OPINION: Tears from Gunjur - Lamin Darboe
THE RAPE OF ITS VITAL FISH STOCK AND ENVIRONMENT BY GOLDEN LEAD
Gunjur fish stock and the surrounding ecosystem in the beach area is faced with existential threat under a disingenuous guise of providing employment for the citizenry and a market for fish mongers.
And more menacing danger is the sand mining which sooner or later will unleash a near irrevocable danger to women vegetable gardening in the nearby Faroo. The sea is fast encroaching on the fertile land directly opposite the Atlantic ocean which since time immemorial, our parents use to grow vegetables with splendid foliage. The only defence between the dwellings and the sea is prolific forest that the people of Gunjur created.
Already the deluge caused my sand mining is making the faroos impassable and the poor defenceless women had to make artificial bridges to get to their Garden. The video of theory state of the faroos can be watched in youtube (just search for Gunjur sand mining). The lamentation of women tirelessly working on their gardens to put bread on the table was sobering and should shake the hairs on our bodies.
The enigma is, why the Government is not monitoring this development and taking concrete action to make the mining more efficient and sustainable. A more disturbing development is the complicit silence of our Local politicians and the collaboration of our own denizens especially those aiding the Golden Lead Company. And I swear by Allah, anlazi Laa illaaha khairuhu that, when the history of Gunjur is written, it will not look kindly on those who assist, shield, defend, surrogate, manage, benefited and embolden the Golden Lead directly or indirectly to decimate, diminish and mismanage the fish stock of Gunjur. There is no intelligent or strategic justification to help a company which failed to comply with environmental regulations, failed to fulfil all the tenets of its agreement insidiously foist on the people of Gunjur. A company that failed its social responsibility, treat it employees the way it would not treat Chinese employees in china, blind to the concerns of the people and most importantly practice unsustainable fishing and a company with shady environmental ethics. On that basis Golden Lead cannot be trusted and does not merit the cooperation of the people of Gunjur. There operations are shrouded in secrecy and have not publicly publish any financial accounts since incorporation in the Gambia. Their financial and revenue cycle is opaque and no one except the Chinese owners know how much money is generated by export of their spurious manufacturing products. Not even the senior Gambian managers (perhaps minus all-powerful and ubiquitous Mr Conteh) can tell you how much revenue the Golden Lead make from unsustainable exploitation of Gunjur’ resources yet they complicity keep quiet, what a colossal betrayal. If Golden Lead were operating in China they would have been taken to task by the patriotic citizens of China and its government would immediately react even though the company provide employment. If it were operating in UK, the people pressure alone would have spurred the government to closed it down but Gambian people and Gambia government is different, impervious to the tears and cries of Gunjur who tremendously contributed in cash and human endeavour to elect this government. We had strong conviction that the new government will wipe our tears, that it will make a difference; protect our environment and fish resources but no, not so far. The haphazard and lethargic responses accentuate our sorrow and helplessness in our own Land. Albeit our hope and great pride we took from our noble history, the birth place of Kombo Sillah, we shall stretch our anxious hands for Devine intervention. Our indefatigable strength, emanate from our strong conviction that we are fighting a just course coupled with the untiring efforts of our vibrant youths who will definitely to do something come next elections. Why in Gambia we seem to be indifferent to cries our people and shrug them off as political agitators bent on derailing the government programs or tarnishing its image. That is an egregious irony and cynical ploy. When we elected the government, we hope for its success in not only confronting vile dictatorship but to succeed in transforming the Gambia into an oasis of democratic values and socio-economic success. Kombo south especially Gunjur gave the highest votes to the coalition yet our cries of joy then was not cries of political miscreants but now it is. Why most African governments and its policy makers are still eluded by the ideals of our African founding fathers and failed to conscientiously factor sustainability in our developmental calculus. There is hardly a strategic plan for all facets of our development in many African Countries yet many of the policies makers are technocrats who on many occasions studied and lived in the developed world. With a tease of paradox, I asked myself, how comes companies with suspect financial history, with dubious intents are given a free hand as long as, they make some unscrupulous surrogates financially oiled. They can operate unchecked with very favourable financial and environmental terms and conditions which are not normally accorded to businesses brought in by Gambian diasporans.
