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Monday, July 26, 2021

Ending poverty in The Gambia: Fantasy or possibility

Poverty is undoubtedly one of the most apparent characteristics of developing countries, and The Gambia is not an exception. Poverty rate in The Gambia remains at 48 percent with many farmers depending on subsistence agriculture. While poverty can be seen as an ambiguous concept without any specific definition, it cannot, however, be doubted that The Gambia is one of the poorest countries in Africa. The big question, however, is can we end poverty in The Gambia in our own time? While it may seem impossible to many pessimistic Gambians, I am quite confident and optimistic that we can indeed end poverty in The Gambia in our time. Some strategies have to be employed in order to finally defeat the battle of poverty in our small country.

First, we need to believe in the dream that we can end poverty in The Gambia. As Tony Robbins said in his classic Awaken The Giant Within, “if you raise your standard but don’t really believe you can meet them, you’ve already sabotaged yourself”. That is to say that we can only end poverty by starting with changing our mindsets and believing in ourselves as a people with vision and mission. Also, it is a clear fact that the leadership of the country will play the most important role in the dream of ending poverty in The Gambia. As a result, the leaders ought to wake up from their sleep and inferiority complex that our development can only be fostered by foreign aid.

The starting point towards ending poverty in The Gambia, having already changed our mindset, is for the government to encourage quality education. The government should not only build schools for the sake of building, but it should foster access to quality education that will train and provide children with the requisite knowledge and life skills that will enable them to realise their full potential. Like Nelson Mandela said, “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”.

The Gambia is not an exception to this reality. Access to quality education will not only improve the productivity of the people, but it will also train people to contribute meaningfully to the development of all sector of society. The Gambia College which is responsible for training teachers in The Gambia should come up with very stringent requirements for students opting to be enrolled there. This is the institution that trains young teachers and these young teachers in turn are deployed in various schools to teach our children. As a result, teachers who are trained in this institution should be well-grounded and well-equipped with the requisite knowledge and expertise to effectively and efficiently discharge the duty of teaching to the best understanding of the children. This will be the foundation of quality education as children will be provided with the relevant information and life skills that they can use to fight against poverty in The Gambia. 

The University of The Gambia, being the highest learning institution in The Gambia, should be equipped with the relevant tools and materials for the development of science, technology, and research. Particularly, development of research in this institution can give us new and innovative ideas as to how we can establish strategies to develop our country. A lot of investment should be directed towards this institution so that it would produce expert in different fields who will put their heads together and foster rapid development for the country. Also, the Gambia Technical Training Institute is another institution that can be made the best use of in bringing development and ending poverty in The Gambia. A lot of investment should be directed to this institution as well to enable it to purchase new equipment for the purpose of practical. This institution should be responsible for infrastructural development in The Gambia because it is the institution that prepares and trains students in the fields of construction, electricity, engineering, and so forth.

Massive creation of jobs by the government will be another breakthrough towards the eradication of poverty in The Gambia. Statistics indicate that over 65 percent of The Gambia’s population is youth, majority of whom are unemployed. This apparently contributes to the menace of criminal activities ranging from theft, robbery, killings and so on. The government should create jobs for the young people in the country so that they can also have the opportunity to contribute their quota towards the development of the nation. Establishment of factories, industries, for example, are notable ways through which the government can bring a lasting solution to the menace of youth unemployment, thereby combating poverty in The Gambia. This will also drastically reduce the criminal activities that the young people often get themselves into as a result of frustration due to unemployment, thereby increasing the productivity of the young people. Creation of factories and industries will also add to the country’s gross domestic product, as the government can generate more revenue through export of goods, taxes, thereby improving the economy of the country.

Also, what is presumably the most important step towards ending poverty in The Gambia is the exploitation of the country’s natural resources. The Gambia is blessed with many natural resources such as an ocean, River Gambia, fertile and arable land, and a youthful population. These resources are enough to make The Gambia a first world country if the leaders exploited the resources and make the best out of them. The ocean and River Gambia that we have, for example, can make The Gambia a fishing hub in the Whole of Africa. This will significantly boost the economy of the country through the export of fish and other seafood that are available in our waters. This will also reduce the problem of youth unemployment as more fishing vessels can be purchased by the government and given to the young people of the country. It will also pave the way for the establishment of fishing factories that will focus on fish processing, preservation, and export, thereby creating more job opportunities for the young people.

Furthermore, agriculture is considered to be the backbone of the country. Fortunately, The Gambia is blessed with a fertile and arable land which is ideal for crop production. This is another avenue that the leadership can use to combat poverty in The Gambia by encouraging mechanised farming to boost the economy of the country. Crops such as rice can be planted in abundance for not only the country’s consumption but for the purpose of export as well.

