Are We Poor (Or Aren’t We Mismanaged)?

The Gambia is one of the poorest nations in the world. In 2020 Gambia is ranked 9th poorest nation in the world with an estimated US$480 (GMD 24,000) gross domestic product (GDP) per capita. That simply means GDP over population (GDP/population). GDP is the aggregate market value of products/services produced in Gambia in a given year. It is estimated at about US$1.8b in 2019 (or roughly GMD90b).  GDP per capita is a standard economic measure but hardly tells how well (or not) Gambians live in their homes. Over ½ of Gambians neither produce GMD24,000/year (or its worth in anything) nor do they live on that much. Also, Gambia is ranked 151st out of 169 nations on human development index.

Although poverty could mean different things to different people the bottom-line is not been able to meet the basics of living. United Nations (UN) poverty line is US$1.25 (GMD62.50)/day/person. For the 12-person average household of Gambia this would mean GMD750 (US$15)/household/day. How many people live in your household? How much money you spent on daily-living expenses? Are you (and your family) below/above the UN prescribed poverty line? The US$1.25 (or GMD62.50)/person/day does not include long-term (capital) expenses such as buildings, furniture, clothing, etc. It is estimated that 1/3 (may be more) of the Gambian population are below that UN poverty line.

Gambia is undoubtedly a poor nation. But why are we (Gambia) so poor? Should we really be this poor? Production relies on availability and management of land, labor, capital and entrepreneurship (factors of production).  In 1965 we are about ½ million; with about 11,300km2 of land; over 1,300km2 of our land are waters of which over ½ are fresh throughout the year plus annual rainfall ranging from 750 – 1,500 millimeters; over ½ of the remaining land is some form of forest – grass savannah to wooded stands. Granted our lands have no explorable metals and/or oil of economic significance.

The land/people ratio at independence was 0.0226 Km² (22,600m2)/person. This is like 226m x 100m/person. For 12-person household it will be 12 x 22,600m2 = 271,200m2 (or 520.8m x520.8m)/household.  Folks this wasn’t a bad deal to start. Today with the population at over 2m people those numbers are 4x less. Even worse than the average population density is that 55% of Gambians live in the urban area which is less than 1/3 of Gambia in area. This rural-urban population drift was induced by bad public policies and/or lack of them (no decentralization). Ours lands, at least for crop agriculture has progressively diminishing productivity. In northern Gambia, lands from Kerewan through to Sami-Tenda exhibited desert-like conditions with less than a tree or 2 per acre. The unprotected top soils are blown away in the windy months of December – February. Rains washed away some of these soils and deposited in adjacent lowland swamps along the river banks. Over time this sedimentation has rendered once productive rice fields no longer desirable for cultivation.

Labor was never (and is not) in short supply. We have adequate manpower to supply subsistence agriculture and as well the rudimentary industry. On the other hand, the quality of that labor has steadily improved through education and skills trainings. In fact, 100s or 1000s of educated Gambians are plying their trades elsewhere outside Gambia. Although this group generally accounts for about 11% of GDP through remittance – this is generally a lost for Gambia. Other 1000s of youngsters but lesser educated are venturing out through riskier means such as the so-called backway and/or paying their parents lifetime savings to secure travel-visa for greener pastures. The abandoning of agriculture, education and skills development curriculum untied to national priorities and the overall disregard of the productive base made labor in Gambia unfulfilling. Surprisingly, Yahya had some bona-fide ideas but as usual is always about him and not the people/nation. Developments that enhances quality of living has to be anchored our or productive base manned by Gambian labor. Is delusional and national sham to call other nations (or individuals) development partners of sovereign Gambia. No wonder all we could show for it are some self-satisfying white elephant projects that enhances no lives in a sustainable fashion.  The root of these problems is clueless people in government, bad governance and haphazard public policies.

Capital is considered by many economists and financial capitalists to be the most essential of the factors of production.  Gambia is not flooded with capital but potential access is high. In a free market economy, profits and value creation dictates capital allocation. A functioning decentralized democratic governance and sound macro-public policies will encourage enough capital deployment.   Gambia reportedly generates about GMD11.8b/year-2019 of which GMD9.8b is spent on maintaining the government and GMD2.7b was required for repayment of national debt interest. This left us negative GMD700 million before satisfying a single need/want of the owners. Gambia’s appropriation bills are government legalized robbing of the sovereign people. It is incomprehensible, irrational and should be illegal (or even unconstitutional) for government to spend over 83% our money on themselves. The budget deficit will be finance either with additional loans and/or begging (grants). The national debt is estimated at about 130% of GDP (GMD117b). Per capita national debt is GMD58,500. Now you may compare our GDP per capita (paragraph 1) and debt per capita! This simply means every Gambian is indebted GMD58,500 by your 1st breathe on earth. Additional loans compound the national debt and consequently increases the interest and portion of principal due annually. This self-inflicted vicious cycle of mismanagement is the primary cause of abject poverty in Gambia.

Aside capital, the creativity and/or ingenuity of the people reflects their enterprising abilities. Gambians are neither very crafty nor enterprising. The educated men/women rely on public employment. There’re hardly business entities (public and/or private owned) in Gambia that outlived the owner much less a generation or 2 of a family. The point is made! Many factors are at play here and central to them are structural deficiencies.

Clearly, we had (or we have) some means to produce goods/services. River Gambia (largely fresh water) is an untapped; in fact, it is viewed by many as an impediment rather than a resource. Our fisheries resources in the Atlantic are at the mercy of foreign trawlers including Chinese boats. Fruits, crops, vegetables produced in Gambia are neither processed nor preserved – large quantities perished before market or cook. Peanut, the only cash crop, no longer has a ready market. Probably over half of the current student body do not know Gambia Produce Marketing Board (GPMB). It was the only value-adding processing of peanuts – our sole cash crop. Even if there are no foreign market for peanut products, which isn’t the case, Gambia could consume everything as opposed to imported substitutes. GPMB disappeared because of feckless public policies and looting. I could name names if I so choose – pointless though at this point.  Lack of creating value of agriculture contributed to rural-urban drift leaving behind arable lands for no much economic value. 80-90% of our diverse flora and fauna has long gone. Gambia has since started importing sheep/rams for religion and other cultural rituals but also firewood to cook. This should concern all of us but more so public policy makers – provided they know anything.

Poverty in The Gambia is not necessarily a natural phenomenon; it is primarily a macro-policy problem. It is direct consequences of bad and/or lack of coherent public policies that ensure sustained judicious interaction with the productive base for maximum output/come. The first consequential public policy ineptitude is failure to ensure 24/7 365 days healthy water and affordable electricity. These are fundamental for progressively sustained development.  Instead our government (all 3 administrations) so far are interested in the flamboyances of power as opposed to its basic functions. The governing infrastructure is currently so big/large it consumes over 83% of annual collected taxes to stay open. This over-size government is not only an economic nightmare but also an affront to culturing of rights. From police check points to denials and/or delays) in provision goods/services by state such as ID cards/passports, etc. are all forms of uncontrol public agents abusing fundamental rights of citizens. Government is operating not as a service organization for the people but essentially owner of state. Sadly, we let them get away with it.

We aren’t poor! We’re mismanaged! Take back your country from these parasitic bugs!

Burama FL Jammeh


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