By Gibril Saine, Follow @gibbysaine on Twitter
Ask anyone on the streets of London, Berlin, or Stockholm what they know about The Gambia – Sunshine, Holidays, Nice people, are some of the answers one is likely to be confronted with. From New York, Amsterdam & around the world, The Gambia is best known for all-year round sunshine & beautiful holiday resorts filled with tourists taking in delights the country offers. However, a major question of our time side-tracked from public debate & discourse is the issue of global warming and the threat of rising sea levels on our shores endangering livelihoods, tourism and agricultural productivity. We should not shy away from the fact that the environmental catastrophe being felt on our coast is largely man made due to decades of irresponsible government policies which the article shall explore.
The coalition government came to prominence with much fanfare chanting slogans of change promising to tackle problems across the development spectrum. That includes the energy sector, but with NAWEC reduced redundant, there appears to be a gaping hole in terms of meeting the country’s energy needs. Lack of electricity supply continues to frustrate effective governance, hindering private sector growth, further stifling economic progress. But despite those setbacks, the Gambia is well-positioned to be the first country on earth to attain not just energy independence, but entirely sourced from renewables. To achieve this requires visionary leadership and competence too. It also requires smart policies, commitment with investment to match. In Europe, Germany has done away with nuclear-power plants investing heavily in the renewable sector. Senegal, today, boasts the largest solar-power plant in West Africa with a €500 million mega-project under construction. In the United States, California is leading the charge towards the renewables with other states along the West-Coast following suit. The Netherlands is investing heavily in Wind-power too, so are the Scandinavian countries all moving away from petrol, diesel & coal. Even the biggest country on earth, China, has recognised the trend being the largest manufacturer of solar-panels in view of the Paris Climate Accord (2015).
Earlier this year – Erin Energy confirmed offshore Gambia has good prospects characterized by proven petroleum systems. If properly handled and managed, the Gambia’s petroleum sector should contribute to the country’s sustainable development efforts in quick turns. To achieve this, the executive needs to come up with a clear energy policy setting up targets and when it expects to fulfill them. These include institutional liaison and partnership with renewable energy manufacturers & suppliers through monitoring & evaluation. As such the country has the potential to be 100% powered by solar, wind, and other non-polluting sources in the shortest time possible. In the meantime, the government’s short-term priority should be ensuring near-parity between heavy-fuel usage & renewables.
In my opinion, a legislation ‘Housing Reform Act’ whereby as of 2018, all real-estate and new-builds in the country must be fitted with solar panels. From streetlights, Industrial Warehouse, Hospitals and schools must be transformed as such in an unprecedented architectural transformation in city & country planning. The Gambia cannot continue to burn our way to prosperity through petrol and coal, even more, the reason for weekly cabinet meetings. The administration is further obligated to meet its target toward mitigating effects of highly polluting fossil fuels and hazardous petrol to globally accepted standards. In this Century, any government or country that prioritises renewable energy and succeed shall win the future.
On the environmental front, the administration needs to come to terms with the fact that tourists are expressing concern about the poor state of the beach, reduced to the confines of hotel swimming pools. Just have a peek at Spain or Morocco, or Sharm El-sheikh tourist hotspot in Egypt see the serene sandy beaches and pristine clear blue waters. The Gambia Tourism Board is failing that industry with no adequate strategy, or speaking up loudly against sand mining. Environmental groups in the country need to put more pressure on government & for parliament to analyse the overall picture therein. As things stand, Banjul is facing rising tides, Bakau & Fajara on a downward spiral, so is Kololi, Brufut, and Gunjur along that coastline stretch to Kartong. It does make one wonder why man acts selfish – hence as long as the honourable minister is housed in a multimillion mansion, to hell the rest. Let us open our eyes to the sufferings of the poor fisherman in Tanji, the complaints of the community of Gunjur, and seek to leave a decent environment for future generations. Lining your pockets is not what we voted you in office for. Change, for a new Gambia was the contractual agreement @ the ballot box!
As drought continues to plague large-swats of sub-Saharan Africa putting halt to farming activities, we demand leadership on the issue. I urge the public to take ownership of the environment, and to be protectors of the rain-forest against illegal logging. The Forestry department under its line Ministry and the entire local-government structure need proper sensitization & to mobilize on the issue. To complement government effort, Muhammad Jah’s Q-Group should come forward provide free WiFi internet access in all schools, hospitals and universities across the country. As with china, Gambian companies should sacrifice short-term profits sign up to the vision that when the country succeeds, everyone succeed too.
The question remains – decades from now when historians look back on his tenure, will it be said it was the Barrow-government that laid the multi-faceted groundwork & investment successes at hand? Or will future generations lament misplaced priorities and missed opportunities in the renewable energy sector? For a country of barely two million, there is no reason why the Gambia should not be powered 100% from renewable energy sources. With UN and Commonwealth partnership and funding topped up by China, and EU financial gestures – excuses will not be accepted. May I appeal to the concerned Ministry to conduct quarterly Press Conferences update the country on the drive towards renewable energy status. In similar vein, I call on all Gambians to hold the Energy Minister tied to this vision of a nation of lights – for cleaner, healthier, greener-environment, thus a prosperous state.