The Parastatals: Catalyst for Economic transformation in the New Gambia

Friday, January 26, 2018

While many of us, do believe that the private sector is indeed, the ‘engine’ of the Gambian economy, as in many liberal economies - it is also an economic doctrine of fact as in Keynesian economic thought – the catalytic role of the public sector in stimulating economic growth, and by extension, sustainable development. Hence, the Gambian public enterprises are indeed the spark plugs of the economic engines!

The role of the public sector in a transformative process like the one we find ourselves. It is better articulated by one of the current economic thinkers of our time, in her best seller – the ‘Entrepreneurial State’: debunking public v. private sector myths, by Marianna Mazzucato, Professor of economics, University College London, UK, (Mazzucato, 2013).

To directly quote Prof., Mazzucato, “America’s economic success, is a result of public and state funded investments in innovation and technology, rather than a result of the small state, free market doctrine that often receives credit for the country’s strong economy.”

She cited the gains in public health research, spearheaded by the NIH – National Institute of Health; and the microchip/semi-conductor revolution, another public research endeavour, which led to, one of the most transformational societal public goods of this century - the iPhone technology, and the on-going fourth (4th) industrial revolution innovations such as Google, and other global tech companies!

For small state Gambia, we need not spend our meagre resources in upstream innovation and technology research undertakings…we do not have the comparative advantage, of bigger and industrialised nations like the US, Japan, or South Korea, to name just a few. What we need to do is to unleash our young and upcoming private entrepreneurs, to do what developing countries like Kenya, are doing – to partake in the development of downstream technology innovations like MPESA (i.e., digital money transfer product-services) - similar to utility bill pay platforms, that local GSM companies in The Gambia have innovated – to support customer-product types, such as the NAWEC buy-and-consumed Cash Power products.

The underpinning of The Gambian economy on a private sector led economy policy, could not have been possible in the past three decades, and going forward - without the critical role of public sector economic operators - seeding the risk capital needed, by the small-state Gambian economy to spearhead its economic reform and development programmes.

A classic case in point, is the strategic role played by Gamtel in the eighties (1980s) – in the laying of the South Bank backbone fibre optic cable, from Banjul to Basse, which is conceded even by Gamtel’s critics, as a foresighted transformational investment initiative, without doubt, sparked, and led, the technology and digitalization - modernisation of the Gambian economy, in particular – the GSM, broadband and internet revolutions.

When the world and the West Africa region was going “GSM”, it was again, the public sector (i.e., Gamtel) that leap-frogged this country from an obsolete analogue telephone technology, and invested in GSM telephony infrastructure in 1999 – a key enabler of the birth of Gamcel, Africell, Qcell, Commium, and hopefully, many to come in the future!

 A Guest Editorial