being transited through the Dakar port.
Justifying the government’s decision for using the port of Dakar as transit point for Gambian goods, Minister Keïta cited congestions at the Banjul port, high tariffs for importers and the commissioning of the Senegambia Bridge in 2019 as reasons for the choice.
But former Central Bank economist, director of budget and opposition UDP surrogate Momodou Sabally said the move is “bad for the economy”.
Sabally told The Standard that the re-export trade was one of the biggest earners of foreign exchange for a country once dubbed the supermarket of the sub-region.
“The Senegalese, over time, have done all sorts of gimmicks to try to frustrate that,” Mr Sabally said. “They rather have goods come directly from their ports.”
He described the trade minister’s comments as another demonstration of “the lack of self-confidence and self-esteem characteristic of the Barrow administration”.
“Dakar has no natural geographical advantage over the port of Banjul in terms of what could be done here,” Sabally added. “What Keïta is saying is nothing but a demonstration of the lack of self-esteem and lack of patriotism that’s characteristic of this government.”
Speaking along the same lines, economist Nyang Njie warned that the country is edging closer to “doom and gloom”, adding that “pretty soon” The Gambia will be another region of Senegal.
“The Ministry of Trade is one of the most important portals to a country’s development aspirations. Having a minister of trade who believes that using another country’s port infrastructure at the expense of ours is a significant economic move spells doom,” Mr Njie said.
In a Facebook post, he reminded of the glory days when The Gambia was considered one of the most important trading hubs in the region. “This spurred a transit market that kept The Gambia afloat. Those days are long gone thanks to corruption, archaic infrastructure and incompetence.”
He said that although a lot of “mess” has happened since the coming of the Barrow administration including bad “stevedore services and unsustainable policies”, there is light at the end of the tunnel.
He advised the president; “In your new term in office, you must be circumspect in choosing better trade, finance and energy ministers. These three sectors will determine how businesses thrive, how Gambians will access affordable food prices and energy…,” Mr Njie advised.
Malaysia-trained economist and politician, Mamadi Kurang, said the minister should fix the inefficiency at the Banjul port rather than taking pride in Gambian goods being transited through a foreign country.
“This situation is simply because of lack of investment, lack of management and obviously, the government not putting its money where its mouth is. If you know the port is our main source of income in terms of taxes, you should match it up with proper management and investment. Bottom line is, goods coming to The Gambia via Dakar is not the solution; it means we are at the mercy of the Senegalese government.”