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UN body suspends Gambia’s rosewood trade license

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By Mustapha K Darboe, Malagen

The UN treaty body responsible for the protection of endangered plants and animals has announced suspension of Gambia’s license for commercial trade in rosewood. The decision takes immediate effect, from the June 8 announcement.

CITES – short for Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species – cited ‘exceptional circumstances generated by the documented pervasive trade’ [in rosewood] in violations of its convention. The decision came after the Gambian authorities failed to submit evidence to show that rosewood exports from the country are legal and not detrimental to the environment.

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When contacted, the CITES focal person in the country, Mawdo Jallow, said he was not in a proper state of health to comment on the issue.

A Gambian environmental activist Omar Sambou has welcomed the multilateral body’s decision though he did not spare CITES of criticisms.

“The suspension goes to reveal how The Gambia and CITES are complicit in the rosewood trade in the sub-region,” he told Malagen. “It defeats common sense that a country without rosewood and has banned logging is one of the biggest exporters of wood.”

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Gambia under scrutiny after Malagen story

The Gambia has emptied its forests of the precious tropical timber years ago, and has placed a legal ban on timber export. Yet, the country has over the past decade been a hub for the trade or trafficking, becoming one of the biggest exporters of rosewood in Africa.

Faced with scrutiny over the legality of the exports, the Gambian forestry authorities and environment ministry officials had defended the commercial trade in rosewood as legal. It is timber re-export or timber on transit, they said.

They also denied that timber being ‘exported in transit’ is sourced from Casamance, home to Africa’s longest running separatist movement, which is known to be financed by the illicit trade in timber.

But evidence suggests otherwise.

In April this year, Malagen published an investigative story on the trafficking of timber with focus on rosewood. The ‘Profiting from rebellion’ story exposes how a band of smugglers and traffickers get approval from Gambia government, including the presidency to illegally export timber, bribing their way through security and ports.

The story also revealed that contrary to the claims by the government authorities, timber being shipped out of the country largely come from Casamance, not Guinea Bissau. Even where the timber is exported from Bissau, it could still be illegal. Like Gambia and Senegal, Bissau has already placed a legal ban on timber trade, and more, the country has for years been under CITES suspension and therefore could not legally export rosewood.

The Gambia has been under tight scrutiny from CITES since Malagen enquiries and eventual publication.

In March this year, CITES opened ‘an expedited compliance procedure,’ demanding the Gambia to verify that the rosewood exported from the country is harvested legally’ and it is done without further detriment to the survival of an already endangered species.

The 30-day CITES ultimatum had elapsed, and the Gambian authorities did not provide any response, Malagen has confirmed.

Instead, they wrote to the body requesting an export quota to allow shipment of 50,000 cubic meters of rosewood. The request was declined by CITES.

“Not only will this ban protect the remaining endangered rosewood in southern Senegal but it will enable the protection of our remaining forest cover in The Gambia,” environmentalist Omar Sambou told Malagen.

However, it remains to be seen whether the Gambia will comply with the decision.

Information accessed from CITES website indicates that the Gambia is required ‘to inform customs authorities of this recommendation to suspend the trade.

Malagen has contacted the authorities of the ports to confirm whether they have received such notification from the ministry of environment. No response from them at the time of this publication.

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