GCCI BUSINESS AWARDS DINNER @ 30 YEARS History & Milestones

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The Gambia Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Agriculture and Employers’ Association will be organizing the 30th edition of the GCCI Annual Business Awards Dinner on the 25th of November, 2022 at the Tamala Beach Hotel & Resort under the theme “Business Resilience-Beyond the Storm”.

The GCCI have since time immemorial, organized the annual dinner with the primary purpose of bringing together the members of the Chamber to socialize after focusing on their business activities throughout the year. It provided an opportunity for members to interact amongst themselves, with friends and colleagues in Government. It served the purpose of both social and business exchanges away from the confines of office transactions.

During the first republic, The Chief Patron of the event was non other than the Founding Father of the republic of the Gambia, Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara. He looked forward to the event, and never missed one. He graced the occasion always with absolute delight and performed all functions that were asked of him. It was always a pleasure. There was a dress code which was highly respected. It was either to deck out in suit, dress or in full National attire. IT WAS ALL CLASS and a real Gala event.

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As a major income earner, it became the number two earner after Membership subscription. At the secretariat, for the first time in the Gambia, the sale of corporate tables was introduced as additional touch of class, and revenue draw. There were built-in benefits for those that purchased corporate tables in the three different Categories named Gold, Silver, and Bronze. Ministers of state were hosted at Gold Corporate Tables bought on first come first served basis. It was an opportunity to for members whilst hosting such dignitaries to have the chance to interact and talk business as well. Corporate Tables were sold at the time at D10, 000.

The first corporate tickets bought, were sold at the Boardroom of the National Trading Corporation, NTC on Liberation Ave. The first buyers were the ten Board members, who felt that they should always lead by example. It paid off, as the dinner was completely sold out. It is noteworthy to mention that during that time, Mr. Charbel Elhajj, Proprietor of NTC and Boule & Co, ably chaired the team from the Secretariat responsible for all social events, the annual dinner in principle.   

In the genesis of dinners organized by The Chamber, there were two major ones held in the year for a purpose.

o          The Annual Dinner

o          The Post Budget Dinner.

Having given an overview of the Annual Dinner, which was the mother of both and other social events including receptions, it will be useful to learn about that of The Post Budget Dinner.

The Post Budget Dinner was also an annual event held in honour of Government, after a busy period of interactions including the private sector, through consultation with the Chamber in the preparation of Government’s Annual Budget.  The Post Budget dinner was normally held after the presentation of the annual budget by the Honourable Minister of Finance, to the House of Parliament then, now the National Assembly. It served as a conduit for response to the presented Budget.

The Minister of Finance at the time, for this special event, has always been the Chief Guest of Honour. We have witnessed many, and they were always lively. The occasion presented the opportunity for The Chamber to react to the budget and to expound on its implication to the ability of the private sector to respond to its obligations as spelt out in the budget. It gave food for thought to the Minister and his team to revisit the concerns raised and how to dovetail them into their action plan for the year.

The post budget dinner provided a good opportunity also, for the Private sector to know, if the budget as presented, would be private sector friendly budget, and if not, how it would impact their operations. This great event was discontinued for no reason. Maybe in view of its importance and relevance, the recalibrated GCCI should reconsider a revival and make it part of the Chamber’s calendar of events.

In 1992, The GCCI felt that Members over the years, have been making steady and meaningful contribution in their respective roles, in their respective to the development of the country in particular, and the economy in general. Employment was created. Jobs in the private sector were complimenting Government’s effort in this sector, especially having gone through the restructuring of the Gambian Economy with the accompanying difficulties before realizing the anticipated adjustment. The structural Adjustment programs with the IMF and the World Bank such as Economic Recovery Program ERP did well to graduate the economy to the popular Program for Sustained Development, the PSD. It was a collective effort and total commitment. Unfortunately, as fate would have it, an untimely and unwanted interruption came in uninvited, to rewrite the regrettable economic and peaceful trajectory that ensued, removed from the wheels of fortune and hope, the lubricant which would have greased and made the well-designed Singapore-modelled economic machinery tick to the land of success; but instead, it derailed the train of chance at fastest speed to “the unknown city of had I known” and regret.

