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Friday, August 19, 2022

Where are the millions going? A time to rethink our development philosophy?

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By Muhammed Lenn

Watching from far away, the development philosophy of the Barrow administration half a year into the presidency shows that development will not kick start during his tenure as long as things continue this way. First, there was the $50 million grant from China for a multipurpose conference center and 2,500 tons of rice; then came an agreement with Senelec to supply electricity to the Gambia and finally Mai’s $48 million grant for a microbiology lab.


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On the surface, these may all look good and “demonstrates the good will of the international community to the new Gambia” as Barrow would say but in fact they are at worst obstacles to development and at best “cosmetic policies”. Why obstacles to development? Development theorists would argue that development is not just material, but also non-material (ideation). In other words, the way a nation thinks about development could either lead to development or underdevelopment. The empirical evidence on this is substantial. Once a people think that their development lies in the hands of others’ good will, they cease to be proactive, independent and resolute. They become dependent, beggars, and passive development actors.


This is what I have been seeing on many communiques and casual conversations. That the goodwill of the international community equates to or would lead to development. The repercussion is that all policies to be formulated would be implemented as and when the donor community wants. A recent example is the validated “Roadmap to Tackle Electricity Shortage” awaiting the donor community. Guess why vision 2020 and PAGE failed? Their implementation was depended on the donors’ goodwill.

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At a practical level, the international donor community have no goodwill for development as the government thinks. This is proven by their failure to meet the 0.7% of GDP target for ODA to the developing countries. They don’t feel a sacred responsibility to give out the way we feel in receiving as poor. The donor community is largely secular, it looks for interests be it hard or soft and the nonsecular promotes an ideology, values which may not be in line with the economic needs or human development agenda of the masses. Just imagine Saudi donating tons of date! Would that promote the human/economic development of the Gambia?


Take China’s grant for example, whose idea was it to build the conference center? Not average Gambians because it would not benefit them in any way. Supporters argue that it will bring jobs, but such may be seasonal and largely limited if one understands the nature of such projects in the developing world. Probably the government knows this, but they are interested in white elephant projects to counter Jammeh’s discourse on his infrastructural projects. The likely beneficiaries would be ministers and senior civil servants shuttling their offices and the center. If it was accepted because that is what the money was meant for, it shows that the government would continue acting like Jammeh. It is the style of donors to fund such projects. What about if the money were to be used to fund the building of an ultramodern hospital or health center?


Now forward to China’s donation of 2500 tons of rice (45, 350 (50kg) bags) to the Gambia. Of course, the Gambia needs rice but China needs it most as the top rice importer. It imports more than 4,700 metric tons a year. Since China does not produce enough rice for itself, asking them to give us the value in money, so that farming communities are trained and provided with improved breeds and seeds for food self-sufficiency would have been better. Or get the money and set a high price for local rice next year. Then buy the rice from our farmers for school feeding or similar initiatives. Such could have motivated many to join farming. Oh NO, the Chinese said they have rice and we took it. So, our development is dependent on the choices of others!


On the agreement with Senelec, 61% of Senegalese have access to (erratic) electricity supply while in rural areas, it is 17%, thus one wonders how Senegal would leave its citizens to sell electricity to Gambians. Since Senelec would not exist without money, one wonders is Senelec going to abandon Senegalese to sell it at higher prices to Gambians or would it be at cheaper prices to Gambians, a trap to make the Gambia dependent for untold geopolitical interest. Air and sea transportation and electricity are so important that many development theorists and actors would want to see it in the hands of the state.


And then one asks, why $48 million for a lab to establish identities when we are lacking Xray machines, medications, labs for our natural and physical science students in the university? Why not educate our people first? In fact, Mai Fatty recently lamented to deputies the plight of the police force, stating that 30 people were sharing one toilet at the police quarters. But still he went for a forensic lab! And still we are rebuked! It just shows that the administration’s idea of development is off track for now. Thus, at best, these projects are just cosmetic.


Oh, democracy would do the job. No, although this is an unsettled debate, we do know that infrastructural and some level of human development do take place in authoritarian states, as in Gaddafi’s Libya. Also, a democracy can exist without development. Also, Democracy does not always guarantee that donors would fulfill pledges. DK Jawara is one case in point. Despite being the West’s celebrated African “democrat”, he was left at the mercy of the IMF. The Gambia went poorer during those years. Thus, democracy or rule of law is not celebrated for its utilitarian value but its natural value. It constitutes God given rights. But once a social contract is entered into, development becomes a right too. That is once a government is elected, the development of the people becomes their right and its provision a duty of government.


While I welcome the commissions being established, I see this as a reality that many new governments face (as in Senegal). But they do not necessary lead to much recovery as anticipated in the short term. The Barrow administration must do away with the aid dependency and reliance on donors’ goodwill. In fact, if the new THINK TANK will think like the former one after the 1994 coup, they will end up producing a Vision like Jammeh’s Vision 2020, or a blueprint like PAGE. They were all donor oriented and that is why they failed. Until we focus on essential areas of human development, development will continue to be a farfetched dream. Of course, no one expects Barrow to solve the challenges in a year but we expect him to come up with policies that will lay the foundation. And a good start would be to do away with white elephant projects.

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