Gambia’s Season That Never Was Part 1

The Gambian economy continues to slide down the abyss. Real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth continues to suffer from bad government policies and the severe drought of 2011. Despite a strong start in December 2013, the tourism season failed to meet expectations. Both arrivals and hotel room occupancy dwindled. The re-export trade continued with its downward trend but with the government not even appearing to have a clue of it. Many foreign businesses closed shops and decamped. The army of the unemployed swelled as never before. The Dalasi continues to slide quietly on its downward course. Perhaps the most disappointing economic performance happened – seen from the viewpoints of both government and the governed – was the great failure of the 2013/2014 groundnut marketing season.

As we talk the Great British Pound and the US Dollar are heading up to the Dalasi. As a result, food and non-food prices naturally jump over the roof. Unlike the previous season, 2012/2013  when buyers scrambled over the crop in the failed 2013/2014 season many farmers were asked to come collect their nuts that they had already deposited at the buying stations of the sole buyer of that season, the Gambia Groundnut Corporation or GGC. And it was this monopolistic stature awarded to the state-owned Gambia Groundnut Corporation which was the cause of the disaster.  How this came about to occur has been dealt with in a previous program. The recent radio program on Kaironews and the publication of that transcript has led to some more information from readers and listeners in the know. We have counter checked this extra information and are therefore very grateful to them.

In nut shell, the groundnut subsector had long ago suffered from the problem of pre-financing. Local commercial banks have had their fingers burnt so many times in the sector that they wouldn’t touch it with a six-meter rod. Most buyers came to the market without penny in the pocket. External would be buyers would prepare letters of credit on behalf of the penniless local buyer, and it is up to him to coax a local bank into providing setup capital, to erect shacks as buying points, pay registration fees and other preliminaries. If the banks refused the only other option is to pass it on to the farmer.  By taking the farmers’ crop on credit and pay after the crop has been shipped and paid for by the external buyer through the local slow-motion banks. Some of these credits were never settled. Some of the loans were government guaranteed and many local buyers were foreigners, so some simply walked away leaving behind bad debt with government to settle. But many more traders walked away from debts owed poor cultivators. Refer to the court case of Group Jubo,a groundnut trading cooperative of some farmers in the North Bank Region, versus Hon. Suku Singhateh, who also at times go into the groundnut trade despite being a National Assembly member. All these naturally scared many peanut cultivators away from it and almost killed the subsector itself.

But by October 2010 the government of The Gambia was able to negotiate a US$45 million, then the equivalent of 1.3 billion dalasi loan for the Gambia Groundnut Corporation, GGC, from the Islamic Development Bank. Forty percent of the loan was for the renewal of old plant equipment and the rest was for the purchasing of the farmers’ groundnut crop, processing it and exporting it.

The president’s owned Daily Observer newspaper then reported it this way: “The government of The Gambia and the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) Group on Monday, October 25th, 2010 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, signed funding agreements worth over US$44.932 million for five major development projects for The Gambia.

According to a press release sent to the Daily Observer, Abdou Kolley, the minister of Finance signed on behalf of the Gambia government; Dr Ahmad Mohamed Ali, the president of the Islamic Development Bank signed the first three financing agreements on behalf of IDB; while Dr Waleed A Al-Wahaib, the chief executive officer of the International Trade Finance Corporation (ITFC) of the IDB Group signed the two other agreements”

By the time the loan amount was in the GGC’s account in Banjul it had become late for the 2010/2011 marketing season and the next season failed due to the drought. This way money was lying idly about while government was becoming broke. To avoid this, the authorities urged the GGC to divert the funds into cashew and timber export.  Perhaps I should say re-export as Gambia has no timber. Nearly all timber and cashew nuts originated from Guinea Bissau and Casamance , southern Senegal. The GGC plunged into the ventures but bolted out as soon as possible. Few know how big the GGC lost in the ventures because they were shrouded in secrecy since IDB was not supposed to be in the know. Many also wonder not if, but how much President Jammeh might have cut for himself personally.  The 2012/2013 marketing season met the GGC poised to go into the season in a big way in order to be able to recuperate the losses made in the cashew and timber deviations. Their thinking was though they were not to buy at any cost but it would be in cash, no credit buying.  But what GGC officials did not realize was that there had invaded the country, hordes of Asian buyers who were ready to offer double what the GGC was ready to pay, unscreened and at real farm-gate level. So it follows that the GGC again failed to participate in that trade season and became sidelined.  When the following one came, GGC was helped by government muscle by debarring all the Asian buyers from taking part in the 2013/2014 season.

Government announced unilaterally withdrawing from the Framework of Agreement signed in 2007 with the Agric Service and Producers Association , ASPA, an inter-professional association of stake holders. Government had signed this agreement handing over the responsibility of managing groundnut marketing  in the country, a requirement for securing continued EU supports.

Kairo News has reliably learned that over half of the funds have been diverted to President Jammeh’s owned private use while a good part of the rest went to fund the GGC’s cashew trade experiment.  The GGC is now headed by one Tony Carvalho, a brother to Mrs. Tamba, widow of the man who brought up Yahya Jammeh. So through Tony named a tax dodger by a report released earlier last year, Yahya Jammeh extends his kleptocratic grip on the country’s only state owned industrial plant.  Jammeh’s  privately owned Kanilai International Ltd has  become the most expanded commercial enterprise in the country, with hands in rice, cement, flour distribution;  also in sand mining, bakery, butchery, and others like the mining and exportation of elminite with plants, equipment and mines belonging to Carnegie Minerals, a company thrown out of the country for allegedly mining and exporting unnamed metals which was not covered by the license they were issued with. A complete catalogues of Jammeh’s crimes would need a book as thick as an encyclopedia.

There is no single adult Gambian in or outside the country who is not aware of Jammeh,s lawlessness, greed and brutality. Gambians inside the country are currently hostages in the grip of a ruthless hostage-taker. God help the Gambian Farmers!!!!!!

 

 

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