This was the take off period that would have seen the Gambia achieved its Singapore Dreams. The GCCI Secretariat with the full and unflinching support of its strong and vibrant Board, came up with the idea to begin recognizing annually, members who have performed extremely well and were outstanding among peers. Meaning the first amongst equals.

Initially, the Awards were limited to few categories such as, Businessman of the Year, Industrialist of the Year, Outstanding Service to GCCI. Over the years as it evolves, more categories were added including the Award for Businesswoman of the Year, to become more inclusive and sector specific, as they were considered.

At inception, the selection process for the awards were done in-house by a committee mandated by the Board. The first selection process was conducted at the NTC Board, were at the time was the meeting venue of the Board, under the Chairmanship of the late Housainou M.M. Njai of blessed memory.

After a thorough review of the nominees, the committee agreed unanimously on the winners. It was agreed further that the results should not, under any circumstances, be revealed to anyone; not even Board members, until the moment when the awards were to be announced at the night of the dinner.

On the engravement of the names of winners on the awards, it was left until late, to have them done under the supervision of CEO Kebba Tamsier Njie at the IBM Jobe Dollar gold and silver smith complex located at Tobacco Road in Banjul. It is essential to mention all those who in one way or the other, made their invaluable contribution towards the success of this great event, particularly, the inaugural one. 

As time would have, the Chief Patron for the first Award Banquet, was His Excellency Alhagie Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara, First President of the Gambia. He was accompanied to the Gala event by First Lady Madame Chillel Jawara. The venue was the famous Kairaba Hotel. Time was given its full respect.

The hall was full to capacity before the arrival of Sir Dawda and his entourage. State Ministers and Board members were all gathered for light reception awaiting to welcome our Chief Patron. Protocoled ably, by Mr. Ebou Ndure and fittingly too, Sir Dawda and Lady Chilel arrived well on time to relax a little bit and exchanged greetings with the awaiting dignitaries in the VIP of the Kairaba Hotel before he and the first lady were ushered into the colourful and lively Jama Hall for the Banquet.

The crowd awaited in exuberance, and excitingly rose to their feet to welcome, the President in a r standing ovation; he was led to his seat at the high table. After he was allowed take his sit, momentarily, this was followed by the National Anthem to which all rose up again.

The night was full of excitement with a loaded program. There were raffle draws during and after the sumptuous food served. Items for the raffles were generously donated by Members. The Chamber never felt short of willing friends to donate and subscribe to its development.

The main attraction of the night was certainly the Awards that were to be presented. Everyone was anxious to know who the winners would be. The Chairman for this occasion was Housainou M.M. Njie of blessed memory assisted by CEO Kebba Tamsier Njie. His Excellency President Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara did the favour and honour of presenting the awardees as they were called to the podium to receive their awards.

The first ever winner in the history of the Businessman of the Year Award is Mr. Mustapha Njie of TAF Construction; when his name was announced something peculiar happened, he was seated at the corporate table bought by his company TAF Construction and at the table sat his wife, uncle late Dr. Ebrima Samba of blessed memory and staff of the company. The moment Taf was announced as the winner of the Businessman of the Year, uncle Dr. Ebrima Samba flew out of his seat and punched his fist in the air in total happiness, hugging his nephew Taf in celebration of his victory.

This was momentous and eye-catching for those who could remember it. What it meant to Taf, only he, could tell. 

The first ever winner in the history of the Industrialist of the Year Awards is the late Alhaji Sankung Sillah of blessed memory, of Sankung Sillah & Sons. He was accompanied to occasion by his family and staff who all shared in the joy of the man for long years of persistence and hard work; operating at the time in sector that faced lots of challenges but still refused to give in.

