By Abdoulie John
The reopening of a major dumpsite in Bakoteh (7 km from Banjul) is raising health and environmental concerns as tension continues to grow in the area. Local community leaders vowed to continue the fight against a decision taken by authorities to re-open the site after a four-month closure.
Clashes erupted over the weekend when authorities took a ‘controversial’ decision to lift ban on the of the dumpsite. The move prompted the populations to storm the vicinity of the dumpsite to bar trucks from entering. This was followed by a standoff between security and youth activists from Bakoteh and Manjai. In the early of Sunday, paramilitary forces invaded the dumpsite and giving free passage for trucks to get inside and discharge their loads. Confrontation ensued throughout Sunday with youths at loggerheads with security forces.
Aboubacarr Jeng said they are now faced with a fait accompli as authorities turned a deaf ear to their demands. He said what they agreed with government and municipal officials was to allow them to consult their base before taking any decision.
Kemo Fatty, another youth activist, said this is not the Gambia they voted for. “We were not expecting government to use force against ordinary citizens fighting for their rights. Everybody knows the pollution levels is causing more harm in Bakoteh and Manjai. We can no more use wells because the water table is highly polluted,” he decried.
The tension was so high that it prompted political bigwigs to get involved and engage protesters. National Assembly Members (NAMs) Halifa Sallah and Ousman Sillah of People’s Democratic Organisation for Independence and Socialism were seen on the ground. They even held a-two hour meeting with protesters. They were preceded by Mamma Kandeh of the opposition Gambia Democratic Congress.
Halifa Sallah, a prominent member of the coalition that put an end to Yahya Jammeh’s 22-year rule, acknowledged the concerns raised by protesters. He then advised them to get ready for the negotiating table and to be prepared for a short term, medium term or long term
The Serekunda West MP made it clear that those arrested by the police need to be release for genuine talks to take place. He promised to do his best to secure their release.
Lamin Cham, a United Democratic Party (UDP) youth leader and President Adama Barrow’ s aide, blamed the former regime for failing to have a proper waste management plan. “They were not serving the interests of the Gambian people. They were serving their own interests,” he deplored.
However, the Kanifing Municipal Council (KMC) Mayor Yankuba Colley welcomed the decision to reopen the dumpsite. He outlined the risks of a cholera surge if tons of garbage were left in the streets. “This is the only site available for waste disposal,” he told this reporter.
Mayor Colley debunked claims made by activists that the municipality received a grant of US$4 million to be able to address the issue of waste management. “We’ve not received a penny from World Banks. In fact, since I took over the Municipality never benefited from external funding,” he said.
The Executive Director of the National Youth Council (NYC) Lamin Darboe said in the medium term there would be temporal solutions. “We need to look for permanent solutions including the services they are going to offer to the communities,” he stated.