Opinion: THE ECONOMIC IMPACT OF THE BARRA-BANJUL BRIDGE

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Introduction 

Development comes with cost implications. However, the locus of control and the manifestation of the benefactor mechanics should focused on job creation and economic growth. To build an emerging, modern, self-reliant, prosperous, sovereign and financially-independent economy, the government of The Gambia need to create bridges of economic opportunities through the window of investment, entrepreneurship, innovation, technology and infrastructure, propelled by a vibrant private-public sector partnership. The mentioned above are the vehicle forces that provide the vital recipes for sustainable development and helps in stimulating economic growth, and prosperity both at the national and within the local level. Their absence in development-finance will have negative implications in the quest for nation-building.  History had shown that Niumi and the North Bank Region (NBR) in general have had an unfortunate past that continues to stifles the prospects of its contributions to the Gambia’s socio-economic development. NBR has become one of the non-performing regions in the Gambian economy. It is one of the most neglected regions in The Gambia and has been placed under the web of economic stagnation either by design or default, due to the successive governments’ poor policies that only focused on ‘Urban Development”, instead of holistic and diversified rural-urban development, across all regions of the country.  What is economic stagnation? Economic stagnation refers to a long-term period of near zero-growth rates and this is what transpired in Niumi and the NBR over the past 53 years. The past 53 years of Gambia’s nationhood had put Niumi and NBR in a disadvantaged position that locked-out the prospects of unshackling business opportunities beyond the streams of impossible due to the presence of infrastructure deficit to support business growth and development. And this is the case of Barra, Essau and Amdallai! Those who had been introduced and trained as canoe operators in river transportation within the strip of Barra and Banjul and commercial transporters (i.e taxi-drivers and apprentices) at the Amdallai – Karang border of Senegal are made to believe it as the only form of business or trade one can do to earn a living and beat up poverty. It is a mistaken idea and no one should hold on to these unsustainable jobs that lacks the pedestal baseline for creativity, innovation and growth. Politicians and policy-makers in the successive governments had neglected the NB region and deliberately killed its tourism prospects, as historical places like Fort Bullen, Juffureh and James Island were left unattended in a horrible state of dilapidation and neglect for reasons best known to them. They made the citizens and residents of the region to believe that they were working for them, while denying them development opportunities to grow and expand bridges of trade and business across our borders.

As an advocate of sustainable development and economic growth, I welcome the pronouncement made by H.E President Adama Barrow during the first leg of his constitutionally-mandated annual ‘Meet the People’s Tour’ to construct the Barra-Banjul Bridge in 2019. Wow! I am elated as it is a laudable initiative and will largely present a new facelift in our infrastructure deficits as a country. Sorry to say but we as a country are lagging in the build-up of modern infrastructure that will necessitate the need to speed up our national development in the transportation sub-sector. The impact of bridges on the socio-economic development of a country cannot be over-emphasized. It is a critical component in a nation’s infrastructure of which The Gambia is no exception. Bridges are a lifeline to a nation’s development as they provides that vital links connecting cities and villages, thus deepening the avenues of inter and intra-trade and commerce within regions and nations. It is a key driver of economic activity and helps in shaping the economic geography of a country. And its absence can deny a country or a region the prospects of future development growth and improvement on the architecture of its infrastructure regarding urban evolution, business growth, science and technology, innovation, and expansion. A justifiable cause for a window of economic bridges in our infrastructure desires is the recently inaugurated #SeneGambiaBridge with the overarching aim to enhance upward mobility, strengthen regional integration and improve socio-economic and political ties between the two countries (Senegal & The Gambia).

Why the Bridge: Consequences and Benefits

Development comes with unintended consequences. These consequences are not eventful disruptions but rather creative destruction where something new and impactful to society and its people is earmarked to take place and catch up with the rest of the world. In economic terms it is factored as the measurement strategy for what is been sacrificed for the public good. Therefore, no single nation has ever escaped the consequential development challenges in her quest for national development. However, nations that want to develop must be willing to sacrifice that opportunity cost through the dynamism of creative destruction. And this is what the proposed building of the Barra-Banjul Bridge is earmarked to achieve. It is wrong to insinuate that there would be loss of business and income for the canoe operators plying the Banjul-Barra strip as river transporters. That is cheap idea to buy-in and would only be possible if the canoe operators refuse to seize the greater opportunities this project will present to them in a wider context as a more vibrant and sustainable job opportunities, economic growth and development within the strips of Banjul- Barra and beyond. It is no accident that people will have radically opposing views on whether it is a priority of the government to build a bridge, under our current circumstances as a country facing a bastardized and dying economy where all other critical sectors needing life-support in the form of development-finance or funding to put them on the trajectory competitiveness and resilience. However, we need to dislodge where we are stuck on our understanding of development and set on the way to endless prosperity. Trying to argue and justify on what is right or need to be done is a matter of choices. Choices requires as a country to prioritize it scarce resources for sustainable development as the enumerated problems in the sectors of the economy, health, education, energy and agriculture cannot be solved at once. True, we are faced with monumental challenges as a country, but our challenges should not limit us to innovate and drive resources to other sectors that could spur growth and solved all our economic nightmares as a country within the twinkling of an eye if the right investment is made. Remember, a one-time infusion to a project of this nature could make a huge difference to people’s life and setting a country on a new trajectory of economic independence and financial stability in terms of revenue generation, job creation and enhanced trade, commerce and businesses, and with the possibility of transforming Niumi to become the belt of an entrepreneurial region and the ‘Food Basket” for The Gambia.

