By Madi Jobarteh
The FAO reported that in the past 12 years more than 117 large scale land deals totalling 2.2 million hectares were concluded in Africa. In other words, African governments have taken prime lands and natural resources from our communities and then sell those lands and natural resources to foreign investors. In most of these cases when our people resist, these governments will arrest, torture and even kill our people just to protect foreign investors. The examples of these are too many all over Africa.
This is the same scenario we are currently witnessing in Gunjur with the arrest of youths who were protesting against Golden Lead, a foreign company. Yet after centuries of foreign investment in Africa, what obtains is that the foreign companies and foreign countries prosper while our people are left in poverty and environmental degradation and damaged lives and livelihoods hence a gloomy future for our people.
A clear example of this scenario is Shell and Nigeria. Shell is a British/Dutch company that has been mining petroleum in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria since 1958. After decades of exploiting our oil and making billions of dollars in profit, the company has caused massive damages to the environment in the communities of Niger Delta. When the communities protest, the Nigeria Government would deploy the Nigeria police and army to arrest, torture and shoot protestors to death.
In 2011 the UN environment agency, UNEP produced a report that says that Shell had contaminated 1000 square kilometres of Ogoni land that will take 30 years to clean up costing one billion US dollars!
Yet we can recall the case of Ken Saro Wiwa, a world renowned author who was a leader of the Ogoni people in the Niger Delta, who was executed with 9 of his colleagues in 1995 for leading his people against Shell by the tyrannical and corrupt Sani Abacha regime. Just as everywhere else in Africa, Shell used money to bride and corrupt government leaders and officials as well as military officers including buying supplies for the Nigeria Army.
We know that in Sierra Leone large swathes of land were sold to foreign companies to cultivate sugar cane. The same applies to the Congo, Cameroun, Chad, South Sudan, Angola, Ethiopia, Senegal and many more including the Gambia with Golden Lead. In all of these countries, community lands were taken away from our people to be given to foreign companies who would mine or farm our mineral and natural resources to their satisfaction while leaving communities in poverty and damaging environment.
While these companies make super profits, African communities only get poorer and poorer to the point that African people – both the educated and uneducated, skilled and unskilled – would have to run away to the North and West and East of the world to seek greener pastures. Is it not ironic that while foreign investors come to Africa to make profits because of the green pastures we have, the people of Africa would instead run to America, Europe, China and the Gulf states to seek green pastures? Why should we leave our green pastures at home for foreigners to come to enjoy only for us to run to their countries to be subjected to racism, discrimination and all sorts of menial and hard labour?
No one needs to tell African politicians and intellectuals that the solution to poverty and development in Africa does not lie in foreign investment. Slavery and colonialism were foreign investments but they never brought development to Africa. Since independence we have seen foreign companies multiply in Africa yet this continent remains the wretched of the earth.
Therefore the solution to the development of this continent is the same solution that America, Europe and China and UAE or Qatar and indeed any developed nation took. That is, to produce honest, efficient and visionary leadership that is hard working, patriotic and accountable. Where was Dubai 30 years ago? Where was China or South Korea or Singapore 50 years ago? Where was Germany or France or UK 50 years ago? All of these countries were poor struggling nations coming out of severe destruction or political crisis just like Africa 50 years ago. But with dedicated leadership and strategic organization and pragmatic vision, they were able to transform their countries from poverty to prosperity within a generation or two.
If there is any country or continent with unlimited natural endowments and opportunities, such countries can only be found in Africa. Yet why would the rest of the world prosper out of African resources and only Africa remains the beggar, the wretched and the failure of the world?
African leaders and technocrats must pursue a policy where they invest in their people in all ways just as the leaders and technocrats of Europe or Japan or Singapore or Qatar did. We must learn to close our countries to the outside world in order to build our capacities internally first just as China did. We must learn to inject public funding into the productive sectors of the economy just as Australia did. We must learn to create the supporting environment for our private sector just as the Americans did. We must learn to build industries and add value to our raw materials just as each and every industrialised and advanced country did.
Instead of the Gambia inviting a Chinese company to come over to set up a factory on our beach to exploit our ocean, why cannot the Gambia Government create our own national fishing company to catch our fish and we sell the fish to China and the rest of the world? Why cannot the Government bring together our private companies to partner with them to build processing industries to add value to our fish so we can sell packaged fish products to China and the world? This is what China did and this is why China has companies all over Africa and Asia and Europe to exploit foreign resources and take back profits to China.
Whether it was the French or the Germans or the British, history has recorded how they invested in building robust national companies and national institutions that deliver massive and efficient social services to grow their peoples and economies. There used to be British Airways. Britain still has the NHS. The French Government purposely created ELF Company just to create space for France in the oil industry. Until today education is free in Germany. Until today public transportation is run by the State in the most advanced European countries. Why cannot African governments do the same?
Let African politicians and their technocrats stop giving us excuses that our countries lack the resources and capacity. That is a big fat lie. The Gambia Government does not lack money. It is there ampagai! The Janneh Commission has clearly shown us that this country has the means to generate its own development without any pledges and begging from outside. What we require is the right leadership. That’s all.
Free the Gunjur Youths and let the Government provide the leadership that we need and deserve. Barrow does not need to arrest these youths just as Abacha should not have arrested Ken Saro Wiwa in 1995. Free the youths and show us true leadership that will transform our country from a poor beggar to a prosperous commonwealth. We have the resources and the capacity!
For the Gambia Our Homeland.