Professor Jammeh's Convocation speech
Monday, January 26, 2009
Your Excellency the first lady, Madam Zineb Yahya Jammeh
Your Excellency the vice president, Ajaratou Dr. Isatou Njie-Saidy
Hon Speaker of the National Assembly
My Lord, chief justice
Hon secretaries of state
Venerable religious leaders
Hon Members of the National Assembly
The Lord Mayor of KMC
Your Excellencies, members of the diplomatic and consular corp
Chairman and members of the university governing council
The acting vice chancellor and members of senate
Distinguished invited scholars
Staff and students of the university
Distinguished invited guests
Members of the media
Ladies and gentlemen
I am indeed very delighted and proud to be participating for the fifth time in a convocation ceremony of the University of The Gambia. Convocation is an important milestone in the educational journey of a student as it marks the end of one stage in his or her journey through life, and the beginning of the next.
It is also an important occasion for the society, because the stock of educated and qualified human resources on whom it relies for its development and transformation, is increased and strengthened by that number of graduating young men and women. Convocation thus provides not only an opportunity for celebration, but also an occasion for reflection and for us to reason together.
Mr Chairman, distinguished ladies and gentlemen.
Rapidity of change in all facets of human endeavor is now the order of the day. The rate at which technological knowledge becomes obsolete in this day and age, is getting faster from year to year. Much of the developed world has now entered the post-industrial age, while we in Africa are still stuck in the pre-industrial era.
In the debate over Africa's industrial development, some contend that we need not reinvent the wheel by mimicking Europe's processes of industrialization. Rather, we should leapfrog their industrialization experiences and industrialize by adapting or borrowing from their existing technologies.
We are reminded that a country like Japan did precisely that in its drive for industrialization, and that even today economic and technological espionage is common among rival industrialized nations. Another view on the industrialization debate holds that Africa should base its industrialization strategies on its priority development needs, beginning with low-level, "appropriate" technology that is suited to the needs of our people. Whatever the case, whether we are to copy or create, without that critical mass of well trained and qualified men and women, possessing the right skills and knowledge, our efforts for change, transformation and development will remain frustrated.
I have constantly harped on the need for us to be food self-sufficient as a nation, and for us to transform agriculture in The Gambia. No nation can claim to be truly independent if it continues to depend on others to feed it. But transforming agriculture requires so many inputs from industry, that without a strong back-to-back linkage with the industrial sector, agricultural development will be seriously circumscribed.
The fertilizer that you use, the pesticides, herbicides, tools and equipment, etc, which are required for high levels of agricultural productivity, are all products of industry. Agricultural transformation in Africa therefore calls for serious efforts at industrial development, which in turn depends on the availability of well trained people in science, technology and engineering.
I have also initiated a Silicon Valley project as well as action to open a science park in The Gambia. We are in the process of preparing the human resources required to implement these projects. It is for this reason that I have accorded topmost priority to science and technology. We must urgently produce trained scientists and technologists and that is why our priority in the award of scholarships for study at the university of the Gambia as well as abroad, focuses on the sciences, engineering and technology.
The challenge is to make our tertiary educational institutions centres of excellence, with high standards for teaching and a culture of sustained learning. I am happy to note that the University of The Gambia is committed to the pursuit of excellence and that the management and staff are alive to the need to equip the students to excel in their professional careers.
I am equally aware that excellence in teaching and learning cannot be attained without the requisite infrastructure and a highly qualified and professional work force. Plans are therefore far advanced for the commencement of work on the first phase of the construction of the campus of the University of The Gambia at Faraba Banta, God willing. I expect to break ground in a few months' time.
The aims and objectives for which my government established this university must be vigorously pursued and attained. It is in this regard that I challenge the university to increase its role and prominence as a major support institution of the development of local innovation in industrial development. In this way, it will become an active catalyst in the creation of national capacity for diversification in the production of goods and services for society's consumption.
The university should also provide the needed skilled human resources for government to strengthen its delivery capacity, particularly as it relates to economic policy formulation and implementation.
As is well known, research conducted at universities generates new knowledge that can be used to produce goods and services to meet market demands. These goods and services are, for the most part, provided by establishments in the private sector. In turn, the potential of universities to conduct meaningful research and dispense good quality teaching are enhanced through the financial and material support extended to them by these very same establishments.
