"We must have to industrialise to have sustainable development to benefit our people in Africa. And this cannot be possible by using candles or kerosene. We have to make sure that we have reliable, affordable and accessible electricity or energy," said President Jammeh on Friday at State House during a meeting with Ecowas delegates who were in the country to validate the regional bloc's Action Plan for capacity building on access to energy services.
President Jammeh used the meeting to reaffirm his government's commitment to the availability of affordable and reliable energy services in The Gambia.
Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr Yahya Jammeh who declared energy, infrastructure, and agriculture as priority in the early days of the July 1994 Revolution said Africa should not be starved of energy, given that the continent is abundant with water sources, unlimited sunshine and waterfalls.
"Africa should take energy as a priority if we really want to develop the continent and want to get rid of poverty in Africa. Europe developed through Industrial Revolution and that tells us that without industry there is no way we can have sustainable development," he said, while emphasising that without affordable, reliable and accessible energy there is no way industrialisation can be achieved.
The Gambian leader, who began his address by thanking the UN system in The Gambia, UNDP and Ecowas for choosing to host the validation workshop in Banjul, informed the gathering that one can learn from The Gambia that the household income of rural communities that have never dreamt of electricity has increased significantly because of the facilities. "They are able to economise and get rid of poverty.
As far as we are concerned and from a personal perspective, it has always been my dream and vision to turn this country into a city-state since the first day I assumed power and this pronouncement was made in 1994. I made it very clear since then that to turn a country into a city-state is not an easy feed but it is not unachievable and it is not also impossible. I also made it very clear the steps and the foundation needed to be laid in order for one to achieve that status.
What the government does is to create the conducive environment being public infrastructure and let the people work hard, get money and build whatever housing they want to build, but what is more important and indispensable and the most important catalyst in rapid socio-economic development is energy. So we made it very clear that without energy, forget about any development that would be sustainable.
Though we have different types of development but I think all of us yarned for a development that is sustainable and beneficial to all people. So we have been battling because by the time we came to power the country had only less than 4 Mega Watts of electricity in the entire country. And so we have to build this country from Stone Age, that is the reality. Most of the 4 Mega Watts were not available most of the time and so we have to start from scratch to rebuild and ensure that electricity is available and reliable.
It is my policy not to bring in anything that is not accessible because the use of development and its benefits should benefit everybody. And if you bring in energy that is not accessible then you better not bring it because you are creating an elite society were others are deprived and they are the same citizen that have the same basic right to energy," he said.
He continued: "In Africa, why can't we set up an industry where African raw materials can be processed so that our farmers can have the right to be charged or make fixed price for our goods rather than depending on this merciless almighty world market that have no office either headquarters nor president and is so powerful impoverish African countries."
The Gambian leader finally thanked Ecowas for their leadership in the initiative, saying without energy Ecowas cannot develop as a bloc because there is no way "you can sustain development if you are a net importer".
Speaking earlier, Chinwe Dike, the UNDP representative in The Gambia said the country needs to be congratulated in terms of having gone far in the implementation of the 'White paper'. According to her, The Gambia was one of the countries that have now superseded the other countries in terms of its commitment and achievements.
"The UN is very happy as its lead technical partner to be here today with support of this initiative. As you know 2012 is the year for access to energy and in alignment with its regional paper from the Ecowas region, the white paper. The Gambia has gone a long way and I think it has also done a lot of initiative," she said.
Dr Almamy Camara of the UNDP said: "The National Investment Programme is to formulate and prioritise access to energy services for the rural poor." According to him, the gap analysis was done with the support of the regional office to assess what they have in terms of access to energy services and what are the areas that need to be focused on and how these gaps could be addressed. "These are the two areas and the documents are now in their draft stage. The National Investment Programme is now being validated to the tune of US$237M," Dr Camara disclosed.
He revealed that in trying to promote the initiative at the national level they have set up a Gambia National Multi-Sect oral Committee (NMC) that will provide guidance to the implementation of the Ecowas 'White paper' at the national level. "So this is a multi-stakeholders committee that involves all the key stakeholders and their role is to provide guidance and make sure that access to modern energy services is implemented in a way that will benefit the country," he concluded.
The Ecowas Commission director of Energy, Dabire Bayaornibe said the Ecowas Commission has helped all member states to develop the National Investment Programmes. "We have also made assessment for all the 14-member states that are in the 'White paper' initiative. The regional action plan for capacity building has also been adopted by all the 14-member states. This ambitious programme is implemented with support from UNDP," he said.
Also speaking at the meeting, the UNDP regional energy coordinator, Aboubacar Oualy, said energy is part of the top priorities of the UNDP and that access to its service is an instrument that has been designed by heads of state of Ecowas as a powerful means of alleviating poverty. He used the opportunity to inform the gathering about the Ecowas region's position in the implementation of the programme.
According to him, the Ecowas region is leading the process in showing that energy is important as it provides services because of the demand of the priority sectors of the countries like health education and agriculture, which all needs to have reliable and modern energy.
Teneng Mba Jaiteh, the minister for Petroleum said the fact that government prioritised the accessibility to energy especially in the PAGE and realising the opportunities the programme presented was more so the reason why the Ministry of Energy under the guidance and leadership of President Jammeh decided to come on board and run with the project. "I think this explains why they have achieved what they have achieved today," she said.
Dr Njogu Bah, the minister for Presidential Affairs, said the move is inline with the vision of President Jammeh, as he believes that there can be no meaningful development in any given country without enough energy and power to rely on to develop. Dr Bah further stressed on what he called the Gambian leader's fervent belief that without energy means entrenching poverty.
The minister of Forestry and Environment, Fatou Ndey Gaye also underscored the need for focus and sustainability.