GUNJUR, SOUTHERN GAMBIA—“All I know is that six people were arrested from Gunjur and brought over at the Brusubi station. Some of them have been charged with incitement of crime. As to what exactly happened, I am not exactly quite certain at this time,” Police Spokesman Superintendent David Kujabi told Freedom Newspaper. Mr. Kujabi was speaking on Sunday during an interview with this medium.
This followed, a peaceful protest organized by some environmentalists in Gunjur. The environmentalists have accused the Chinese Fishing Factory—Golden lead of polluting the environment.
Gambian environmentalists have been voicing their concern over Golden Lead’s environmental safety standards. The company has been accused of polluting the environment with toxic waste products. A charge strongly denied by Golden Lead.
On Sunday, police thwarted a planned protest spearheaded by some residents of Gunjur. The protesters were arrested outside the premises of Golden Lead. Among those arrested includes one Lamin Jammeh, a Gambian American. Mr. Jammeh was on vacation in the Gambia at the time of his arrest.
Police spokesman Kujabi has denied that the police are being used by the Barrow government to crackdown on civil liberties. He defended the recent arrest of the Gunjur environmental activists.
“We are carrying out our job in accordance with what we believe in is lawful. So, we don’t have no fear as to how we are carrying out our job. If we believe that these people have committed an offence, of any kind and we arrest them, what we will do is to investigate; if we have reason to keep them; we will keep them and take them to court; if we don’t have reason to then we will release them,” Kujabi remarked.
Kujabi wouldn’t comment after been asked as to whether the arrest of the Gambian environmental activists will send the signal that the Gambia is on the path to returning to another dictatorship. He maintains that the police were merely discharging their duties.
According to the police spokesman, it is not illegal under Gambian law for citizens to congregate or assemble peacefully to stage demonstration without permit, but he was quick to point out that incitement of crime or one being engage in criminal activity during such gatherings is prohibited by law.
Environmental activist Ahemed Manjang, a native of Gunjur, disagrees with spokesman Kujabi. He says his colleagues haven’t committed any crime to warrant their arrest. He also says the protesters had followed due process prior to them descending at the Chinese Fishing factory.
“They seek legal advice; they were told if the protest is a procession or you going to use a PA System—public address system, then you need a police permit; and even that they wrote to the police in case but they were never issued a permit; then they decided to take it this way; let write our banners and go and stand in front of Golden Lead and just display them, but they didn’t have the opportunity to display their banners. So, how can you charge those people with incitement of crime; I don’t get it,” Manjang said.
Gambia’s Information Minister Demba Ali Jawo, in a recent statement assured the public that the Chinese company did not pose any threat to the community of Gunjur. He says the National Environmental Agency (NEA), not only made sure that the plant properly treated waste before it was discharged into the sea, but it also took some samples of the treated waste to a Dakar based lab for testing. Jawo says the test results had shown that the treated waste was not toxic and therefore poses no environmental hazard either to the community or Gambia’s flora and fauna.
Environmentalist Ahmed Majang disagrees. He says Golden Lead is doing more harm than good to the community of Gunjur and the environment.
“This part of the Gambia is reserve for ecotourism. So, government, what were they thinking, when they gave license to this fish meal company. Fish mean companies is one thing that you cannot get rid of is the smell. One, if you go to their regulations; one of the number one regulations they should not be anywhere near open bodies; so, they destroyed the local tourism that sends lot of younger youths into unemployment; and you can see their frustrations,” he added.
Manjang has accused the Chinese fishing firm of killing Gambia’s ecotourism. He said the Gunjur beach is no longer habitable since the arrival of Golden Lead into the shores of the Coastal village. The sea has been infested with toxic waste products dumped to the sea by Golden Lead, he said.
Ebrima Colley is a healthcare worker and also a Freedom Radio Gambia commentator. Colley comments on the ramifications associated with industrial pollution in Sub-Saharan Africa.
“You go to other countries, where you had big factories, they had environmental issues; kids that are born in such environments, they have respiratory issues; asthma is on the rise in those areas; they have so many, many other issues; Gambia, they are not medically equipped to address those issues in the long term; why shouldn’t this Barrow administration consider it as a priority to make sure that whatever these people are doing—Golden lead; if they are exploiting us economically; let them not exploit us health wise,” Colley remarked.
Also disappointed with the Barrow government is Tukulorr Sey, a Gambian based in the United States. Ms. Sey has been a strong supporter of the Coalition government. She coordinated diasporan campaigns online in 2016, just to ensure that Adama Barrow was elected into office.
But Ms. Sey said the government she helped to get elected have failed her including many Gambians. She said the Barrow government has reduced them as liars, as this was not what she and many Gambians supporting the coalition had envisaged from the regime.
Ms. Sey thinks that President Barrow is ignorant or out of touch as far as the hazardous environmental disaster ramifications associated with the Chinese company is concerned. She wants the Barrow government to protect the interest of the country and her citizens than watching by allowing Golden Lead to endanger the lives of Gujurians.
According to Ms. Sey, President Barrow, once made an inspiring statement, when he said, he will not allow anyone to pollute Gambia’s environment. But she said Barrow has overtime went silent despite the recent environmental pollution allegations associated with Golden Lead.
She said they have conducted their own test of the Golden Lead pollutant waste being dumped in the sea at a German lab, and the results are shocking. She debunked Information Minister Jawo’s claims that Golden Lead poses no threat to the environment and the people of Gunjur.
Ms. Sey is a native of Gunjur. She told Freedom Radio Gambia that Golden Lead’s business contact person in the Gambia is Alhagie Conteh. She said Mr. Conteh is a relative of her.
Conteh is the former Managing Director of NAWEC. Ms. Sey said Conteh had contributed to President Barrow campaign prior to Barrow ascending into the presidency. She said Golden Lead is in the good books of Conteh, and Majority Leader Kebba Barrow of the United Democratic Party (UDP). Mr. Barrow is the UDP MP for Kombo South. He also allegedly benefited from Golden’s Lead cash to induce Gambian officials.
Both Tukulorr Sey and Ahmed Manjang said they do not have evidence to confirm that government officials in Barrow’s administration had been bribed by Golden Lead to ignore the plight of the people of Gunjur. But they said the government’s apparent refusal to do the right thing in the matter of the Golden Lead pollution case speaks volume.
They said Trade Minister Dr. Isatou Touray recently issued a directive authorizing Golden Lead to resume operations. Though, Touray had initially promised the people of Gunjur that she was going to serve as a neutral mediator in the Golden Lead pollution debacle.
Golden Lead has been operating in the Gambia since dictator Yahya Jammeh’s era. The company is engaged in fish processing and exportation.
Written By Pa Nderry M’Bai
From: Freedom Newspaper