By Capt. Ebou Jallo, April 4, 2020
A Black Swan event that is going to be epochal for the Gambian nation shall demand resilience from all citizens, serious reforms within the government and a re-imagination of what we hope for as a nation going forward post COVID-19. Leaders that fail in resolving to make bold decisions shall be reduced to the footnotes of history. The French government has already indexed a “Pangolin Effect” in a recent publication anticipating dire straits for almost all African governments: African countries may soon collapse and the Gambia as you knew shall never be the same again in the coming months.
Gambia government will have to address three major economic/security challenges in the coming weeks and months:
- The impact of the global pandemic on the economy: This includes disruption in global supply chains exposed to inputs from Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, as well as lower demand in global markets for Gambian tourism and agricultural products. The country is likely to experience delayed or reduced foreign direct investment as partners from other continents redirect capital locally; and a dramatic reduction of remittances from migrants overseas.
The economic impact of the spread of the virus within the Sene-Gambian sub region, and of the measures that the Senegalese government is taking to stem the pandemic. Travel bans and lockdowns are not only limiting the movement of people across borders and within our countries, but also disrupting ways of working for many individuals, businesses, and government agencies.
The consequences of the economic fallout and impending health crisis shall be disruptive causing social unrests that may undermine the authority of the current establishment. This shall evoke serious questions concerning the ECOMIG status of forces agreement with Gambia government: The ECOMIG troops have far outlived their stabilizing force purpose and may soon morph into an occupation force should they ever attempt to intervene in a domestic popular uprising demanding a regime change. The Attorney General and the Minister of Defense must clarify to the Gambians about issues concerning the civil and criminal jurisdiction of the foreign troops present in country, and the terms under which they are allowed to operate. I hope the National Assembly shall invite these agencies to answer these questions for the public.
Remittances/tourism depend on severely battered economies that are now facing severe contractions with limited resources to control the damage on their own societies. There will be bankruptcies in the Gambian hotel industries, massive unemployment, and civil unrest. The Gambia government shall have to grapple with an impending (a) limited fiscal capacity- low tax revenues, and no effective stimulus package (b) constraint healthcare system (c) massive youth unemployment and widespread poverty and (d) food insecurity.
What the Gambia Government must do now: An intense/aligned collaboration with (1) Senegal, (2) our development partners and (3) the private sector in order to manage the looming health crisis to ensure an uninterrupted food supply-chain; operationalize a safety net for the most vulnerable in society; a proactive management of the economy to maintain fiscal stability and finally protect the vulnerable tourism industry with these three steps of reformation and bold imagination: first, strengthen the national resilience to the Corona virus which I think the health ministry has already taken solid necessary actions.
Second, strive to heal the wounds sustained from the global economic meltdown. Public-health measures such as social distancing and closing schools and businesses are already contributing to the economic meltdown. Economic programs should also seek to ameliorate the effects of impending chaos on the country’s most vulnerable population groups (the sick, the elderly and children).
Third, safeguard the principles of our fledgling democracy. A liberal order which entails tolerance and the respect of rights, envisions the purpose of a legitimate state as providing for the fundamental needs of the people with security, order, economic well-being, and justice. Individuals cannot secure these things on their own. It shall take a visionary leadership and supreme statecraft to navigate a catastrophic future such as we are now facing. Hence, our sub regional leadership (Senegal and Gambia in particular) must take urgent political and economic initiatives by forming an intense and aligned collaboration towards a more sustainable union based on mutual interests if we want to ensure peace and stability in both countries. A shock of this scale will create a discontinuous shift in the preferences and expectations of individuals as citizens, as employees, and as consumers. These shifts and their impact on how we live, how we work, and how we run our governments shall emerge more clearly over the coming months. Governments that reinvent themselves to make the most of better insight and foresight, as choices evolve, will disproportionally succeed. The historic challenge for our leaders is to manage the crisis while building the future. Failure to do so could set both Senegal and the Gambia on fire.
On a final note, The Gambia Government needs to take bold actions now towards the following:
A Recovery Plan- This MUST entail an extensive stimulus package or economic development plan with whatsoever resources the country can afford at this moment.
A Solidarity Fund- Businesses and individuals could contribute to a fund earmarked for immediate relief for the most vulnerable households and businesses.
A Private-sector liquidity fund: This could offer grants, loans, or debt for equity swaps to support businesses and limit job losses.
A Sene-Gambian procurement platform: A common platform to procure medical supplies and equipment to combat the pandemic could provide a solution to challenges that each individual country is trying to address. An urgent cooperation with Senegal is critical in this effort.
A Green Program: A get-to-work program that plants hundreds of trees across the country, using the currently out-of-work labor force. This should provide employment and help solve local climate-change issues.