Let’s Lay Down Solid Foundations

Foreign Investors.
It is really refreshing that we hear news about a lot of foreign investors visiting the country these days from China, France, Norway, Qatar etc. This may be true testament to our new found freedom and political environment. We have already got our national priorities wrong twice over the course of fifty years. You know Mr. President the PPP government of former president Jawara was a total failure. The PPP government only looks decent when compared to AFPRC/APRC government but not when compared to where we could have been. A very small country with a lot of goodwill and financial assistance from around the world has failed to take advantage of the resources and assistance we received for more than thirty years to lay down foundations for a sustainable development. When Jawara’s government was kicked out, there was hardly any meaningful development or improvements in the quality of life of average Gambians. Water and electricity supply, telephone services, tar roads etc. were available in only limited communities, and even where they were available supplies were very unreliable at best. There were no television stations and even the national radio station could not cover a country of 11,000 square kilometers. There was no university and there were only eight high schools. There was no credible manufacturing or industrial base and even the famous GPMB was mismanaged and on life support. Mr. President, these few examples are just to show how we missed the opportunity to lay solid foundations for sustainable development of our country. Jawara was extremely complacent and if PPP government had been in power for the following 22 years of Jallow Kanilai’s rule, we would not have been better off. In all likelihood, we would be worse off infrastructure wise as we may still be without even a university, TV station etc.
Twenty-two years of violent dictatorship that followed yet again failed to lay foundations for a meaningful sustainable development. Dictator Jammeh was initially received by many Gambians with open arms because he simply laid in the open the weaknesses or failures of the Jawara government. What followed is open secret to all of us. In other words for more than fifty years of independence, we as a country do not have much to show in terms of development and improvements in the quality of life of our people. Our survival still depends on foreign aids as we still continue to be excited by handouts from EU, China, UN Agencies, ADB etc. Mr. President, this is unacceptable and we cannot allow ourselves or should I say our next generations to face the same kind of vicious circle! We must act right now so that in ten-to-twenty years’ time we will not depend on foreign aid but rather we will have a solid economic, social and institutional foundations that is sustainable. Botswana and Singapore both became independent in 1966 and 1965 respectively just like The Gambia and they are able to move their respective countries forward while we still remain in a pathetic situation. These two countries have similar size populations like The Gambia and we were all former British colonies so we have no solid grounds to continue to blame colonialism for our failures.
Philanthropic Investors?
Mr. President it is worth noting that every investor has only one primary objective and that is to maximize return on their investment or in simple terms they want to make as much profit as they can. No foreign investor will leave his or her own country and come and invest in the Gambia if they do not believe they can make more money in our country than their own country. We should be very careful about potential investors who come in and try to be philanthropic even before they start their investments by say donating to the government or other institutions. To me that could be a sign of buying or bribing their way in. In our desperation to attract foreign direct investment, we must not lose sight of potential pitfalls. Recently China was said to have given fifty million dollars grant to the Gambia for construction of a convention center in the country. I am almost convinced that this has strings attached to it. China may be powerful and wealthy but they are not that generous. If they give $50 million, they will be expecting probably hundreds of millions or even billions in return. There is nothing like free lunch. I am tempted to speculate that billions will come from our fish resources in the Gambian waters. It is no secret China is the biggest culprit in illegal fishing in West African waters. They are not only depleting our fish stock through overfishing but they are looting these resources as the Gambia does not receive any tax revenue or foreign exchange from illegal fishing. China though makes hundreds of millions from this illegal fishing every year. Proper policies and control will surely prevent any powerful investor from bullying us. If we allow foreign investors to corrupt us as individuals or collectively as a country, then we will lose control over our destiny and we will turn into a “Little Nigeria”… a lot of talents, a lot of resources, a lot of educated folks etc. but remain in vicious circle of corruption and backwardness.
What can we learn from Norway and Botswana?
Mr. President these are two countries from two different continents but their respective leaderships were visionary and were courageous enough to put in place enduring systems that make them envy of every decent human being. They look at the big picture and saw their country first before anything else. If we genuinely learn from these two countries, we will surely be the envy of Africa in the next ten years!
Norway: When oil was discovered in Norway in the 1960s, the leadership then was courageous enough to bring in an oil expert from Iraq by the name of Farouk al-Kasim to work with Norwegian experts to put in place a solid oil sector policies, before a single drop of oil was drilled, that will ensure achieving among many objectives:
• Oil produce in the country benefit every Norwegian and not just the few elites as is the case in Nigeria, Angola, Equatorial Guinea and so on.
• Oil production does not destabilize the Norwegian economy. They did not want the country to become oil dependent but rather they want to ensure that other productive sectors of the economy like fishing, manufacturing, technology, agriculture etc. continue to prosper.
