By Madi Jobarteh
The two major ingredients that are indispensable prerequisites for socio-economic development of any modern nation are electricity and roads. Hence if there is anything that Barrow needs to focus on in his presidency it is these two things: roads and electricity. Without roads and electricity the nation cannot move or produce. The Gambia needs multiple quality roads and an efficient 24 hour-supply of electricity if it is going to make that transformative leap from an under-developed to a developed society. This is the lesson from those countries that are considered developed today.
A nation has many needs such as schools, hospitals, housing, trade, stadiums, food and many other things. But the lifeblood that enables and enhances each and every sector and need of society are electricity and roads. Without these two elements, a government can build schools and hospitals but these facilities will not be able to reach their full potential. One can build beautiful housing estates but without good roads and electricity supply, life will not be convenient in that estate. Without electricity businesses will not make profits and cost of living will be high.
With affordable and accessible electricity, it means therefore we reduce the cost of doing business hence maintain or reduce prices at affordable levels. It means we keep businesses and public sector productivity running nonstop hence increase national output. With increased national output we create more jobs with more opportunities for expansion. With electricity we make our homes and communities alive and conducive for living. Electricity creates that opportunity where citizens are compelled to initiate, innovate and create because there is power flowing. Without electricity, we discourage investment, innovation and self-actualization. Hence electricity supply is the indispensable lifeblood of the economy just as the heart keeps the human body alive.
Just like electricity, roads also enable the society to move. Good, well-networked roads make goods and people to move around the country at less cost both in terms of time and money. But without roads, it takes longer time for goods and people to reach their destination hence increase cost on fares as well as speed up the wear and tear of vehicles. Delays due to bad roads therefore lead to commodities getting spoilt or vehicles experiencing breakdowns hence slow the economy. Roads therefore significantly reduce cost and at the same time enhance efficiency, productivity and prolong the life of vehicles and commodities.
In light of the above, Pres. Barrow would tremendously push the wheel of development in the Gambia if he makes electricity and roads his number one priority. With stern dedication and strategic leadership, Barrow could transform this country within one year if he focuses on only roads and electricity. Here is what he needs to do.
Now that the Gambia has diplomatic relations with China, it is necessary and urgent that Barrow leads a high powered Government delegation on a state visit to China. In his bag he needs only two proposals to put before the Chinese leaders. That is, building of the necessary nationwide infrastructure for electricity supply and roads networks. Furthermore he needs to demand renewal energy focusing on solar and wind power. China has the means and capacity to address the Gambia’s energy and roads infrastructural needs within a second.
Therefore while the China honeymoon is ongoing, let Barrow hit the iron when it is hot. The Gambia with its land size and population is equivalent just a small city in China. Hence the volume of electricity and roads infrastructure this country needs is a minimal investment for China. Barrow must address this matter with urgency because the current electricity and roads situation in the Gambia is definitely a threat to national security as well as undermining his government and leadership.
In the event that the China option fails or partially succeeds, Barrow must ensure that the Gambia takes no loans other than loans earmarked for building the country’s energy and roads infrastructure. In 1965, Ghana under Kwame Nkrumah took the bold and unpalatable decision to take a massive loan to build Akosombo Dam back then. Most people especially the opposition immediately attacked Nkrumah for being crazy to enter into a loan agreement that was clearly unfavorable to Ghana in the short to medium term. But Nkrumah responded that ultimately it is energy that will determine which nations meet the needs and aspirations of their people or not.
Since then, history has proven Nkrumah to be correct, as it is that same dam that continues to propel Ghana to success!
Therefore let Barrow refuse loans that go to budget support, food production, education or health among others. Such loans do not produce any profit for the country so long as the road and electricity infrastructure is abysmal. Since independence the Gambia has taken so much loans for those areas yet our public health or education or food security situation remains dire, mainly because of poor roads network and electricity supply. To continue to follow the same trend will only serve to further entrench this country in the highly debted poor country category. The Gambia neither need nor deserve such a status.
Therefore let the Barrow Administration cut its coat according to its size and depend on locally generated resources and grants to address social services such as education, health, food and community development issues. But loans must only be taken to cater for electricity and roads infrastructural development. With roads and electricity infrastructure fully developed, all other aspects of our society and economy will grow. What is holding back the Gambia is mainly because of lack of adequate electricity that is affordable and available to all, and poor roads network across the country and within the Greeter Banjul Area.
Currently this country has only three roads that connect Banjul to the rest of the country. These are the Bertil Harding Highway leading to Brusubi, Sayerr Jobe Avenue leading to Sukuta and Mamady Maniyang Highway leading to Tabokoto. Consequently, every day, morning and evening these roads are jampacked even though the Gambia does not have that many cars. We need superhighways and well-paved avenues and streets within our cities and towns to allow the free flow of traffic, which is a sine qua non for social and economic development.
If Barrow wishes to cement his legacy as the president who transformed the Gambia from a poor hapless country to an advanced society, let him focus only on electricity and roads infrastructural development. With that infrastructure, he would have created the enabling environment for the development of all sectors of our lives, society and economy hence national development.
Note: This article was first published last year.