Madi Jobarteh

At this very moment, China is engulfed in a severe maritime war with several countries in Asia including Vietnam, Philippines and Taiwan over fishing in the South China Sea.

Since 1995 China has been imposing various forms of restrictions on fishing in its rivers and seas simply because it has almost depleted its fish stock. These restrictions also include forcing its fisher folks to reduce the number of their fishing fleet by at least 3 per cent.

From May 2017, China officially instituted an annual three-month ban on fishing in its main water way, the Yellow River while the ban has been in place in the Pearl River since 2010 and in the Yangtze River since 2002. These three rivers are the longest and largest rivers in China. In addition to these rivers, it has also imposed restrictions in the South China Sea thus affecting neighbouring countries and causing the maritime war.

China is now the largest consumer of fish in the world. But China lacks the capacity to satisfy their own fish needs. According to the World Bank, China consumes more than one-third of the world’s fish supply and this is set to increase by 30 per cent by 2030. Already the Ministry of Agriculture in China said since 2016 that there are practically no fish in the East China Sea. The Ministry said the top four fish species in China now lay less than one billion eggs a year in their rivers, down from about 30 billion.

As a result of the depletion of its fish stocks hence these fishing bans, it means China has to look elsewhere for its fish supply. Currently China has the world’s largest fleet of deep sea fishing vessels and it has deliberately deployed this massive army in all parts of the world. China’s fishermen have now to go farther to exploit the waters of other counties in order to meet the growing population and wealth and their ability to buy seafood. To further support this, the Chinese Government provides subsidies to these private and public fishing companies and fishermen such as Golden Lead Company to reach out to the world’s oceans and national waters.

It is for this reason that Golden Lead Company is in the Gambia. While Chinese fishermen and companies are present in almost every part of the world, but the most preferred place for them is the west coast of Africa. This is because West Africa is where fish is abundant, but also where there are weak and corrupt governments with limited legal restrictions that they can exploit.

Therefore the people of the Gambia must be alert to the facts and take a determined position to protect our environment which is about our lives and our future. Since gaining independence, the facts show that foreign investment especially in the extractive industries, including agriculture and fishing, has not benefited Africa well. Rather what the facts show is that Africa has always lost to those investors and their countries in addition to the environmental damage they cause.

For example, with its huge diamond and other mineral resources, Sierra Leone has never benefited adequately as it should from its God-given endowments. Rather it has always been the case that foreign companies continue to enrich themselves at the expense of the masses of Sierra Leone thanks to corrupt politicians and bureaucrats. Ghana has over 400 foreign gold mining companies yet the masses of Ghana have always remained poor.

In 2011, the UN agency for the environment, UNEP reported that Shell Company has damaged over 1000 square kilometres of land in the Niger Delta that will take at least 30 years to clean up costing one billion dollars. This is possible because of the corrupt leadership in Nigeria where Shell would even sponsor the Nigerian Army to shoot citizens who protest against the company. We know that Shell makes more revenue from oil in Nigeria than the Nigerian Government. It is a fact that the British company Glencore makes more money from iron ore in Zambia than the government of Zambia.

This is the same story one can see in each and every African country as foreign companies exploit natural resources, damage the environment and bribe government officials while the masses wallow in poverty, deprivation and underdevelopment. These foreign companies further damage our countries by failing to pay their fair share of taxes while paying local workers with pittance. The African Union, World Bank, the UN and international NGOs have reported that as a result of corruption by these companies in cahoots with African governments, the continent loses from 50 billion to 148 billion US dollars every year as capital flight.

Therefore we may ask, how much tax is Golden Lead Company paying to the Gambia Government? How much profits do they make out of the Gambia? How much is the company paying its Gambian staffs? What benefits does the company provide to the communities of Gunjur and environs? How well is the company adhering to the national environmental regulations?

So far the indications are that this company is exploiting the Gambia at our detriment and to their benefit. The fact that the NEA could take them to court for disregarding environmental regulations only for the Ministry of Trade to cause that matter to be withdrawn from the court clearly tells us that this company is also engaged in corrupt activities like foreign companies do in Africa. The fact that they can cause so much dumping of fish on our beaches and farmlands not to mention dumping odious liquid waste in various parts of the country clearly tells us that this company is not good for the Gambia.

The Gambia does not need China or UK or America at the expense of our lives and future. The Gambia does not need a fishmeal factory run by foreigners. What we need is our government to take charge of the development of the country by controlling our natural resources to be exploited and managed by Gambians. Why cannot the Gambia Government create national fishing companies so that we process and add value to our fish to supply both the local market and export? We need a Government that will create necessary investment opportunities so that Gambian entrepreneurs and our private sector companies will get involved in fishing. This is the only way we can develop our society when we do it ourselves.

Let us learn from China itself. Since gaining independence in 1949 China closed its country to the outside world so that they could depend on themselves to build. For decades they worked on themselves and this is why China is a superpower today.

Read the history of China and you will not see them running to foreign investors in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and the 1980s. They closed their society and built their own capacity from within until they are satisfied to open up their country to the outside world. Even there, they still impose severe restrictions on what foreign companies can do in China. Every day we see evidence of that as China and the West continue to battle over everything from bananas to the internet to manufactured goods. Why cannot Africans learn from China and the West rather than open ourselves up like tasteless prostitutes and hapless beggars?

For the Gambia, Our Homeland.