In the case of The Gambia, such support serves as a needed supplement to the efforts of government to ensure the provision of high quality university education to the citizenry. It is this sort of interactive relationship between government, industry and the university that I would certainly like to encourage, for it would ensure that all major stakeholders work in tandem and in our common interests. Let me seize this opportunity to commend the Gambia Ports Authority for its proactive stance in complementing government's efforts to support higher education, through its laudable initiative "Operation Promoting Excellence in the Sciences" (OPES).
I would like to see more of such strategic alliances and partnerships forged between the public and private enterprises, government and the university.
Mr Chairman, distinguished ladies and gentlemen.
In order to attain our goals and objectives as enunciated in our national Vision 2020 document, my government will continue to provide the requisite funding to strengthen both teaching and research at the university. Negotiations are under way with partners for the provision of senior faculty members for law, computer science and pure sciences.
In my capacity as head of state and chancellor, I will continue to do everything possible to ensure that the staff are empowered and sufficiently motivated to discharge their duties and responsibilities to society's complete satisfaction. They will be rewarded and recognized for their efforts. In turn, I expect that their activities will be consistent with the vision and values of the university and that they contribute to the attainment of our national development objectives.
Let me remind you, graduands, that you are entering the real world at a time of global financial and economic turmoil. However, we in The Gambia should thank Allah that in spite of all the turbulence and uncertainties in the global economy, our country's economy is strong and resilient, and has been rated by the London-based economist magazine to be among the ten economies world-wide that are projected to grow at the highest rates in 2009.
Our achievements in agriculture and other sectors have been spectacular and have put the country on a high growth trajectory. The country is poised to play a decisive role in the emerging world order on the intrinsic strength of its sound economic fundamentals. While our progress has been creditable, we should not be complacent with our current gains and achievements.
It is therefore imperative that we redefine our growth strategy and make development inclusive of all sections of society. I believe that growth should not merely mean the percentage increase in GDP; it should lead to the real economic upliftment of the common man. We need growth with equity; a growth that bridges the gap and the divide between the rich and the poor. The people's welfare should be the most important yardstick of growth. And to this principle is my government totally and unconditionally committed.
Graduands, as you are now about to join the class of technocrats and professionals who have done the country proud by their exceptional contributions to the socio-economic development of this country, let me advise that you deepen your sense of public responsibility, consciously guiding your actions towards the need to find solutions to society's problems. To hold our own in today's world certainly needs competitive talent, but more than this it requires men and women of character who are guided by a high sense of patriotism, ethics, morality, humanism and responsibility. Cultivate these values in your inner shelves and abide by them and the result will be a better country and a society of substance to pass on to our children, and to future generations.
Today, there are exciting opportunities in various areas in which you can creatively combine your role as a qualified professional with that of a proactive agent of change. If you carefully discharge your professional and social responsibilities, I am sure your life will be very satisfying and meaningful. The people of this country are looking up to you with hopes and aspirations. Serve them with all the resources at your command. That will be the crowning glory of the education you have received.
I have an abiding faith in the destiny of our country. Looking at you, I am filled with strong confidence about our country's future. I urge you to strive to become part of the agents of change we need to make our country strong, prosperous and fully developed.
I now turn my attention to the distinguished personalities who are about to be honoured today. I understand that it is exceptional to be awarded a university of The Gambia degree because of the extremely stringent criteria for selection. This should speak volumes about the credentials of the individuals identified for honors today. They are entering a hall of fame which is accessible to only a few and indeed the best. I congratulate them on their individual achievements and wish them well.
On behalf of the government and people of The Gambia, I commend the chairman and members of the governing council, the senate and the vice-chancellor, faculty and senior members as well as all other staff of the university for their various contributions towards the development of the university. I also invite the entire student body to show appreciation for their good fortune in being members of this reputable institution.
We should also remember the pioneers and other past members of faculty and staff, who contributed in their time to establish the very strong foundations that have enabled the university to weather so many storms.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen,
Let me now conclude by wishing the graduands once again a bright and rewarding future. May the Almighty Allah bless you all with success and fulfilment of your cherished ambitions. And may you turn to be among the men and women who will transform our beloved Gambia into a beautiful, very prosperous and highly developed nation.