Madi Jobarteh

First, some three youths were arrested in Gunjur a fortnight ago and then charged with bogus offences for standing up to the obnoxious Golden Lead factory in their community.

For many days now, scores of youths in Faraba have also been arrested and detained and then bailed for their determined stance against industrial sand mining in their community. Now there is news that Amadou Scattered Janneh and many more youths have also been charged with the same bogus charges for uprooting Golden Lead pipes clandestinely buried under the beach to dump waste in the ocean. These actions by the Police are utterly unacceptable and unhelpful.

It must be noted that until the change that Gambians registered in December 2016, several individuals, families and communities had their lands taken away from them by the Despot Yaya Jammeh with impunity. That regime had also given licenses to many extractive industries to mine and farm in the Gambia against the interest of the host communities. We can all recall Carnegie Minerals in Sanyang as well as clandestine mining in URR, not to mention Golden Lead itself which came to Gunjur during the period of the dictatorship. The continued festering of Bakoteh Dumpsite and the threats against Monkey Park must also not be forgotten.

Since taking over, the new Government is expected to review all of these companies and their activities to ensure that community interests are protected first and foremost by ensuring that these companies do not engage in unethical practices and that the environment is protected to guarantee the survival of present and future generations. Until Golden Lead came to the Gambia, this country has never witnessed large amounts of fish being dumped on the beach including dolphins being swept ashore. Therefore any reasonable person should be concerned that such occurrences are taking place now.

The environment and the resources and means it provides for human beings to live and earn a source of living are an integral part of economic, social and cultural rights. These rights are guaranteed by the Gambia Constitution in Chapter 20 under Sections 215, 216 and 218 as Directive Principles of State Policy. Furthermore international law has guaranteed these rights in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights that the Gambia had ratified since 1978. Therefore the Gambia Government has obligation under national and international law to protect the economic, social and cultural rights of citizens.

The situation in Gunjur and Faraba as well as the Bakoteh Dumpsite or the case of Kololi including the proliferation of housing estates where lands and natural resources of communities are taken away for private benefit is a major cause of concern. Most of these cases find their roots in the APRC Dictatorship. Hence Pres. Barrow must not remain silent and ignore these happenings. We must not take these cases as a mere law enforcement issue and therefore the police can handle them.

Pres. Barrow must be told that these economic, social and environmental issues are in fact in the heart of the peace and stability of this country and our failure to address them urgently and constructively could potentially destabilize the country.

Human rights experts and development thinkers have noted that economic, social and cultural rights including the environment concern the basic social and economic conditions needed to live a life of dignity and freedom. It is these rights that provide and ensure durable livelihoods, social security, health, education, food, water, healthy environment and practice and survival of culture. Social, economic and cultural rights are based on the fact that human dignity would be compromised if these rights are not fulfilled. Therefore international law requires that governments take full steps in ensuring that their citizens have adequate conditions to live a meaningful life.

What we are therefore seeing in these communities is a direct threat to the present and future abilities of these communities to live decent and healthy lives as well as obtain a decent and unfettered source of livelihood because of the activities of these private businesses. It has been recognised that the disregard and contempt of human rights have been one of the major, if not the leading factor that compels human beings, to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion.

The happenings in Gunjur and Faraba are not a police matter. Subjecting community members to arrest, detention and trumped up charges will only delay but will not and cannot prevent an eventual uprising by the rest of these communities so long as private businesses continue to unduly benefit from the natural resources of those communities. These actions by the police will only threaten the peace and stability of the community and the Gambia as a whole eventually.

The solution to this matter is therefore a political one where the president must take the lead. Pres. Barrow must summon all the necessary public agencies as well as all of the affected communities to engage in a dialogue to find a lasting solution. These communities have a genuine concern that needs the full attention of the Head of State. The youths and other members of the community engaged in this matter are not foolish men and women without any purpose in life. Hence the Government must not take the matter as a criminal affair by some irate folks.

The incidence of private companies, local or foreign, exploiting natural resources in communities to the detriment of the people is an factual reality all over Africa. The reason there is war in the Niger Delta of Nigeria is the same reason why folks in Gunjur and Faraba are standing up. It is the same reason that communities in several African countries are also engaged in all forms of violence in response to the operations of companies while their governments remain indifferent. In most cases the government is indifferent because these companies bribe public officials.

Pres. Barrow must be told that he was elected for a purpose which is to correct the wrongs of the past and usher in a new democratic dispensation in the country. His government had passed a transitional justice law and has started the process of setting up a truth commission. The fact that these steps were taken is a recognition that many wrongs were committed against individuals and communities in this country by the former government particularly in the area of economic, social, cultural and environmental rights. Hence when some of those wrongs now manifest as social, economic and environmental issues, what is expected is for the Government to take urgent steps to deal with them politically and not through law enforcement.

If the police have to involve it must only be to restrain community members where violence is likely to erupt and maintain law and order. But the police must not go further to arrest, detain and charge citizens for a matter that is a political issue primarily and not a criminal matter. The folks involved in these cases are not clandestine but open and visible. They are not armed and they have not been releasing violent statements.

Hence this matter is not a criminal matter. It is a political issue that requires a political solution for which the intervention of the president and all of the political resources of the State and society are necessary, i.e. including the National Assembly, Area Councils, governors, religious and traditional authorities, community elders as well as youth leaders.

Drop all Charges. Free the Youths of Gunjur and Faraba. For the Gambia, Our Homeland.