This phenomenon is prevalent in many African countries. Ignorable silence and capitulation of sovereignty to foreign companies as long as the parasitic local surrogates and operatives are aggrandised. Such aggrandizement are bribes to destroy our resources and in the sight of Allah, it is haraam, haram, haram and potentially can only be cleanse by fire of Jahanama Na ujubillahi min zalika. We need development but not at any cost. An ethical development that preserve our environment and premised on the philosophy of sustainability. Sustainable development is principled on meeting human development goals while at the same time sustaining the ability of the natural systems to provide natural resources and ecosystem. It is an development that does not mortgage the needs for the future generations. History will be the judge of those who assisted the depletion of our fish stock. It will inform their progeny that their parents were involved with the Chinese company called Golden Lead to destroy your environment and erode your fish stock under their own nose while they happily chose to be willing spectators. This will happen as both oral and written history does not look gracefully on collaborators. Believe me an auspicious epitaph will be audaciously marked on their graves, the man who helped the rape of Gunjur sea and environmental resources. Golden Lead woefully negated its mandate and encouraged perhaps by the sleazy nodding of the collaborators that throwing monetary gift at the Alkalo, the chief and notable individuals, donating a bull and money for the Town Gamo is the cheapest and most inventive fulfilment of its promises to people of Gunjur. Golden Lead promised to build the road going to the beach, provide electricity at the beach, provide safe drinking water and build a proper drainage and waste disposal. That they will provide huge local employment to ameliorate the burden of underemployment among the youth population.
Initially Golden with a twist of sly intimated that their mission was to build a fertilizer factory. In the absence of proper consultation with the people, the enterprise was surreptitiously converted into a fish manufacturing plant extracting fish oil. The Gunjur people and even those employed don't have proper information on what goes on in that manufacturing plant. There are exclusive areas where only the Chinese have access. Disappointingly there is little value added transfer of skills and expertise because key areas of the process is shrouded in secrecy. Even the buildings, I was informed are of temporal architecture so that when the fish stock is depleted, they can easily pack up and go elsewhere. I called a well informed Gunjurian, who is well informed about Golden Lead activities and he personally visited the site at the height of the waste disposal saga. And he, Lamin K Touray(Lang K) wrote : Evidently, golden Lead is getting bigger, bolder in strategizing business autonomy in our powerless community. Like we all asking, when will golden Lead fulfil and honour their (verbal) agreements made with the local community, and I quote Lamin Mbakau audio on the then GDA whatsapp group “golden Lead with their Gambian counterparts met the Alikali, the elders present, that golden Lead needs a land at the beach to build a fish milling factory/company. And in return of land allocation, 600 youths or people will be directly employed, build a tarmac road from the town to main coastal beach, build a fish market in town, they told the alikali and those gartered”. And it’s been understood that the very land given for free to golden Lead has leased it in their name for 99yrs. Now golden Lead has fooled the community, what a massive disappointment and loss for Gunjur.
Adversely the shore very closed to the seashore, is turned in to a trawler/shipbuilding yard which is very closed to the public gathering. There seems to be no regulation or control on Golden Lead what they can or cannot do at the beach. Not to talk of the waste pipe connected in to the sea dumping liquid factory processing waste. We don’t know how deep into the water this connected waste pipe is. Will this cause any health hazards to swimmers and other marine lives.
If golden Lead is fishing in our waters, what chance has our local fishermen to compete. Upon all golden Lead came as we understood, as a fish milling company who will keep buying fish from locals that will assure financial success for all at the beach but instead they are fishing for themselves and even selling fish to the locals. Now, where is the massive jobs they promised the Alikali and the community. They have now monopolies the business and controlled the price of selling and buying fish in bulk at the beach. We have also seen in the photos that Bunama Jatta posted sometime ago, golden Lead using bulldozer driven into the water scooping fish out of the ducked vessel carrying to the factory. Majority of youths who used to load and carry fish from the boats to the shore has dwindled.
Heaven knows when our local bunger fish called "chaalo", an accessible and vital source of protein, will become an endangered species. This was done primarily to bypass the local people and deny them that job. Since I was a child, local women used to do this job and now Golden Lead deny our people of means of basic survival. As a child we used to watch women carry fish pans on their head and bring it on the beach and paid two or three fish. I witnessed women coming from surrounding villages to earn a living at Gunjur beach during the day and return in the evening. Now that enterprise is in ruin yet the collaborators insist there is economic justification citing employment as key variable.
To our utter astonishment the land Golden Lead is housed on belong to the people of Gunjur now Golden Lead is audaciously trying to misappropriate it and give themselves the ownership of the community land. Thanks to the staunch refusal of our no nonsense Alkali, their sinister attempts were thwarted. It is indeed an irony, that our own brethren allowed themselves to be used by the Chinese to deny their own folks their right to their ancestral land.
Nowhere in Africa a tractor is used to scoop fish from canoes and bring it on land. The tractor foot print is deforming the beach and disturbing the birds that scavenge on fish remnants on the beach. The Gunjur collaborators could only watch hopelessly like dead wood trunks while the unrepentant foreigners unrelentingly abuse their centuries old traditions without evincing any action. Is that what we can call development.
