“Independence Means the Capacity to Stand on one’s Feet” Says Sidia Jatta
By Abubacarr Saidykhan
5 May 2009
At the two-day sensitization workshop organised by The Gambia Social Forum on the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) for National Assembly Members, Media and the Civil Society Representatives held on the 22-23 April, 2009 at the Corinthian Atlantic Hotel, Hon. Sidia Jatta, the National Assembly Member for Wuli West, gave critical analysis of the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) regarding its overwhelming disadvantages and urged The Gambia not to sign it.
Hon Sidia Jatta told the workshop participants, comprising Parliamentarians, Media and Civil Society representatives, that even though criticism is good, it should only be done when one examines and understands thoroughly the issue that is being condemned. He said some participants are condemning the existence of UEMOA, the CFA Franc countries in West Africa, alongside the ECOWAS, but that for him the people criticizing must first try to understand the nature and reasons for this grouping.
Hon. Jatta said UEMOA is one of the eight regional economic communities recognised by the African Union (AU) and that they have more advantages than all the other sub- regional groupings for one reason; that historically the Member States have one currency, the CFA, which they kept and are still using and that it is the only economic grouping in Africa that is using a single currency.
The Wuli West Parliamentarian said UEMOA is ahead of all the other sub-regional economic groupings and that they even have a legislative course, which the ECOWAS, SADEC and the East African Community do not have. He said the AU recognizes that these groupings are the building blocks of the African integration. Hon. Jatta then told the participants that the question they should ask is whether this AU position is true.
‘Are these groupings the building blocks of African integration? He asked.
According to Hon. Jatta, this is the fundamental issue that they should look at; that he has nothing against UEMOA.
On the EPAs, the Wuli West NAM said we have to ask ourselves one question and that is ‘what do we have?’ He argued that we are negotiating with people who have been industrialized years ago and who can and are producing everything but do not have the market for their products.
‘Whoever tells you that they want competitors is not telling the truth. They don’t want competitors’ argued Hon. Jatta.
He said the developed economies know that we are so disadvantaged and cannot produce anything to compete with them and that is why they want us in an arrangement that makes to serve as their markets perpetually. He said when we talk about negotiating for these EPAs one must build doubt and asked why.
‘How can you negotiate for something when you have nothing to exchange?’ He asked.
He said the bright example for this is The Gambia, which has groundnuts as its basic cash crop for decades and that has now become a liability to the Republic, the farmers producing it as well as the land. He said that although some groundnuts have been bought but that a lot is lying there and not purchased and which, being the cash crop, is what the country must sell to be able to import.
Hon. Jatta said that some participants are talking about Ivory Coast and Ghana having been in haste to sign the EPAs with the EU. He questioned why Ghana having been independent for decades is still unable to add value to its cocoa produce which, he said, could have solved their problems.
He told the participants that these are some of the matters that they should be worrying and thinking about; that they must be the guarantors of the sovereignty and independence of their countries but that they are reneging and abdicating responsibility to the point that other people will come and snatch resources from us, take them away and then, in return, will come back to sell the finish products at exorbitant prices.
The Wuli West NAM asked for how long have we been independent; that independence does not mean the flying of a national flag in the air. He said independence is the capacity to stand on your feet before the world and say that ‘this is my own’.
Hon. Jatta said we should have been adding value to the groundnuts we produce by making cooking oil, cardboards, soap, butter etc that we import out of it.
‘EPA is here to kill us, and if anybody does not see it from that point of view you are making a mistake. EPA is not meant for us and it is to ensure that we will continue to be producers of all the raw materials and then be importers of everything else’ he said.
Hon. Jatta said he is confident and convinced that we can stand on our feet in this country; that what matters is that how we are going to make use of our own raw materials in order to benefit ourselves and then be exporters to other countries. This, he said, is what we should be thinking about now as a nation.
He said we have started producing cotton in this country and that the Gambian cotton was said to be one of the best in the world. ‘But where is it now?’ he asked.
Concluding, Hon Jatta said that we have the intellectual resources, human resources and the natural resources; that all we need is to be organised, to plan and to implement what is planned.