‘Era of Masibo’ over for Gambia: UK-based professor

Monday, October 23, 2017

A UK-based Gambian professor has said that the era of ‘musiba’ or ‘masibo’ for The Gambia has gone with the defeat of the dictatorial regime of ex-president Yahya Jammeh.

“The era of ‘musiba’ or ‘masibo’ was the period when everything is negative. Everything is fighting-off an enemy, an enemy of the people, effectively.  All the systems of the country have been corrupted not just financially but structurally. People were afraid, people were scared. Family upon family; murders, crimes, fear for the protection of life, limb and liberty. That was the past,” Gibril Faal told The Point in an exclusive interview.

He said Gambians, luckily, have gotten out of this.  “So we have to leave it behind. We have to learn the lesson and the biggest lesson is ‘Never Again’ should it be.  And it is not enough just to be on the defensive against it.  We need to be proactive,” he said.

He said the proactive part is, Gambians have the reality that is the very opposite of the past – “a world, a time where it is about hope, about opportunity, about how to help each other, about joy, about pleasant relations, about blessing, about having good wishes for everybody.  That is the sort of culture.  If you are in that mode, you don’t even have to defend issues of ‘fitnah’ and issues of ‘masibo’ because you are totally engulfed in a virtuous cycle of possibility and positivism…” he said.

Gibril M.O. Faal is a UK-based Gambian business and development executive.  Faal is founding and interim director of ADEPT (Africa Europe Diaspora Development Platform) and co-founder and director of GK Partners, a UK-based company that specialises on socially responsible business models, social enterprise, development finance and programme implementation.

He is a visiting professor in practice at London School of Economics and vice chair of Bond, the platform of UK NGOs working on international development. Through his experience and services, he was appointed OBE (Order of the British Empire) in Queen Elizabeth’s birthday Honours List in 2014. Faal advises governments, multinational bodies and corporations and international agencies on migration and development issues and was a contributing member in the drafting of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Prof. Faal is currently in The Gambia conducting an executive training on Migration and Sustainable Development Goals (MSDG) as a way to inform new government’s policy on diaspora return, and mainstreaming diaspora contributions to the ‘New Gambia’. In this interview with journalist Sanna Camara, they delved into several pertinent issues.

You have spent decades living in the UK.  Let me ask: are you an immigrant, a diasporan or an expatriate?

(Laughs)…perhaps a diasporan, because I have lived most of my life in the UK; I went there when I was 19 and I have lived there for 30 years. A migrant is someone who lives abroad for more than a year. So for 30 years, that is a diasporan.

Yesterday at the opening of this event, you remarked that the era of ‘Masiba’ is over in The Gambia… Please elaborate what you meant by this?

The era of ‘musiba’ or ‘masibo’ was the period when everything is negative. Everything is fighting-off an enemy, an enemy of the people effectively. All the systems of the country have been corrupted not just financially but structurally. People were afraid, people were scared. Family upon family; murders, crimes, fear for the protection of life, limb and liberty. That was the past.

Luckily, we have gotten out of it. So we have to leave it behind. We have to learn the lesson and the biggest lesson is ‘Never Again’ should it be.  And it is not enough just to be on the defensive against it.  We need to be proactive.  The proactive part is, you have the reality that is the very opposite of it - a world, a time in The Gambia where it is about hope, about opportunity, about how to help each other, about joy, about pleasant relations, about blessing, about having good wishes for everybody. That is the sort of culture. If you are in that mode, you don’t even have to defend issues of ‘fitnah’ and issues of ‘masibo’ because you are totally engulfed in a virtuous cycle of possibility and positivism…

But there are still those who believe that Jammeh is the best thing to have ever happened to this country. Do you agree with this?

I don’t even want to dignify that with a comment.

The debate about the Gambian diaspora is still raging and you are a leading light in it. You are guiding the government as an international expert on how best they can harness the potentials of this group of Gambians. What are some of these potentials that exist out there for the country’s diaspora?

I do what I can to give guidance and advice to the government… but my approach generally is solution focused.  I do less advice and guiding rather than saying this is something we can do. Like this project, Migration and Sustainable Development in The Gambia (MSDG), it has very many elements; so that the question to government is, do you want to do this? Is this a positive thing to do? … and we help them to do it, rather than just advice and say,‘do it’. 

I also said that we are in the era of implementation. It is now getting things done rather than telling people how to do it. It is not about knowledge, it is about skills.  It is not about policies it is about implementation.  So all the broad frameworks we have are, now with the completion of the national development plan (NDP), there will be a general framework for policies to be hooked on.  So, even without the NDP, The Gambia has already signed to the Sustainable Development Goals – that is good enough a framework for everyone to go to work.

Some critics believed the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are loftier for the developing countries to achieve, especially when achieving less lofty MDGs from 2000 to 2015 became a problem?

The SDGs have fundamental differences with the MDGs because they are broader and some of the lessons learnt in the MDGs there have been attempts to rectify in the SDGs.  I had the privilege to be involved in many of the negotiations and these global negotiations are very difficult things – there’s lots of to-and-fros; lots of competing interests and you have to settle with diplomatic language that all can agree with.  But the bottom line is this: there isn’t any one of the 17 goals or 169 targets that someone will say,‘I disagree with it’ fundamentally. What you say is, ‘there is something else that I wanted in and that is not in there!’

