As the New Gambia slowly morph from two decades of dictatorship into new political and economic opportunities, President Barrow and his cabinet should consider calling for series of National Economic Summits on major sectors of the Economy. Almost all major economic sectors in the country needs a thorough review and complete overhaul if the New Gambia is to get close to anything that resembles other emerging economies within the sub-region, across Africa and beyond.
It is an understatement to state that Jammeh’s one man control of the entire economic, political and social apparatus in the Gambia for two decades left an economic dent that could hardly be repaired in decades. Some of the major areas that could benefit from these National summits among others are the service and productive sectors of the economy such as Healthcare, Educational, Agriculture, Trade and Employment and Tourism just to mention a few. When a thorough assessment and study of the foundations and basic functions of these sectors is closely examined, one would realized that these departments have virtually been stagnant and or are completely ruined from inside out. An on the surface look at what these departments had to go through in two decades, one must realized that there has been so many leadership personnel changes at the top that these institutions could not be operating with strong leadership and efficiency that can sustain their viability long term.
One of the fundamental issues which is hardly talked about anywhere is the level of human resources brain drain Gambia had to endure in two plus decades under Yahya Jammeh. Without fear of exaggeration, one would be right to estimate that over 80% of Gambia’s most productive educated class have either been driven out of the country into exile or are forced out of government and the private sector work force. The situation was so bad that the average tenure of employment in Jammeh’s cabinet appointments was about three to six months. This did not only stop with government cabinet appointments but extended into other government departments. It wasn’t unusual to hear Directors of Parastals being hired, fired and recycled like playing games of musical chairs. This even extended to the private sector where no one dare hire experience and skilled citizens who were fired by the government.
In essence, the only option for Gambia’s educated class especially those with professional training skills such as nurses, teachers, Doctors and other areas was to flee the country in search of greener pastures. Many former young technocrats in the first Republic and experienced civil servants, security personnel and many others all left for United Nations; World Bank, Arab Islamic Bank jobs and other employment sectors in the developed economies. A large young and middle age Gambians who fled the country got themselves educated and trained in various disciplines and are contributing immensely in the economies they are employed in. Another good size of the population went into business entrepreneurship and many are doing extremely well in the outside world.
In order to harness and repatriate such massive Gambian talent back into the country, the new government must look at new and innovative ways of engaging such demographics and well trained population. One great way to start tapping into such pool of human resources is to organize and encourage the participation of such population in a series of national summits in various sectors of the economy. Such a summit could be a national dialogue for citizens to present policy and program documents on how to overhaul areas such as healthcare, education, tourism and agriculture. It is evident that Gambia has so many medically trained personnel such as Physicians, Biomedics, Pharmacists, Nurses, anesthesiologists and many more who could help come up with revolutionary healthcare delivery options for the New Gambia. Similar wealth of knowledge and expertise can also be found in the technology; Engineering, Education, Business entrepreneurship, Agricultural development, Banking etc who can equally engage in discussions and innovation in moving these areas forward. All the Barrow government would need to do is to create the environment and encourage such summits to take place in the country. Invitation could be extended to foreign investors to also assess the situation and consider investing in the Gambia. Investors’ primary incentive to invest in an economy is political stability. One that environment is created investors will pour in in various sectors.
In fact there are precedence and or models in West Africa that the Gambia can learn from and adapt such strategies. In Ghana for example, under the current President and the past two presidents the government created a Data bank of Ghanaian Diaspora Experts to help the government tap into the massive wealth of Ghanaian Nationals working in the Diaspora. Former President Mahama created an office of Diaspora Affairs within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs which was largely responsible for engaging Ghanaians to return home or help them set up educational institutions and business entities in the country. Ghana’s new President Nana Akufo- Addo also took additional steps to create an Executive level Office of Diaspora Affairs responsible for tapping into Ghana’s Diaspora wealth of knowledge and expertise.
President Barrow can introduce such initiatives within his ministries that will allow him to go beyond just calling for Diaspora Gambians to return home. His government must understand that this class of citizens who though fled the country for so long, did not abandon the nation but rather stayed in touch and fought for political change that brought him in power. Dealing with the Diaspora Gambian will not be an easy task as they are more vocal and politically conscious. Many of these citizens are very comfortable in their current lives with very good jobs and some with young families who will find it difficult to resettle back to the home land. However, with empowerment and strategic initiatives from the government, many of these citizens will be willing to head home and contribute to national development. There is certainly no shortage of Gambian expertise in almost every sector of the economy who can help engineer new economic development in the country. It is therefore prudent for this new government to take proactive measures to engage this population. A great start would be to initiate series of national economic summits to look into various sectors of the economy.