Muhammed Jah Chief Guest of Honour Address at the GCCI 50th Goldern Jubilee Awards Dinner, Coco Ocean, 12.05.2017
It is with great humility and a deep sense of responsibility and a source of pride for myself, family, friends and employees of the entire Q-Group that I accept this great privilege. This GCCI dinner has multiple significance not only for me as the Chief Guest of Honor and Speaker but for the entire country both public and private. It is significant as it marks
The Golden Jubilee of GCCI and fifty years of continuity in Africa which is a rarity
This Coincides with the first democratic transition of power that signals the beginning of a NEW Gambia
This is the first opportunity by the business community to communicate with the new government and celebrate the advent of the new Gambia
This is a big task on my shoulders to engage the new President and his government but it is indeed a great privilege and responsibility as well.
Your Excellency,we are also heartened that for the first time our president is coming from the private sector, whom I have no doubt understands the numerous challenges facing this important sector. So, I am certain you know that when the business community invited you to dinner that it was not going to be only food and drinks on the table but also on the menu we have our concerns and wishes. As our eminent Guest I assure you that even the most bitter issues will be coated with ice cream so that you can digest them easily.
In commemoration of GCCI’s 50th Anniversary celebration, I accepted to take the challenge for three reasons:
GCCI over the past years has done well in championing the Gambian private sector and has achieved significant milestones.
I would have the opportunity to add my voice to the development of the private sector in the New Gambia which I believe all of us are prepared to participate in.
I love the topic which was selected by the GCCI past presidents: THE ECONOMIC TRANSFORMATION OF GAMBIA’S BUSINESS EMPOWERMENT and I will add in THE NEW GAMBIA.
The topic I am given to talk on is very complex and long; in simple terms what I will be talking about is how we can transform the Gambia’s economic in a positive way by empowering businesses. When I say Gambia’s businesses, I mean all business within or outside the Gambian territory which have a significant impact on our economy and its people. Business impacts the economy in three significant ways:
1. Tax Paid to the state to enable the operation of public services.
2. Employees that used their income to feed their families and in doing so pay more taxes
3.Investments that increase National assets and drive more employment and more taxes.
The topic at hand seems like a simple one in the ears of young entrepreneurs but a difficult one if you understand the current business dynamics and the politics of the global business environment.
We all agree that in other to have a meaningful transformation of any country’s economy, the empowerment and participation of its local businesses is the fundamental pillar. No country will prosper without a strong private sector. When we talk about local private sector we are also talking about ownership by Gambians or residents in the Gambia.
We can give examples of the participation of citizens in economic development and how they have transformed economies that were as poor as our own. These examples includeSingapore, China and Dubai.The One China model and the much talked about Dubai model, where over 50% ownership of any business in Dubai has to be owned by a citizen of the Emirates.
Donald Trump has explicitly shown the whole world their true intention with the recent “make America First” advocacy. America, China and India have all championed a buy local policy and the protection of local industry through tariffs and other measures. The EU protection of their farmers is also an example of this.
It’s an open secret that even to access financing now from any of these developed countries for infrastructural development or otherwise, it is a condition that all materials and sometimes even labor has to be taken from them. Are these few examples not enough to guide us in this country?, I ask the Question. In our local Wolof language, there is a proverb which says: I like myself does not mean I do not like you.
I strongly believe that all prosperous countries in the world believe in this fundamental business principal of empowering the local indigenous businesses as they are the same businesses which will plough back 90% of what they make from their businesses to the country in forms of opening of more businesses, building homes, and even creating charities to make the lives of the citizenry better.
Your Excellency, Ladies and Gentlemen, we should believe in Gambianisation and our policies should be seen to encourage the philosophy. Just like Macky Sall usually says, Senegal and Senegalese first, Just like Trump saying Americans first, in today’s new Gambia, we are pleased that President Barrow is also advocating for“Gambia First”. We are just learning from our bigger brothers. Let us stop having the notion that anything good should be foreign and develop a new notion that Gambians can do it if given the opportunity.
YES!! The QGroup did it just because we were given the opportunity. QCell was given the forth GSM license and we proved our self, today we are number one, we innovate and others follow with just two expatriates in the team. We were given a Banking license and we proved our self again, we took AGIB bank from big Multinational Banking Institutes like FINBank and FCMB in a state of near bankruptcy and turned it around within18 months to be one of the profitable banks in the Gambia with no expatriate.
We came in and did it. To the surprise of all, this year AGIB Bank partnered with GGC and financed the entire Groundnut purchase in the country. Farmers were paid their entire sale without any credit notes.
