By Ousman Saidykhan
At least 19 environmental associations from “The Gambia Environmental Task Force” staged a peaceful protest against the sale of the “Old Cycle Track” located at Kotu, behind Palma Rima on Wednesday 8th September 2021. The land in question is a wetland within the Tourism Development Area, an area highly regulated by the Government.
To date, it’s not clear if the land has been sold or if Government is responsible for the development works which has commenced in the area. However, speaking to environmentalists at the protest they are concerned with the alleged “lack of an Environmental Impact Assessment” prior to the commencement of construction work and would explore legal means to bring construction works to a screeching halt.
According to environmentalists we meet on Wednesday there are a significant number of palm trees on the wetland which provide a cool shade for birds in that area of the country, making it ideal for bird watching and a National Attraction.
According to Ornithologist, Tamba Jefang, a professional in the study of birds, at least one hundred and sixty (160) species of birds could be seen in this area. This makes it an important Tourist Attraction Center for the Tourism Industry.
It’s not yet confirmed who the land belongs to, however, it’s been widely reported that the Land was purportedly sold by the government but the protesters said they had contacted the National Environmental Agency as well as Physical Planning but both said they were not aware of the sale.
Tamba Jefang who first brought the attention of the public to this site by speaking to Kerr Fatou said at the peaceful protest: “This place, the Old Cycle Track is very famous when it comes to [The] Gambia and bird watching because it is an easy access, it is an introduction to bird watching in Africa, an introduction to bird watching in [The] Gambia.”
“We want to know why they think it is okay for them to sell this place for whatever development they want to do here. They said they are going to build two hotels and a shopping centre. Do we need a shopping centre here…why would they wanna build more hotels? We got the Kalimba, Tamala here, why would they need another hotel in here? Why? That is the question we want to know. Why?” the ornithologist emphasized.
The land is reportedly sold to a Malaysian company. However, the peaceful protesters denied that, they said it was instead sold to the Chinese.
For Ahmed Manjang, the sale of the land in question proves a violation of the National Environmental Management Act. Even though Mr Manjang did not quote any section of that Act, Gainako’s research confirms that part (7) of the NEA Act states that;
“30 (1) Unless expressly allowed to do so under any law or by the Agency in writing, no person may in relation to the coastal zone, rivers and any other wetlands;”
“30 (1) (a) Use, erect, reconstruct place, alter, extend, remove or demolish any part of any structure in, on, under, or over the seabed.”
Manjang asked: “Who did the Environmental Impact Assessment? We want them to publish the result because any development of this kind, Environmental Impact Assessment has to be done and the most important part of that is public consultation. Have they consulted the Bird Watchers Association, whose livelihood is here?”
He added: “what kind of government will do that, selling the livelihood of your own people to foreign nationals. It is not going to happen. We are calling on the government to come plainly and tell us who sold this place- under what condition?”
Modou Dumbuya, the President of Animal Welfare Advocate Association- the Gambia said his association was upset to have heard about the sale of the “Old Cycle Track.”
Mr Dumbuya urged that sentient beings be felt by Gambians now. “We need to feel the sentient beings, they are very important…they feel like us. They have the right to live in their habitat. It’s supposed not to be destroyed.”
At the time of writing this article, works were ongoing as the foundation has already been dug and concrete is being poured to erect a fence. The protesters are demanding that the ongoing works be stopped. Meanwhile, they will be employing the services of Environmental Lawyers to file an injunction to stop construction works that could seriously affect the local habitat. However, they said if that proves to be slow, they would be frequently visiting the Old Cycle Track to disrupt the progress of works in this place.