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Looking beyond financial aid and grants in contemporary Gambia

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By Andrew Sylva

The development, growth and management of The Gambia have been far flung. Gambia has passed through the excruciating and painful experience of colonial exploitation (just like other African countries) that had robbed her of ancestral and God- given natural resources that would have been channelled into proper use to benefit her citizenry. Its development efforts have been marked with vicissitudes that at a time in their colonial development trajectory an idea was hashed if the country would be exchanged with other countries in the sub-region. This was ostensibly based on the fact that The Gambia was seen as not a viable entity enough, without meaningful natural resources. To achieve colonial drive the British in different occasions had to borrow money from the Sierra-Leonian Colonial Administration in order to cushion administrative overhead costs.   Though, colonialism had come and gone but its trails are still very much around the nooks and crannies of The Gambia. However, we cannot wish colonialism and its concomitant effects (aftermath) away but have to devise our own indigenous means of living with the former colonial virus of exploitation and its multiplier effects (neo-colonialism) which have refused to be flushed out from The Gambia’s blood stream.  

At independence the British reasoned that The Gambia would continue to be assisted with financial assistance in order to augment her development efforts.  The Gambia’s economy as is constituted today largely remains a donor based one, looking up for grants, handouts and aid from well-meaning developed countries of Europe and America. As it is today, the country cannot continue to be dependent on donors, aid and grants from the conceptual west and other philanthropic organisations. The thing here is for The Gambia to device its own indigenous means of generating income and development.    

This piece recommends that for The Gambia to overcome her present social, economic, political, health, education woes, etc., there is the urgent need for the people and the leadership of this country to create their own indigenous identity based on their own language, culture, technology, politics, economy, education, religion, craft, etc. that would be interwoven in good governance and transparency. This multi- dimensional approach to tackling the problems of the country would help give the country a new face-lift. Development studies have demonstrated that there is not a model or “recipe” for progress and modernization. A diversity of development policies is needed in order to face these structural problems of colonialism. Any real attempt at development must focus on the rupture of the old colonial legacy. Otherwise, social, political and economic change would purely constitute a perpetuation of actual unequal conditions that were set up during the colonial period.

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Establishment of a strong agricultural industry, capable of providing food to Gambia’s entire population is the first and most important step in economic stability for the country. Agriculture is a strong key to economic development and so, for The Gambia to further develop economically, it has to shift from current subsistence agriculture to industrial agriculture. Therefore, there is need to empower small-scale farmers, who produce the bulk of the nation’s staple foods. The agenda would include the application of micro-credit as an instrument of economic empowerment aimed at providing resources to small-scale farmers to purchase critical inputs, including improved seeds and seedlings, fertilizers, agro-processing machinery, etc. This process is expected to spur agricultural output and boost farmer’s income with a resultant promotion of economic development.

Profitability in the agricultural industry will allow for taxable property and income which the state can use to increase revenues and invest in education for what will be an increasingly unemployed labour force as a move is made from subsistence agriculture being a large part of GDP to a more manageable amount which will enable other sectors of the economy to develop.

Resource trade and manufacturing will also need to be grown in order to break from the colonial system. Recent research on colonialism opines that states need to use their resources to their own advantage and not perpetuate extravagance, despotism, opportunism, personal advancement and enrichment at the expense of the masses. The idea of enjoying the same economic and social life- styles and privileges which the former colonial/imperial administrators enjoyed should be discontinued.

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Government institutions need reorganization and empowerment. Lack of power is a universal and basic characteristic of poverty. Poverty is not solely a lack of income, but rather it is also characterized by a vicious cycle of powerlessness, stigmatization, discrimination, exclusion and material deprivation, which all mutually reinforce each other. Developing an inter-linkages approach can improve opportunities for more effective national cooperation, inclusive policies, poverty alleviation, improved national synergies, and stronger and more sustainable partnerships with even the private sector. The main driver of empowerment is economic: Governments’ main role should be to deliver inclusive, pro-poor growth. In this approach, both the quantity and quality of a country’s growth are decisive in empowering poor people, both directly, in terms of liberating them from hunger and want, and indirectly, by providing them with the means to acquire education, voice and agency.

It has to be noted that good governance which ensures decent living and employment is the best form of social security and is more effective in addressing poverty. It is also recognised that all workers whether in the formal or informal sector need to be protected as the security of their jobs and future needs to be safeguarded and guaranteed.

The development efforts of The Gambian Government are hampered by inadequate transport, communication, water and power infrastructure and good roads across the nooks and crannies of the country. The River Gambia is poorly utilized and should be upgraded to be a gate-way to other parts of West Africa. As a matter of fact, for the country to develop meaningfully and achieve the SDGs, it needs adequate infrastructure. Inadequate infrastructure remains a major obstacle towards the country achieving its full economic growth potential. The idea of depriving rural dwellers of the country of basic infrastructure should be discontinued.

Human capital development is an absolute necessity for The Gambia’s economic development. The increase in infrastructure investment will require more engineers, technicians and artisans to implement new infrastructure projects and maintain the existing infrastructure. The availability of skills is one of the elements that investors wanting to invest in a country consider with the level of skills determining the country’s productivity and competitiveness. There are a number of concerns regarding human capital development in the country and these require unique programmes focused on addressing them.

Similarly, in order to improve on Science and Technology (S&T) literacy, the foundation has to be laid and this must begin from the schools. Pupils and students must be provided with early and regular contact with technology. Exposing these groups to technological concepts and hands-on design-related activities is the most likely way to help them acquire the desired knowledge, skills, ways of thinking and acting and capabilities consistent with S&T literacy.

