The International Criminal Court (ICC) chief prosecutor-elect, Fatou Bom Bensouda, has called on the Government of The Gambia to pay consideration to Gambians abroad in relation to housing schemes and job opportunities, as well as create space for them to be able to contribute to the country’s political development, saying “Almost two third of Gambian graduates now live and study abroad.”
|Madam Bensouda, ICC Chief Prosecutor|
Mrs Bensouda, who was elected unopposed last month to head the ICC as chief prosecutor after the term of the Argentine-born Luis Moreno Ocampo, was speaking on behalf of Gambians in the Diaspora during a two-day consultative meeting between the Government of The Gambia and Gambians in the Diaspora, held at the Kairaba Beach Hotel in Senegambia.
The theme for this first-ever held meeting between the government and its citizens abroad - “Harnessing Diaspora engagement in support of enhanced socio-economic development in The Gambia” - sought to create an environment conducive for meaningful cooperation between them.
Citing a recent World Bank publication, the Gambian-born ICC icon said The Gambia is “second only to Cape Verde” in the number of African states’ graduate nationals living abroad, adding that this is not necessarily an adverse situation; rather “it serves to point out the considerable potential that is out there which could be brought to bear in favour of The Gambia’s development agenda.”
The meeting came at a time governments all around the Latin Americas to Africa are making strenuous and concerted efforts at harnessing the potential of their Diaspora citizens, she said.
She opined that Gambians living abroad have numerous ways they can contribute to the country’s socio-economic development. “Gambians abroad who are engaged in various business ventures and if provided with interesting business proposals, investment incentives and security of guarantee, they will only be too willing to direct their resources and knowhow towards our motherland,” Mrs Bensouda said.
“Gambians working in international development organizations could provide meaningful input during the shaping of national and sectoral development policies and programmes, and can help to pave the way towards access to the requisite resources – human and financial.”
On the other hand, she said, government should implement special programmes to encourage and facilitate the return and resettlement of Gambians abroad who may wish to return home.
“Only Gambians can develop The Gambia,” said Vice-President Isatou Njie-Saidy, who represented President-elect Yahya Jammeh at the discourse.
This is why the consultative meeting between Diaspora Gambians and the government was deemed necessary, she added.
“It is this strong conviction that is behind convening this dialogue and consultation with Gambians in the Diaspora. I must add that this [meeting] is indeed a family affair. It is a family consultative meeting where all shades of Gambians in the Diaspora are welcomed without any exception.”
She observes that Gambians abroad also have a significant role to play in the development process of the country, calling for such meetings to be held occasionally.
She told Gambians that left the country many years ago at the meeting that the government has succeeded in formulating a new medium-term poverty alleviation blueprint called the ‘Programme for Accelerated Growth and Employment (PAGE)’, aimed at increasing productivity and growth in the productive sectors of the country’s economy.
The country’s vice president also called on citizens to give support to this development strategy, saying: “For the PAGE to be effectively implemented as desired by government, it requires, inter alia, the active involvement of all patriotic Gambians irrespective of where we reside.”
She says that Gambians in the Diaspora have numerous ways of contributing to the country’s development endeavours vis-à-vis the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
“The substantial role Gambians in the Diaspora can play in our development strategies, with particular reference to poverty eradication, job creation and economic growth in our bid to achieve the MDGs and Vision 2020, could not be underestimated,” she said.
Despite all the odds between some dissident Gambians abroad and the government, VP Njie-Saidy was optimistic about the development potential of these people in relation to business creation, trade links, investment, remittance and other socio-economic ventures.
“In the light of this, we therefore need a collective strategy in partnership with Gambians in the Diaspora, to translate these potential into more concrete and sustainable programmes for the benefit of our society,” she noted.
In 2007, a study conducted by Western Union [money transfer] revealed that Diaspora remittances to developing countries were estimated at US$ 240 billion. This is twice the value of Official Development Assistance (ODA) from Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), said Dr Mamadou Tangara, minister of Foreign Affairs and Gambians Abroad.
While saying the country is looking at Gambians in the Diaspora as resource for development capable of providing intellectual capital, minister Tangara pointed out that the last few years have witnessed significant brain drain from The Gambia to the developed countries.
This inhibitive situation must be changed, especially that the country is at a critical development juncture, he noted.“In an environment of improved macro-economic stability and its consequent opportunities for investment, it is time to reinvigorate the entrepreneurial spirit of the Gambian Diaspora to enable their involvement as one of government’s major development partners,” Dr Tangara avers