JULY 2019

The advent of the democracy and rule of law in the Gambia’s 3rd republic rolls to complete 3 years soon. Taking stock of what has been accomplished could be premature at this moment. There is still so much ground to cover and so many unfulfilled expectations. For me the noise and shouting – the competition of ideas in my view – need to be heard and listened to as beautiful Gambia music. Each one of us has the right to voice opinions and make contribution of ideas in the public space.  Such battle of ideas has to be accommodated within the limits of polite discuss, respecting others with different and even contradicting opinions and ensuring no harm comes to others or society at large. The debate about the rules for such an open Gambian society would hopefully be addressed under the CRC. My focus here is on how to translate ideas into practical solutions for Gambians.

I personally believe the expectations to deliver for the Borrow Government in early 2017 were over the top. The bar was set too high if not in writing but at least in our collective expectations. Like many others I was overwhelming focused on the brutality and open day rubbery of the Yaya Jammeh regime.  The clamouring for corrective justice, redress and overnight rectification of all that went wrong was impulsive and strong. So many of us wanted so much to be done so quickly it is hardly surprising that within 3 years our varying expectations are openly becoming major political difference.  This is what democracies should do in my view.  The noise of the plenty (tyranny of the majority perhaps) and the seemingly lack of consensus agreement on almost nothing, could give the notion of confusion and lack of progress. But only under despotic rule would all opinions converge. My hope is that Gambians would continue to disagree and voice as many opinions as possible. We should agree to disagree but debate based on the strength of ideas. Opinion and social data in the Gambia is porous. But this cacophony does not in any way connote that progress is not been made in some fundamentals ways.

The fact that we were able to transition from autocratic Jammeh rule into what prevails today without any major social upheavals for me is a huge achievement.  There are many Gambians who immensely benefited during Jammeh era. There may even be a few people who genuinely believe AJJ is best for the country. Despite 22 years of neglect and destruction of governance system, we as a society have transformed and re-evolved within 3 years.  Anyone visiting the country for the first time today could be forgiven for missing what it means to live under the constant threat of NIA arrest/torture, the wanton destruction of life and property that prevail under Jammeh until 2016. The semblance of the rule of law is back in the Gambia.  The mercenary judges delivering terrible political judgement no longer torment us. No one will doubt the country’s profile and standing in the international arena is much better now.

The Gambian economy by all indications is reviving. Interest rates are much lower than any time during Jammeh; fiscal prudence has significantly improved even with some lapses and GDP growth is a commendable 6.6%   in 2018. The corrective governance programs have also recorded credible progress from the investigation of the thievery of Jammeh and his cronies to the CRC and the TRRC.

Most of us probably wanted more and wanted all of them yesterday. A blue print National Development Plan was developed. Many experts in various fields have been clamouring for various sectors to become priorities for allocation of development resources. Governance lapses have received more open debate and criticism. The social media has been instrumental in the advocacy for transparency.

The current administration has had a number of probably avoidable lapses.  The perambulations around the political coalition that removed Jammeh should have been dealt with quickly in 2017. The AJJ style of hiring and firing of ministers should have also been in the past. The clamouring of credit for removal of Jammeh is becoming a mockery. The real heroes for the removal of Jammeh in my view are those who paid the ultimate price. There are also many who quietly and actively sacrificed and contributed without any publicity. Gambians as a people have the credit for removing Jammeh. The lapses in fiscal policy are unfortunate but rectifiable. Many publicity flaws could have been due to sheer lack proper briefing and experience at the presidency. I sincerely believe we could have repealed many of the obnoxious Jammeh era laws without waiting for the CRC. For me these are grave concerns but not sufficient to derail from the credit of what we as a society achieved since January 2017.

One of the areas that the Jammeh era destruction is most profound for me is the civil service.  Many see the civil service as pen pushers which may largely be true.  But all national development ideas require a team of professionals to translate the strategies, plans and funds into roads, schools, health facilities and communication networks. The success or otherwise of projects usually lies in the technical skills, competence and dedication of the team to oversee the project. The attention to details to ensure mistakes are not repeatedly made is usually key to implementation.  I am not sure what strengths  exists within the various sectors but very much doubt the capability to generate ideas and ability to transport these ideas into activities.  Optimizing the impact/use of limited resources requires political will but that would not be sufficient to deliver. Rebuilding that core technical capacity would not happen in 5 or 10 years but we can make a good start now. Outsourcing such capacity is a possibility with all the concomitant issues that come with that. The developmental expectations for me are valid but probably the bar was set a bit too high considering the gutted out civil service. I will not fault the current government for failure or weakness of NDP implementation. I wish it could have been done quicker and better but considering the limitation of the technical team around the corridors of power I will not push too hard on this rather focus on civil service capacity building.

For me the achievement of us as a country and society in the last three years is commendable. The essence of Yaya Jammeh style leadership is perhaps dead for good in the country. Its spirit may still linger in some odd corners. I will urge the government of the day not to take anything for granted.  Nobody could have foreseen Jammeh era coming to us – the unbelievable stories from TRRC revelations. No of us should take the current situation for granted not least the government.

I hope we can wrap the corrective governance programs in the next year or two  and face the next decade as one united country were a climate of tolerance and understanding underpins all our actions and were we can hold any government accountable to us.    May all our words and deeds, as individuals and as a society, reflect an inner degree of moderation and self-restrain.

In my view the next stage of our political debate (2020 onwards) post corrective governments and new constitution, should focus on some key areas. I also think we should gauge our political discuss on what ideas politicians have to address these issues rather than mudslinging.  We should demand aspirants to high office layout economic strategies and plans.  A few ideas:

Sound monetary and fiscal policy. Devolve and entrench monetary policy as the role of the Central Bank of Gambia. Fiscal rectitude should be the standard. We may have to rethink the current management structure at the CBG. Develop a much stronger system of accountability, compliance and transparency of public expenditures.  This may require some major sector reform in the accountant general and auditor general areas of work

Establishing the enabling environment for the private sector led growth (tax and law reform) and limiting the state’s role in the business environment. This would require a new look at public enterprises. In the 21st century why should the state run a mobile phone company or a transport company or an abattoir or bakery? It is not so much about what to do with GAMCEL or others but as a general basic government strategic principle.   I firmly believe that government should be an enabler and NOT a creator of jobs. The private sector is better at allocation of resources and therefore the engine of growth.

Infrastructure development and the environment: develop a public private partnership framework for infrastructure development.  There has to be a pyridine shift in thinking. Government may no longer have to be the chief provider. If this requires paying at the point of use and at cost for public infrastructures like bridges, roads, refuse collection, water, electricity etc – so be it.  A public policy moving in that direction or alternative strategies  should be expected in the agenda of any political platform.

Social services: Apex hospitals and Universities have similar profile. They service a small percentage of the population but have very high social and political clout. Does it make sense to spend a higher proportion of resources on these top services at the expense of basic primary health care and basic primary/secondary education.  Providing good quality education and health for all is good political slogan but setting realistic parameters has to be one of the hard political choices.

These and many other should be openly debated and discussed. There may never be any easy choices. We may never agree on all things but every strategy would be scrutinized and evaluated with lessons informing the next steps.

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