The Gambia’s economy needs robust diversification in many areas of production. Economic diversification holds great potential to increasing Gambia’s resilience and would contribute to achieving and sustaining long term economic growth and development in the country. Broadly-based economies, active in a wide range of sectors, and firmly integrated into the sub- region, are better able to generate healthy and sustainable growth. However, the expansion of activities in underdeveloped sectors, or indeed the development of new activities, is a significant challenge and requires a combined effort of Gambian government and the private sector and with the assistance of African countries’ stronger economies. In addition, and in light of the small size of the country’s economy, a regional approach to economic diversification is imperative to reap the benefits of larger domestic markets and economies of scale. 

The central government of The Gambia should as a matter of necessity set up Natural Resources Search Committee (N.R.S.C.) to explore the nooks and crannies of the country to search for untapped natural resources in the land. This committee should be made up of Gambian engineers, scientists, geologists, environmental specialists etc. The massive expanse of lands in the country still harbours some unidentified, untapped natural resources. Probably, who knows, one day, The Gambia may have solid and or liquid minerals to explore. There is need to maximize the available lands in the country to attain better economic growth and development.

The Gambia is a relatively poor country with little or no natural resources for now to boost with and also no money to spend on capital projects and in other essential areas which can benefit the poor masses. In this respect, the government can generate income through increasing export commodities as to raise the much-needed foreign exchange. In like manner, the idea of importing everything consumed in the country should be discontinued and in place of it, industries should be built to manufacture those basic goods and services consumed locally. This will conserve the hard-earned foreign exchange in the country. Again, if capital is obtained, it should be properly utilized. Equally, there is the need for proper economic planning at government level. Such planning should take cognizance of the nation’s priorities, avoiding white elephant projects for mere prestige and patronage. Only projects that aim at raising the living standard of the population and consolidating the country’s development efforts should be targeted.

The development of The Gambia majorly lies in its industrialization. At the moment the country has no industries that can produce basic commodities. Virtually, all products, as insignificant as candles, tooth picks, eggs, matches, soap, rice, butter, etc are all imported. This is made worse by the fact that the country does not seem to have an industrial policy. A major structural weakness of the industrial sector has been the neglect of intermediate and capital goods industries and of industries for large consumption. While the first category is essential to increased agricultural production and productivity, the second is necessary for satisfying the potential demand resulting from the increase of rural income. Indeed, Agro Industry for Food Security is appropriate for the economy of The Gambia. In order to enhance food security, it is essential that investments in agriculture go beyond improvements of on-farm productivity. Greater efforts and investments need to be devoted to development of post-production segments of agriculture value chains. Accelerated development of agro-industries will be an indispensable part of such a strategy.

The private sector can also play a role in boosting the economy of the country by driving innovations and economic activity in under-exploited sectors. It can, for instance, invest in Research and Development (R&D) for new activities. Moreover, private companies often stand at the frontier of new sectors and bring innovations to the economy. But many enterprises in The Gambia are informal, small- scale, and lack access to capital, thereby making it difficult for them to fully exploit business opportunities. In this case, the Government should find ways of boosting entrepreneurship, by creating favourable industrial and trade policies and eliminating bureaucratic obstacles to starting businesses in the country. Governments should be sensitive to the needs of the private sector, such as improving the business climate through “outreach” for constructive partnerships with the private sector. Conversely, the private sector should reciprocate by engaging with government initiatives and take the lead in driving the agenda for diversifying the economy. There is no shortage of business opportunities in The Gambia but there are bureaucratic and policy barriers. The private sector is best placed to exploit them if the barriers are eliminated.

Intensive Research and Development (R& D) are apparently lacking in The Gambia and there could be no meaningful economic development without emphasis on R&D. Therefore, it is necessary to develop a three-pronged policy for Science and Technology (S&T) development with clearly distinguished support mechanisms for basic science, applied science, extension services and education. Basic science has the fundamental role to play in enhancing the quality of higher education for scientists, engineers and the society at large. The universities must be empowered to develop explicit links between their graduate and undergraduate programmes, support intellectual and financial investments for the development of materials for science teaching as well as research work. Fellowship and Scholarship programmes abroad should be revitalized and strengthened. Fellowships should be awarded with a clear perspective of returning to productive work in The Gambia and not to stay overseas after graduation, as it does not help the country in manpower development.

The Gambian government should not be an island in its development efforts and programmes. Working in collegiality with other stronger economies like Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Ghana etc within the sub-region will accelerate her economic growth and development and consequently, improve the lives of its citizenry. Knowledge sharing should be more actively promoted in all the priority sectors of the economy to promote best practices and scaling up of successful demonstration projects. Capacity development and policy advisory technical assistance can be complemented by an Analytical Advisory Committee that would be charged with the responsibility of finding out areas of collaboration with other countries of the world in order to argument government’s efforts in the country.

Finally, the Gambian government should have a ‘new growth path and a national development plan’ to support its long-term goal of building a harmonious and prosperous society through livelihood improvement and regionally balanced and environmentally sustainable growth. Reforms should be carried out to stem rising income inequality, address structural imbalances and further open up the economy for further development. Public expenditure should be geared towards livelihood improvement, and strong support should be provided to education, healthcare, social security and public housing. Infrastructure should remain a high priority with an emphasis on promoting rural development and emerging strategic industries, in particular modern clean energy and environment-friendly technologies, while piloting development of green and low carbon cities. Depending on financial assistance, grants and aid from donors is not sustainable at all, we have the brain and the brawn to live outside handouts from the developed world.

Foreign aid goes from poor people in rich countries to rich people in poor countries – Rand Paul.

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