Wednesday, November 30

Sale of ITC/WALIC Land to the American Government

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Dear Editor,

The noise from the general public condemning Gambia Government`s intention to sell the land occupied by the International Livestock Research Centre – ITC/WALIC since 1984 to the Americans is justified and very welcoming. Following the hue and cry from CSOs and individuals like Madi Jobarteh, Hon Solomon Owens and others, I decided to join the band wagon. As I write this piece to you, my eyes are filled with tears whilst reflecting on those years as one of the first national pioneers recruited to join forces with expatriate scientists to establish this institution. Under the leadership of Professor Mcintyre and Dr Bakary Touray, we toiled like Boxer of Animal Farm (George Orwell) to make sure that the institution`s Headquarters and two other field stations in Keneba and Sololo were established and well equipped for research as desired by the founders – Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara and Prof Mcintyre, all of blessed memory.

I remember at a Statehouse garden cocktail party dedicated to participants of the Second Pan Commonwealth Veterinary Association Conference in 1988 which I attended, Sir Dawda approached me and said to me ” Don`t leave it to the expatriate scientists only, you have a big stake in it”. These words still ring in my ears. He gave his heart to this research Centre and repeated the same words each time we had met at Veterinary Association meetings.

That is why I spent nearly ten years as Station Manager and Research Officer at Keneba field station whilst my kids were going to school in Kanifing with their lone mother. My other two pioneer colleagues – Dr Famara Sanyang manned Kerr Serign station and Dr Badara Loum went to Sololo station also as Station Managers and research scientists. This is how the three (3) of us young Vets and Dr Touray gave ourselves to the course of ITC and what it stands for in The Gambia and the rest is history.

However, I was not surprised when the issue of selling this very land came up with proposal of relocating ITC/WALIC to a different site that is yet to be determined. Because during one of my recent visits to ITC in August, I was told by some worried staff there that “the Americans had visited and inspected the whole area and we fear that they will take over the place”. I told them it is evident that sooner or later the land will be taken over, either by Americans or some business tycoon.

It is a known fact that every Gambian businessman (especially Estate Agencies) has an eye on that piece of land because through their egoistic and myopic lens, the place is too good for a livestock research centre, forgetting that the place was an empty bush fallow. Furthermore, both the last and current Governments had already eye marked the same place for a money making venture. Have you forgotten Yahya Jammeh`s five-Star Hotel complex project which was to be built in the same place by some non-existent Arab company. That had wetted the appetite of the current Government which has no emotional attachment or seen any usefulness of the said land except to evict ITC and sell the land.

To them, Environment No Matter as the Deporians used to say “Education no matter!” Therefore, the best thing for them is to sell and make money. But to benefit who? God knows! How long has the ban of timber logging and charcoal burning been undermined by the previous and current governments? This government and its officials are not keen on environmental matters. Destruction of the environment is their trump card. Didn`t Physical Planning allowed SSHFC to allocate land to people on a well defined waterway that led to the floods in Jarbang Estate this year.

I will not duel here on ITC`s research successes in livestock production but interested persons can go to its website. However, let me tell you this. When ITC was established in 1984, the first thing it did was to connect the villagers of Kerr Serign to pipe-borne clean drinking water from its borehole. Oh, what a great joy that was for Seedy Loum (Alkalo) and his people.

I can still see the smile on the faces of those women and children dancing around the first stand pipe in the village. In addition, the centre provided employment (both casual and permanent) to hundreds of the surrounding villagers which enormously contributed to the expansion of Kololi, Kerr Serign and Bijilo. Furthermore, ITC has ever been the boofer zone between the desperate and hungry-for-land grabbers and the Bijilo Forest Park (Monkey Park). If it were not for ITC, the park would have been chopped down for fire wood thanks to the watchmen of ITC.

They contributed a lot in the preservation of Monkey Park because the staff of the Wild Life and/or Forestry Departments were hardly available. Therefore, Today ITC/WALIC is an integral part of Bijilo Forest Park and one cannot exist without the other. Oh, what an insult it would be to the founders and identifiers of the Park to see an Embassy built there with all kinds of satellites beaming on the wildlife. Even the reptiles and insects on the ground will extinct not to talk of the resident birds and mammals.

I will not say much about the usefulness of the Park which environmentalists all over the world and tourists (not Tourism Board) have adequately elaborated on. A sober reflection would have been to expand/extend the park to the main Senegambia highway to give the wildlife a breathing space and relocate ITC to an appropriate place.

That will allow the wildlife to multiple and roam freely in the park without disturbing the people around. Building an Embassy and residences will gradually choke the park and limit people`s access to it. Remember, forest parks need people through the exchange of gas (oxygen and carbon dioxide) and people need them for forest products.

All said and done, is this a foregone conclusion by government to choke and eventually move monkey park to Abuko Nature Reserve following the construction of the Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara Conference Centre (wrongly named after) in the same place? What is happening to the Banjul Declaration 1977? Please, let us leave the Old Man to rest in peace! We are doing so much to destroy his legacy! I rest my case.

By: Dr D.S.Fofana, DVM, DTVM, MSc

Ex-ITC staff, Research Officer and Station Manager

Former Director General and Chief Veterinary Officer, DLS

Former OIE Country Delegate

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