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City of Banjul
Friday, February 23, 2024

Knowing how to complain – demolition of properties of flood victims

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There is the story of a mass murderer who was jailed in some country (name withheld). After his sentence, he went back to court complaining about the quality of the beverage he was served for breakfast. His request was granted in accordance with his desire. The point is – there is a right for every human condition but such a right has to be recognized and exercised in the right way and at the right time and place.

In the case of the demolition of the properties of those purportedly blocking a waterway, it is worth noting that even squatters have rights. The mass murderer did not present his dislike of the beverage he was being served to the prison wardens but took it to the institution that listened and took account of his case.

Life is a journey of challenges which can be overcome through consultation, perseverance, patience and action. The affected property owners in the mass demolition exercise were given notice. The length of the notice is not the issue here. The issue is – at that very point in time, the property owners could have come together as a group (to reap the benefits of numbers) to take legal steps. For some, it is the loss of a life savings. Taking it lying down should be the least form of action.

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There are several ways to effectively complain – depending on the circumstances.

Taking a legal step by the affected property owners is one way of complaining to the right institution – such as, a stay of action (even if temporal) and to query issues ranging from the legality of the demolition itself, the adequacy of the process undertaken, to issues concerning equity and human rights and to ensure that due consideration is given to the plight of the affected persons – by compensation, relocation and so forth.

From the point of view of the bureaucracy, reacting to situations only makes things worse – politically and socially. The demolition will not (repeat – will not) solve the problem of flooding in that vicinity but it will leave an indelible human suffering for the people who must have inadvertently invested their life savings at the wrong place and at the wrong time just to have a place to peacefully sleep with their families.

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The action of the bureaucracy may be considered more of being seen to be doing something about something that should have been averted (or at least ameliorated) by that same bureaucracy in the first place where professional planning considerations were indeed appropriately enforced at the right time.

By the way was there a contour map of the locality of the housing estate? Is that the only location where a waterway has been blocked by some development? Would a more holistic approach with the provision of drains be more humane? Well, the new OIC road construction has loads of culverts and some of them seem to be directly pointing into nearby properties – well, perhaps the drainage issue has been planned for anyway – but just a thought.

Talking about planning standards – the current standards are at best archaic. They were designed for urban conditions of the 1980s. Rapid urban development has since overtaken the usefulness of such standards. They can at best be subjectively applied in situations for which they have never been intended for.

That brings to mind the earlier article on “Climate Change, Flooding, Urban Planning and a New Capital City”.

The suggestion for a dedicated Ministry for Urban Planning is very relevant. Such an institution will provide a more proactive solution to the present national predicament of the effects of urban growth and climate change. It will also add to the validity of the seriousness of government in tackling the specific urban development problems associated with climate change. It can attract funding – most recent being the pledge made by Japan in Tunisia this week to give grants of billions to Africa and a follow up on Kuwaiti study of the drainage system in the urban area.

There are definitely many other avenues. The bureaucracy must not only be proactive but must also be creative and resources must be made available in order to support the execution of their responsibilities.

Knowing how to complain can avert, or at least ameliorate, the painful effects and consequences of decisions affecting an individual, a community and a nation.


Lamino Lang Coma


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