They are able to achieve these objectives by establishing a Sovereign National Fund that control and invest all revenues government derives from oil production and any government in place can only use profits from the investment by this Fund for their annual budget. No government can use the Fund itself for government expenditure under any circumstance.
They also deliberately restrict the amount of oil resources that can be explored or exploited. The result of this honest and deliberate policy is that Norway produce 1.7 million barrels of oil per day. No powerful foreign oil company is able to bully the politicians into producing Norwegian oil on their own terms. Norway is not oil dependent as other productive sectors of the economy are thriving like any other developed economy. Income inequality in Norway is among the lowest in the world and living standard is among the highest and they are only five million people! In Norway, even though governments change overtime, the policies put together in the sixties regarding the oil sector and the use of oil revenue remain permanent. Compare this to Nigeria, for example, which never put in place any serious or honest policies for her oil sector and the results are clear: environmental degradation/pollution, unimaginable corruption, oil-dependent economy, vicious circle of poverty and whenever oil price falls, the Nigerian economy slumber into recession as it is currently experiencing.
Botswana: It is no coincidence that Botswana was the first African country to openly, publicly and unequivocally announced around the 19th of January that “ it no longer recognizes Jammeh as Gambia’s president”. Even AU was not direct in announcing its recognition that day as it used the usual diplomatic language of “it will no longer recognize Jammeh as Gambia’s president”. This follows Botswana’s swift condemnation on January 12th of Jammeh’s crazy announcement of annulling the election results. Botswana further encouraged the international community to enforce the will of the Gambian people. How dare a small country of just over two million people take a leading stand that other bigger African countries dare not?
Mr. President, this small country is able to assert its enviable principles on the continent beyond what bigger countries can do simply because their leadership put the country first and put in place enduring policies that do not serve personal interests of those in power and their supporters, but rather the common good of Botswana and its people. One of the many positive steps taken by Botswana leadership since independence that enable them to control and benefit from their natural resources and control powerful foreign investors like De Beers are some of the things your government can learn from. You have every opportunity to establish close government-to-government relationship with this very successful black African country so that we can benefit from their experience. Botswana is now upper-middle income country and Gambia can become one even faster if your government set the right tone.
• When diamond was discovered in Botswana in the 1960s the world’s largest diamond manufacturer, De Beers was not allowed to bribe its way through, rather the government of Botswana insisted on forming a partnership with De beers to exploit this important national resource. This strategic decision is huge in several ways. It ensures that whatever profits the company makes, the government and people of Botswana keep a share of it. Whatever decision the company makes, the people of Botswana have a say in it and therefore it is in line with their national interest, for example providing employment to local people. To prove that this strategy has been extremely successful, in 2013 the company (De Beers) was forced to relocate its diamond sales subsidiary, Global Sightholder Sales from London to Botswana. I am saying this to imply your government can adopt similar policies when powerful foreign investors want to invest in our strategic resources. SSHFC is sitting on tons on money as they are the biggest shareholders in Trust Bank (G) Ltd and have soft investments in other banks. Your government can use this institution to partner with any serious foreign investor to ensure that the Gambian people fully benefit from any venture. The government will only strategic shares in these potential investments that will enable you to properly protect our national interest.Mr. President, to conclude, we must set bold objective that will ensure that The Gambia will become a middle-income country in ten years’ time and take concrete steps to achieve it. You as president will set the tone, lead by example and the rest of us will walk the walk with you. I do truly wish you every good luck in moving this country to that enviable place.

Sadibou J


One Comment

  1. We all know the nursery rhyme, “Learning is better than silver and gold”. Whatever you may make of that, there is little doubt that everything has its own time, and for Gambia, I think, this is the time for “Learning is [in the long run] better than merely luring investors” . Investors have to more than the money they bring, without the education and knowledge needed to absorb the intangible capital that comes with investor bring, the capital investment itself would just be like a boomerang. It will end up back to its source, and that phenomenon must go a long way into explaining that, even after all that financial capital that has poured into gambia all these 50 or so years after independence has failed to translate into any long term tangible benefit for its population – its simply flown back to its source without leaving much longer term tangible benefits for the population. Even the roads that have been built with them have, after only a few year, fallen into disrepair largely because there is not the human resources to maintain them. Ditto, the power plants.

    There is no getting away from sustained investment in education – not just of the reading and writing kind- but of the kind that will tap into and release the enormous human potential that every nation needs to if it is to take its own destiny into its own hands. Investors come and go, and unlike human resources, once released, has a habit of always staying at home.

    The alternative is that we may end up as foreigners in our own land, with the land, sea and ports sold-off, or leased abroad to people whose only claim to them would be that their forefathers had the foresight to develop the expertise need to manage and profit from them.

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