So, Mr Hamat Bah, Minister of Tourism and Culture; what about this latest project to attract more tourists to The Gambia?
In whose interest is it to build a five star hotel and at the same time demolish the lungs of The Gambia: Bijilo Forest Park? You are not the only one responsible for this madness of a project, but as being the Minister of Tourism and Culture you are the face for it.
Which part of the words Culture or Tourism don’t you understand? You see; you have a responsibility too, not only the opportunity to make some extra bucks here and there. The tourism in The Gambia is a very large part of our GDP, together with groundnuts, but groundnuts are not that attractive as the tourism could be. The groundnuts are good, but people don’t travel to The Gambia for that reason.
What will be left for people to see? What will be left for the Gambian birds and monkeys? How many forests are there in The Gambia, especially so central? Have you heard about environmental issues, that the leaves of the trees are cleaning the air from pollution? I am sure that if you might have heard some little, tiny piece of information about that area, you immediately shut your ears because that was boring. A new 5-star hotel, when we already have so many hotels that are suffering?! This responsibility detail I spoke about above; (sorry Minister for being so boring) but what about the already existing hotels? Have they got any help? When the pandemic broke out you held a meeting with tour operators and others involved and promised all the help and support they needed. Great words, but what happened after that? Nothing! Nothing happened and that is the sad truth!
In The Gambia people address the Minsters with Honourable Minister of this or that. A fancy title and I am sure you enjoy it very much. Have you ever considered what the word Honourable means? It means: honest, upright, respectable, sincere and fair-dealing. I must admit that when I think of you, Minister Hamat Bah, none of these words comes to my mind. Yes, I know you can’t bear the whole blame for this demolishing of the Bijilo Forest Park, but you are the one who should be protecting our tourism, not destroying it. There is one goal for this fancy new hotel and that is to host as many guests as possible next year during the Islamic Conference in 2022.
When all these visitors for the Islamic conference are arriving next year; will you blindfold them before they are brought to their hotel? Of course you don’t want them to see all the trash that covers the streets, the market places or every other open space. You don’t want them to see the shacks where too many people are living because the government hasn’t had any housing plan worth the name. You don’t want the dignitaries to see houses where the corrugate roofs are broken. You want everything to look perfect, nice, tidy and clean – but then perhaps some other country should be the host of the Islamic Conference instead. Did this conference come as a surprise for you? Silly question, of course it didn’t! Building a big hotel like this next to the Forestpark requires some planning, even in The Gambia.
Didn’t anyone of the NAMs question this project? Hello guys and gals, all you NAMs! Did you know that you actually have a lot of power and that power can be used to stop idiotic ideas even if they come from some ministers? You are not holding a seat just to be near the power, you are the power. If you go together you can even be stronger than the president! Imagine that for a while. Something that is disturbing me, and so many others, is that too many decisions are shortsighted. Being in power means that you must be able to plan for the future. Not for the future of yourself and the money you can earn while you still are in power, but the future of your country. That seems to be a surprise for most people in power in The Gambia and that is too bad.
As long as everything, every decision, every plan, every action is ”from hand to mouth” there will be no development of The Gambia. Poor people are forced to live ”from hand to mouth”, they don’t have any option because you haven’t given them any option. Five years has gone since the last election and nothing has improved for most citizens. The level of literacy is still too low, people still die of unnecessary illnesses. All kids still don’t go to school because of too many reasons. Most people can’t afford to build their own houses and taking a loan is out of the question . The salaries are still too low and the food prices are even higher than before.
I spent three weeks in The Gambia this summer and I noticed how expensive everything is. I am lucky enough to have a good salary here in Sweden, so I managed with the budget for my stay, but I didn’t have much left when I came back here.
As many of us diasporans we try to help our families in The Gambia as much as we can, but it is tough. The needs are never ending and it really shouldn’t be our responsibility as Diasporans to be the only support system many have. So many seem to believe that just because people live in Europe or America we have a money tree in our gardens. Too many times us Diasporans have to avoid taking calls or close our ears to the words of all the needs home in The Gambia to survive ourselves.
Those who have managed getting to Europe the backway are many times suffering. They know that people at home have put their trust in them. They really want to succeed, but they feel ashamed when they instead failed. You don’t admit your failure, you try to hide it through lies or sugar coating the truth.
It was a long and winding road until the ending of this article, but my mind is so filled with thoughts and questions. It saddens me that pure greed can rule The Gambia so openly and nothing seems to be done about it. Bijilo Forest Park is more or less destroyed. All the birds and the monkeys that were such an attraction for all the tourists that visited it are gone. This was a gem in the middle of a buzzling tourist area, a peaceful oasis is now only…… what? It is destroyed because of pure greed, greed seems to be the ruling Force in The Gambia.
It saddens so many of us, but our Minister of Tourism and Culture, Hamat Bah, is happy.