The final award which was given, was to the person who has dedicated his time, energy, resources and rendered many years of service at the helm of the organization, it went to immediate outgoing President of the Chamber Alhaji Alieu Mboge for his selfless and dedicated leadership to the Chamber through the difficult period of the Economic Recovery Program and subsequent Program for Sustained Development. He led the Chamber well and showed fortitude and courage in his leadership.

In announcing the winner his successor as President, Housainou M.M. Njie referred to him as a “dedicated son of this soil”. He was honoured in the midst of friends and family. He has since gone, but never to be forgotten by GCCI.

In the ensuing years the new leadership in the GCCI boards added new dimensions to the event. Under the dynamic and transformative leadership of Abdoulie Mahtarr Touray popularly known as Bax  Touray, a committee was set up to include members outside of the Board to work with the with secretariat and assist in the organization of the dinner as well as the National Trade Fair.

This period ushered in the inclusion of the Independent Electoral Commission under the stewardship of the late Anglican Bishop of the Gambia the right reverend Solomon Telewa Johnson, including Mr. Benjamin Carr, and others. They were given the total responsibility to independently guide and conduct the process of selection for the nominated candidates for the respective awards. The criteria for qualification was set and respected.They were carried out seamlessly.

The first Hollywood-style announcement to the awards were adopted and introduced by the humorous late Bishop Telewa Johnson of blessed memory, in his words that captured the loud applause of the audience when he said, “Ladies and gentlemen, we are now going Hollywood-style”.  

As the years rolled by, and evolution had its say, many additions were made to the list of the awards as business takes a different turn; the Chamber also evolves in respond to the growing trends and increased membership. The annual awards dinner still the major social event, no longer became the main source of income other than Membership dues.

A noteworthy GCCI Annual Dinner Awards was the 2012: following a poor rainy season and crop failure GCCI donated GMD 500,000.00 to the Gambia Government Relief efforts for Gambian Farmers. In same year GCCI moved to its Head Quarter and final home aptly named Kerr Jula in Bijilo. This is quite an achievement and indeed a milestone in the history of the organization. The ECOWAS Protocol has enhanced the reexport trade the Gambia is renowned for, firmly cementing the GPA as strategic port in West Africa and contributed significantly to the resource base of the GCCI in the past ten years.

After many years of hard work, and pursuit since in the period of the decade of the nineties, the Interstate Road Transit ISRT Protocol of ECOWAS was operationalized in 2012 under leadership of President Bai Mattaar Drammeh with considerable support  from the Ministry of Trade under the dynamic leadership of then Minister Hon. Kebba Satou Touray and the extraordinary public servant Mrs. Naffie Barry as the Permanent Secretary then. They are true friends of GCCI and deserve recognition.

 For thirty years the awards dinner was the GCCI’s Flagship Networking and Peer Recognition Event therefore it is entirely fitting and proper to celebrate this anniversary in grand style. At 30 years of age, the event has accomplished immensely for GCCI as major attraction and recognition, drawn emulation and inspiring others who felt that for one reason or the other, they too should give out awards of recognition. At 30 years of age, history is made at GCCI, a new era is given birth. At 30 years of age, GCCI sits for the first time ever in the organization’s history the first female Chief Executive office CEO Sarata Conateh at the helm of the secretariat.

At 30 years of age, the awards dinner ushered in a new President, Edrissa Mass Jobe. Mr. Jobe’s belief in the idea of total inclusion and a new CEO who spent a lifetime professional career path at GCCI should bond neatly to introduce new ideas that would make the next Awards Dinners more attractive, rebranding, recognition of many who served the Chamber, its longstanding members who have been there since time immemorial and continue to be; and accompanying new attractions that will for years to come, bring ever growing excitement and relevance for all to look forward to. This is the path of hope roadmap that is expected to written going forward in the next chapter of the annals in the history of GCCI.

Long live the awards dinner,

long live GCCI.