By Musa Badjie
Miraculously, it came from nowhere. Scientists around the globe cannot still give a definitive answer as to how it came into the human sphere. Covid-19 has thrown the natural human order into chaos. Very much hardest, it hits the world’s economy making the world’s strongest economies cry foul because it didn’t come as a season to allow the world prepare for any eventualities. As a result of this consequential reality that has given the world a new look, several Governments have announced economic recovery strategies and relief packages for their people.
In The Gambia, like other countries, the government came up with a plan to give food aid to 75% of its citizens with only 50% of the residence of Kanifing Municipality expected to benefit from the food aid. This is a laudable initiative with a genuine purpose. In fact, any individual who can give anything to anyone during these trying times, will always be a great gesture.
However, the question is could not the Government have come up with better strategies more strategic than the food relief package? The answer is yes in my opinion. We will take a look at what the government could have done differently, and the lessons learned from this.
The world’s economy including The Gambia began to suffer since the turn of the year when Covid-19 was beginning to gain momentum and by mid-March 2020, the impact was brutally felt on the economies. A small country with a small economy like The Gambia, livelihood became increasingly difficult. This is because Gambian families that depend largely on remittances to put food on the table, low income earners which is a circumstantial evidence that characterizes The Gambia’s workforce, daily wage dependents and small business owners find it unequivocally cumbersome to live and survive because of the wrath of Covid-19 on the economy. Judging by an average Gambian’s family size and the dependency ratio in the country, this is expected during this uncertain, untimely, and ungodly period and circumstance. According to The Gambia Bureau of Statistics Population Census of 2013, the average household size in The Gambia is 8.2 persons per household.
In their effort to help the people, the government has claimed to have spent 70 million dalasi to purchase foodstuff that is being distributed to Gambians. In my view, it should have taken a different approach. Instead of spending that huge money that has resulted into households being given one or at most two bags of rice, a bag or two bags of sugar and a 5 or 10 litre gallon of cooking oil which can be consumed within a month and in some households less than that, the government could have considered subsidising businesses that deal in the supply of basic foodstuff so that the prices of basic food supplies can be drastically reduced even not for a longer period, but this period of Covid-19 that we are experiencing a lot of cracks on the economy. Currently, a bag of rice is over a 1,000 dalasi, but if the price were to be lowered than that, it would have been good for all and more beneficent. Moreover, intervention plan to reduce the cost of electricity and water supply (if possible make it free) could have also been wiser. The government could have come up with a plan to intervene in those areas so that the cost of these basic necessities could have been drastically reduced to suit the living standards of Gambians in this current crisis. This could have been well appreciated because electricity and water are very much integral to the lives and livelihoods of people in the 21st century and Gambians in particular. We have seen the Senegalese government intervened in electricity because they understand its vitality.
If either of these had been put on the table for onward consideration, every Gambian’s life would have been touched and the glory would have been heterogeneous instead of the 75% of the whole population and 50% of KMCs. In my opinion, that would have carried more weight than the current plan because for far too long, Gambians have been longing for the reduction in prices of basic livelihood necessities.
Furthermore, in the wake of the pandemic, the phrase “social distancing” has been a worldwide anthem. The government of The Gambia encourages people to that effect to contain the spread of Covid-19, but at distribution centres like Tallinding North, it’s obviously not the case. A lot of people gather at one place to get their rations. I could not imagine what would happen to those people if one of them were a carrier of the virus. Such circumstances show the level of ignorance of people about the virus. But it seemed the need for food is far greater than the need to protect themselves from the virus.
Now that the response package is already spilled bear, the government could have employed a house to house distribution mechanism to avoid large gatherings. This was indeed feasible in my opinion because before the distribution began, the National Disaster Management Agency in collaboration with ward councils collected the data of every household. That data could have been used and with the help of NDMA, the ward councils and their executives, the rations could have been delivered to individual homes rather than large crowds. Countries like Rwanda have used the house-to-house distribution method and it has worked. I believe the government could have done the same.
However, huge lessons can be drawn from this period. It is clear that there is poverty glaring profusely in this country. We have seen in situations, where people come to queue as early as 4 a.m, in some cases cry because of the long wait and arguments, and in extreme cases fight only to receive food rations. This is a mountain top view that the people’s living standards need tremendous shift. Therefore, if nothing is done to change people’s lives, the country will be a nurturing environment for human catastrophe. Being one of the poorest countries in the world, the onus lies on the government to change the lives of its citizens. Poverty is not a crime, but to detach the citizens from poverty, should be the government’s crusade.
In conclusion, it is obvious that it’s not an easy task to be capped the responsibility of running the affairs of a whole country. While I commend the government of The Gambia for their service to Gambians, I will implore on them to carefully map out better ways to change the lives and livelihoods of Gambians to the glory of all and sundry. This country needs a total revamp to make lives better.