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Monday, September 20, 2021

On the quest for a digital nation: Letter to my friend

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By Momodou Sabally

Sheriff my good friend, or should I address you as Honourable Sheriff in deference to your erstwhile portfolio of Minister in charge of Information and Communication Infrastructure?
I am seated here this cool morning of June 26, 2019 as invited guest at the official launch of the Gambian National Broadband Network, a project dubbed as a pillar of the recently launched National Development Plan (NDP); but I know for sure that you did some work in the genesis of this project in your previous role.

I believe the seeds were planted during your tenure as Minister and the ground cleared as well.

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That does not take anything away from the fact that this project was destined to see its completion and fruition under the leadership of President Adama Barrow, and for that I heartily congratulate him.

Sheriff my good friend, indeed you know that the potential impact of ICT development on socio-Economic progress cannot be overestimated.

This path is the surest way for a take off in our bid for economic transformation.

It is such a privilege for me to be here today to witness the launch of this project given the fact that I was lucky to have witnessed the inauguration of the precursor project.

I was part of the official Gambian delegation to the launch of the Africa Coast to Europe (ACE) project at the iconic Eiffel Tower in Paris as well as the local launching that followed it here in Banjul while I served as national Budget Director.

The rolling out of this and related projects are bright rays of hope in the socio-Economic horizon of a country whose future often appears dark to anyone but the die-hard Uber-optimist.

This project has great potential to catapult The Gambia into that bright future we all want to see our children enjoy; but lo and behold, we cannot take it for granted that this project would yield the desired results for some obvious reasons.

It is a fact that we launched the ACE project that was supposed to increase internet access and speed at exponential levels but alas, the current realities belie the prediction.

The similitude of the ACE submarine cable and its untapped potential is well captured in the brilliant lyrics of the King of Reggae, the legendary Robert Nesta Marley: in the abundance of water the fool is thirsty! And what a metaphor my good friend for the water (literarily) under which the Internet cable is submerged is so woefully under-utilised by us!
Therefore would it not be in order to share some thoughts with the current government on what needs to be done to make the dreams associated with this project a reality?
My first concern is that the government needs to attach to ICT development the level of priority it deserves and that is #premium.

I do know something about the busy and unpredictable nature of a president’s schedule, yet I don’t understand why President Barrow would skip the official launch of this broad band project which he was expected to preside over.

If he can attend a private conference of much less significance to this country’s development (because it was but a marketing platform for a smart company) in this very hall; I see no reason why the president should skip this monumental national event.

Barring the possibility of a serious emergency in his schedule would it be wrong to speculate, in this case, that the President’s handlers are doing a serious disservice to his government and the nation at large? With such anomalies, can’t we surmise that some of the people surrounding our well-intentioned Head of State are motivated by factors other than the national interest?
My second concern is that the Ministry of Information and Communication Infrastructure is poorly staffed and as the policy arm of our government there is an urgent need to boost staff capacity at that Ministry to help steer our surf towards our desired destination in ICT development.

I do know of a few (very few actually) highly competent professionals in that Ministry but the fact is that technical capacity in the high echelons dwindled after your departure and this is a very sad and unfortunate situation, thanks to dishonest individuals that President Barrow trusted with the responsibility of staffing our ministries.

On a light note, my friend, a social media connection of mine just quipped upon my post on Facebook to congratulate Gamtel on this launch, saying “When will Gambia stop launching and start eating! For over 2 decades in this country, organizations are launching but never delivering. God dang it we are hungry let them start serving us great services . It’s a shame.”

Quite a factual and poignant punchline; not quite dissimilar (on the lighter side) to the Sarahulleh guy who insisted that I should give him food to eat because I invited him to my “Book LUNCHING”- What a world we live in my good friend-Lol!
The Honourable Sheriff, Let me conclude by congratulating GAMTEL for this major milestone in the development of our telecommunications industry.

Gamtel surely deserves every support and encouragement. This institution is surely the emblem of resilience in our nation’s development history.

Once revered as the second finest telecoms outfit on the continent (under then CEO Bakary Njie), GAMTEL suffered a lot during the Jammeh era with well-intentioned but ill-implemented transfer of resources from this institution for the establishment and maintenance of other national institutions of crucial importance.

So the current frailty of GAMTEL is no fault of theirs. I hope and pray that President Barrow will work assiduously to give GAMTEL all the requisite moral and FINANCIAL support to come back strong on its feet and rise up high at the peak of its antennae; shooting up to the heavens where the next tech battle is going to be fought by all serious nations in this Information Age.

Thank you for your service to the nation my good friend and may Allah continue to bless your pen.

Momodou Sabally
Former Secretary General and Presidential Affairs Minister, Momodou Sabally is an Economist, prolific author and International Speaker.

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