One of the curses of the Yahya Jammeh’s administration is the mass exodus of young people from the country to Europe through the Mediterranean Sea.
Experts said this was largely due to the difficult economic situation the youth were faced with as over 33% of them remain unemployed with a palpable exclusion in governance.
However, since Jammeh’s fall on 2016, migration of young people has seen a downward trend and a significant number who are stranded elsewhere in Africa has volunteered to come back.
According to Marianna, the press officer at the Gambian office of the International Organisation of Migration, the country has received 2,368 migrants from Libya since January 2017 and 2,928 in total from the same period.
“There is a change of mindset, not even internally but externally. Now, the percentage of successes in terms of those crossing the sea to Europe is almost equivalent to the percentage of failure and people at home understand that,” Ismaila Sambou, president of the Gambia Youth Chamber of Commerce (GYCC) has told Kerr Fatu.
GYCC has started in November 2016 purposely to mentor and train young people who want to go into business and also help to strengthen other young startups.
The chamber organised a number of exhibitions for youth-owned businesses and is planning on organizing another one in Bansang next week.
“We are to feature 40 new start-ups…,” Sambou said.
With the returning of the back-way boys and potentials deportation from Europe, one of the challenges facing Adama Barrow’s administration is how to turn the burgeoning youth population into a blessing instead of a curse.
Despite the $11 million dollar EU support to the returning youths which is to be implemented by IOM, the young people who have come to a stagnated economy, registering erratic growth with a public debt burden, 120% to the GDP, which is the seventh highest in the world remain desperate.
Opinions are divided on the reason why migration has slowed down and youths stranded in Libya are coming back.
Some said it might have been because of the difficulty youths now encounter crossing the sea after European Union has trained notorious Libyan Coast Guards and sponsored their sea patrols.
However, others contended that the democracy which has brought rising youth participation in politics had equally given renewed hope to young people that Gambia is also a land where dreams can be fulfilled.
“There are several young people coming into business… There are young people who have returned from back-way and are doing well in poultry farming,” Sambou said.
Meanwhile, the German government has given an organization of Libyan returnees a tune of D3.5 to sensitise young people on the danger of irregular migrations.
The project which started last month, its head Mustapha Sallah has told Kerr Fatu, has already conducted two caravan tours across the country.
“We are hoping to do another one,” Sallah said. “The responses of young people have so far been very positive.”
Despite the challenges, at the ongoing trade fair, examples of changing mindsets of young people are not hard to come by.
“Gambians only needs to believe in themselves and our locally made products,” Binta Manneh, a young lady in her 20s, told Kerr Fatu.
“There are lots of young businesses around but sometimes Gambians tend to trust more in foreign products. We sometimes treated our own as inferior.”
Manneh is behind a young but expanding business call Ansu Bees that is participating at the ongoing trade fair thanks to National Enterprise Initiative (NEDI).
She locally makes organic body creams, shampoos and lip bound, all of which are made manually.
She started in July 2017 with support from Youth Empowerment Project, Gambia Investment and Export Promotion Agency and EMPRETEC.
Manneh and other dealers go to Senegambia to sell their products to tourists every Sunday.
“Tourists have interest in our products because they are organic and eco-friendly…,” Manneh said.
Another young person who is doing similar business and doing well like Manneh is Yusupha Darboe who owns a stall at the trade fair showcasing organic foods he made such as wonjo jam, tomato jam, mango jam, and Moringa oil, among others.
One key person behind these success stories is Abdou Bojang, Jamma Foods Schools of Food Processing and Preservation.
Since 2017, Bojang who lives in Brikama has recently graduated his third batch of students he thought on food processing and preservation.