Reducing the duty on imported flour from 47% to 20%, and eliminating import restrictions on onions and potatoes are MISGUIDED policies, with all good intentions.
These policies will further increase our annual food import bill, export jobs, weaken the Dalasi and decimate our agricultural sector. No wonder Africa’s annual food import bill is estimated to rise to $110 billion by 2025.
The right policy direction should have been in twofold. (1) maintain the 47% whiles the government only receives the normal 20%. (2) the revenue from this ‘tax differential’ (47-20%) be used to establish Gambia’s first PURE Agricultural Development Bank which will offer low interest-rate loans to those interested in producing these goods in the Gambia whiles employing Gambia’s youthful population. Remember, our youths are unemployed and more than 60% of our fertile land remains uncultivated.
Removing these trade restrictions implies (a) China/India you can dump your excess agricultural products in the Gambia (b) increased migration via the Mediterranean Sea to seek for jobs in potato plantations in Spain.
Encouraging trade liberation in any African economy is “Voodoo economics”. International trade is like a busy traffic with huge Lorries and small cars. Without traffic lights and regulations, big countries will crush out small countries. Adam Smith, who is regarded as the father of modern economics, wrote extensively in support of trade liberation but was making his livelihood implementing trade restrictions.
Nigeria could be a lesson
Federal Republic of Nigeria could serve as important case study for emerging democracies that have undergone tumultuous transition from brutal dictatorship. In 1999, shortly after the end of military rule in Nigeria, religious fantastic both in the Mainly Muslim North and Christian/Animist South engaged in deadly showdowns using the cover of new found freedom and loosening security. Local farmers and cattle ranchers also took part in several running battles causing loss of lives and destruction to property. In some of these instances, irresponsible journalism played catastrophic roles, broadcasting/disseminating sensational messages and inciting violence by hiding behind freedom of speech.
In the Gambia, the most cherished accomplishment after the defeat of tyrant is the environment to speak our minds and engage in debates without fear but I am afraid this is being hijacked by fringe elements to divide our country. By the poignant and repulsive actions of the few, we are seeing a rise in tribal sentiments and demarcation of imaginary tribal lines, a fact hitherto unknown in our society.
At the heart of this explosive crusade is none other than Pa Nderry Mbai and Sulayman Shyngle Nyassi both of whom have absolutely nothing to lose in a burning Gambia they are trying so hard to realize. Unlike many of their counterparts in the West who go above and beyond to assist family members back home through remittances, these two loud mouths have no connection with their families nor with their communities. The duo cannot lay moral claim to representing the good of the country when they are never there for their own families.
Yahya Jammeh had tried to rewrite history with attempts to sow seeds of discord between and among our tribes, but Gambians realized that he was after all the common enemy whose tormenting enterprise affected every tribe and every region in our country, thus presenting him the shocking defeat of his life at the December Polls. Messrs Mbai and Nyassi are now carrying the inflammatory and divisive baton left behind by Yahya Jammeh. It is evident in their reporting, breaking news and analysis full of nameless sources as they work to polarize our nation by pitting Jolas and others against Mandinkas.
Although Gambia has a disproportionate number of tribes, it is neither a sovereign nor a complete state in the absent of even one of these tribes that make up the country. Each tribe’s rights to protection, security, liberty and public benefits must be a national agenda and anyone denied of these rights on the incontrovertible account of his/her tribal affiliations must be willing to pursue the matter to the very end and shall enjoy full and unalloyed support from Gambians of all walks of life.
It remains my firm belief that our new government has not pursued nor is it guided by tribal considerations in all its appointments. I challenge anyone to provide irrefutable evidence in any instance where the Barrow Administration, or more broadly, our institutions, have engaged in tribal-based favoritism over qualifications, skills, competence and other meritorious factors. If such exist anywhere within the system, I call for immediate establishment of government oversight or institution watchdogs with legal powers to deal with these cases for immediate and appropriate redress.
But, in as much we want to hold the three arms of our government accountable, answerable and transparent, we must also demand responsibility from the Fourth Estate in the broader national security interest. Journalists must be free to do their work but private Gambian citizens, heads of departments, corporations and even ministers should be empowered to seek damages for libelous, unfair, and spiteful journalistic works against their persons or establishments. In Medical and Legal practices, folks are liable to lose their licenses for certain malpractice that are deemed detrimental to individuals and societies. I am wondering why unprofessional journalists should be given the carte blanche or full discretionary powers to intimidate and lie against people while inciting others to violence and dividing communities, threatening national security in the process.
Our country and its innocent people cannot be held hostage by sensational, inaccurate, insidious and hostile journalism in the name of freedom of speech. Time for professional journalist bodies to protect the ethical principles of this noble profession by demanding responsibility from rogue journalists, hold them accountable and openly and unequivocally condemn their blatantly unprofessional behaviors. It is one thing to rally behind your colleagues when they are being victimized for doing their jobs but it is also another thing to keep mute when they are the ones victimizing others. Speak up against injustice including when journalists are the ones committing acts of injustice.
Zakaria Kemo Conteh