In the past few weeks speculation in the town has increased over the Gambian government seeking youth employment opportunities in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. I am not an economic expert but I struggle with the idea that Saudi Arabia could soon become the new Silicon Valley for Gambian migrants looking for greener pastures. Due to conflicting stories on social media, it’s not yet clear who is behind such a bold initiative. Whoever it is, I can safely assume that 99% of jobs which are likely to be available to Gambians in Saudi Arabia will be manual labour and domestic work.
There are rules and regulations in place for migrant workers in the Gulf States, but due to culture of impunity, implementing them is harder than you can imagine. I am also not sure if the Gambian government actually has adequate resources on the ground to deal with influx of migrants in case of human rights abuse, which is almost inevitable. I am convinced that this speculation is not fake news. It sounds more sophisticated and accurate. So far the position of the Gambian government concerning this matter is slightly ambiguous. Most people are of the view that there are strings attached to the millions of dollars which are moving into the Smiling Coast of Africa since the dawn of the new administration.
But let’s be honest, the spectacular generosity of Saudi Arabia in the build up to next year’s OIC Islamic summit ,which is expected to take place in the Gambia, is entirely welcomed by many, including me! But I will insist that we do not do anything which will mortgage the future of our exuberant youth. People are still extremely sceptical, despite the Ministry of Tourism dismissing the report that the government is about to encourage its citizens to seek jobs in Saudi Arabia. According to them, such a claim is fiction. I hope that is the case! Nonetheless, it’s not uncommon for a developing country to reward the generosity of a developed country by providing cheap labour, even if in reality they know it may be a risk.
The government cannot do it alone
What we ought to understand is that, despite the noble teachings of the holy Quran, which encourages people to be humble and fight against all form of bigotry, due to adherence to a deep-rooted mediaeval culture, the status of African immigrants in the Middle East and the Gulf States is virtually equal to the status of 17th century Arabian slaves. Occasionally, it may appear as if there is a willingness among the ruling class to tackle such dogma but usually they just spout political rhetoric. My fellow citizens, let me repeat this: implementing rules and regulations to control bigotry is impossible in the Middle East. With the looming mistrust between the ruling elites and the mighty sectarian hegemony which is prevalent in the society, human rights are often preserved only for nobles belonging to the same biological family tree. Hence the majority of employers would deny people their human rights. A virtuous attitude is totally alien to them.
I am a strong proponent of President Barrow, who prioritises reducing youth unemployment in the country and desires to lift people from abject poverty, but I cannot ignore the evidence of brutality against migrant workers in the North Africa and the Middle East which circulates on the media every single day. Dozens of Gambians are already victims of such brutality. Taking all this in to account, if the government continues to ignore the outcry of the people and allows unscrupulous individual sto export Gambian citizens to the Middle East as domestic workers, it is not the action of a wise leadership. It’s a time to have conversation in the pursuit of wisdom, in order to enlighten those of our people who think the grass is greener elsewhere.
By Yaya Sillah