Gambia Needs Clear Strategic Goals

By Lamin Darboe, Leicester

Michael Porter, a Harvard professor and one of the preeminent strategic thinkers of this century, argued in his renowned work on the competitiveness of nations that governments don’t create wealth but their proper role is to provide an enabling environment for businesses to flourish.

“National prosperity is created, not inherited. It does not grow out of a country’s natural endowments, its labour pool, its interest rates, or its currency’s value, nation’s competitiveness depends on the capacity of its Industries to upgrade and innovate.”

He demonstrated his theory in strategic diamond. According to my lecturer, “endowment with static resources like oil, minerals etc. hardly create sustainable economic development but dynamic resources like human capital do.” He compared Singapore, Japan and South Korea which were poor in static resources but rich in human capital and African countries with huge static resources yet after 50 years of post-colonial rule, they are still thirsty and hungry in the mist of huge water and minerals resources. What was went wrong and what is wrong now?

Should it be a nation’s preoccupation to create wealth, jobs for its citizens? Nay, it should facilitate enterprise, inject a sense of entrepreneurship, equip its population with vital skills and education, institutions that protect property rights, transport and communication amenities that facilitate free movement of goods and services.

Coalition government and indeed Gambian citizens at this auspicious juncture, should look into the mirror and critically ask what went wrong in the past 52 years of post-independence. I mean some kind of introspection on the deeper courses of our retarded development.

Why did the Gambia rank 178 out of the 190 countries in the 2016 GDP ranking? It ranked even below Guinea Bissau which was beset by a long period of instability. Also in the Human Development Index (HDI) released on 17th March 2017, the Gambia ranked 175th with a score of 0.44. Why after 52 years of independence a simple infrastructure, good roads and river transportation, uninterrupted country-wide water & electricity supply, effective waste management system remain so staggeringly elusive?

Literally unachievable by a country with good geography and resource potential, equipped with human capital; a gem that countries ahead of us in the development index lack. It’s mind-boggling to say the least. But why fellow country folks, do we deserve such a jaundice achievement as a country after 52 years of independence, despite abundant human Capital, navigable rivers, fertile land and good geographic location? Beloved people, we need to look into the mirror of our conscience.

You can call it self-evaluation or appraisal. Our coalition leadership to start with need to chart where we were, where we are and where we want to be before planning how to get to where we want to be.

From strategic perspective, this is termed SWOT analysis, which is a measure of identifying our Strengths and Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.

At the end of a SWOT analyses the coalition leadership should identify what are our key competence and weakness as a nation and dedicate themselves to consolidate those strengths and improve on our weakness.

I do not however wish to indulge myself in “SWOTing” the Gambia in this article. I will leave that to our strategy pundits, professors and great minds.

After identifying our strategic competences and weakness, the next stage is to map out a strategic vision, goals, tangible objectives and effective tactics; inherently, to knit and steer all these tasks, require stewardship of a visionary leadership.

President Barrow has unique opportunity to capture the mantle of visionary leadership and move the Gambia on a developmental ladder. A unique opportunity given the massive support he enjoys at the moment; the financial packages promised by EU; curbing wasteful government spending and if not most importantly, tap into the potential of Gambian diaspora — their human capacities in terms of skills, investment and connections.

He also has the opportunity for an effective reorganisation and re-orientation of parastatals like Gamtel, GPA, SSHFC etc. so that the huge revenues they donated into wasteful programmes under the Jammeh regime are now channelled into Public/Private/Parastatal partnership that will invite them to invest into infrastructural investments. Example Gamtel, GPA, SSHFC will invest into building roads, bridges, electricity and water. They can recover their investment through toll charges for using the roads and bridges, through ticketing over a period of time etc.

The parastatals can play a vital role in the Gambia’s infrastructural building if they are remodelled on parastatal/government partnership. But the revelations that emerged after Jammeh’s defeat show the above big parastatals wasted huge revenues on useless programmes.

The Gambia truly needs a visionary leadership. A leadership that has a vision where it wants the Gambia to be in next 20 years and formulate a coherent strategy, programs and institutional modernisation to achieve its vision.

Sir Dawda was a great leader, Democrat and human rights advocate but I seldom wonder whether he had tangible socio-economic vision for the Gambia as the country under his watch never had a good road system, no consistent electricity supply, no good education system, hospitals, reliable transportation system during 33 year rule. The Singapore dream was a good shot; promulgated by Former Finance Minister BB Darboe, however there was little documented evidence of its implementation and its achievements. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone posits that it ever remained a dream or perhaps hijacked by subsequent events.

We need selfless leaders whose personal ambition and interest is subservient to national interest; leaders who will channel their energies faithfully to engage it’s citizens to be become vehicles of national development instead of imposing themselves a Lords.

A visionary leader has a clear idea of his goals and set out clear and quantitative objectives to achieve them. He does not schemed to be loved or feared but seek to earned the love of his country folks.

Jammeh wanted to be force-loved and at the same time be feared; be loved-feared, a contra-distinction or an oxymoron, to be feared a loved at the same time, and what, an unquestionable loyalty.

A visionary leader will not fight a lone battle but move the populace with him/her. He/she is a listener, a team builder, not a team breaker. Effective communicator, forge alliances, networks to achieve desired results. Such leaders live years after their death and the shadow of their contributions to national development abide for long in the mind of his people and in the pages of history.

