Alagi Yorro Jallow

What can $1.5 billion dollars do to the Gambia? Mortgage it. It would cost more than a third of our tax revenue and half our annual export earnings to pay interest on it.

Spending $ 1.5 billion distance bridge between Banjul and Barra is 5.07 km and 2.74 nautical miles on would double the price of everything. And half of it, if not more would be stolen.

How did President Adama Barrow succeeded to convince Members of the National Assembly to approve multibillion dollar mega projects on bridge construction between Banjul and Barra?

 Lacking the leadership wherewithal—intellectual and moral— to correct the mistakes of the past— tribalism, greed, exclusion, historical injustices—our State elite and politicians reverted to type, to delusions of grandeur. National Development Plan (2018-2021): Growth without stability or an orgy of “flagship” mega projects? Banjul -Barra Bridge Project:

The idea that structures can transform a country is a delusion of an intellectually and morally bankrupt State elite and greedy politicians Their preoccupation, besides stealing, is how to impress upon donors that we too are ready for mega projects. What we are looking at is inferiority complex. Hollow men. Societies are transformed by institutions.

Mega projects always face challenges and how about costs and timing. Singapore and South Korea are not what they are because their governments-built skyscrapers and metro-rails. It is because their political elites figured out how not to settle political scores with rival politicians. They built institutions.

The Gambia was one of the longest serving democratic era success stories with double per capita income in the 1980 and 1990’s. But it had no political institutions and has not build any viable strong institution. The country has been held together by the force of a despot for 22 years, who has been furiously “rebuilding” the country—airports, highways and some new bridges.

Today we have Adama Barrow who is now mooting a change of the ceasefire constitution to run for a second term in presidential elections after the next elections due in 2021.

It’s no wonder that common folk see our political elites for what they are—a fraud. We have plenty of experience. At independence, they promised utopia. Undelivered. Constitutional dictatorship and came and they promised democracy and good governance. Undelivered. Coalition government came and promised ‘everything,” and then took us to the brink. President Barrow promised digital development and took corruption to new levels.

The presidency of Adama Barrow appears to be proper beginning of a distorted focus on “economic” development at the expense of political and social stability. The main goal of the National Development Plan (NDP) 2018 – 2021 is geared towards delivering good governance and accountability, social cohesion and national reconciliation. It aims to revitalize and transform the economy for the well-being of all Gambians.

“Successful implementation of the NDP will ensure achievement of government’s “medium-term development aspirations”. It will also contribute to realization of our global and regional commitments such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and African Union (AU) Agenda 2063.” Adama Barrow launching of the National Development Plan.

So much so is this thinking entrenched in the Gambia that every national issue, including those that have no intrinsic loss and profit value in the business sense, save for the well-being of society, such as justice or good governance, are now quantified in terms of monetary gain or loss.

It is common place for analysts to argue how poor leadership has resulted in the plummeting of the Gambia’s bad governance, capture of independent institutions of governance by vested interests, negative antagonistic politics, brought about by apparent social and economical inequalities in society et cetera.

Economic growth amid simmering social and political turmoil is building on quicksand. Should such turmoil reach an inflection point, “growth” – economic or otherwise, can be eroded within days, if not hours. Paper billionaires, whose wealth is anchored on the performance the Ghana Stock Exchange can become paupers in an instance.

Yahya Jammeh, the man who ruled the Gambia for 22 years with an iron fist, indoctrinated the republic “The Gambia No Problem” philosophy of ” The Smiling Coast,” which to many was an acronym for “stability” and “corruption.”

Yahya’s government was not so preoccupied with economic “growth” per se, but the plundering of the national treasury for the benefit of a few well-connected individuals. The practice continues today but is well disguised as overpriced national “flagship” projects anchored in the vision 2018-2021 National Development Plan, economic development blueprint.

Desirous to improve Gambia’s economic and FDI prospects after 22 years of Yahya’s mismanagement, Adama Barrow want to embark on rejuvenating the economy. Ordinary citizens on the streets embraced the concept of a “working nation.” “Double digit” economic growth became a buzzword for government bureaucrats whenever they addressed themselves to Gambia’s vision for economic prosperity.

Yahya and Adama both solely focused on economic growth at the expense of everything else. They govern the country as if the republic is a profit-making corporation. They cared more for the economic performance of the state than the factors that contribute to stability and cohesion among the citizens of the state. In their version of statecraft, they believed, and wrongly so, that a growing economy is a panacea for societal distrust of government and among ordinary citizens.

Under Yahya, the economy expanded in his first term in office, courtesy of increased government spending in infrastructure. Many dark streets in the Greater Banjul Area, hereto neglected under Sir Dawda, were lit up to, the result being improved security and thus the ability to showcase his economic and infrastructural development in justifying the failures of the People’s Progressive Party’s 30 years of governance. New roads, hospitals, schools, bridges and airport expansion projects were undertaken.

It is at this point that Adama’s government discovered booming China – a country willing to finance any project, with little or no care for transparency or corruption on two conditions – (a) pay back loan installments when due and (b) employ Chinese expatriates to provide labor for the intended project

The era of government sponsored mega-projects, sometimes ill-conceived, had officially begun. Unfortunately, the opportunity to participate in these projects (as is now, as it was then) is usually confined to a group of well-connected individuals through single sourcing or flawed tendering processes. As with Yahya, the Gambia, cronyism, tribalism and corruption were part of Adama Barrow’s leadership mantra.

Enter vision 2018-2012. In the continuing desire to copy the tiger economies of Asia, President Barrow’s advisors put in place a policy framework to ensure that the Gambia “becomes” a middle-income economy by 2021. Many critics of Vision 2021, the work of global consultancy firm, McKinsey, see it as a “copy, paste” of other economic blueprints from elsewhere. A document whose contents are not unique and tailored for the Gambian condition.

Vision 2018-2021 has four pillars viz: Economic, Social, Political and the “Enablers” which include – macroeconomic stability, land reform, security and public-sector reforms. Instead of approaching the Vision 2018-2021 framework holistically, subsequent governments, from that of Adama Barrow, will turn the blueprint into an orgy of careless government spending in the name of “flagship” projects.

While the government of Adama Barrow seems to be in a rush to actualize the Economic pillar of the NDP blueprint, there is very little comprehensive effort, in addressing items under the “Social” and “Political” pillar. National cohesion and the implementation of the Coalition Agenda are housed as items under the political pillar. I am yet to see any meaningful “flagship” efforts to address national cohesion, simmering feelings of exclusion and inequalities.

Vision 2018-2021 should not simply be an orgy of “flagship” projects. The delivery of the government cannot be the place for the practice social and economic exclusion and lack of diversity. Vision 20 21 framework must be executed in its wholesomeness within the context and reality that is Gambia.

A new generation of Gambians are now learning its political lessons. Digital development and Mega Infrastructural projects was never going to be delivered (even digital freedom is not guaranteed). They are about to learn that the State and the city are not to be embraced— they are to be survived. In the Gambia, we travel light, and with an exit plan.