Monday, June 25, 2018

Editorial: Moratorium on land dereservation and reclassification until all relevant laws are reviewed

Sidi Sanneh 
Senegal is displaying its national colors on the world stage with gusto and confidence while we continue to be consumed by complacency and self doubt.  And as a result, we have transformed ourselves into a nation of pitiful crybabies with a panache for peddling the art of fear mongering, as our neighbors in the region, including post-conflict countries like Sierra Leone, Liberia and Cote d'Ivoire take strident steps to pull themselves from the rubbles of years of civil strife.

Even Guinea-Bissau, once in a permanent state of military coup d'etat is beginning to mend its ways as some of its key economic indicators compare favorably to Gambia's.  Yes, a good part of our predicament is Jammeh's doing but for how long are we going to continue putting all the blame on him.  It's time for us to assume personal responsibility.

Although, we successfully extricated ourselves from 22 years of brutal dictatorship and, thankfully, averted a catastrophic ending in the process, we are still faced with the imminent threat of sliding into chaos due to the mind-numbing inertia and an unacceptable and crippling level of corruption of the Barrow administration.  The recent tragedies in Faraba Banta is directly traceable to the inertia and the corruption that continues to grow like a metastasized cancer in the body politic.

We are so insecure and lacking in confidence in ourselves, as political and business leaders, that we see a potential enemy in every nook and cranny and in everyone that even our own children and grandchildren armed with nothing but posters, bumper stickers and a microphone in the exercise of their constitutional rights.

The lack of confidence in ourselves has permeated the State House and, therefore, the way we are governed.  When faced with a potential crisis situation or one that is staring them straight in the face, our leaders frequently elect to bury their collective heads in the sand, hoping the problem, usually of their own making or that of their business associates or friends, will blow away. It festers instead into a national crisis situation.

We have seen it occur in Bijilo, Farato, Gunjur, Taneneh and, of course, recently in Faraba Banta and in some of these localities requires the deployment of the paramilitary and resulted in death and destruction in Faraba Banta.  A common strain running through all of these besieged communities is an aggressive annexation - for lack of a better word - of state and tradition land tenure by so-called real estate developers and land speculators, rendering town and village residence powerless to protect their way of life and defenceless against an increasingly emboldened paramilitary that resembles more and more like the private army of powerful land speculators and encroachers.  The result has often gone far beyond agitated communities, and has, at times, inflicted painful and unexpected consequences on people's lives, like the recent experiences of the people of Faraba Banta. 

We watch while the same movie is about to play all over again, only this time with greater consequences - environmentally, socially and politically -  that will impact negatively on the tourism sector that is still struggling to recover to its pre-ebola and the "political impasse" levels.  The partial destruction of Monkey Park, one of the country's major tourist attraction, can only add to the challenges facing a sector that is the second highest foreign exchange earner.

We are about to score yet another 'own goal' in the allocation of huge tracts of land in the most environmentally sensitive area of the entire Tourism Development Area (TDA) that led Mr. Sheikh Tejan Nyang, a pioneer in Gambian tourism and  proprietor of  the Institute of Travel and Tourism to sound the alarm bell.  In a recent Facebook post, he urged his Kotu residents to join him "in condemning the illegal allocation of our Badala Parkway and Neighborhood Green" allocated to and being "destroyed by Muhammed Jah."

The proprietor of the Travel Institute characterized the aggressive manner of the wanton destruction of trees and vegetation by the Gambian entrepreneur as an "invasion".  But the Gambian businessman and owner and operator of QCell, a telecom company, is not alone.  Saul Frazer, a close friend and associate of President Barrow is reportedly a beneficiary of the "illegal allocation"  among other others.

According to Mr. Nyang, "the allocation contravenes the State Lands Act of 1991 because it's blocking public access."  The area was reserved in 1973, for leisure and recreational boulevard for both tourists and area residents, as part of the Bafuloto Tourism Studies by SWECO, a Swedish consulting firm.   The Kotu community residents have petitioned President Barrow, according to Mr. Nyang's Facebook post, and they are awaiting a response.

Following the Faraba Banta incident last week, the National Assembly, in a proactive and highly welcomed move passed a 21-point Resolution, in addition showing remorse for the loss of life in a close knit community, and as part of the measures, the Assembly Members resolved that Mines and Quarries Act of 2005 be urgently reviewed by government.

We wish to add the Local Government Act, The Land Laws of The Gambia, the NEA Act and to include but not limited to the review of the Implementation of the Land Assessment Framework as all of these laws are interrelated.  Until these reviews are done and reports submitted to the National Assembly, a moratorium on all land dereservation and reclassification should be effected as a matter of urgency.