By Tumbul Trawally
It has been a year since President Barrow and the Coalition took the reins of government. The New Gambia is at a cross-road: For our leaders, follow in Senegal or Botswana’s footsteps and prosper–or follow in Nigeria or Zimbabwe’s footsteps, and be relegated to a state of decrepitude and irrelevance–on the World stage. It is your pick! Gambia’s leaders do not have to look far for a country to emulate. It is our neighbour: Senegal.
First, emulate Senegal’s system of strong government institutions. When Abdoulie Wade reneged on “Term Limits”, the Courts upheld the Constitution. Anyone who follows Senegalese media knows that they are free to criticise the government. The only barriers between citizens and a demagogue or dictator are strong government institutions, and a “Free Press”. Can you imagine what America under Donald Trump would look like if there were no checks and balances on his powers? It would be as chaotic as any African or Third World country, under a Dictatorship. Remember, Trump’s party controls both legislative branches of government, but it is the Courts that curb his powers.
Second, strive to add value to our produce and raw materials. Senegal’s Industrial Zone near Dakar does a lot of “Value Added” processing.
By that I mean, transforming crops from harvest, and raw materials into the finished goods. In the case of groundnuts, it is the processing of the harvested groundnuts into consumable goods like candy bars, biscuits, peanut butter, cooking oil, and a host of other products, requiring groundnuts as an ingredient. Fish caught by fishermen should be processed, packaged, and placed on supermarket shelves, for the consumers or exported. Cotton should be turned into yarn, and textiles, not export it to Europe, and then import as fabric or textiles. It is all about controlling the production line, from cultivation or extraction, to the consumable finished goods, and—ultimately–creating jobs.
A large percentage of The Gambia’s groundnuts is bought by Unilever in London, The Roasting Company in Lincolnshire, England, Nestle in Switzerland, Hershey in Pennsylvania, or to other Nut Processing companies around the world. The workers at these companies “add value” to the Gambian groundnuts and produce all sorts of end products or finished goods. These workers earn high wages and have a high standard of living. Meanwhile, a farmer in Jokadou Bakang or Karantaba, who toils under the sun for 6–8 months a year to cultivate the groundnuts, on a few acres, can barely feed his/her family. What a disparity? Subsistence Agriculture or small scale farming does not pull farmers out of poverty. Trust me–my parents were farmers! Agriculture should be mechanised (use of machines). Mechanised Agriculture or large scale farming requires less farmers, yet produces more output than Subsistence Agriculture or small scale farming. In 1900, over 75% of Americans worked in the farming sector. In 2000, less than 2% of Americans worked in the farming sector, yet their harvest was greater than the harvest in 1900. This exponential growth in crop yield, in a century, was due to new farming equipment, fertilizers, and cross pollination–thanks to the advances in the Sciences.
Those of you familiar with accounting or manufacturing know the 3 stages of production: Raw Materials, Work-in-Process, and Finished Goods. The Work-in-Process is the “value adding” stage of manufacturing, and it is where the most jobs are created.
Economists don’t call the “Work-in-Process” stage of manufacturing the “Value Adding” stage–for nothing–because it is. This is the reasoning behind Britain and other European countries’ “Value Added Tax” (VAT) policies.
Denmark processes imported milk into all sorts of dairy products; Switzerland turns imported cocoa into various confectionery, candy bars, and beverages. Their citizens have the highest standard of living, according to the United Nation’s Development Index. On the other hand, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, which are richly endowed with natural resources and export them to be processed in European and American factories, have the lowest standard of living, according to the UN. Denmark and Switzerland cannot compete head-to-head against big Economy countries of France and Germany; instead, they find their comparative advantage niche or sectors and focus on them.
In their case, Dairy and Cocoa products respectively. The bottom line is–when you export raw materials or produce to other countries for the “value added” stage of production, you are actually Exporting Jobs.
It would have been great if the markets for our crops and raw materials were not Europe or America. Nigeria should have been the destination of our produce and raw materials.
However, Nigeria has been a huge disappointment for Africa, especially West Africa, where one in four is a Nigerian. Under ideal circumstances, Nigeria should be the economic engine of our region: providing markets for our produce and raw materials. Instead, she is mired in tribal conflicts, rampant corruption, and bad governance.
Germany, Britain, and other northern industrialised countries of Western Europe provide markets for the farmers of Spain, Portugal, Greece, and Southern France. America provides markets for the farmers of South America. Japan provides markets for the farmers of the South East Asian nations. The trade between these countries mutually benefits them. That is partially what led to the advancement of these countries. It is obvious that Spanish vegetables will be cheaper in Germany than Gambian vegetables, all things being equal, because Spain is close in proximity to Germany, unlike Gambia, which is thousands of miles away.
Gambia being a small and resourceless nation does not destine us to be poor. Singapore, Malta, Luxemburg, Denmark, and Switzerland are prime examples of small, resourceless nations–but they are rich. To be endowed with natural resources does not equate to prosperity.
