It is just the beginning

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Our new dispensation under the Barrow government and administration is just about one-year-old, but it has been a chequered period for the powers that be and indeed the whole nation.

All are aware of the manner of governance transitional period the nation underwent, which is still held responsible for the staggering managerial process the current government is taking the country through.

It must, however, be said that many things have changed, probably for the better, such as freedom of expression, putting in place some stop gaps in the loopholes of the national economy and amending some diplomatic malaise left behind by the previous regime.

Some of the changes are outlined in the New Year Message of the president as thus: “The GDP growth for 2018 is projected at 3.8 percent compared to a growth of 2.2 percent in 2016. The agriculture, industry and service sectors are all expected to register positive growth compared to the year ending [2017].

“Inflation has reversed its rising trend declining from 8.8 percent in January to 7.4 percent in October 2017 reflecting the gradual decline in food prices and stabilization of the Dalasi.

“Treasury bill rates have declined between September 2016 and September 2017. This has reduced the cost of Government’s borrowing by close to 50 percent and this trend is set to continue in the coming year.

“The Dalasi has remained stable since April 2017; with gross international reserves increasing from less than one month of import cover at end-2016 to well over 4 months by the end of year under review.

“We have already set the ball rolling for re-joining the Commonwealth and other international bodies such as the International Criminal Court and we have also reaffirmed our membership in the international centre for settlement of investment disputes to encourage and restore Investor confidence.

“We have since restored free speech and freedom of the press. Politics of fear and intimidation have no place in today’s Gambia.”

All these are positive trends in the development trajectory of the nation.

However, as a government that has taken up the challenge of steering the affairs of this country, it is expected that the wit, foresight, tact, wisdom and ability is there to carry on the development process that will take this country to another level.

After a year of wrestling with the economic, political, diplomatic and social challenges left behind by the Jammeh regime, our new government authority and nation must be able to forge ahead and make good progress, even in these trying times. So, for us, this period and year is regarded as just the beginning of our national development, and whether it is going to take an upward or downward trajectory is a matter of wait-and-see.

Meanwhile, there are some pills to swallow in what our president also said in his New Message to the nation that, “it is clear that we as a nation did not begin this task [of nation building] with the best of the conditions”.  Rather, “we started from a position undermined by decades of mismanagement and undemocratic consolidation of power that weaken our institutions. Our coffers not only emptied, but we are loaded with huge debt. The country has debts of more than 1 billion US dollars which is a staggering 120% of debt to GDP. This is equivalent to each household owing about 4,500 US dollars. In addition, state assets have been neglected. Electricity is a case in point.” 

Considering these huge challenges, it is clear that the Barrow government has a lot of hot potatoes on their plate, which makes us believe that the year 2018 is just the beginning of meeting head-on the battles of transforming Jammeh’s economic ramifications from grass to grace.

The US$1 billion debt - which is broken down to be US$45,000 debt owed by every household in the country - and the perennial problem of electricity and power outages are just some of the burning issues bedevilling the growth of the  national economy, especially as they continue to affect investment growth in the country.

It is but important that the president has pinpointed some strategic sectors to prioritise and transform in the course of his tenure, which include energy and infrastructure, agriculture, health, education and youth empowerment, and tourism.

Well, as he rolls out his development plan, in the new beginning, we believe he is also facing the test, not of manhood, but of state management. Therefore we are also monitoring with keen interest his development drive to see whether his government will live up to expectations.

“The biggest determinant in our lives is culture, where we are born, what the environment looks like. But the second biggest determinant is probably governance, good governance or a certain kind of governance makes a huge difference in our lives.”

Nicolas Berggruen