By: Yankuba Sanneh & Nyaninka Manjang, Sophomores in Development Studies, The University of The Gambia.

Greetings Mr. President:

Congratulations on your re-election and successful inauguration. It is with honor and esteem that we write this piece to you. Therefore, Sir, we seek your indulgence to join fellow Gambians to highlight prevailing pressing socioeconomic, environmental, and governance issues.

Your Excellency, we are cognizant of the efforts you have and continue to employ in a bid to provide us with the needful progress we all envision, through the creation of an enabling environment for socioeconomic growth and development, especially in infrastructural development. Conversely, the deplorable living standards of the masses demand urgent intervention. Issues of unemployment, poverty, and inequality are on a speeding rise. A huge percentage of the population is poverty-ridden.

Unemployment is increasingly adding up, especially within the youthful population. Poverty stands at 48.6 percent, as per the UNDP 2020 report on the country. This has been the trend since 2010. For instance, the Integrated Household Survey conducted in 2010 and 2015/16 has poverty at 48.1 and 48.6, respectively. The report further ranked the country 172 out of 183 countries, as per the Human Development ranking, with an index of 0.460. The ranking is on grounds of poor performance in Human Development: weak education system, maternal mortality, low per capita income, etc. . For example, the neonatal mortality rate has increased from 22 deaths per 1000 live birth to 29 deaths; infant mortality has also increased from 34 to 42 deaths during the same period, as per Gambia Demographic and Health Survey, 2019-20.

Furthermore, other social issues have increased: irregular migration and heightened crime rates amongst others are on the increase. And making it even worse, it is mostly the youth who embark on such treacherous adventures of dubious dealings and perilous migration. It should be worth noting that the human resource base of every country is the youth, and we are seriously losing out on this.

Moving on, Sir; the mentioned issues are just the tip of the iceberg. Adding to confronting issues of unemployment and poverty, inflation in commodities especially in consumables has increased, undermining household food security. Consumables and commodities like rice, oil, flour, onion, sugar, etc. have all hiked up in price. For instance, the price rise in the price of flour has equally affected the price of bread and other products made from flour. Admittedly, we are quite witting about the contributions of external factors, hence we import the mentioned commodities, the prices of which are liable to fluctuation. Notwithstanding, our market-led economy and underperforming Agriculture sector are sheer contributors to inflation.

In addition to the mentioned, the growth of our economy, which is a prerequisite for development and remedy to the above-mentioned socioeconomic predicaments, is weakened by underutilization. For many years this has been the narrative, and it is worsening. Sectors that comprise our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) are in a fragile state. Our subsistence agriculture sector, vulnerable fishing sector, depleted tourism sector, poor service, and industrial sector have derailed our path to growth and ultimately development. The 2020 World Bank report on the country pegged growth at -0.2 percent. The rate of imports of goods and services outweighed that of exports – 8 and 37 percent respectively. This is significant negative growth. The slump in these sectors, for the year in question, is attributed to the Covid pandemic. The contraction, however, could have been mitigated, provided the prevalence of required economic development –the proper exploitation of all sectors of our economy.

Mr. President, in a similar but more grave issue, the sustainability of our environmental and ecological resources is being compromised by certain foreign nationals, to the detriment of citizens. This is aided by the government’s leniency on policies regarding the environment. Knowledgeable of the fact that development comes with consequences, however, it does not necessarily imply that it undermines sustainable development or neglects the well-being of the people. The meager resources at our disposal are gradually depleting. Consequently, the operations of these foreign nationals, on our seas, have led to a scarcity of fish in our market, undermining household consumption of the commodity.

That said, the operations of these nations are beyond our seas and their resources; their unsustainable and unfriendly environmental operations continue to threaten the lives of fellow citizens. The fish meal at Gunjur is one of the many deleterious environmental operations of these nationals. Hazardous emissions from the factory threaten the health of the inhabitants and by extension the preservation of the environment. Mr. President, extensively, our lands are vulnerably exposed to these national. Of recent, there has been an increased intrusion of our lands by these foreign nationals. It has now reached a point where our lands are illegally intruded on and coercively taken from their rightful owners. These lands, Mr. President, serve as the only living source for the underprivileged section of the population; who constitute the majority. Pathetically, this translates to mean that the women –our mothers and sisters –plight are undermined, for they are mostly the ones encountering the menace. These foreign nationals are gradually and sequentially overpowering us over our resources –a tendency of imperialism.

As a matter of sincerity, governance under your stewardship has been obliterated. Your compromise towards administrative transparency and accountability has given a breeding ground for corruption and its related phenomena, incompetence, and negligence included. The recent revelation by the National Audit Office, regarding the unaccounted Covid funds, has raised so many questions over your administration’s intensifying efforts toward curbing and eradicating corruption. The millions of missing and unaccounted funds could have better equipped our struggling health sector, but have technically gone into individual coffers. Although The Anti Corruption Bill that is in its final stages of becoming law –awaiting the parliament’s approval –must be implemented accordingly without hesitancy or prejudice. Mr. President, there must be political will and commitment to combating corruption, failure of which is regress and stagnation.

In conclusion, the plight of the citizenry deserves dire consideration and intervention. But this cannot be done without having the requisites in place. The need for the development of our Sectors for the attainability of socioeconomic progress cannot be overemphasized. Our subsistence agriculture sector will require sufficient transformation to be able to provide the population with enough consumables and surplus for export to the international market. This is doable, hence we already have the needful climate. In addition, the Gambia is bountifully blessed with a river and arable topography ideal for production. Notwithstanding, this is only attainable provided there is the mechanization of the sector. There is an equal need for industrialization to get the raw produce and products processed into finished goods. Provided this is attained, there is high potential for increased employment to be created by the sector, thus having the prospect of a down-size in poverty and other social phenomena. With this, we can curtail crime rates and loosen up irregular migration. Having said that, the agriculture sector solely cannot sustain the economy in the long run.

Therefore, it is pertinent for the judicious exploitation of other sectors as well. Tourism, industries, etc. need to get revitalized. However, with the current trajectory of things –improper exploitation of the concerned sectors –the attainability of growth and development would only seem utopian. From an environmental perspective, your administration has to speed up efforts to save our environment and the meager resources, ensuring sustainability. The agreed contracts with these foreign nationals demand a revisit. Meanwhile, government policies regarding the environment should not be compromised fully, they should be fully implemented. Imperatively, there is a need to reemphasize the need for urgent redress regarding the illegal encroaching of our lands by foreign nationals. The cries and lamentations of our mothers are enough to end the appalling menace.

We wish you a successful second tenure in office; may God give you the desired health and the fortitude to steer affairs of this great nation, for if you succeed the entire nation rejoices. But if the reverse –failure is registered –the entire population will undergo hardship.

Yankuba Sanneh; Nyaninka Manjang,
Sophomores in Development Studies,
The University of The Gambia.

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