Sierra Leone, Liberia, and The Democratic Republic of Congo are endowed with natural resources–but they are poor. It comes down to good governance, zero tolerance for corruption or tribalism, and an educated workforce. Completion of High School is essential for a skilled workforce; therefore, attaining a High School Certificate should be one of the government’s top priorities. As a result, government should invest in education, because an educated workforce will be vital for operating the machinery in the factories. Government should aspire to reduce youth unemployment; it is critical for social and economic stability of the country.
The Gambia and African countries should position themselves to inherit some of the manufacturing that will inevitably exit China, as Chinese workers become more affluent and demand higher wages. As the cost of labour increases in China, the owners of capital will seek cheaper locations for manufacturing. That is how manufacturing moved from Britain, after the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, to Europe, America, and today, China. Forty years ago, the Chinese and South Korean landscapes were littered with rice fields; today they are the hub of manufacturing in the world. We can replicate what China and South Korea did, if we are determined. There are 3 stages of Economic Development of countries:
Agrarian/Agriculture, Manufacturing, and the Services. The developed countries of Britain, Switzerland, France, and The United States are Service Economies. In Service economies, Banking, Insurance, Hotels, Restaurants, and Entertainment become the largest sectors of the economy.
The transition from an Agriculture/Extraction Economy to a Manufacturing Economy should be facilitated by the government.
Government can guarantee low interest loans to Gambian entrepreneurs, through the African Development Bank, World Bank, Islamic Bank, IMF, or Direct Foreign Investments. Reduce taxes to attract Direct Foreign Investments. In this age of Globalisation, it does not matter who builds a factory in one’s country, be its citizens or foreigners. Where the jobs are located is more important. The local workers employed by a foreign company spend their wages in local shops and pay local taxes. Attracting Direct Foreign Investments is what China did to pull hundreds of millions of people out of poverty.
While attracting Direct Foreign Investments to build factories, the government should protect the new startup companies from competing with the large multi-national companies, head-on, through tariffs and quotas. Once they are firmly established, government can lift those trade barriers. All the developed countries protect their young companies from foreign competition. It is similar to a mother protecting and nurturing her young, till they are strong enough to face the harsh realities of the world. When your citizens buy locally manufactured goods, they are reducing their country’s use of foreign currency reserves. Having a strong foreign currency reserve translates into a stronger currency and a favourable exchange rate.
Third, promote a local language that can be spoken by most of the population. Former President Senghore of Senegal, who was a poet, understood the importance of language and deliberately promoted Wollof, so that Senegalese, of all tribes, could understand one another. The Serrers in Sine, the Lebous in Dakar, the Fullahs in Mattam, the Mandinkas in Tamba Kunda, and the Jolas in Casamance have one thing in common: understanding basic Wollof. That does not mean that they give up their culture, language, or traditions. Commonality in language enhances understanding and national cohesion.
Another route for a common local language is that of our English speaking neighbours of Sierra Leone and Liberia: Creole. All Sierra Leoneans and Liberians can speak Creole. If our leaders cannot agree on Mandinka, Wollof, or Creole being the local lingua franca, English is an excellent alternative. It is spoken in every part of the globe; it is the language of Commerce, International Diplomacy & Organisations, Air traffic Control, and the Internet. Another benefit we derive from our usage of English is Tourism, being the only English speaking country in our immediate neighbourhood.
Today, we see all Germans as one nationality or tribe, but the Bavari of Bavaria, the Saxons of Hanover, and the Allemanni of Baden Wurttemberg and Swabia were Germanic tribes, speaking different Germanic dialects. However, today, all Germans understand basic standard German. Another example is the tribal setup of Saudi Arabia. While most Saudis identify themselves as belonging to the Al Sudari tribe, there are the Al Sharma, Al Hashemi, and other smaller tribes. In fact, the Prophet Muhammed belonged to the Al Hashemi tribe and the Qurasey clan. These Saudi tribes have their dialects, but they understand basic standard Arabic.
Africa’s newest country, South Sudan, is embroiled in tribal warfare between the Dimka and Nuer tribes, after they jointly fought for independence from Sudan, rendering the country ungovernable. Robert Mugabe’s Shona tribe fought alongside Joshua Nkomo’s Ndebele tribe, for independence. After attaining independence, Mugabe selfishly turned his weapons against his wartime allies, Joshua Nkomo’s Ndebeles. After he subdued the Ndebeles, he waged another war against the white farmers, who were mechanised or large scale farmers.
The white farmers’ confiscated lands he divided among his followers were not large enough for “Mechanised Agriculture” or large scale farming. Within a generation, Zimbabwe transitioned from being an exporter of food–to an importer of food.
We should emphasise our national identity rather than our tribal identities, just like Senegal. No single tribe has ever achieved greatness—ALONE! The great empires were comprised of multiple tribes and ethnicities. Be it Mali, Ghana, Rome, Egypt, or Mauryan (roughly modern India) empires!