Disingenuously, the nefarious Golden Lead now put their ultimate plan into action with unmitigated effrontery. It is akin to colonial era, when our ancestors stood by as colonists conspicuously demean them, when our menfolk had to carry colonial Governors on the shoulders and no one protested. This is a new breed of colonialism, development colonialism; the new Chinese paradigm. The same paradigm Indians exert in East African, with despicable uncanny. Usurping fertile land from powerless locals using unscrupulous politicians as vehicles. While they produce vast quantities of food only to subsequently ship away to India while the local people wallow in hunger. The government and corrupt officials confiscate their vulnerable citizen who elected them to office for paltry inducements. Indians will never do that for an African however rich you may be.
The Chinese now have employed trawlers to catch fish for them instead of buying the fish catch from the local fishermen. With modern fishing trawlers and sophisticated fishing methods, the local fishermen have no chance. These actions flush down the drain, the basic tenets of the collaborators employment argument. The Chinese came to drain our fish stock without meeting the necessary licensing and vigorous environment requirement imposed by the environmental agency, NEA.
Gambia environmental agency had issued numerous warnings to the Golden Lead for their fragrant violations of the environmental regulations and terms of agreement with the people of Gunjur. With connivance of the local collaborators, the explicit hand off engagement of our MP, they launched a media campaign to discredit the campaigners, and specifically the diasporas as bunch of noisy, unfaithful miscreants who are divorced from reality. They snare at us.
On many occasions the trade Minster was accused of being the mastermind behind Golden Lead rejection of all attempt to bring into compliance. Isatou Touray and Kebba K Barrow shall bear responsibility for their conspiratorial silence and they shall face the people of Gunjur when the Chinese leave. We shall gleefully remind their children that their parents did nothing when our resources were raped and shipped to China. The case is proceeding in court with snail speed and in last siting their lawyer proffered an out of court settlement which according to my sources close to the case, was accepted by the siting judge without consent of Gunjur representatives. I am not legally oriented but I find this ruling weird and dissonant with natural justice. As the case awaits final decision, Golden Lead assumes it activities with even more ferocity and I don’t care attitude as they are convinced of the support of their political backers. Of the backers, the trade minister’s shadow is prominent, she come from Kartong yet her complicity had always confront us with a snare and intrepidity (as wollof say Ma Tai). And K K B, oh K. K B ye giko teenya.
In the light of the foregoing I am appealing to our dear president to intervene so that Golden Lead stop their trawlers at sea until the case is finally decided and I entreat you sir thus:
You Excellency when we contributed our £100 for the coalition campaign, it look insignificant but with great spirit and love for our country. We did it not only to uproot a dictator but a dictatorship and all its manifestations.
I humbly invite our dear and noble president to wipe the tears of Gunjurians by taking timely action to redress our concerns. Now that you are the president in power, you are the custodian of each and every living being in that land, including the land and sea resources. Allah will judge you on the day of judgement, how rightfully you expedite your custodial duty and I surmise Gunjur's environmental saga shall not weigh lightly on the scale of your responsibilities. I invite you, your Excellency, to reflect on the Gunjur issues, the Golden Lead and sand mining. We need a sustainable strategy to manage our finite indigenous resources so that the future generation will not remember us with ignominy and curse. Because we let them down and that our short-sightedness and greed blind us to forget to factor them in our policies. Your excellency you need to constitute a task force to look into this important matter diligently with a strategic and sustainable developmental mindset and the need to bequeath to our progeny a pristine environment and resources. The resources that their creator place on our care for their sustenance and wellbeing.
Mr president if need be, you should visit the Gunjur beach and sand mining site to get a first hand impression; so that your judgement is not disturbed by entrench interest surrogates who for long; work incognito with Golden Lead to suppress dissent about Golden Lead activities. So that Mr president when the history of Gunjur is written, your name shall not be associated with the diabolical enterprise of Golden Lead to destroy Gunjur's environment and depletion of its fish resources. A resource which the creator and sustainer of the universe placed in Gunjur for Gunjurians and the wider Gambian community. For that we shall salute you and your good efforts shall be remembered with glory as long as the sun shines.
Mr president the story of prophet Dawood (pbuh) is worthy to mention here so that we all take a cue. He used to walk in the city at night masqueraded as a commoner. He would ask people what them think about the rule of their king. Whether he was just to them or unjust. For many years no pointed out any injustice under his reign until one fine day, an ordinary man lamented, “he does not work and he is fed from our sweat”. That was a turning point for prophet Dawood(pbuh) and I wish, with solemnity that the Gunjur saga present a turning point for you to wipe the tears of Gunjur. Tears from Gunjur.
Lamin Darboe Leicester United Kingdom
Lamin Darboe worked at the Accountant General's department from 1990 to 1996. He was the acting Principal Accountant at Control Unit until December 1996 when he left for UK to complete his ACCA. He also has an MBA in Finance, and a Finalist in CIMA. He is currently working with Bright & Co. as a partner dealing with Company tax and self assessment. He has also established a money transfer business called SPEEE ENTERPRISE LTD for nearly a decade.
Views expressed herein this article are those of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of this medium.