Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Gambia’s impending ecological disaster that will threaten the social peace


The smallest country – both in terms of size and population - in continental Africa with barely 2 million people, settled in approximately 4,300 sq. miles, making it one of the most densely populated country on the continent.  700,000 or 35% of the country’s population is cramped in the Western Region of which 70% are resident in its westernmost part where almost all of the (urban) development of the last two decades took place unabated, unregulated and barely challenged until now.

The developments that took place within the Bijilo corridor in the last couple of decades, facilitated, in part, by the Kombo Coastal Road making many backwater villages accessible, transformed an erstwhile collection of farming communities into a near urban jungle, albeit with enclosed, gated communities to insulate the prospective occupants with the realities of miseries of poverty that surrenders them.

The urban development model in use in The Gambia induces poverty because it deprives the initial owners the use of communal land that previously earned them a subsistence level of living without providing alternative employment opportunities.   Instead, they are usually the object of scorn and the threat of unleashing the paramilitary police (PIU) on an aggrieved defenseless community – a favorite tactic employed by land speculators with the tacit approval of authorities.

These Jammeh-era methods of acquisition of state land generally ignored the established law, especially when it involved the former dictator.  Large tracts of communal land belonging to villages were forcibly annexed, fenced and ownership transferred to his name.  Even though private speculators did not quite employ the same method of annexation, they did exploit the prevailing atmosphere of what was then equivalent to a state of emergency by ignoring all the rules and regulations governing the acquisition of state land.  As regards communal land, the approval of the village Alkalo and village elders using all sorts of unsavory means to guarantee smooth transfer to speculators.                            

The removal of communal land from agricultural or horticultural production and into residential or commercial purposes has the potential of increasing the incidence of rural poverty, especially if the reclassification is not creating replacement jobs for the economy in general and the affected communities in particular.  

In peri-urban areas like Sukuta, Brufut, Kololi and Manjai, local residents have suffered because of the same land speculators’ insatiable thirst for more agricultural land that is inevitably converted into high end residential condos and gated communities, depriving the rest of the of their open spaces, football fields, markets, places of worship and other community amenities.

Land that residents, especially the youth, of Kololi, Kololi and satellite communities, fought so hard to protect from expropriation has been parceled out in 15 x 20m and 18 x 20m lots and priced at D864,000 and D 1,036,800 respectively for those who can afford a 30% down payment and to retire the rest in twelve monthly installments.  This is happening in a country where the majority of its two million inhabitants still live a subsistence life and where 70% of them are engaged in and/or are employed in the agriculture sector.   

Chinese fish meal factories in Gunjur and Sanyang are posing an environmental hazard to these communities and beyond with sludge being disposed of in abandoned sand quarry that can easily sip into the water table threatening the health and welfare of communities beyond Sanyang.

Indiscriminate use of our limited and environmentally sensitive land has been taken to new and irresponsible heights.  After Monkey Park and surrounding reserve parks were recently saved from land speculators, following protests by environmentalists, we have learned from irate residents near the Badala Parkway Reserve that this environmentally delicate area has targeted for development.  

In fact, this reserve land was designated in 1970 by the Bafuluto Tourism Study and incorporated this environmentally sensitive area into the Kotu, Kololi and Kerr Serign settlements as part of the Tourism Development complex that led to the construction of the road network from Kotu Police Station to SOS, across to Palma Rima Hotel junction via Kololi.

The reserve was meant to be a leisure and recreation promenade for the general public and visiting tourists.  Unfortunately, the long-term plan of the area is being threatened by a group of land speculators who are determine to consume every available land in the Kombos, more for speculative purposes than a rational and developmentally sound investment for the area.

According to sources, including concerned area residents, the entire reserve, including Cape Point, has been deserved by Ministry of Lands and Physical Planning Department and sold to Mohammed Jah of Q-Cell, Atlas Petroleum through Edi Jobe, Saul Frazer of Global Properties, Blue Ocean Properties of Abubacar Bensouda and several others.

Residents of these areas were never consulted and front property owners whose residences will be blocked from view have been particularly aggrieved as a result this action by the Local Government Ministry.  Besides the environmental destruction the new plan will cause should Gambians allow this irresponsible decision to go unchallenged, the quality of life of residents of the area will be severely affected.

Constructions have already started in some areas of the Badala Stretch with walls and fences going up at breakneck speed.   The main road from the Kotu West Mosque that leads to the Kotu Community Center to the Badala Road will be closed, making access to community facilities near impossible.                                                                                                         

Communities all over Kombo South have been impacted and their livelihood threatened by land speculators and simple grabbers of both State and community land.  We have written extensively about how Global Properties and Swami India, in cahoots with the former KMC Mayor, expropriated a formerly state land in the Kololi/ Manjai Kunda that is now for sale for anywhere from over half a million dalasi to over one million dalasi, a price range well beyond the means of an average Gambian.  You can find the relevant blog posts here, here and also here.

The Manjago village of Taneneh is the latest in a number of communities standing up for their inherent rights to access to land and social amenities, including a decent burial site for their people. Cemeteries and sacred spots across the Kombos are being desecrated as a result of land grabbers and speculators action in collusion with local leaders and politicians at the national level.

Residents along the Badala Parkway corridor, frustrated by government inaction in taking measures to stop the rampant encroachment that threatens both the environment and the quality of life, are joining forces with plant, fruit and flower sellers – who have already been served with notices to vacate - along the Bertil Harding Highway to bring their grievances to the Minister of Local Government and Land in the form of a protest against the de-reservation of a highly environmentally sensitive area.  


Credit:  Green Up Gambia, an environment activists group is the primary source for the section on the Badala Parkway and supplemented by our own sources on the ground who provided the photos of the area.