The toxic Chinese Fishmeal Factory and Gunjur's Environmental Catastrophe
It was a bit of a mystery that rattled residents of this quiet coastal community. The once idyllic lagoon, Bolong Fengyo, on the outskirt of Gunjur, 35 miles south of the capital city, Banjul, had turned into a river of blood. And on its banks, plant and wildlife; birds, fish, crabs, mangroves, shrimps and other exotic marine life lay dead in large numbers. The mystery soon unravelled, and the community was left with a binary choice; the environmental health of their community or the Fish meal factory on the outskirts of their village. Thus, began a year pursuing justice, a year that crystallised the dichotomy between Gunjur youth seeking to end the abuse and devastation of their environment, and government’s deliberate stonewalling, which effectively empowered the Fish meal factory to continue dumping toxic sludge in both the lagoon and coastal fishing grounds.
Inside Golden Lead Fish meal processing factory in Gunjur (Video by Saf Connect)
The environmental degradation that Fish meal factory is causing, at its very root, is underwritten by characteristic state patronage reminisce of Yahya Jammeh’s lax environmental laws, nepotism, ethical indiscipline and corruption. But, the community of Gunjur, led by vibrant youthful consciousness of the pernicious ramifications of the festering environmental crisis, and motivated by primordial instincts, mobilised effective challenge to the state’s patronising influence over the carnivorous mutilation of an environment critical to the quality of life of Gunjur villagers. The tragedy unfolding in Gunjur, it turns out, is only a snapshot of a much broader scourging of Gambia’s once pristine Atlantic coastline; from Kartong to Bakau, epicenter of Gambia’s booming tourist industry.
The realisation that coastal environmental degradation in one community can’t be localised exclusively to that community, awakened consciousness to the gravity of the Gunjur crisis; an epiphany, if you will, which drilled a significant level of environmental awareness in the minds of many Gambians, prompting worldwide interactive engagement around the ongoing Gunjur and coastal communities saga; from Kartong to Bakau, and more broadly; the Gambia. The breadth of the reckless of the coastal environmental crisis and the tunnel vision that borders on ignorance, which government is showcasing, was the tipping point that incentivized Gambians, at home and abroad, to coalesce around the efforts to incite government to void the Fish meal's license and demolish their death trap; the factory of toxic chemicals. The insufferable greed, environmental cannibalism and the imperceptible ecological carnage Fish meal has precipitated, unduly impacts the lives of communities along the entirety of the Atlantic coast, making the struggle against the malignant presence of Chinese leeches, and their poisonous Fish meal factory, a chilling reminder of Gunjur’s slide into ecological tragedy of apocalyptic proportion.
The challenge that confronts Gunjur and the Atlantic coastal villages is underpinned by the ignorant mystification of foreign investment, a Trumpian lack of depth in grasping the consequences of irreversible environmental damage, and the impact on the cottage fishing industry, the economy, tourism, and the culinary culture of St Mary’s Island, the Kombos. Like most African countries, Gambia is a terrible steward of its resources, and the ocean fish stock, at the undeniable mercy of mostly unlicensed broad-light Asian fishing pirates, will be depleted even before Gambia can fully benefit from its resource. The land and ocean pollution aside, the most pressing need now is halt the deliberate and indiscriminate death of millions of young fish, which is being accelerated by the Chinese on the Gunjur beach.
This has a net effect of depleting the stock, creating a lifestyle and culture altering fish scarcity, Gambia’s stable food and, hitherto, most reliable source of protein. The urgency of halting this unregulated industrial fishing on Gambian waters cannot be overstated, given the scale of destruction the Chinese are causing in the years since the Fishmeal factory began operations in Gambia. But, there is another significant dimension to the Gunjur environmental ordeal, relating to a sector so imperative to the Gambia’s economic development in the foreseeable future.
Apart from the health consequences of sludge drainage into the ocean and dumping toxic waste on land to the residents of Gunjur, and consumers of contaminated fish in the Kombos and St Mary’s Island, there is no guarantee that the environmentally conscious tourist arrivals from Europe will continue to visit when the attraction, the pristine beaches, are transformed into hurricane swept Martian landscape. The destruction of an environment is one of the major reasons human kind has moved from place to place for millions of years. This isn’t my opinion, it’s a fact back by empirical evidence, which technically makes Gunjur a candidate for future exodus of its citizens.
The rape of Gunjur land and environment prefaces that unpleasant chapter of the future of this quiet community life. Implicit in the life and death saga between the Gunjur community and the well-connected cabal in and out of government, who, motivated by greed, foreswore their civic compacts with the citizens in order to allow Chinese companies to splurge in their pursuit of wanton destruction of Africa’s pristine environment. With infinite resources to hypnotize Gunjur elders into a state of selective amnesia, in cohort with corrupt state actors, the Chinese Fishmeal factory is, through detachment, granted broad discretion to circumvent Gunjur’s authority in their quest to expand their cataclysmic ecological destruction of Gambia’s environment, as they have so successfully done elsewhere in East Africa.
The ongoing saga between the community of Gunjur and the state, ostentatiously displays banal state overreach, and manifestations of debauchery so characteristic of African governments. Gunjur’s plight also reveals a fundamental weakness of the Gambia’s institutions, since the agency responsibility of oversee Gambia’s environmental health, the National Environmental Agency (NEA) is so powerless that a single government official, Economic Planning’s Isatou Touray, can casually and unilaterally override NEA decisions. This display of Trumpian ignorance is underpinned by assumptions of celestial authority, arrogant disregard for Gunjur community welfare and a touch of madness that puts material interest over the obligation to protect the national resources.