Impact and Benefits of the Barra-Banjul Bridge

For the naysayers with the views that it will put people at a disadvantaged position, I say it is untrue as the trade-off for the construction of the proposed Banjul-Barra Bridge (3B) is enormous and has huge economic prospects than the shaky disadvantages enumerated by the forces against innovation. We must note that development comes with many unintended consequences attached to it. However, challenges should serve as a motivating factor to make it happen and see its benefits to people and society. Worthy to mention is that the absence of good transportation system within the belt of Barra and Banjul has put NBR at a disadvantaged position in the socio-economic development of The Gambia and commercial vehicle owners can attest to this fact as they have to spend days and weeks, just to travel from one end to the other part. The region is neglected and lacks every modern development infrastructure, hence making the towns developmentally dissipated and economically unviable. 

Here are my thoughts on the benefits of the proposed Banjul-Barra Bridge.

1. It will provide that infrastructure facelift to the City of Banjul, Niumi, NBR and the Gambia in general, considering our current infrastructure deficit.

2. It will impact lives, enhance business growth and development; thus creating that vital connection links between Gambia and Senegal and the surrounding villages and towns within the belt of Niumi.

3. Health-wise, it will ease up mobility in the transportation of patients and curtail preventable deaths for lack of transportation or having to wait for hours to ferry patients from one bank to the other. 

3. It will create employment opportunities to the teeming youthful population and infrastructure-wise it will lift the image of Banjul, make it viable and Niumi will be transformed into a mega-city that will connect Banjul and Dakar. This is contingent on the availability of funds and if it is the most urgent need of government.

4. It will make crossing possible and trade more cost-effective, thus providing the ease of transportation of persons, goods, and availability of vital services across the North Bank Region-NBR. It will reduce the travel time.

5. Enormous job prospect with potential skill transfers and acquisitions will be provided to the populace.

6. People (workers) will earn wages during the construction of the bridge and it will create a bastion of financial gains to both the sellers and traders, whose products and services will be sought by the workers.

7. There will be an increased cash flow as economic forces within the region and the city of Banjul, and Dakar, Senegal will be enhanced, hence complimented to a larger extent.

8. The town of Barra will be remodeled to become a modern business and finance hub, and its housing infrastructure will be boosted and tourism products will be promoted and developed, as it has a huge tourism prospects if this bridge is successfully constructed.

On any objections:

I do not have any objection to the proposed bridge and fully in support of it if the government deem it necessary as one of its top development priority. True that other critical sectors of the economy like health, education, energy, and agriculture needs more development support regarding investments to resuscitate them from dying state of under-funded and neglect. We are resource constraint as a country and these sectors need vital resources and development finance through the dynamics of development-centered investments to revamp the health of the economy with the practical insights of sustainability. Therefore, if the proposed bridge goes as planned it will be nesting home to provide the necessary financial support to fund the mentioned sectors of the Gambian economy, if generated funds are properly accounted and used wisely.

Conclusion

Let us not become accustomed to the old way of doing things or thinking, as restrictive mindsets towards this opportunity only prolongs the streams of economic stagnation that won’t create any possibilities besides our current sorry state of affairs. We are a nation beset with poverty of ideas and the very reason we must muster the courage to acknowledge our deficit in infrastructure development, innovation and creativity to remain competitive, vibrant and prosperous. The question we must ask ourselves is: Should we remain in the prison cells of economic stagnation or should we strive and open windows of possibilities that would propel an entrepreneurial region beyond the cycle of government and the citizens?

NB: I am willing to provide a pro-bono financial and economic advice to government on revenue generation, employment creation and business development opportunities for the residents of Barra and other satellite villages within the belt of NBR and beyond on the bridge project.  

Author: Dr. Assan Jallow