By Mr Morro Krubally, UTG
The Gambia National Assembly debate on the Ifad loan put forth for approval by the government, was indeed rigorous. The questions directed at Finance Minister Njie were substantive. All indications are The Gambia can indeed begin to feel confident that this Assembly is surely not your rubber-stamp parliament. Democracy is the order of the day, and that is commendable.
That aside, we must really look at what all the hoopla was about with the latest loan issue? One of the headlines read:“$100M loan agreement to support 40 women kafos, 240 youth businesses, others”. Key among the areas of intervention targets is the “financing of resilience of organisations for transformative smallholder agriculture projects”. This, we are told is laudable as it aims to primarily create “accessible markets, improve involvement of women and rural youths in farming activities; establishing and strengthening 40 women kafos, six new cooperative societies, and 240 youth-led small businesses”. Further, the project includes inter alia, training female entrepreneurs in vegetable and rice production, record keeping and business management for skills acquisition, and effective business operations and sustainability strategies.
One of the arguments in parliament was a lamentation of sorts decrying woeful preponderance of failed projects in The Gambia, and not the least the infamous Jahally Pacharr rice project of the ’70s. Surely, one cannot dismiss this argument for lack of merit. I do not wish to remind us of other projects of dismal outcomes in our country. I am reticent to remind us of our inherent ineptitude in project management. How else would you label our failures as a nation, at project management, or was it failure by design? In my view, The Gambia suffers from a demonic culture of corruption, a total lack accountability and responsibility for the multitude of failed projects. This is the disease we must cure. This is central to the lamentation undertones I deciphered from the debate on the floor of the parliament.
The social media had its share of opinion pundits giving their two cents worth for all it matters. One such pundit argued, or should I say cautioned against the loan. The concern was that the government may be reversing the approved fiscal standing of the country recently praised by the IMF, thanks to debt restructuring sustainability. Additional loans from Ifad at this time, one could argue, would increase pressure on the economy and not the least distress the debt portfolio which undoubtedly will have grave and adverse shifting repercussion on the countries Debt/GDP ratio, suggesting a possible upward movement.
Implicit in this argument is that taking the loan will pivot the economy on the precipice of a slippery slope. Surely a good point of concern. Further advised was avoidance of political expediency from the loan decision, for fear that the loan would be a means toend, potential political patronage. However, on the other hand, the same opinion giver nonetheless lauded the reasons given for the loan. Surely, I would like to think in giving the loan a green light, technical staff at the Ministry of Finance, who surely are far from beingnovices, did not err factoring in critical decision-making elements such as Debt/GDP ratio considerations vis-à-vis the said loan.
To the extent that you want to be objective, the burning question in my mind is how do you separate political patronage from certain kinds of development specifics such as the case for women and youth? The world over, politics is about asking for votes on promises of meeting the aspiration of the voters. These aspirations differ across a stratified population. In any country, the most disadvantaged or disenfranchised are women and the youth. It is no different in The Gambia. Since time immemorial, leaders have catered for the needs of their people. By nature, voters that have shown their loyalty and support for the government, occupy a higher position in the order of beneficiaries for the national cake.
Was it different under Jammeh? This is simply a natural phenomenon because the closer you are to the centre of power, the higher the reward. How flawed can an argument be if we ask our president in this case, to not aspire for the development of a section of the population (women and the youth) of the country for fear that it will be interpreted as political patronage? Patronage or lack thereof by willful exclusion Yahya Jammeh style is abhorrent. In all fairness, this government has not shown a skewed favouritism in sharing the national cake. Nevertheless, effective project management anchored on a strong management framework is well advised vis-à-vis the said loan or any loan. Moreover, it must be noted that patronage is to politics as fish is to water! However, the national cake is for all, and I am convinced this government will be different from the last in dividing it. Certainly, without fear of contradiction, The Gambia must stay on course for the uplifting of the lives of the disadvantaged and the marginalised, notably the rural folk and the youths. The government cannot yield an inch in thisendeavour.
