By Alagie Manneh
Members of the Gambia Environmental Alliance have welcomed reports that the US Embassy has abandoned its plan to construct a new embassy around Bijilo Monkey Park.
Concerned citizens and environmental activists took up arms when it was revealed that the embassy was in the process of acquiring the land which is a protected area and a habitat for endangered fauna and flora.
The Gambia government defended the decision to allow the Americans build a new embassy there. The Department of Forestry issued a statement insisting that the designated area will not affect the protected zones.
But less than a year later, reports are emerging that the US embassy may have aborted its plans for the land.
The president of the Gambia Environmental Alliance (GEA), Momodou Inkeh Bah, told The Standard last evening that a series of meetings have been held culminating in the development.
“The GEA is super delighted. We were the first to pick up a fight against the acquisition of that place. It was in my capacity as the chairman that I wrote to the ambassador seeking audience with her to discuss the issue. This is a very welcoming move knowing that the fight was not singlehanded; it involves Gambians from far and wide. Even those in the diaspora have supported our move to fight for the sanctity of the Monkey Park. I think this is very positive. This is the reason why we formed the GEA, to amplify our voices. For instance, the fight in Kartong with the Chinese fishmeal factory was taken up by the Gunjur youths. This is a motivation for the GEA, and every environmental activist who has the desire to protect nature,” he said.
Mr Bah said he has been impressed with officials at the embassy.
“The whole process was very transparent. They even had to play a PowerPoint for us. I think the Americans did far better than our government because if our government had done the due diligence that the Americans did, they would not have allocated the park in the first place,” he said.
Mr Bah said the US decision should serve as a learning curve for the Barrow administration.
“If outsiders like the United States care about our environment and care about the plight of the ordinary Gambians, the government should do likewise and conduct due diligence and proper environmental impact assessment before allocating such lands,” he said.
The president of the Gambia Bar Association, Salieu Taal, in a Tweet, called the development, “a win for civil society”.
“I’m really happy,” he told The Standard. “I’m at a loss for words. It should not [have] happened in the first place. So, I commend the US government for considering the interest of the Gambian people. It shows that the advocacy has worked.”
A local staff at the US Embassy, Fatoumata Ceesay, did not respond to The Standard’s request for a comment on the development.
“I can’t comment on it. A press release will be issued. And when it is, you will receive it,” she stated.