Essentially, the country should focus more on export in order to boost its economy. In addition, The Gambia is also blessed with a youthful population that can facilitate the production of crops for the country. The government should purchase new and modern equipment such as bulldozers, power tillers, tractors and other modern machinery for the development of commercial agriculture.

The availability of arable land should inspire the government to transform the country’s subsistence agriculture into large-scale production. This will enable the country to improve its output and effectively defeat the battle of poverty in The Gambia. Farmers should also be granted with incentives and financial assistance to transform their subsistence agriculture into large-scale production, thereby combating and ending poverty by ensuring growth in production and improving their living standards.

Tourism industry can also add significantly in the battle towards defeating poverty in The Gambia. Tourism is a very lucrative industry that can rapidly transform the economy of The Gambia if the proper strategies are put in place. The government should do a lot of investment in the tourism sector by building more hotels, which would require more manpower in their daily running, thus also contributing its quota towards combating unemployment among Gambian youths. With a population of a little over two million people, development of tourism will prove to be a very lucrative enterprise that will undoubtedly boost the economy of The Gambia. The taxes collected from tourism should be directed towards infrastructural development which is another important feature of poverty reduction and eventual eradication.

Obviously, for a country to be able to increase the productivity of its citizens, it must first protect their health. A country’s ability to providing quality health services for the people will not only increase the life expectancy of the citizens but will also make them all the more productive and enable them to contribute immensely towards the development of the country. Wherever there’s development, there’ll be reduction in poverty. When there’s reduction in poverty, happiness will be inevitable. When people are healthy, they can be able to come up with innovative ideas that can transform the country’s economy and fight against poverty in The Gambia. At this point I am reminded of an old cliché that “when there’s good health everything is possible”. As a result, access to quality health services in The Gambia will fight against poverty as it will increase the level of people’s productivity.

Increase in the country’s output will also help us achieve the dream of ending poverty in The Gambia.  The output of a country is what generates more revenue for the country, thus boosting its economy. Dependence on foreign aid will only increase the rate of poverty because such aids come along with debts that ought to be paid and that normally puts the progress of a country at halt. Instead of depending on foreign countries for the development of our country, The Gambia should increase its output in terms of agricultural products, technology and so, to compete at global markets. Increase in output will enable the country to realise its potential. The leadership of the country should be more development-oriented and direct its focus towards combating poverty on the basis of self-reliance and independence.

But, no amount of innovative idea and strategy will end poverty in The Gambia in the presence of entrenched corruption. Corruption is a monster that strips our country naked and plunges us into long lasting poverty and destitution. The leaders should be selfless and put the interest of the country before self. Massive corruption can only retard the development of the nation and increase the level of poverty, especially among the poor people because those in the highest positions in the government will continue to steal from the nation and get richer by the day, while the poor farmers will continue to live in abject poverty and destitution. If we are to end poverty in The Gambia, running for public offices should not be seen as a lucrative avenue to immerse wealth, but a national duty to contribute one’s quota towards the advancement of the country.

At this point, I can conveniently conclude that we can indeed end poverty in The Gambia in our own time. The fight towards ending poverty in the Gambia should start with the right leadership with the right mindset. Our leaders need to believe in themselves and free themselves from the belief that foreign aid can help to salvage the country. Having done that, the leadership should also provide quality education for the citizens. Quality education will equip the people with the relevant skills to becoming experts in various fields who will facilitate that much desired social and intellectual transformation, thus ending the menace of poverty in The Gambia.

Equally, creation of lucrative jobs will inevitably combat the problem of poverty and youth unemployment which is also vital in reducing crimes perpetuated by the youths as a result of frustration. Also, the government should exploit the natural resources that the country is blessed with and combat poverty in The Gambia. These natural resources are enough to boost the economy of The Gambia, and as a result, they are fundamental in fighting against poverty in the country. If the ocean, River Gambia, fertile and arable land are utilised and exploited, poverty in The Gambia will be combatted and eventually defeated.

Furthermore, the tourism sector should also be strategised in ways that will earn the government more revenue and boost the economy. Also, quality health service should be provided for the people to stay healthy and realise their full potential. This will make them more productive and make them take part in the fight against poverty.

I have a strong conviction that the dream of ending poverty in The Gambia is not a fantasy but a possibility. If countries like Rwanda, which experienced genocide barely thirty years ago, can rapidly come into the spotlight in becoming one of the richest countries in Africa, there’s no justification for the position that The Gambia is in right now. Leadership is the major factor that can facilitate the realisation of our objective of ending poverty in The Gambia. As a result, we need to be careful of who we elect as our leader if we are to achieve the dream of ending poverty in The Gambia.

Ismaila Saidybah is a writer and novelist, currently a final year student at the University of The Gambia, where he is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Language. He’s the author of the novel Sins of a Father. Saidybah is also the country coordinator of Writers Space Africa – Gambia Chapter.

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