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Thursday, September 21, 2023

Moving The Gambia to a higher growth path


By Sara Janha

For The Gambia to rise, the state must be dismantled. The contention is that if nothing seems to be working then the structures of the state must be dismantled and we start afresh. The author of the post went to posit that dismantling does not mean disorder or break down . In recent history the dismantling of the structures of the state was tried in two countries, China with Mao’s cultural revolution and Kampuchea with Pol Pot and his khemer Rouge party. The Khmer Rouge ruled Cambodia for about 4 years and the result was the death of 2 to 3 million Cambodians, before the country was rescued by Vietnam. The Great Leap Forward and the cultural revolution resulted in many deaths, estimated at 30 million deaths in China , economic activities halted. We can go back in history and cite The French and Russian revolutions for example. Fundamentally changing the structure of the state calls for a revolution which in all the cases turned violent. Maybe upheavals like the ones outlined may not be welcomed in The Gambia but we can as a country transition to a more rapid and sustainable development path. Before exploring this subject further, it should be noted that the early development of the countries that experienced rapid growth in the recent past had one thing in common. South Korea, Taiwan,Singapore, and Vietnam, they were not liberal democracies. Rwanda a country making great strides falls into this category. Tanzania under a dominant governing party and former President John Magufuli pulled itself out of LDC category and it is now ,with its vast resources, on the road to becoming a middle income country. Ethiopia recorded over many years the highest and sustained growth rate in Africa under the powerful Tigre party under Meles. There are many other factors other than the system of government that propelled these countries up the ladder of development. I do not want to elaborate on this subject but it is sufficient to underline that a clear vision, leadership, emphasis on education and skills development and zero tolerance for corruption are factors that helped these countries to move forward . Many of the Asian countries which were dubbed tigers are more homogeneous in their demographic makeup unlike many African countries. Tanzania which has over 100 languages overcome this problem of diversity by successfully  promoting Swahili as national and unifying force. Nyerere a great leader has the foresight and strength again with the support of the dominant governing party to make this a reality.

I may be wrong but it would appear that Gambians value the democratic system we are trying to forge. We may be able to preserve our basic human rights and still move on a higher development path as done by Mauritius, a small country like The Gambia.

The Gambia is a small country with a poor natural resources base. Nonetheless we have land, sea, river and its tributaries, underground water and above all people, a critical mass of highly educated and skilled people. The Gambia has done well over the years and has improved tremendously access to education, health and clean water , and the provision of energy, roads and transport as well as connectivity(the data to support this statement is available). But a big gap still remains . We have scored high marks in meeting many of the goals set by the sustained development programme such as the lowering of the infant mortality rate and a drop in maternal mortality rates ,increasing access to education at all levels etc. However the poverty rate in The Gambia is still stubbornly high established at 53%  and youth unemployment is a big challenge. We are plodding along but the country now requires to move a little faster on the development path. A growth rate of 4 to 5 percent matched by a total fertility rate of about 5 percent would not have the desired impact . If we want for example to double the gdp and per capita income, we must achieve much higher growth rates ranging from 7-10% per annum for a sustained period of time (8-12 years), on the basis of the rule of thumb formula 70/growth rate. If the net growth rate is 5%, The Gambia would double its gdp in 12 years. It is a big challenge and calls for sacrifices which Gambians may endure if led by a capable and transparent government with very low tolerance for corruption.

First , we must address very quickly and comprehensively the political situation in the country. We need to bring on board a new constitution and the political parties have to play a pivotal role in in shaping this document. I have some unconventional views with respect to the new constitution, but my opinion on this subject does not matter.

We must ensure that the government white paper on the TRRC recommendations  is quickly and firmly implemented and pay fair compensation to the victims of the Jammeh’s rule. We need to bring closure to this unfortunate era and move on.

One area though that needs further thought is devolution of authority and responsibility to the local government authorities. The responsibility for basic education, primary health and local road building and maintenance should be devolved to the local authorities, supported by subventions to match or given more scope to tax to support these services. The effect of a  deeper devolution would change the role of the Central government vis a vis the regions. Accountability at the local level is more easy to achieve and monitor. The central government would have more time to devote to its core functions of macro economic management, security and defence, planning, organising, leading and monitoring developments at the local level. The size of the cabinet could be reduced by 50% if the regions are allowed greater scope in the management of their own space.