The Gambia is small country that can be easily developed. The coalition government has according their MOU a three-year mandate and thus lack luxury of time. As a matter of political expedience it need to focus our meagre resources on areas of the economy where the great strategic impact can be made. It only need to set clear achievable goals and objectives.

I will agree more with a person who state that, first goals of the coalition should be:

• Goal-provide high quality road and river transportation system and

• objective-construct or provide an excellent road network from Banjul to Koina on either side of the river within 3 years. Meaning a high- quality road from Barra to Farafeni(through hakalang and Jokadu) to Kuntaur, to Sandu to Basse to Fatoto and from Brikama to soma to Basse.

• Tactics-use Public-Private-Partnership, encourage Foreign Direct Investment from international infrastructural development companies.

If you ask any Gambia what should be the most important area of development, you will receive varied perspectives depending on the area, age, sex, or even the sophistication of the person.

The contention that the coalition’s priority be road and river communication should be given quick and urgent attention. Goods and services can move quickly with less cost. We need two quality roads — one on either sides of the river, good ferry service and four bridges. One joining Nuimi to Kombo South (say Nuimi Lamin to Faraba), Bamba Tenda, Bansang and finally Basse Bridges.

Imagine a Londer from Fulham, going to Putney Heath is asked to travel down to Tower bridge to go Putney when he can just cross Putney Bridge and them home to Putney within 20 minutes. Even more exhaustive and costly traveling is for a person who lives in Baddibou and wants to go to Foni or Kiang; when he can just cross River Gambia with a width of less than 100 metres in less than 20 minutes.

Instead, he or she must either go to Farafeni, cross the Tenda Ba Ferry crossing to Soma and take another transport to Foni and verse versa. Journey that should take 20minutes will end up taking perhaps 4 hours. If there is ferry crossing from Badibu to Foni or Badibu, it will bring great economic benefit, reduce travel cost for people and generally, ease people living. There are areas of the River Gambia less than 20metres in width which can be easily bridged yet allow a ship to pass.

This does not mean GPA will lose revenue. They just need modern revenue collection system like automatic ticketing machines which the users can buy tickets at Port Authority designated locations before travelling or at point of crossing. In UK you can buy a prepaid tickets to cross Umber bridge and River Severn bridge easily.

These bridges when built will not only facilitate mobility, enhanced transportation of goods and services but may potentially reduce urban drifts, it may reduce demand for land in Kombos. If the Government lack the resources, it can tactically encourage private companies to build and manage them over period of time to recover their returns on investment as part of public- private partnership(PPP) model.

Static resources from many studies and experiences have never been the magic bullet for socio-economic development and in fact in more than two dozen nations it has been a curse. African nations like Congo, Sierra Leone, Liberia and even Nigeria, competition for control of static natural resources wretched havoc, with monumental human and environmental cost. Unlike dynamic resources, human capital, skills, good stewardship, an enabling democratic and legal environment, committed, responsible and honest citizenry, loyal and development-centred leadership; the list goes on.

Leaders come and go but their foot prints, good or evil stays to either make or break their nations. On ascendancy to British premiership, former Prime minister Tony Blair famously articulated his top agenda as “education, education, education” and I read about another prime minister who on the podium of inauguration emphatically said that three words will mark his premiership, technology, technology, technology and alas, his country is one of the beacons of technological advancement and innovation.

As for President Barrow. I don’t think I would be mistaken if I state that his development priority or agenda lag a fervent articulation and if I were wrong, I guess it hasn’t captured the imagination of the population.

Road and river communication, a 24-hour uninterrupted power and water supply are sacrosanct to Gambia’s development trajectory gaining a strong foundation yet it remained an illusion for five decades. It is mind-boggling and gut-wrenching to quote Peter Mandelson. Development is not a monolithic process but an overlapping network of supporting programmes and projects with a clear focus and resourcefulness.

A society’s ethos, civil service and working community ethics and moral standards can be moulded by the ethos, ethics and moral standard of its leadership. If the coalition leaders are afflicted by the disease of material greed, self-perpetuation, nepotism, selfishness and love grandeur as their predecessors, our country will catastrophically limp on for another decade. If, however we see signs of a committed, accountable and development-oriented leadership, the civil service, parastatals and people of all works of life will put their shoulders to the wheel.

A leader need to be firm yet flexible. Meaning he know when to be firm and when to be flexible and he lead by example. He doesn’t expect his people to be honest when he is not honest.

Our current president seems to neatly exemplify the many lustrous qualities of Sir Dawda and I hope he is too is a visionary leader.


One Comment

  1. Thanks Mr. Darboe and hope President Barrow and government especially are going to get it from material write-ups like this one. This is proof of an existing resourceful human capital across the walks of Gambian lives.
    Hope Barrow will straighten up his laid back postures in the sofa if he and his government are to be ready in moving great ideas like this forwards. You can see all our dreams coming true once ideas like it are put into effect.
    We need to cut down the sizes of our gowns and get down to hard-working with real good attitudes. Our over cultured and unsophisticated mindsets need to be moderated. Mostly, values we attribute to cultures and traditions are not synonymous with advancement of human resources, science and technology and literally infrastructure.
    Thanks for the bright picture too but I’ll still argue, it is not as bright as the good piece of work you contributed! If Barrow and government are seriously out for something for the Gambia, this is food for thought for us all.