The new Gambia reminds me of the revolutionary struggles against colonialism waged and won by countries like Angola, Guinea Bissau, Zimbabwe and South Africa. Those struggles, like ours for this new Gambia, involved all and sundry – from the opposition politicians to the Gambians living in the diaspora, to the market woman and the cripple in his or her wheel chair. This new ‘independence’ was fought and won by all. Now that President Adama Barrow’s government is appointing the new ministers and technocrats to usher in the new Gambia, business as usual will no longer be viable.
History has recorded the earth moving contributions of ancient Greeks such as Aristotle, Thales, Socrates, Archimedes and Pythagoras in the fields of Science, Philosophy, Mathematics and Astronomy, etc. The common thread among all these great thinkers was that they all went to Ancient Egypt and studied under the tutelage of Africans. They might have been going back and forth to Ancient Greece as ‘semesters’ in their ‘bling blings’ during school recesses; nonetheless, they all completed their studies and went back to Ancient Greece. Their contributions have positively affected the rest of humanity until this day. That spirit of civilization and nation building can be ushered in The Gambia with the dedication, contribution and hard work from all Gambians. The idea of self-entitlement and that; government is the answer to all problems have to undergo collective and societal repudiation.
One of the biggest contributors as a block for the victory of President Barrow’s coalition government is the Gambian Diaspora. These Gambian citizens abroad contributed moneys, moral support, political advice and logistical support among many. They are more than ever needed to be involved in the socio-economic development of this new Gambia. Some of them may be hired as technocrats and bureaucrats in this new government but the vast majority who have technical and /or business experience may rather opt for the private sector instead. Many Gambians abroad are endowed with successful careers in Business, Finance, Engineering, Information Technology, Manufacturing, Management, Mass Communications, Agronomy, Mechanized and Commercial Farming & Fishing, Medical fields and Pharmacology to name a few. These avant gardes in the Diaspora like the Ancient Greeks who studied in Ancient Egypt, must not be ignored or sidelined in this new Gambian dispensation.
The coalition government has a duty to engage this block of Gambians to entice and reverse the brain drain, help repatriate their capital (human and material) back home and to create a more business friendly environment. It is said that, “the dollar goes to where it is appreciated” and this is a cardinal truth in enticing capital and investment. Where there is a flow of investment, there are jobs being created. We have seen the flight of capital and investment, the collapse of the light manufacturing industry, the collapse of the agricultural sector, the collapse of the re-export trade, the dwindling of tourism, and many more sad realities. Our youths have adversely become casualties of the debacle of a dictatorial system. Where there are no jobs or hope for the future, the ‘back way’ becomes the viable alternative.
This coalition government is mandated to politically and legally ‘clean up’ the mess created during the last 22 years and ‘tidy it up’ to a level playing field for the future governments to come. We do not expect for this coalition government to embark on massive white elephant projects. Instead we are looking forward to constitutional reform, electoral reform, investment and tax reform, diplomatic reform, international treaty reforms, etc. Business as usual is no longer viable. The involvement of Gambians in the diaspora is urgently needed if this new ‘independence’ is to be sustainable. It is not wise to totally relinquish and partition off your economy to outside forces whose bottom line is to transfer abroad whatever gains they make here. Heavy Gambian participation and stewardship of the economy are vital. These are some recommendations for the coalition government:
- The government should setup Liaison Offices at all Gambian embassies abroad to harness potential Gambian investors who wish to invest back home. In other words, get closer to the investors. The Liaison officers will be the intermediaries between potential investors and the respective line Ministries and agencies back home. Standard forms and brochures will be available to enquiring potential investors. The Liaison officers may hold investment symposia and fora at their respective embassies which will not be limited to Gambian investors only.
- Gambian investors should be given preferential treatment in the areas of tax relief, import duty waivers, land allocation (depending on the investment type and volume). Likewise Gambian investors who partner with foreign parties should also be given similar quotas.
Similar policies are currently being manifested in countries like Ethiopia, Tanzania, Rwanda, Ghana and Botswana. No wonder most of them are called the Economic Tigers of Africa today.
