How did it come to people being arrested in Gunjur? - By Ousman Manjang, New York
Lets be clear from this point the people arrested are not ‘youths’ or ‘delinquents’ those ‘accused’ are upstanding members of a split community. Mr Fodey Carl Darboe is a highly skilled medical professional and licensed pharmasist, Mr Alagi Bojang is one of the Directors of The Gunjur Project Lodge and country coordinator for the Gambian and UK registered charity with a memorandum of understanding with the Gambia education department. Mr Omar N. Darboe is a mature student and human rights activist. Mr Lamin Jassey is a qualified teacher and an environmental activist. Mr Ousman Sanneh is a Masoner and environmental activist. Dr Amadou Scattred Janneh is a human rights activist and coordinator of coalition for change. All of these men have been serving their community of Gunjur for years.
Since April 2016 concerns have been raised about Golden Lead operations impacting negatively on people in the area. Initially meetings were held with Golden lead owners and concerned community members to look for resolutions, find ways to work together for development in the area – there was open dialogue and mutual respect. But as the months went on and the smells continued things became strained. People complained of headaches from the smells. A lodge owner spoke of getting up early before his guests to bury dead fish that had started to wash up on the shores outside his lodge. In May 2017 after many meetings and discussions the community woke up to a disaster. This was when we saw the images of huge amounts of dead fish washed up on the shores of Gunjur, dead fish dumped in the roads and in the bush. What couldn’t be posted on the pictures was the smell from the factory that was producing constantly for hours leaving a vile stench. Whilst it was recognized the factory hadn’t gone out and dumped the fish themselves it seemed that poor management had contributed to the disaster. Members of Gunjur and Kartong joined together and held a peaceful demonstration in Kartong to raise awareness of the environmental problems that was facing the area.
Following the demonstration in May 2017 Bolong Fenyo protected nature reserve was polluted. Dead fish, crabs and birds were observed. Children played in these red contaminated waters and our live stock drank from it. Concerned members of the community watching this became extremely concerned that human life could be affected. Could this polluted water reach our water table?
Dr Isatou Touray came to Gunjur and gave reassurances that a timeline for improvements had been put in place at the factory. The NEA reassured everyone that stringent guidelines had been put in place and no pipes would be discharging waste into the ocean or the protected lagoon. Reassurance was felt.
To improve relations and build a clear understanding of expectations a meeting was held at GIEPA building with concerned community members from different community based organizations from Gunjur under the umbrella of The Gunjur Development Association (GDA) along with the factory owner and manager. However some prominent people did not attend as arranged and so the discussions between the groups unfortunately did not transpire to anything.
Then things started to become strained again when it was reported that the NEA had settled out of court -no one came back to the community to give reassurance or feedback on what the settlement was. The concerned members of the community had been totally ignored. The smells continued.
Daily fish continued washing up on the shore line. Several members of the community complained of skin problems after coming into contact with something in the ocean waters – two people were sent to Africmed and were treated with antibiotics and creams for contact dermatitis – something globally associated with pollution from fishmeal pollution. The results from water samples sent from the Bolong fenyo returned from Germany and the results gave more worry. The GDA wrote to every local hierarchy and each governmental department as well as WHO, UNICEF and American embassy listing all the concerns. Nobody replied.
It was decided to raise a legal case from concerned community groups against Golden Lead in October 2017 and to this date May 2018 the case is ongoing and has not been given the opportunity to be heard by the courts.
Within this timeline smells continue to disturb people and concerns over pollution to areas is real. Without any communication there has been no reassurance however those concerned patiently waited for an opportunity to discuss the matter within the courts. To the shock of many in March 2018 pictures emerged of the pipe still in place and in use from the factory to the ocean. Horrified, shocked, concerned, a worried group of youths went to the factory and asked why the pipe was there – what was it pumping into the ocean – why it hadn’t been removed. The group requested the pipe be moved as the no pipe should be in use.
The following week a beach cleaning exercise was arranged and many many people joined to clean the beach. On this day the manager of the factory stated the pipe had been recently cut from the factory to the sea and as such couldn’t be used anymore. It was clear from the foul smelling liquids and wet surrounding the area that the pipe had been in use till very recently and as such would suggest that untreated waste was being pushed into the ocean. Prominent members of the community spoke with the factory manager and police officials, who by now had turned up in large numbers. It was asked why this pipe was there. This pipe was outside the premises of the factory and on the beach side leading into the ocean. Questions were asked as to whether this waste is dangerous to the community, to our children to the fish we eat? No one could answer these questions.
In the moments that followed people started digging the sand. The police stood and watched as the pipe was removed from the Gunjur beach shoreline – not from the Golden Lead factory. If this group of 100+ people were committing a criminal act why did the police not stop the activity? However this is not a negative comment about the police, who on that day acted professionally and calmly. The pipe was left in the same area but not working. No theft took place. No verbal aggression or violence took place. The pipe – that was causing so much concern was removed and everybody left.
After the pipe was removed trucks taking waste from the factory were observed up to seven times per day, every day. Previous to this they had been observed scarcely in the area. Kotu was now feeling the pressure and seemed to reach a state of emergency. Some 4 weeks after the pipe was removed from action authority was given for the factory to relay the pipe with a certain length from the shore and send waste treated with chlorine into the ocean.
And here we are in May 2018 over two years since the concerns were initially raised and 5 of those concerned members of the community labeled as criminals, inciting a crime, trespassing and being pushed immediately to the courts. Some members of the community are labeled as trouble makers and enemies. This all seems so very unfair. All that was wanted was reassurance that we are safe – that no harm could come to the community. This was never a fight against Chinese people or a movement to close the factory – people just didn’t want their environment damaged and their home life disturbed by bad smells as a result of one family run business.
Open dialogue with concerned parties could have prevented this and pathed a way for better collaboration between all.
Views expressed herein are those of the author and does not necessarily represent the views of Gunjur News Online.