The noise from the general public condemning the intention of the Gambian government to sell the lands occupied by the International Livestock Research Center – ITC/WALIC since 1984 to the Americans is justified and very welcoming. Following the cries of CSOs and individuals like Madi Jobarteh, the Honorable Solomon Owens and others, I decided to join the bandwagon. As I write this article to you, my eyes fill with tears thinking back to those years as one of the first domestic pioneers recruited to partner with expatriate scientists to establish this institution. Under the guidance of Prof. Mcintyre and Dr. Bakary Touray, we worked as Boxer of Animal Farm (George Orwell) to ensure that the institution’s headquarters and two other field stations in Keneba and Sololo were established and well equipped to the research desired by the founders – Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara and Professor Mcintyre, all of blessed memory.
I remember at a cocktail party in the garden of the Statehouse dedicated to the participants of the second Pan-Community Veterinary Association conference in 1988, which I attended, Sir Dawda approached me and said “Don’t leave this to expatriate scientists alone, you have a big stake.” in her “. Those words still ring in my ears. He gave his heart to this Research Center and repeated the same words every time we met at Veterinary Association meetings.
That’s why I spent almost ten years as station leader and research officer at Keneba field station while my children went to school in Kanifing with their single mother. My other two pioneer colleagues – Dr. Famara Sanyang occupied Kerr Serign station and Dr. Badara Loum went to Sololo station also as station managers and researchers. This is how we three (3) young vets and Dr Touray gave ourselves during the ITC and what he stands for in The Gambia and the rest is history.
However, I was not surprised when the issue of selling this land came up with the proposal to move ITC/WALIC to a different site yet to be determined. Because during one of my recent visits to the ITC in August, concerned staff members told me that “the Americans had visited and inspected the whole area and we fear that they might take over the place”. I told them it was obvious that sooner or later the land would be occupied, either by Americans or by a business tycoon.
It is a known fact that every Gambian businessman (especially real estate agencies) has an eye on this land because through his selfish and myopic lens the place is too good for a research center on the breeding, forgetting that the place was an empty wasteland. . Furthermore, previous and current governments had already scouted the same location for a lucrative business. Have you forgotten Yahya Jammeh’s five star resort project which was to be built in the same location by a non-existent Arab company. This had whetted the appetite of the current government which has no emotional attachment or sees any use for the said land except to evict ITC and sell the land.
For them, the environment doesn’t matter like the Deporians used to say “education doesn’t matter!” Therefore, the best thing for them is to sell and make money. But for whose benefit? Only God knows! How long has the ban on logging and charcoal burning been undermined by previous and current governments? This government and its officials are not passionate about environmental issues. The destruction of the environment is their major asset. Physical planning did not allow SSHFC to allocate land to people on a well-defined waterway which led to flooding of Jarbang Estate this year.
I won’t argue here about ITC’s research successes in animal production, but those interested can check out its website. However, let me tell you this. When ITC was established in 1984, the first thing it did was connect the villagers of Kerr Serign to piped drinking water from its borehole. Oh, what a great joy it was for Seedy Loum (Alkalo) and his people.
I can still see the smiles on the faces of these women and children dancing around the first standpipe in the village. In addition, the center has provided employment (casual and permanent) to hundreds of surrounding villagers, which has contributed immensely to the expansion of Kololi, Kerr Serign and Bijilo. Also, ITC has always been the boofer zone between desperate and greedy land grabbers and Bijilo Forest Park (Monkey Park). Without ITC, the park would have been felled for firewood thanks to ITC keepers.
They did a lot for the preservation of Monkey Park as staff from the wildlife and/or forestry departments were barely available. Therefore, today ITC/WALIC is an integral part of the 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 sorts of satellites beaming down on wildlife. Even the reptiles and insects on the ground will die out, not to mention the resident birds and mammals.
I won’t say much about the usefulness of the park as environmentalists around the world and tourists (not the Tourist Board) have elaborated enough. Sober thinking would have been to expand/extend the park to the main Senegambia highway to give wildlife a break and move the ITC to a suitable location.
This will allow wildlife to multiply and move freely in the park without disturbing people around. The construction of an embassy and residences will gradually smother the park and limit access. Remember that forest parks need people through the exchange of gases (oxygen and carbon dioxide) and people need them for forest products.
All things considered, is it a foregone conclusion for the government to stifle and possibly relocate the monkey park to Abuko Nature Reserve after the construction of the Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara Conference Center (misnamed) in the same location? What happens to the Banjul Declaration of 1977? Please let the old man rest in peace! We are doing so much to destroy his legacy! I put down my file.
By: Dr DSFofana, DVM, DTVM, MSc
Former ITC staff member, research officer and station manager
Former CEO and Chief Veterinarian, DLS
Former OIE Country Delegate
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