An Open Letter to Hon. Ousainou Darboe - Famara Drammeh
Focus on Wildlife, Disaster and Environment Dear Hon. Ousainou Darboe, I am compelled to write to you not only in your capacity as the Party leader of UDP, but also as Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of The Gambia and a close person to HE Adama Barrow- The President of the Republic of the Gambia. Sir, I believe you must have heard about the Golden Lead sagga at Gunjur beach, which has been going on for over a year now and it's seems all the outcries from the local community and environmental activists are falling on a deaf ear. In case you are unaware and just to give you a brief synopsis, Golden Lead Fish processing factory is Chinese company operating in Gunjur, in Kombo South. Their operation is not only detrimental to our environment but a serious threat to our fisheries resources. Sometime last year they were found by National Environment Agency for contravening for our environmental laws by discharging waste water in the wetland ecosystem of the nearby Bolongfenyo Community Wildlife Reserve and the environs. Due to the severity of their offences, National Environment Agency decided to drag them to court to face consequences. However, somewhere down the line, obstruction of justice occurred and National Environment Agency was asked to settle the matter out of court with the defendant. Sir, since then nobody knows the tail and head of this so called "out of court settlement". The problem stopped for a while but they continue again, until the community decided that enough is enough and took law into their own hands by excavating the buried pipe connected from the factory to the ocean. Following the pipe removal, Gunjur Police intervene by inviting one of the community members for questioning on why pipe the was removed?? Sir, it is interesting to note that the Majority leader of your party reside within the community where the Chinese Fishmeal factory is being operated, but the man has been so silent about the issue despite his campaign promises that he will fight against environmental injustice in Kombo South. This raises more questions about his connection with top management of the company. If these allegation are right (which I cannot verify at this stage) then it will not be a good name to your party. Sir, to be quite honest, when Gambia renewed bilateral cooperation with China, I was so worried not because they are not good people- infact they are very hard-working people I have ever known. But they are have bad history of natural resources overexploitation across Africa. Within short period of history, the Gambia lost forest cover, and greater percentage of deforestation is as a result of Illegal timber export to China. Accoring to the Janneh Commission, the estimated number of 11,200 containers of timber passed through Gambia to China between 2012-2016. This trade is worth millions of dollars, but very few tokens went into government coffers, the rest went into the pockets of unscrupulous Chinese and Gambia businessmen. We are currently facing similar illegal operations in our fisheries sector, which is one of the best in the subregion. Golden Lead’s operation is centered on pelagic fisheries resources (e.g. bonga fish, Yaboye, Maroc etc) these are the cheapest source of protein for our poor citizens in the Gambia. Allowing Golden Lead to unsustainably harvest these resources for processing into Fishmeal and fish oil, will not only affect marine species but undermine our efforts as a nation in the fight against poverty and food security. Therefore we need to review the number of licenses we offer to foreign vessels and if possible increase our fees. Sir, I am concerned about Golden Lead’s operation because I am fully aware how the people of Gunjur and the local fishermen depend on fishing to provide food on the table for their families and catering for other household expenses. I hailed from Brufut and my mum and sister were actively engaged in selling and buying of fish, through which some of us got the opportunity to go school. As I speak to you, my community have received application from another Chinese company to operate in Brufut- but thank God our people are already learning from Gunjur and hence we didn't approve their application. In a nutshell, I thought I drop you this short piece of information for your consideration at your high level meeting with the President and the cabinet members. The world is watching us, and the Gambia is a signatory to various regional and International conventions and agreements geared towards protecting our coastal and marine environment. Therefore we have an obligation to protect our environment and abide by the objectives of the Conventions signed. I am confident that you are in an ideal position to effect changes in the system and also you are a good listener who was in the struggle for over 22 years, so you clearly have an understanding of a frustrated community, who wants nothing but to respect for foundamental human right. Wish you all the best.
Famara Drammeh is a native of Brufut, with 20 years experience working for the government of Gambia at the Department of Parks and Wildlife Management and National Environment Agency. He completed certificate and diploma courses in wildlife management at College of African Wildlife Management in Tanzania from 1997-2000. Famara went on to obtain his Masters degree in Biodiversity and conservation at the University of Roehampton, UK in 2003/4. He is also a United Nations fellow on Climate Change and Law of the Sea.