Part II of Schedule II of the Local Government Act, 2002 of the Gambia specifies that Local Governments are inter alia, responsible for and not limited to the following: prohibiting, restrict, regulate, and license: a) the sale or hawking of wares or the erection of stalls on streets, or the use of any part of the street or public place for the purpose of carrying on any trade, business or profession; b) depositing on any street, public place or unoccupied land any rubbish, derelict vehicles, or any other material or thing whatsoever and to provide for the removal and disposal thereof.
I foreground this article with the above expressed and categorical article of the Local Government Act, which addresses the Mayors, CEOs, Chairpersons, and councilors of all local governments in the Gambia. Across the Gambia there is a case of impunity where citizen have flaunted the law prohibiting squatters in public spaces to conduct commerce (in Gambia’s case petty trading). To make matters worst, Area councils upon whom the responsibility rests for ensuring enforcement of the Local Government Act, are not able, whether by omission or commission to prevent the breach of the Act. All regions in the country continue to experience a proliferation of micro businesses, most of which are informal businesses sprawling all around us everywhere you look in the Gambia. If properly managed this could lead to collection of more municipal taxes (duties). What we see however, is retail space grabbing with impunity which is directly correlated with poor tax collection. The councils have without doubt seen a spike in duty collection as business creation continues on an upward trajectory, but have given a blind eye to infraction of the Act such as space grabbing along the streets in Banjul and KMC to the detriment of environmentally sustainable living condition of residents. Thus, the spike in micro business creation directly correlates with waste creation and mismanagement; open dumping, open burning and bad health conditions in our communities.
Now that the local government elections are over and mayors, chairpersons, and councilors are in office for the next 5 years, we congratulate all winners of elective office in the just completed electoral cycle of the Gambia. We the electorate wish to remind you of the fiduciary duties you signed up for to serve us the people. We wish to see more action in addressing pressing issues of the day. While there are plethora of issues, I wish to address the glaringly evident environmental issues/challenges facing us in our neighborhoods/settlements.
Firstly, we are all living witnesses to the laudable ongoing road construction in Banjul. When completed, Banjul can boast of decent, clean and unhindered roads in the city. This writer is concerned however, that without good bylaws, or regulation of sorts, Banjul will revert back to street congestion/destruction/obstructive and dirt strewn roads caused by auto garage squatters on the pedestrian path of the streets. Auto repair garages should not be allowed to conduct work on the streets especially on the pedestrian paths of the streets. To mention one such case among several others across the city, for example, this is already evident on Box Bar Street next to Gambia High School and in Tobacco Road; illegally occupied by auto mechanics. Allowing car repair garages to occupy the street for business will inevitably result in the bare minimum, oil spills, accumulation of garbage, traffic congestion and difficulty of movement of cars and other forms of transportation in the city and neighborhoods across KMC and Brikama etc. This action smacks of impunity of the highest order. This impunity must not be allowed by the city council or even endured by the citizenry.
Auto workshops (garages) are open spaces on the streets of Banjul and KMC, and in fact all across Gambia where automobiles are repaired with activities ranging from simple oil change to complex engine rebuilding. The garages are located in residential areas and operate on bare soil in several places in Gambia and Africa as a whole. Because these works in many cases are on bare soil or on concrete in the case of Banjul, the heavy metals from the vehicle fuel, lubricants, batteries, etc. are easily released into the environment and carried to distant locations by rain water. Auto workshops in Africa normally have electrical, mechanical, welding and spraying sections. Studies conducted on the contribution of different sections of auto-repair workshop to heavy metal pollution in soil in Osun State, Nigeria showed that Cobalt (Co), Cadmium (Cd) and Lead (Pb) had their highest concentration in auto-welding unit, while Iron (Fe) had the highest concentration in the auto-mechanic unit. For this reason, both Banjul City Council and Kanifing Municipalities should come up with strong bylaws prohibiting squatter garages openly operating in the streets of Banjul and all around our neighborhoods in KMC. Moreover, these garages are responsible for indefinite and in discriminate/willy-nilly parking of derelict vehicles in our neighborhoods marked for repair but never get repaired. These vehicles will end up parked all around us gathering dust and accumulating garbage underneath for years on end without any chance of being repaired. The municipalities can create a revenue stream out of these situations with the right consultation on how other cities in the world handle neighborhood/street parking issues and open garages within city limits. Developed countries for example, address these issues by moving from evaluation of auto workshops to monitoring and enforcement of guidelines to prevent and reduce pollution at these auto workshops. In addition, auto mechanics are provided with a guide on best management practices that can help them achieve compliance with regulatory requirements.
Thirdly, open dumping and open burning is a serious challenge across the country. The rapid population growth, industrialization and urbanization of the African continent are not without its negative consequences on the environment. This places a huge demand for essential resources and impacts the quality of water, air and soil in the Africa. Research has shown that the population of African cities is also growing rapidly with about 54% expected to be in urban areas by 2030. Gambia is no exception to this finding. The major sources of air pollution in developed countries are traffic and industry. In Africa, besides traffic emissions, other major sources of air pollution include use of solid cooking fuel; re-suspended dust from unpaved roads; waste incineration and bush burning; use of insecticides to control malaria; and the Sahara Desert in West Africa. Today however, aeromechanic are culprit polluters in our cities.
The Sahara–Sahel desert is the largest source of atmospheric particulate matter in the world with about 300–800 million metric tons of Saharan dust eroded from the surface each year, mobilized into the atmosphere. Gambia is particularly impacted by particulate matters and therefore, particularly important to address other forms of pollution that we can at minimum control. These environmental realities are particularly a menace in KMC with a large population growth as a result of the creation of new settlements in the past three decades. The municipalities should work in tandem with the Nation Environment Agency for a strategic collaborative effort to reduce open dumping, open burning, and the illegal and indiscriminate pollution derived from auto garages. The environmental hazards of open and indiscriminate dumping and burning coupled with poor air quality has a mounting and serious impact on human health. The combustion activities of open burning releases dioxins, furans and other air pollutants which severely impacts the residents. Environmental pollution may affect the economic growth and development of a nation or region because the health effects may reduce productivity of the workforce.
For African cities, like Banjul, KMC and etc., the managers (Mayors and chairpersons and councils) have a key role to play in this process of changing mindsets/ status quo and formulating policy and programs for sustainable cities. Cities contribute more than sixty percent of CO2 and greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions, have a direct relation with tax payers and constituencies, and by their sheer number can make a difference in tackling one of the most difficult problems of our time – how to save our planet from warming up above 5 degrees Celsius by the end of this century. For example, the growth of city associations shows that cities can adopt green policies that national governments are too shy or busy to implement, and discuss with the public at large in ways that no ministry could match. Thus, mayors have become passionate defenders of green cities, re-inventors of ways to survive industrialization, environmental destruction, global warming and climate change. We are likewise hoping that municipalities in Gambia can join the bandwagon of environmental sensitivity and action. In addressing a conference in New York Sustainable Conference, in April 2013, it was said “The Car will be the cigarette of the 21st century: it will be banned if we want to save our planet”
We hope in their second mandate, both mayors Mr. Bensouda and Mrs. Lowe of KM and Banjul respectively and the remaining councils in the country will mobilize their councils for strong environmental consideration in their deliberations for finding better and effective management systems of our residential environs. Not sure we can ban the automobile as yet but we in Gambia can do our bit by piviting our turret for effect environmental consideration through efforts by Mayors and Council chairpersons and councilors enacting result-oriented by-laws for effective regulatory outcomes. We look forward to implementing your manifestos as elected leaders of our time. Please don’t overlook the environment!