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Ousainou Darboe, President Barrow and Chinese diplomat. Photo credit: Mantankara Konko

By Saul SaidyKhan

To begin with, a “Grant” in international relations or Finance is a Gambian’s dream: a gift that does not have to be paid. Almost every grant comes with some string – stated or implied. But that’s a different subject altogether. For now, taking the Chinese grant at face value, essentially, The Gambia has been offered $50Million Dollars to use as it deems fit.

 Two weeks ago, in mid-May 2017, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, International Cooperation and Gambians Abroad, Ousainou Darboe signed a contract (on behalf of the Government of The Gambia) in line with a Chinese grant for the construction of an International Conference Center in The Gambia. It turns out the project had been negotiated and sealed by the government of Yahya Jammeh in September 2016. President Barrow, who witnessed the signing, noted that his government gives priority to energy, farming, and healthcare among other areas. Anyhow, by signing the contract last month, the Barrow administration has effectively ratified Jammeh’s decision.

 Given The Gambia’s current state, it boggles the mind trying to figure how anyone can place an International Conference Center among the top dozen list of priorities facing the country. I’m now certain leaders are not only limited by their innate abilities, but by the quality of advice available to them.

 So, in two years, we’ll have a world class International Conference Center in The Gambia. Best case scenario: we’ll host a dozen international conferences a year which might be attended by a few thousand people. Employment opportunities will be TEMPORARY, and unpredictable. On the flipside, if I know my country, within two years, lack of maintenance combined with energy deficiency will become visible on the facility. And things could only go downhill.

 Alternatively, instead of an International Conference Center, we could use our $50 Million Dollars gift to finally build a world class hospital. Imagine a 3,000-bed capacity modern hospital with a separate Medical, Dental, and Vision section located in the Western Region (I shall get to why government needs to STOP putting Gambia’s meagre resources in a high-risk DEATH TRAP island call Banjul.) Such a hospital will provide thousands of PERMANENT jobs (doctors, nurses, auxiliary staff,and  security.) More importantly, this new hospital will not only help close the gaping hole in this critical area, it will help train generations of healthcare professionals in The Gambia.

 Towards that training goal, we have a powerful tool to help us recruit foreign volunteer professional trainers lying in plain sight. When Jammeh spent $25 Million Dollars to host the AU Summit, he built 53 villas to lodge the African Heads of State. Today, officially, all these villas are vacant and unused. However, anyone who knows us Gambian men knows WHO uses these villas often and for WHAT purpose. 

 If this government would take my advice, they could put these villas to better use. If they build a hospital, they can use the AU villas to entice seasoned medical doctors and professors from cold climates around the world to sunny Gambia. In exchange for free room and board at these villas near the Atlantic, the doctors can work for free at the new hospital, and teach at Gambia’s Medical School. I will bet anything that the response will be overwhelmingly positive. There are many experienced medical professionals in cold climates who would be amenable to living in a sunny, peaceful place on West Africa’s Atlantic coast. Why not exchange free lodging for knowledge and skills transfer? (Currently, I wouldn’t trust a Gambian-trained doctor with my dog’s life much less my loved one’s. Neither did Yahya Jammeh despite all his bragging about the hospitals he built.)  This way, we’ll kill three birds with one stone: 1. Provide world class quality medical care to Gambians 2. Train Gambian Medical students to World class standards and 3. Make use of the AU villas by luring the type of people The Gambia desperately needs.

 The choice between the International Conference Center and the 3,000-bed hospital in terms of benefit couldn’t be clearer. Why can’t we be more creative or imaginative? Or am I missing something…