For some of us who did not have the opportunity to attend the Gala Dinner of the GCCI held at the Coco Ocean on 12 May 2017, we did miss out on the spicy speech delivered by Mr. Mohamed Jah, the no-nonsense Chief Guest of Honor for the occasion. That speech gave an honest assessment of the real difficulties confounding Gambian-owned businesses and the many so-called foreign investors who are swarming our country make millions and then leaving without any trace. Mr. Jah described these investors as “briefcase agents” who are responsible for the colossal amount of repatriated profits in the private sector with the attendant consequences for our economy. This could explain why the dalasi is still artificially high despite some remedial measures undertaken by the CBG. During the political impasse, one such foreign-owned business was transferring in excess of D80 million every week out of the country.
According to Mr. Jah, the empowerment of local businesses to build a strong private sector should be the cornerstone for any meaningful transformation of our economy. I couldn’t agree more with him. I would hasten to add that if local entrepreneurs start thinking “Gambia First”, many local businesses build with local talents, resources including local finances could be able to thrive globally and transform the economy positively. Some of these foreign-owned businesses are known for repatriating millions of foreign currencies every month to their owners abroad.
Barring any semblance of xenophobic prejudices, I commend Mr. Jah for his frankness in explicitly addressing one of the biggest hurdles stifling businesses in this country; a terrible legacy inherited from the previous Government of Yaya Jammeh. The so called ‘briefcase investors’ repatriating 90 percent of their profits out of the country have been mostly doing so in cohort with the highest authority in the land who provided them with the space and opportunity to rob Gambians of their own resources.
Therefore, this new government cannot be blame for all the wrongs perpetrated in the past by a greedy kleptocrat who abrogated power to himself and thought that, apart from the air we breathe, everything belongs to him. He puts his business interests first above national interest. He was into all sorts of businesses forcing many local businesses into extinction. So many private business owners had to relocate to our neighboring countries in the region to survive.
The Q-Group boss underscored the dominance of everything foreign in our lives. For too long our economy has been mortgaged to a ‘special category ‘of foreigners, many of them friends or business partners of the ex-president making many Gambians to become foreigners in our own land. As indicated in his address, he went on to say, “we need foreign artists to entertain us, we need foreign religious leaders to guide us, and we only watch foreign sports to entertain ourselves. Our kids only know foreign players in foreign football teams when they cannot name a local home-based player.” There should be laws to make sure that local jobs in hotels, GSM operators, agro-businesses, agriculture and fisheries which can be filled by Gambians to be given to Gambians.
It is also fair to add that not all businesses owned by foreigners are involved in these exploitative acts. A good number of them have been and are continuing to contribute enormously in programs and products that benefit Gambians. Some foreign businesses are employing a good number of Gambians, some have sponsored many to enhance their capacities and others have good programs that supported the local communities they are serving. I can even attest to one good example of a hospital being fully sponsored by a consortium of Indian investors/businesses in the country where medical consultation are heavily subsidized and medicines giving free of charge to the people. These are some of the good gestures of giving back to society.
The 45-minute long speech contained some hard facts and figures, but it could have been a mouthwatering spicy farewell dinner for Yaya Jammeh who crippled the private sector and forced many local businesses to die or relocate. Nonetheless, it is a wakeup call for the new Barrow government to address the many challenges confronting businesses within the country and increase local private investment and ownership.
In pursuit of truth and a better Gambia.