By Kebba Ansu Manneh
As deadlock continued to intensify on the allocation of the West Africa Livestock Innovation Cente (WALIC) and part of the Bijilo Forest Park by the Government of The Gambia to the US Government for purpose of building a new state-of-the-art US Embassy, members of the Gambia Environmental Alliance (GEA) and US Embassy Due Diligence Team have ended two days dialogue without any concession over the matter.
Muhammed Hydara, the Chairman of the Gambia Environmental Alliance (GEA) confirmed to The Voice Newspaper that members of GEA and the US Embassy Due Diligence Team have concluded a two days dialogue over the illegal allocation of the 10 hectares of land to the US Government.
According to him, the two days dialogue accords frank discussions over the matter but nothing has been finalised on whether US Government will proceed to build its new Embassy on the disapproval of Environmentalists, conservationists, and wildlife advocates. He made it clear that the position of the GEA remains the same even after the engagement with the US Embassy Due Diligence Team that no portion of the Bijilo Forest Park should be used for any other purpose than serving the wildlife.
On 28th October 2022, the Gambian government through the Ministry of Justice released a press statement on its approval of the portion of the land at the Bijilo Forest Park and WALIC to the Government of the United States of America (USA) to build a new state-of-the-art Embassy Complex.
The move by the Government of the Gambia was widely criticised and condemned by environmentalists, conservationists, and wildlife advocates both in the country and outside, who argued that Bijilo Monkey Park is home to many wildlife species including the Western Red Colobus species that depend on the forest canopies for their survival.
They also observed that the species of canopy trees that the Red Colobus fed on is not up to ten trees within the Bijilo Forest Park due to constant encroachment by human activities. They noted that this situation also adds to the mortality rate of this precious primate to near extinction thus the remaining flora of the Bijilo forest also served as a stopping point for migratory bird species from Europe and America.
“Representatives of The Gambia Environmental Alliance-Taskforce had a two-day dialogue and round table discussion with the Deputy Chief of Mission – Eric R Mehler and the Technical Due diligence committee hired by the United States Embassy in Banjul on 17th and 18th November 2022. The dialogue was centered on the deadlock surrounding the Bijilo forest and ways it can be preserved without any encroachment by external factors,” GEA disclosed in its press release issued on 18th, November 2022.
The press release disclosed: “The US-technical due diligence delegates expressed that the new state-of-art building won’t affect the park and the wildlife habitat and they will ensure to cater new fruit source and water supply for the animals living there, from the map shown in their presentation and further stressed that the embassy will not reach to the beach area and will not affect the movement of the people within the area.”
GEA continued to disclose that it has made its stance unequivocally clear to the officials that it will not compromise to protect any sacred land which serves as home to wild animals and trees. And the GEA also condemned the government’s continuous attempts to illegally and unconstitutionally de-reserve portions of the Bijilo Forest for an embassy, when there are multiple strategic locations in the country where the intended structures can be built.
“The Taskforce’s Tourist experts also highlighted the significant loss of tourist attractions centers in The Gambia, especially within the metropolitan areas of Banjul where most of the remaining forest cover has now completely disappeared and forcing communities to deal with unprecedented flooding and uprising heat waves due to climate change.
The Alliance wishes to renew its unalloyed commitment towards the protection and restoration of the beautiful flora and fauna of the country especially areas under threat,” GEA disclosed at the end of a two days dialogue with the US Embassy Due Diligence Team.