- Revise the income & corporate tax code to levels that are competitive. Investors don’t choose a country to invest in based on the smiles of her people only. No, but rather because the tax burden of doing business is lighter than their second choice country among other reasons. Notwithstanding, potential Gambian investors are also concerned about the reality that Gambia is one of the highest tax burden countries in the sub region. Former President Ronald Reagan of the United States of America always said, “Tax by any other name is still a tax”. As examples, a beach bar owner in the Gambia shoulders nine different taxes before he/she can operate. A restaurant owner inside Serrekunda shoulders seven or eight different taxes. A local shopkeeper shoulders four different taxes, and so on and so on.
- The government can identify and create environmentally friendly trade and industrial zones throughout the country. Architects and engineers will design these zones to international standards so as to accommodate the requisite industries. The River Gambia is a sea vessel worthy highway from the hinterland to the port of Banjul. Some of those industries in close proximity to the river may use the river as an alternative means of transporting their finished products. These industries will bring in tax revenues for the government, create jobs and development to the most remote villages in the Gambia. A similar example can be drawn from mainland China during Premier Den Xiao Peng’s era. His government created the different trade and industrial zones throughout China. This methodical planning ushered in the tremendous progress registered by any country in recent history. Countries like Vietnam and Indonesia have adopted the Chinese model of industrial zoning. This is earnestly benefitting their economies for the short and long term.
- The government should look into privatizing the following companies: GAMCEL and GNPC. Companies like GAMCEL have their hands tied. They cannot compete in a dynamic telecommunication sector when government overreach hampers that process. We have to keep in mind that governments are usually not the best business CEOs. The need to re-invest in better technologies, streamline operations, cut costs and government’s hand in their pockets renders GAMCEL to be a second rated competitor. GAMCEL must be liberated to compete efficiently which will inevitably benefit the average consumer. On the other hand GAMTEL should divorce from GAMCEL and remains a parastatal. GAMTEL will continue to oversee the building of telecommunication infrastructure, manage the Gateway and the call terminations.
- The government should avoid sole sourcing vital sectors such as making of license plates, importation of petroleum products and medicine to foreigners. There is no country on earth where these sector are doled to potentially risky characters.
- The government should look into developing standards for consumer goods and commodities. Many imported foods, condiments and used furnishings are potential health risks to the population. Items like GMO foods, highly concentrated salt condiments/spices and used mattresses are some of the culprits. It is obvious that people neither go to the market to knowingly purchase harmful food items to feed their families nor will they knowingly purchase disease infested used mattresses for their families to lay on. If some of these problems are not addressed, it will be a vicious cycle of sick, unhealthy and unproductive population who will overly burden the public health sector. Gambians who import some of these items should remember that they will never go to a market and knowingly purchase rotten meats and vegetables to feed their families. Instead they will carefully examine and buy the freshest meats and vegetables. Therefore importing quality goods to our country should be seen as a moral duty.
We are witnessing the support coming from the European Union and the World Bank. These funds must be put into good use. The government should avoid creating more and more bureaucracies. It is my opinion that when only bureaucrats meet to design policies regarding job creation and tax relief, more unnecessary levels of bureaucracies result instead of jobs being created. Consultation with the private sector in developing policies is vital. Besides youth training schemes, capacity building and deficit spending reduction, etc., some of these funds should be allocated for tax relief to potential Gambian Diaspora investors and suffering businesses at home to help bring back the many private sector jobs that have been lost over the years. If the government succeeds in creating an environment for a more vibrant private sector economy, self-entrenchment, redundancy and corruption in the public sector will dissipate significantly. Worthy civil servants in the public sector will briefly serve their quota in government knowing that they can join a vibrant private sector eventually. The sense of nationalism has dawned in this new Gambia thereby requiring a paradigm shift. Policies of the 20th century may not be practical in the 21st century. The first republic ingeniously developed the re-export trade into a successful sector. The second republic squandered that sector thereby giving Senegal the competitive edge. Subsequently our re-export trade volume and currency adversely suffered. So we must not cry over spilt milk or play second fiddle in the re-export trade competition given the reality of our geographical disadvantage. We must think outside the box again to steer Gambia into a brighter future. We must think and act globally in making and selling products and services that are unique and second to none. In closing, I believe that the new Gambia will be ready for business.
Written by: Musa Sallah, Brufut, The Gambia