My wish for The Gambia is that we should desist from petty politics and look around us or better yet look across the border to Senegal. The Gambia has been in perpetual politicking since the change of government in 2016.About 80 percent of all discussionsin The Gambia in the media (print media excluded)in my view, are on petty personality politics, not the least abusive and divisive politics. Moreover, as much as I wish it was not the case, tribal politics, largely alien to The Gambia, appears on the horizon hovering its ugly head over our land. May God save The Gambia from the wrath of tribal politics. In the minority are the few pundits, who strictly focus on the substantive issues in national discus. Paradise’s Harona Drammeh is trying hard to direct national conversation on substantive matters.
Similarly, Peter Gomez of West Coast Radio also has my respect for journalistic professionalism, directing the narrative to substantive issues. Kerr Fatou is also keeping the bar high. While the endless bickering consumes our energies, I wish to ask for your kind indulgence, and ask this question: What is really happening in Senegal?
I ask this question because in my view, matters of development should be our main concern today and not petty politics of distractions. Before December 2016, there was only APRC dominated narrative of dictatorship and plain party rhetoric. After the change of guard at the State House in 2016, The Gambia pronounced two phrases indelibly marked on our minds “Gambia Has Decided” and at the TRRC we are told, “Never Again”. One would have thought a collective strive to give peace and development a chance would have been the call of the day. Disappointingly, however, only a measly three years down the line of tangible freedom, and breath of fresh air blowing over the country for the entrenchment of our democracy, all that now appears to be hanging in the balance with a noticeable thin veil threat of reversal of democratic gains from just three years.
Surely, no country has ever realised its aspirations in three years, not even in 50 years. Moreover, very few countries that suffered the fate of dictatorship can claim total emancipation and be free from the lingering vestiges of man-made scourge. The Gambia is no different. Hence, we must be patient and understand that development is incremental, comes in installments and therefore, is a function of time. History can bear us witness that all great nations endured decades of strife before reaching a state of calm and development. America, for example, was at war for 222 years out of 239 years. This is 93% (222 ÷239=0.928)of the time since 1776.
The United Kingdom is similar to the United States. Dating back to 1707, the UK fought far more wars than the US in the same period. The UK was engaged in some form of military conflict in every year of Queen Victoria’s reign, fighting an incredible 230 wars in 64years. The French were engaged in the Hundred Years War (1337-1453) with the British over the succession to the French throne. This war lasted 116 years.
In our own hemisphere, history has taught us that the Mali Empire from 1235 to 1640 was awash with wars. Before the Mali Empire, the Ghana Empire was in existence from 700 AD to 1600. The Chinese Empire was not an exception either. These empires endured and later became the envy of the world in human development. These nations in the West are today bastions of democracy and good examples of human advancement united in purpose. Therefore, The Gambia should unite in purpose and nurture our new found democracy. At the same time the law must be our guiding light, then all else will follow for our common good.
Surely, the experience of the Jammeh era (22years) cannot be dismissed as strife of lesser magnitude. Strife is strife and the common denominator of all strife is the decimation of its citizens. Jammeh’s era had an untold impact on the country. We had hoped reversing the decimation of the rule was more important at this stage of ourrecovery than any other consideration. Matters of urgent restoration of democracy cannot equal matters of political disagreements. More than anyother time, The Gambia at this moment in history cannot afford to be mired in perpetual struggle. That is what it was called the “Struggle”. Our political disagreements should be resolved at the polls. Until such a time, the discussion should be matters of development. We ought to move on, and surely rule of law must reign supreme.
While The Gambia continues with interminable bickering, Senegal for example, was on the move. Senegal is part of the growth poles, a simultaneous, coordinated investment in many sectors, like agriculture in the present case, to support self-sustaining industrialisation in a country. Growth poles are usually combined public and private investments and are specifically built around an already-existing resource at a specific location in an economy. The growth poles focus on a group of dynamic industries that are connected around a particular resource.The Gambia’s investment in agriculture cannot be disassociated from a similar aim. This is in the right direction. The loan in question is towards a similar aim.
Abu Dhabi based DP World’s chairman and CEO, Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem, the ruler of Abu Dhabi, on February 11th, 2020, reached an agreement with Macky Sall, president of Senegal for the construction of a new port and economic zone in Dakar, Senegal.The project will support the economic growth of Senegal by developing the capital Dakar into a major logistics hub and gateway to the west and north-west Africa.
