The Gambia is a land of Pristine beauty neatly carved into two for a zigzagging river pouring in crystal clear water from the Atlantic Ocean. Meanwhile, across London on a whirlwind Sunday afternoon with friends lazied up to “attaya” serving up ‘Eastern promises’, one was hardly, if at all, prepared for another stunning story concerning Gambia. But then again – It is Africa, and a region constantly unearthing great mineral discoveries where vested interest are found mingling under the radar dissing out dark money spinning in a conceitful motion.
As for the tiny West African state of The Gambia, a cloud of mystery still shroud the country’s oil industry with conspiracy theories dissipating sound discourse & reasoning. According to recent reports monitored on #FinancialTimes, two Gambian blocks combine for an estimated 1 billion barrels of unrisked oil and in close proximity to FAR’s SNE oil field offshore Senegal – considered the largest oil find ever made when announced in 2014. For the record & clarity purposes – the oil blocks sold and being resold in Gambian waters are machinations orchestrated under the Jammeh regime. These were very bad deals the proceeds of which still remain mysterious, nor the whereabouts of mineral extractions in Gunjur, and Kartong and elsewhere in the country. It is extremely vital for government to revisit all exploitative deals signed under dictatorship – including oil and gas import license schemes designed behind closed door between Jammeh, Amadou Samba, Tajudeen, Bazzi, and their cohorts raking in millions. I understand the administration is looking to unpack such clog & monopoly within the business environment and to reissue import licenses where necessary – but the same criminals still occupy centre-stage in business-ville Mr Officer. We had also discussed the issue of rice importation and for natural-born Gambians to be awarded its import license, although no one in government is saying much on that topic: I repeat, the price of a bag of rice for the average Gambian is unacceptable, and rice importation must cease in a span of five (5) years. I, however, trust the Presidency through the Justice Ministry to take bold steps in redressing this anomaly given an issue of national interest concern.
Analysing African politics – one better expect-the-unexpected whenever there is a coming-together of money, and politics, and mineral resources esp. oil. Across the continent, the collision and sometimes collusion of special interest and big money has corrupted the political class in major ways. In almost every case-study on Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, DRC, and elsewhere, ordinary folks are being short-changed for dodgy-deals & Swiss-bank-accounts or much worst. And I wonder if history will prove pivotal for Gambia’s new leaders to escape that curse, and thrive.
The onus falls on government to reassure its citizens that the country’s natural resources are in good hands, and that ‘… all proceeds will be deposited in a sovereign Funds account at the Central Bank (Honourable Sallah, 2016).’ My take on the ‘oil thing’ is for its line ministry to conduct an extensive audit of every drip of oil and contractual obligation sold under dictatorial rule for the perusal of Cabinet and Parliamentary review respectively. And in an era of constant news flow & information swirling on the worldwide web, our smartphones, the papers and social media, it would be wise for the oil ministry to call a press conference & shed light on the issue. Honourable Baa Tambedou earned such credibility and trust simply by informing and updating the Gambian people what the Justice ministry was up to. Simple truth delivered in plain language. The monthly press conference announced by the Information Minister, on the side-lines of weekly briefings by the State House Press Team is a welcome boost in media-relations, for accountability, and for democracy.
For the Gambia Bureau of Statistics GBoS, Parliament should look to grant the agency autonomous status in furtherance of its credible measuring remit. GBoS should be expertly and strategically staffed having capacity to showcase The Gambia’s socio-economic realities, and potential thereby forecasting economic trends & Africa-wide projections. This is necessary for two reasons: First, it will ensure credible data access for media practitioners, academia, the government and its development partner institutions. Secondly, it helps postulate credibility within the system serving as reference point with readily accessible data bank and estimates to foreign investors seeking a look-in. On a look-up on the agency, I am however impressed by its recent findings & work within the beltway & contributions in the overall direction of statecraft. If one may withdraw the obsolete word used to described GBoS last year, but the management very well know internal changes and better produced results are expected of them. Being constituted by an act of parliament is no mean feat. Its equivalent in the United Kingdom is the Institute of Fiscal Studies. As custodians of national statistics, macro-economic and budgetary allocations are dependent on your projections. In the case of The Gambia diaspora, this constituency abroad continues to add to the economy in profound remittances sic than one. But we could do more, and should do more invest within our communities because – Home is where the heart is.
P.S. – In the coming days – I intend to take a critical look at ways in reshaping Gambia’s foreign policy through various lenses and methodologies; and the ethical dimension to it.
For measure – amidst the crisis engulfing perennial partners in the Gulf Cooperation Countries (GCC) in recent weeks – huge credit goes to the President and Foreign Minister Darboe in siding with Qatar against Saudi’s uncompromising demands. Surprisingly, Senegal chose to ally with Riyad for monetary favour raising questions about ethics. So, anyone peddling fiction that Senegal controls Gambia, that is your answer – History shall show Banjul took the right policy decision – stood neutral.
Gibril Saine, LONDON