I could hear it in the tone of his voice when I spoke to him in a recent interview which covered a wide range of issues. The thrill in his eyes as he offered his take on development matters was palpable. He is a man who believes in Africa and its potential to achieve quantum developmental leaps in this century which it has been widely tipped with high levels of economic growth.
Mr Jobe also preaches with passion and conviction the need for a paradigm-shift on the approach to employment creation through social entrepreneurship. The inauguration of his 12-million dollar Empas poultry farm by the vice president on behalf of the president in October as part of events marking the celebration of July 22nd constitutes a turning point in EMJ’s commitment to employment creation.
The double agenda of food self-sufficiency and youth employment seems to be one that EMJ has hoisted onto his broad shoulders with unwavering faith in its attainability despite the country’s paucity of resources. “We want to do multiple projects that focus on employing a lot of young people,” he says of EM Holding, the parent company of Empas. “For me, national development is about productivity and not endowment.”
But more than that, EMJ’s dreams for a prosperous and a bold new Gambia are inextricably entangled with those of the country’s many loaded development objectives. For many years, the development of the youths has been one of his most ardent quests. And despite the passage of time, his taste for the development of his country and Africa as a whole has never dwindled. He contends that the overall theory for the development of nations does not lie in how much wealth they have but rather in productivity.
Despite having a top job with Shell Company with bright prospects for further mobility on the corporate ladder, Mr Jobe believes amassing personal wealth is less important than creating more equal societies. Materialistic societies, he warns, portend threats to their own development. “I come from a family that is not affluent and I am not materialistic…… I believe in employment creation,” he declares.
The Banjul-born social entrepreneur posits that more Gambians must be put back to work as a sure route to economic development and independence, and argued that there is no such thing as political independence without economic independence. “It doesn’t matter what they produce when people are put to work…… It can be onions or aeroplanes but you have to have a productive system,” he continues.
“Countries don’t produce but it’s the people and then there are two factors. Firstly, you have to have adequate labour utilisation which is to have as many percent of people at work. The higher the percentage of the population going to work, the better the economic situation but their productivity level must also be high.”
Flanked on the left by a childhood friend at his very office along Kairaba Avenue, EMJ oozes supreme confidence about the prospects for The Gambia, but is yet deeply perturbed by the pervasive sense of limitation among people whose mindsets greet every good development idea with great pessimism.
He notes that people must yearn and aspire for positive goals in life and breakaway from sabotaging good ideas for development. “The people have to be bold in order to allow for the birth of a bold new Gambia….. America, for example, is a bold country because when one of its presidents said they were going to Mars, there was no plan but they finally went,” he says. “The problem is that in Africa everybody is busy killing each other’s ideas. I used to work for a company and I used to tell them, anytime somebody comes with an idea, you must find two good reasons to support it before you can say it’s not a good idea.”
Notwithstanding, EMJ admits a lot of factors are going to be key to give rise to the bold new Gambia. Issues of productivity, investment and involvement, are key words in his dictionary. He speaks a language of the optimist and thinks high of agriculture as a good pointer to the country’s future greatness. “You will notice that in the West there are mechanisms that ensure that wealth is distributed. In Africa, a lot of wealth is generated but our people do not benefit from that wealth. The amount of wealth generated by the economy is still the same but it’s only a few people who benefit. Let us Africans be involved in the process of wealth generation and distribution particularly The Gambia”, he adds.
In many ways, the social entrepreneur also thinks poultry is one sector that can promote youth employment and national productivity. He notes that in order for the country to generate a south-ward move in youth unemployment, avenues must be explored for the people to become employment creators. “Poultry is the lowest investment that a poor household can do,” he argues darting his eyes this way and that. It just requires maybe one hundred dalasi to buy a one-day old chick, the feed and you have a poultry business. If you sell this and make a profit of D50, after two cycles, you will have D100. This is the first step out of poverty.”
Jobe believes the country’s poultry industry will improve the livelihood of local communities if there was a ban the importation of chicken. He argues that this will not only reduce poverty but will also promote local production. “If we were to ban the importation of chicken in The Gambia, Gambians in their neighbourhood will have a young person who will take D1, 000 to have his own layer,” he postulates and adds:. “Every day, the person will have 10 or 20 eggs to sell with a profit of say D100. The business will also not stop him from going to school or work. That is the beauty of poultry as a first step in what I call a livelihood strategy.”
The Gambia, he believes, can be an economic power to be reckoned with as well as an exporter of ideas and a centre of innovation. EMJ further thinks that the realm of idea creation and sharing should be the final point of alignment for the thousands of promising Gambians. “This is my dream and I hope it’s going to work,” he says. “It is not about Eddy Jobe. It is about all Gambians and The Gambia.”
Lamin Njie is a sub-editor at The Standard newspaper]]>