There are also many other Gambians working hard in their different disciplines and making changes despite all odds - Mr Edrissa Jobe took over 2 almost bankrupt multinational companies in the Gambia, Elton & TOTAL to form ATLAS (The Biggest Gambian energy Company). Hadim Gai from having a small fashion shop in Albert Market,has proven himself on the Road construction arena, Mustapfa Njie (TAF) has proven himself in the housing sector, Freddy Blell has proven himself in the hotel industry, I can go on and on…. The important thing about local success stories is that it shows the younger generation that they can also become entrepreneurs. It shows the young people that one can earn from entrepreneurship as much as from being a Doctor, Lawyer, Civil Servant etc. More importantly, entrepreneurs not only employ themselves they employ thousand others. “The Gambia indigenous” businessmen only need your trust and partnership.Gambian businessmen and technocrats are all over the world making impact. It is a great opportunity in the new Gambia to transform our minds and our economic policies to empower ourselves. This is the only way we will prosper.
It’s not fair to go to any country with empty hands make millions and you do not leave any trace. Many of the so called investors that are swarming our country are briefcase agents who would seek that you give them advances to buy books for our children when we can buy direct, to buy fuel without investing in outlets, manage our institutions without building their own.We need to interact together to know each other to build a better world. I heed my Father Imam Mass’s advice. ” If you do not interact with your relatives, friends or neighbors, you will not understand their situation. I send my kids on holidays to the village not only to learn the Quran but to know how people live in that end of our country. We hate to be used and laughed at. We want to be partners for development. We should understand that where one gets his peace is his home.
I would like to take a few moments to bore you with figures to be able to understand our current situation and why we are not moving as a country.
The 100 biggest Taxpayers in this country carry more than 80% of government revenue. This shows that there is a heavy burden of taxation on the real economy and in addition to this, we have one the highest interest rates in the world because of government borrowing.
In terms of Profit, the situation is different the Big Profit Generators are expatriating most of their profits out of the country and in industry were the tax obligation is not easy to track. How much of this profit stays in Country to develop our people?I believe less than 30%. With this percentage , we will never develop our country. Looking at the employment numbers, most of these sectors apart of tourism employ very few Gambians and most of their senior management or top staff are not even Gambians.I have no issues with companies making big money but I have an issue with any company whether Gambia or non Gambia which is repatriating 90% of the profits generated from this small country. No country in the world accepts these types of businesses anymore not even Singapore, China, Dubai, United State of America who acts as a reference models to the rest of the world.
Ladies and gentlemen, even our local entertainment industries are dead. We all now believe that we need a foreign artist to entertain us, we need a foreign religious leaders to guide us in our religion, we only watch foreign sports to entertain ourselves. Our kids only know foreign teams and players by name and can hardly tell you a name of a Gambian local player except Modou Barrow who plays in The premier league, our kids have forgotten our great religious leaders names, our kids don’t know or appreciate our great local musicians. We are becoming foreigners in our own country. This trend should stop if we want to compete with our neighbors and the rest of the world.
You will all agree with me that the media is major contributor in shaping our lives today. Everyone is happy to note that The NEW government is media friendly but this has to be backed with the right policies. Gambians have to be encouraged to provide an alternative content based on our realities otherwise we would wake up every morning listening and watching other people and other cultures. We are being indoctrinated daily by foreign media and that has to stop. It is high time that we listen, watch and criticize ourselves. Let the government encourage the development of private and independent indigenous media houses like newspapers, radio and more importantly Television. We have seen Gambians launching so many online televisionsbut we still do not have privateterrestrial television stations. I believe more Gambian owned television stations will bring about a more vibrant economy by showcasing our own culture, business and politics.
Our sons and daughters are dying in the Mediterranean sea in search of a better life when we can create the same environment for them in The Gambia if we empower our own businesses to enable them create more jobs and build and nurture more young entrepreneurs. Let us look for local solution for our local problems first before looking for the solution outside. Trade or lack of it is the cause of our problems, no local productive base that can employ the masses of the people can survive withoutgovernment protection.
This brings me to youth and women development. The Human capital of this country is being eroded everyday through the backway syndrome. We cannot persuade the youths to stop going through the back way if we do not create the necessary environment and policies for them to prosper. Over 15,000young Gambians graduate every year in grade 12 and tertiary institutions and we do not have jobs for them. Every year we have over 1000 UTG graduates, we need to cater for them and believe me government cannot give all of them jobs. Jobs need to be created by the private sectors. Today the QGroup of companies is one of the biggest private employees in The Gambia and one of the biggest Tax Payer and 2 years in a row, we are awarded the most compliant Tax payers in The Gambia. Is this not something to be proud of?