Even those that are not there, generally, the 6Ps guiding principles that is enough as a guide for us to do whatever good we want in the name of development.

The diaspora as a specific target has never been part of a global development agenda or even the MDGs.  Why has this become so important apparently?

Since the MDGs were agreed in 1999/2000, then Kofi Annan in 2003/4 convened the GCIM (the Global Commission on International Migration) and that started a fundamental, multilateral discussion and debate on migration and development.  In fact, the first time the UN convened on migration and development creating that nexus was way back in 1994 at the Population Summit in Cairo.  But it sort of, didn’t take off until Kofi Annan set up the GCIM.  From that, we had the first high level dialogue on migration and development in 2006. From that we had the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD) which is a forum that happens every year. This means there is greater understanding of it; there is greater knowledge, greater conversation between member states, and the GFMD continued until 2013 when you had the second dialogue on migration and international development.

So by 2015, migration was already right there in the forefront on the minds of the member states of the UN. During the negotiations, there was talk on having a goal entirely by itself on migration, but of course we ended up having it in the target and many other targets in the 169.  But target 10.7 is the big one that talks about safe, regular and well managed migration.

At the UN Summit in 2015 on Financing for Development (FfD) in Addis that basically negotiated the mode of funding for the SDGs, it took delegates almost 36 hours to come to some form of agreement. How did the world agree on such an outcome amidst such diversity?

These negotiations take far more than 36 hours. You see, before people come in for the last summit, most of the hard work has been done. In this case for the FfD, there were a number of things lingering but it was mainly around taxation. It was effectively, to put it crudely, what do you do with tax dodging, the big companies not paying fair taxes…? This was the area that was contested heavily and the arguments…

I was not even interested in that debate at the time. I was trying to get them to say that target 10.7C, which says that on remittances, no corridor should cost more than 3 per cent. I was trying to get them to agree for it to say 1 per cent instead by 2030.  So I failed. My whole purpose, I knew it wouldn’t happen that last minute, was to make it very clear in the minds of the decision makers that 3 per cent was not good enough a target.  Because there, I got finance ministers from several countries who in exasperation, said to me, ‘it’s too late. We agree with you that 3 per cent is not good enough but it is too late, we can’t do it’. I told them ‘you sure’? Because two months later, we had negotiations at Valetta Summit which led to the Valetta Action Plan, and for that, in addition to confirming the 3 per cent UN target, there was another provision that says that between Europe and Africa, there will be special negotiations so that those targets would be achieved by 2020.

So when we were negotiating in Addis in 2015, we had in mind what we can achieve in Velleta, Malta.

The Africa Union’s definition of the diaspora became another contentious debate as to who actually comprised the diaspora. What is your thought on that?

It was a very inclusive and generous definition. My observations, contained in a presentation to the AU about it, were how I couldn’t see the institutions of the AU Commission implement it. To me, it was more a good political or policy stand point rather than something you can translate into the structures.  So my suggestions was, and now many countries have taken the lead in doing that, keep that as a guide for countries to define their diaspora as a region of their country. But because they have sovereign authority, the things they provide for their regions they would not be able to provide for their diaspora.

Of course, now we have seen Senegal taking a huge step by giving its diaspora 15 out of 165 seats of the national assembly. That’s a practical way of pursuing this issue of the diaspora. It is the sixth region of the AU. It needs to go back to each country, so in Gambia, we have five regions and two mayoralties, so the diaspora should be the eight region of The Gambia.

You conducted training for members of the cabinet regarding these same issues of migration and development in February. Just tell me how in your view, is this government faring so far?

Some of the successes are obvious; we are in a new era. Freedom and civil liberties are being observed generally. I believed that the goodwill that the people have given them they have received it in good spirit, in that they are focused, they want to do the right thing. Of course I and everyone else think that things should be moving much faster because everyone is entitled to their opinion. My sense is, the so-called honeymoon period they should enjoy that, but very soon the government would have to show results.

I think it may be achieving results and not communicating it very well. For example, since they came to power, I think the reserves of the country have improved significantly; not many people know that. Suddenly, all of our development partners have come back, and are looking to engage with us. That is a plus. They are certainly just overwhelmed with the practicalities and capacities to implement and that, when I speak with them they admit that freely. So, in the coming months it is about what is being done so that the capacity gap is filled up and the good is translated into practical benefits.

If there are one or two areas that you would advise them to focus on, what will it be?

Civil service reform is important because the workers of government who would implement its ideas, its workforce are the civil service. And there are major issues with the civil service, in terms of capacity, in terms of suitability, in terms of it being fit for the purpose. I think that is recognised. The government already has a civil service reform programme. 

The other thing that everyone talks about and the president has agreed when he visited NAWEC is the energy. If you don’t have the power, the energy for businesses to run that is a fundamental problem.  Of course this problem is very old. The first crises with NAWEC happened on Tobaski Day 1977. This has been going on for 40 years. That is too long a time for us to say we don’t know what to do. So if this government is able to fix it, the population will be very grateful.

Thank you sir for taking your time and talking to us

You’re welcome. 

Author: Sanna Camara
Source: Picture: Gibril Faal