by Alagi Yorro Jallow.
Mamudu: Gambians in the diaspora were reported to have remitted in 2020 $ 578.5 million, representing 48 percent of GDP, according to the first deputy governor of the Central Bank of the Gambia (CBG), Dr. Seeku Jaabi. He revealed that the Gambia’s remittances figure had hit an all-time high in 2020 despite the Coronavirus pandemic billion US dollars. The Gambia Diaspora remittances are more than the Gambia’s annual budget.
The Gambian diaspora remittances outweigh greater than foreign aid budgets, and donor grants to the Gambia three government benefitted from Overseas Development Assistance. It is argued that diaspora remittance funds constitute a better alternative to foreign aids for development purposes. Not only have diaspora remittances funds outpaced western donors, but they are more efficiently deployed to develop the people. The funds are less likely to be misspent than the misappropriation and legendary inefficiencies in the foreign industry. Diaspora remittances funds, as gifts of love, are better focused on building the family and hence the nation. The distribution of these funds is far more efficient than foreign donors since these monies go directly to paying school fees, building houses, and growing businesses.
Mamudu: Where would this country be without these remittances from relatives or friends overseas who provide these relief funds for housing, school fees, subsistence, medical attention, etc.? The Gambian diaspora, by this very important (though primarily ignored) contribution, are perhaps the reason why the suffering back home has not reached a breaking point; why the hunger has not driven us all to a state of utter madness and chaos.
For this class of individuals, Gambians represent a destination only fit for a week-long Christmas holiday, for which they can feel the warmth of a home they no longer believe entirely they belong to. To change their dollar currencies to the Dalasi, if only to at least derive, first, the joy of giving, and second, to prove that indeed, the grass is greener on the other side.
The sad truth is that each year these “Semesters” come back, they meet the Gambia in a far worse state than they left it. They may want to believe they’ve checked out, but can they thoroughly check out when they have brothers, sisters, aunt’s uncles, fathers, mothers, nephews, and nieces down here? Can they thoroughly check out when all of these people representing family or relatives remain under the siege of incompetent governance and dilapidated health and security infrastructures?
Mamudu: There are many Gambians in the diaspora that represent a large part of our population). The Gambia government vision recognizes diaspora Gambians as a significant contributor to our economy. However, the Gambia government has not adequately harnessed this goldmine due to several challenges: high costs associated with remitting money to the Gambia, lack of an integrated diaspora database, and untapped skills and expertise. Inadequate consular services and poor communication structures from the consulates (this is a serious one).
There are two significant challenges bedeviling Gambians, healthcare and affordable housing (more so for those who live in the cities). Some of these Gambians in the diaspora have managed to come together to form investment vehicles back home in the Gambia but on a small scale. How about harnessing their capital, skills, and expertise to achieve universal healthcare and affordable housing? I will tell you the reason why?
There is already a high demand for affordable housing and affordable healthcare for terminal diseases, i.e., cancer, diabetes, and other conditions. However, most Gambians cannot afford the high cost of health care from private health facilities and inadequate public healthcare systems and build on their own houses because the” banana economy majorly drives our society.” An average income earner cannot pay for housing or pay a mortgage (If we have had a system of mortgages like 100,000 in the Gambia since independence ).
Mamudu: Gambians pay several hard currencies in a million annually for medical care to Senegal, South Africa, Morrocco, United Kingdom, North America, India, and Thailand alone because our public and private health facilities are overwhelmed acute shortage of specialists medics. We need a long-term solution for this. How about building our local capacity? The global shortage of health workers is estimated at 4 million. The Gambia has about 3000 practicing medical doctors and nurses (the last time I checked), neurologists, oncologists, physicians, dentists, and surgeons. We are approximately 2 million, which means the doctor to patient ratio is too low, which is way below WHO recommended ratio of 1:1000. That showcases that we need approximately additional more medical doctors to meet the WHO recommended ratio. That is no mean feat because, on average, Gambia produces many trained medical doctors and nurses and trained and experienced Gambian returnees in health care per year, unfortunately, with half of them leaving the country for greener pastures due to poor working conditions. That means we only need to add more medical professionals and medical doctors per year. The WHO recommended nurse to patient ratio is 83:10,000.
The Gambia is way too low below the target(we need more nurses to reach the required mark in the country). With the rollout of universal healthcare, the few medical specialists will be easily overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of Gambians needing medical services. The acute shortage of all cadres of health workers in our existing health facilities results in underutilization. That means we need to scale up the training of medical personnel and absorb those who are still unemployed to meet Sustainable Development Goals(SDG) 2030 goal 3 of universal health coverage. However, we do not have sufficient funds to expand our capacity, where our diaspora comes in.
Mamudu: Most of Gambians’ remittances in the diaspora are used in real property, regular consumption, and educating their siblings. How about the government and private sector harnessing this goldmine through Public-Private Partnership (PPP) to build a robust human capacity, well-equipped hospitals, which will also serve as cutting edge medical research centers to cater to the specialist needs such as cancer,drug-resistant TB, Ebola virus, Covid-19, etc. in addition to providing affordable universal healthcare? The government can mobilize the diaspora community while the private sector can handle the financial bit because it is much more efficient. That way, we will be providing our citizens universal healthcare (UHC), which improves human development capacity and productivity while at the same time creating quality sustainable jobs for our youths and scholars.
In the Gambia, we currently need hundreds of thousands of affordable housing units. The annual demand is hundreds of units, with the market only able to supply hundreds of units. There is a yearly thousand housing deficit that is still compounding.
Mamudu: The multiplier effect will be enormous. Hundreds of thousands of jobs will be created for our youths, other businesses will crop up as a result, and our economy could realize a sustainable double-digit growth while at the same time actualizing Vision 2030 and SGD 2030 goals.
The government can serve as the guarantor and also build the infrastructure networks for this scheme. However, for this program to materialize, we need competent and honest Gambians to manage it to not fail due to corruption and mismanagement.