ENVIRONMENT: Gunjur and Kombo South: The Potential Victims of Environmental Catastrophe!
“Careless technology, commercial greed, political indifference, and the need of the poor for the basic necessities of life, together with a rapid growth in human population, have all resulted in a situation where,.. No further time should be lost in elevating sustainable development to a global ethic.” (UN Conference on Environment, Stockholm, 1972), One would be excused to think that the above timeless indictment of our species was carefully crafted following the eminent ecological destruction and pollution of the Gunjur beach by The Golden Lead Import and Export Ltd.
The precision of the quote could hardly be contested. Before now, reading and conversing with the executed environmentalist, Ken Saro Wiwa, was something of an ideal past time. The exercise was more of celebrating his ingenuity, wit and power of expression than sharing, at best in sympathy, with his singular course to protect and preserve his birth right, for which he lost his precious life. As he himself once opined in A Month and A Day in Detention Diary, “a fire on the nose bridge is more painful than a volcano on the mountain”. Perhaps we are not the only people to have been guilty of this Olympian indifference towards other innocents in the line of fire.
Now that we have been unconsciously short-changed, deliberately slow-poisoned for want of development and employment, and sedated with pious pretext for some political stability following the change of government in the Gambia, we have realised and appreciated the moral truth of the aphorism: “a treat of injustice anywhere is a treat to justice everywhere”. As if our call for and legitimate demands of change from the stench and slough of medieval past was merely to replace the fascist fantasist with slothful civilian administration. No! Our demand for change was for a higher purpose: we expect to have our lives, liberty, properties and environments protected. These are not negotiable, and far less expected from our democratic government that we have helped to institute.
Which investors hoped for a fair deal in a Jammeh’s lawless Gambia? Except for rapacity and insatiable pursuit of profit, no serious investor would dismiss the importance of credible legal environment in the search for meaningful, lasting and mutually beneficial investment. The secret success of the Asian Tigers in the 80s was embedded in the legal infrastructures they first guaranteed which afforded Foreign Investors a reasonable degree of certainty of rights and obligations, and the assurance of judicial redress in the event of wrongful revocation of business licences. It is not a shout of “Singapore!” that Gambia would magically transform from antiquity to an economically viable state! After 22 years of gangsterism, what have we registered except populistic trivia! Oh but Golden Lead Import and Export Ltd is not alone to latch on the economic opportunities offered by lawless Gambia of Jammeh’s administration.
At the other end of the spectrum on the continent, the top five business partners of the cult-cum rebel leader Foday Sanko of Sierra Leone were British! They had undue concession to mineral rights, but where did that leave Freetown and Sierra Leoneans? One shudders at the naked pursuit of resources, even at the cost of lives, well beings, and the environments of the indigenes, - even by those otherwise cultured on law and order. These archetypes abound aplenty on the African continent, especially in countries teetering on the edge of incivility. Of course, technology has been responsible for a remarkable human advancement, but its unbridled application has equally caused a tremendous damage to the environment and the ecology on which human beings are themselves dependent upon.
A technologically starved country of the Gambia under a populist fantasist, who wanted to prove to the world that he was the first to build the “Arch of Betrayal” over the graves of Gambians, could only attract callous and unscrupulous investors of like minds. Certainly he had succeeded in attracting Carnige Minerals (Gambia) Ltd of yester years, and Golden Lead Import and Export Ltd of late. Carnige Minerals did not destroy life as was unceremoniously sent parking, but at a fantastic legal cost hanging over every Gambian head like a sward of Damocles! Golden Lead Import and Export learnt a new trick in dealing with the thoughtless tyrant and the naive Gambian population. They know how to be cosy with the goon, and to how seduce the opinion leaders of the communities they operate in. As if we don’t need Charlo/Koboo (Bonga Fish) any more, they brought us the technology to process and extract oil from our staple diet, and the remains further processed as animal feed, often exported to their country of choice. The technology to produce oil would probably never have been taught to our people; the oil we have no access to and the animal feed we don’t need.
Unlike the Singapore and Malaysia, serious investors of better kind were conditioned to spend about 30 per cent of Corporate Wealth on training and educating the ingenious citizens, for the eventual retention of the technology and the company in the event of unceremonious closure. Sensibly, when the Communist China finally opened up in the late 80s to businesses and the investors migrated for cheaper labour and larger markets, the indigenous Malaysians and Singaporeans took over the business without much hassles and setbacks. Insensibly Golden Lead offers a cow at our every annual communal festival of Laylatul Khadr (Satay Gamo), as part of their corporate social responsibility! Yes a cow every year! Even if all exploitations of our resources ends here, there still would have been some contentious objectors to this naked fleecing and deprivation of the community and nation of their source of livelihood.
Against that, Golden Lead has had the courage and temerity to empty off their industrial waste into our lagoon (Bolong Feyno) thereby destroying all marine and aquatic lives, and when challenged over this unethical conduct, they deceptively sneaked the waste pipe into the sea. This despicable and morally indifferent conduct should be good enough reason to send these callous investors parking, but no! When the two concerned ministries of the new administration heard about the brawl, they made a visit, met with the local conscientious objectors to these misconducts, they simply dismissed the latter’s complaints as well as the advice of an oversight institution of National Environmental Agency, and went on to advise the company to continue its operation!
In developed countries, this is an act of political suicide, but in the Gambia especially emerging from deranged and convoluted political contamination, our brother and sister of the two miniseries could be excused for having a hangover of anomaly of maladministration of the past. What else could better explain this act of political subterfuge! Perhaps a word of caution to the two ministries and by extension the new administration: The coastal settlements are already on the edge and are visibly becoming unsettled. We have and are still losing our communal lands to housing agencies that are making it almost impossible to acquire a decent place for themselves let alone our coming generation; we lost our women horticultural gardens to voracious sand minders without a pittance either for the community or those directly affected, for the last 22 years. Now under your watch our environment is not only slowly getting poisoned right before our very eyes, but our ocean is getting equally polluted with toxic waste with your complicity! This most not happen! You ought to stop it.
Every coastal community in the Gambia has an economic, social and cultural connection to the sea. Either by default or design, every one of us have utilized this one-time virgin coast for a right of passage (Kasai Bato Kuyo) or for some happy past times (picnics) , fishing and swimming. We certainly would not stand aloof for economic spongers to rub us of the last of our heritage. The places were bequeathed to us in their beautiful and virgin form, we used it and hope to leave it to our generations to come. In honour of our fore-bearers for the heritage, and justice to ourselves, and consideration for generations to come, we feel it our moral duty to act and to protect our environment. If you are in sympathy with the exploiters, know that the fight has just begun and you are also a fair target.
(Malang Dabro is a Civic & Social Organization Professional and also Editor of @Gunjur)