By MADI JOBARTEH
It is more than 72 hours since BBC released a damning documentary on the illegal timber trade between the Gambia and Senegal yet the Gambian authorities remain mute. It is obvious that officials of both countries are both facilitators and beneficiaries in this illegal activity otherwise it could not have been taking place in broad daylight. Until today I see trucks loaded with timber on the highways of the Greater Banjul Area. Why?
This illegal activity has been longstanding yet unabated. For example, the media reported that in 2008 the Senegalese government banned the export of timber. Senegal went further to even station its military in their border village of Kurreh which is opposite Bullock on the Gambia side. In 2012 rebels in Casamance reportedly seized 2 tractors and 1 truck belonging to Gambian timber dealers while taking 250 thousand dalasi from them. In 2017 ECOMIG seized 7 timber trucks in Foni Kansala even though the timber venders possessed legal documents to engage in timber trade!
Then in September 2019 thirty-eight containers of semi processed timber were seized at Banjul ports only for the Ministry of the Environment to approve them for export. This is despite the fact that the Minister Lamin Dibba said the matter was under investigation, yet his Ministry went ahead to approve those pieces of timber to be shipped out!
All of this is coming against the backdrop of official statements by both governments that the felling and sale of timber, especially rosewood is banned which is in line with international law. In fact, it was in August 2018 when both presidents Macky Sall and Adama Barrow made a joint statement before journalists in Dakar that their two governments are determined to combat timber trade in the Casamance region. Why then is this activity still taking place?
Given the above it therefore makes sense what the BBC reported in their seminal documentary, ‘Trees that bleed’. The report glaringly shows that timber trade is alive and kicking therefore confirming that both Gambian and Senegalese governments are not doing enough to combat this illegal activity that threatens the future of both countries. What continues to be true is that various officials in both governments are aware and indeed facilitate this illegal activity contrary to their domestic laws and international obligations.
It is indeed interesting that Minister Lamin Dibba told the Standard on the day the BBC report was released that investigations are ongoing on the 38 containers seized at Banjul ports. This is exactly the same statement he made in September 2019, seven months ago in another intervene with Foroyaa newspaper on the same issue. The question therefore is where is the report of that investigation that the Minister mentioned at two different times within a period of 7 months? Why do we still see this illegal activity continue until today?
I wish to call on the President Adama Barrow to institute an independent inquiry to find out the nature, extent, actors and related matters concerning the illegal trade in timber. It is clear that there is official complicity in the Gambia. Furthermore, I wish to call on the National Assembly to summon the Minister of Environment as well as all other relevant stakeholders and actors in a parliamentary enquiry on this issue.
As it is shown in the BBC report the forest cover of the Gambia and the presence of rosewood in particular are completely depleted. Therefore, there is urgent need to make an immediate stop to this illegal activity so as to protect the present and future of this country.
Furthermore, there is need for the Gambia to review Chinese presence in the country. The Chinese do not have any good for this country. Rather the stomach of China is too large for the Gambia to feed. This country cannot satisfy the lust of China for natural resources. No amount of roads and bridges and conference centres can equal the present and future survival and existence of this country. If we wish to allow the Chinese to continue to operate in our country they will end up consuming all of our land, air, water and everything inside, on top and in between them! China should be kicked out of the Gambia!
This country has the capacity to generate its own development without China. What we need are honest, visionary and pragmatic leaders and technocrats to design results-oriented development policies and programs and to mobilize and organize our people and our resources for ourselves. This is what China did until they became the second largest economy in the world. Therefore, we do not need to bring the Chinese here or continue to entertain Western and other foreign companies to continue the same exploitation of our resources and people for their own benefit and at our detriment.