You cannot tell the young guys to stop the suicidal journey, they need jobs to feed their families and for their own dignity. These youths demonstrated their willingness to work and take risks and they look up to all of us to create the environment where they can work and thrive.
The Back bone of grass root economy in The Gambia is driven by our mothers and sisters. Access and cost of funds is still a major challenge for them even though they are the ones who feed us, pay fees for majority of kids and even pay for the expenses to get their sons through the back way to Europe in anticipation of better support from them when they reach Europe, a dream most of them don’t live to witness. Government should find ways to support women and stop spending 70% of project money in travelling and buying high consumption vehicles to run the so call women and youth empowerment projects. There must be a mechanism to bring to them soft loans schemes and to also encourage the emergence of more micro-finance intuitions.
Yes!! We keep on hearing our politician saying “business is the engine of growth of our economy” If you really believe in your slogan, you have to walk the talk. A vehicle with a Mercedes Benz engine cannot run without an equally good chassis. The chassis is the Government policies. Let’s work together to bring a better life to the ordinary Gambians. Let’s stop believing that an investor must be foreign. An Investor is anyone who invest his money, time or effort in an economy whether local or foreign. We should not only encourage our local investors to invest in the country but also encourage them to invest outside the country.
I believe that to bridge the gap between us and the developed countries quickly, we have to go digital as a country. This way government will have more data to be able to make the right policy decisions. More data and information means more accountability and of course we have to manage the intrusion into our right to privacy. The developed world is far ahead of us and one of the major factors for this development is Digital Inclusion.
Imagine if our greatgrandfathers were to wake up from their grave today, they will most likely faint when they see us watching a TV or browsing on the Internetor video calling someone thousands of miles away, they will think that we are all witches. What an evolution and this evolution happened within 20 to 30 years Just look at the social media’s impact on society at large by increasing the speed of communication, and access to information by the masses at the lowest possible cost. We all know that technology and the social media played a big role ushering in the New Gambia.We congratulate our President and his team for leading the revolution that liberated Gambia.
The Facebook revolution is a positive innovation but generally I want to ask - Are we seriously part of this innovation? I say no. Why? Everything you see around us is all imported. Tables, chairs, spoons, food. All our dresses are imported - Swiss bazin or Dutch Fanty that most of us are wearing today are all imported despite our proud claims that they are African Dresses. If you say today that you will only eat local, I believe you will almost starve yourself. The simplest things that Gambia used to produce like eggs, chicken, cooking Oil meeting 100% local demand are now all imported. No nation can produce all that they consume but for a nation to stop begging and being dependent, it must produce something to be able to exchange with other nations. We have to develop our productive bases and there are little things we must do to help our neighbors and farmers the poorest in the society earn a living with dignity. !!!Let›s us look at how to gradually produce our own small things as small as a tooth pick or match stick.
We have to also promote financial inclusion by encouraging investment and development banks, Islamic Banking which encourages profit sharing and not high interest rates. All over the world even in the developed world, Islamic banking is encouraged. I am not saying this because I own an Islamic bank, but this is the fact read in all the major financial journals today.
For us as a nation to see significant development, we need to industrialize our economy. We need to produce at the most competitive price as we will need to compete with the rest of the world. But for us to be able to industrialize, we need two key things;have a reliable and competitive cost of energy and have access to low interest financing. Today Gambia has one of the most expensive energy tariffs in the world. The New Government must engage stake holders and experts and here I come again. The Gambia has energy experts all over the globe who have demonstrated their expertise and have a visible track record in this area, with the likes of Batchi Baldeh, the new director of energy in ADB. Let’s bring these experts together to advise us to have a lasting and affordable power supply.
Let’s encourage local production and for that we need cheaper and more stable source of energy. Any Gambian kid can tell you generator 6 is switched off. American kids only know where the switch is to put the light on and off, in fact nowadays they do not even need a switch, the lights are switched on automatically just by saying light come on. What a world different from ours!!
Businesses should also play their role as catalystto the economy by making life better for the poor people who support them by buying their products and services. A new Gambia should bring in a new way of life, prosperity, more money in people’s pockets, peace and stability.However, let’s all be aware that freedom of speech and human right will never put a bowl of rice on your table but will give you the right framework and renewed energy to find that bowl of rice.
To President Barrow and his government, we thank you for sharing your valuable time with us. We want to assure you that we are genuine partners in development;our arms are open to work with your government to bring not only prosperity but peace, social harmony and development to the people of the Gambia.
Thank you GCCI, once again for the honor, privilege and platform for being a strong voice for the business community.