The leadership of the Gambia Environmental Alliance (GEA) alongside its partners and activists held a meeting with the US Ambassador Sharon Cromer and the Deputy Chief of Mission Eric R Mehler and other embassy officials on Monday, Oct 31 at her office. The meeting follows the announcement by the Ministry of Justice that the Gambia and US governments have entered into an agreement to allocate part of Bijilo Forest Park to be used for the construction of a new US embassy complex.
The allocated space, according to the Ministry of Justice is the space occupied by the West Africa Livestock Improvement Centre (WALIC) which originally used to be ITC. In all, the Government will allocate 25 acres from within WALIC while WALIC itself and the visitors’ centre will be relocated.
As environmentalists, we join the public to express our disapproval of this agreement. It is in response to this development that we sought an audience with the Ambassador to share our concern with her and demand that they find a more suitable alternative site. In the meeting, GEA stated in no uncertain terms that we are committed to the protection and preservation of the entire Bijilo Forest Park which contains both the Monkey Park and WALIC as well as the visitors’ centre.
We welcome the Ambassador and her team’s assurance and commitment to transparency and engagement on this issue in the interest of the environment. However, we noted our concern at the increasing threats to the Gambia’s environment largely because of the Government’s failure to protect and preserve the environment by effectively monitoring and enforcing the environmental laws and better care for our flora and fauna. We noted that any further construction of any entity within any part of the forest park will only serve to expedite the eventual destruction of the forest park which is already hugely undermined by the construction of the Kairaba International Conference Centre. We reminded the US Ambassador of the domestic and international legal obligations of both governments to protect and preserve the environment.
GEA members took their time to highlight the impact of acquiring part of the forest on not only the animals and the ecosystem but also on the population of surrounding communities and the Gambia as a whole. We recalled that Bijilo Forest Park was gazetted in 1951 as a cherished heritage of the Gambia which also stands as a testament to the memory and great effort of former President Jawara, who was a champion environmentalist.
GEA will continue to engage all other stakeholders as well as mobilize CSOs, communities, and partners to ensure that Monkey Park is not subject to any further encroachment.