“The economic zone in Dakar will serve as a great aggregator of cargo, creating a hub for African exporters and importers and generating value for Senegal and businesses in the region,” Bin Sulayem said. “We discussed the great progress of the Senegalese economy and the role DP World can play in the development of a port and economic zone serving west and north-west Africa”.DP World has operations in Senegal, Egypt, Mozambique, Somaliland, Rwanda, Algeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The implicit job creation of this project for Senegal is phenomenal. Senegal is not bickering and feeding into petty politics. These kinds of investments are only possible with political stability. We must strive for political stabilisation and make The Gambia attractive to investors. Can you imagine the job creation potential of such investments?
In August 2019, Senegal jumped on the private-equity bandwagon by starting a 100 million-euro ($111 million) fund, the first time an African government has backed an investment pool of this nature and size.“This is something we don’t see very often; a government raising a private-equity fund,” said Vasiliki Ntina, a research analyst with London-based African Private Equity Capital and Venture Capital Association. Such a phenomenal economic feat is only possible because of sustainable peace and security in Senegal. The recent political noises only serveto scare investors and tourists from Gambian shores. It is not lost on anyone that up to 25% of The Gambia’s GDP is tourism derived. Do the math and draw your conclusion and see the implications! Do we need political instability in The Gambia? It is costly, all-around bad for The Gambia!
Senegal in December 2019 became the second African country after Tunisia to pass a so-called Start-Up Act, a law providing tax breaks and other benefits to innovative new businesses in fields from agriculture to mobile banking. The government hopes to spur more local businesses with its reforms and is prioritising digital technology as one of the pillars of President Macky Sall’s “Emergent Senegal” plan.The law, which is meant to come into effect later this year, applies to all start-ups but officials say they are targeting female and youth-run businesses in particular.The Gambia is similarly grappling with high youth unemployment. The Ifad loan is aimed at the same, job-creation for the youth. Any government that does not cater for the growing youth population is asking for trouble.
Over 60 percent of The Gambia’s population is under the age of 25. This is projected to rise against the backdrop of a high fertility rate of nearly four children per woman in The Gambia. This postulation can be reasonably confirmed just by observation of the number of school children in our schools in The Gambia today. The rise of school enrolment rate is interminable. This is also confirmed by the gross enrolment rate of 41.67 percent (2018) in our basic educationsector. Can the government afford to be complacent in the current state of high youth unemployment? This a national security concern. Therefore, the government’s effort is timely if not overdue for matters youth development.
The Japanese Special Economic Zone (SEZ) is also on the verge of being created in Senegal. This is to cater for the establishment of a special economic zone dedicated to Japanese companies that have expressed their desire to settle in Senegal. Job-creation for Senegal is an undoubted outcome of this investment. Similarly, because of its geographic proximity to the Americas, and its political stability, Senegal is attractive to the Chinese and Koreans who are now poised to create manufacturing plants in Senegal to feed their biggest market, North America. The Americans and the Germans are working on their own investment interests in Senegal.
Senegal’s world-renown reputation for political stability (recently praised by the visiting American Secretary of State) is the biggest asset and the single attractor for the corporate world’s pivot toward this nation. The Gambia shares the same attributes with Senegal but only needs political stability for massive development to come to our shores for human advancement and greater positivetransformations. First, our security index must be improved through political stability. This is only possible with a unified purpose of calm, and stable environment under the rule of law.
These are matters of development that I wish I could hear coming from airwaves in The Gambia. The discourse should be about brainstorming on bringing development; financial security to Gambian workers, job creation, and security, poverty alleviation, skills development, health sector development, affordable quality education, entrepreneurial skills development, governance development, dealing with social strife and reducing corruption,improving our energy sector with access to affordable and sustainable electricity and clean water supply, improved infrastructure, environmental sustainability, and business support. These are our pressing needs and not personality politics.
Finally, politics has its season but development is perpetual. The seasonal issues should be handled when the season comes. For now, in my view, we ought to think, breathe, eat and talk development, and I might add, objectively.Give us the how? No idea is discounted! These aspirations will be realised over time and not a matter of pulling a rabbit out of a hat. I do not know of a government in history that has brought about transformation overnight through Houdini tricks. The private sector also has its share in this endeavour. The Americans say, “easy does it”! The precursor however, is stability and rule of law. God bless The Gambia!
Morro Krubally works at the University of The Gambia.