In  The Gambia we talk a lot about diversity and tolerance . Gambians generally are tolerant and positive relations among all groups encouraged. The population of The Gambia in 1965 was 458 908 in 1965 compared to 2.6 million in 2021.  The Gambia population is made of 5 to six groups. How integrated these groups or nationals are is open to question. Each of the dominant groups or nations when in power tend to privilege their own people. Nationalism is a powerful and pervasive force but should not stand in the way of Gambians creating a vibrant civil society with considerable room for individual rights. However , that kind of civil society we want can only be created if all groups feel that they

are recognised and their concerns addressed. I feel that this aspect should not be left to chance. We have to introduce some element of proportional representation system in our electoral set up for that to happen. The first past the post system encourages tribal affiliations and could pose a threat to peace.

The Gambia population is fairly young, the 16 to 24 years segment making up 54% of the population.

We should establish a national service scheme where the young are required to serve for 18 to 24 months from the age of 18 to 35 years. In some countries,it is a conscription Service where you required to serve in the uniform services or civil defence. In other countries it is a scheme where youths are provided with proper life skills and equipped to be useful members of society . What ever form of scheme is chosen, it must be compulsory. These types of schemes foster common ties among our people and national unity. The Gambia has a number of skills centres and these should be fully resourced and promoted for the development of our young people,

On the economy, the challenges facing the country are daunting. The President should take the lead in addressing the challenges the country face in the most practical manner possible, a clearly stated mission and concrete plans to meet those aspirations, in agriculture, education, health and housing and sanitation , utilities water and electricity, a large proportion of Gambians do not have access to clean water. The economy must be on a path of high growth rate on a long term and sustainable basis. Since The Gambia is one of those countries with a high total fertility rate of close to 5 percent, growth rate must well be above 5 % to make any impact. The government must therefore be restructured , streamlined to  to be effective and the limited  resources the country has directed to vital areas of the economy.  We do not have time to waste , it is not enough to let things take their course ,because as we grapple with the task of meeting the basic needs of the people, the Gambia has to find ways to cope with technological revolution that is unfolding exponentially. The Gambia must confront the high level of poverty and continue to invest heavily in human capital development and by doing so allow a healthier, better educated and motivated people to uplift themselves. Poverty should not be seen as our destiny.

The private sector, entrepreneurship need to be supported. Farmers should have access to inputs and credit to improve farm productivity. Land administration,the tenure system,  should be adopted to facilitate commercial farming. Production of basic agricultural crops like rice,maize and groundnut suffered. Development banks should be established to provide medium term loans to deserving entrepreneurs , ventures in agriculture and industry. The Gambia had established development finance institutions before and many failed to meet our expectations because of poor design and supervision. Now that we have a Central Bank that has the capacity to supervise these institutions effectively, these institutions if established would play their rightful role in promoting Gambian entrepreneurship in the productive sectors of the economy. I am glad to note that the government will be setting up economic zones and I hope with adequate support services for indigenous enterprises.

The NDP 2016-22 and the successor plan 2023-2027 are comprehensive plans , drawn up after exhaustive consultations. I understand that a robust M and E and accountability systems have been developed to  support the implementation of the plan.

Some significant progress has been reported in the implementation of the last NDP. However, the impact on the poverty rate was negative as the rate jumped from 49 to 54%. Government did not intervene in the housing market, sanitation and hygiene neglected. Many Gambians according to consultations that were conducted have a dim view of estate development  which does not cater for the low income families. Rents are high and the housing stock discrepit and unsuitable. Government should pay some .attention to housing development, sanitation and easy access to clean water.

I do not want to jump the gun and anticipate what is in the new NDP but I have a feeling that the issues I raised above would be addressed in a more informed and professional manner. For now and the life of the plan, the government should avoid wasteful and unnecessary expenditure, over borrowing unless it is long term finance to build our infrastructure,and  address the high cost of living and inflation .Fiscal responsibility should be the watchword of the government from now going forward.

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