By Madi Jobarteh
The Department of Forestry has issued a press release today claiming that no inch of Monkey Park will be affected by the construction of a new US embassy. The press release accuses the Gambia Environmental Alliance of misleading the public about this issue.
Apparently, it looks like it is the Department of Forestry which is actually misleading Gambians in order to justify the takeover of Monkey Park which is contrary to the Forest Act. It is important for citizens to realize that there is only one Bijilo Forest Park which is commonly called the Monkey Park. The Bijilo Forest Park was gazetted in 1952.
Bijilo Forest Park originally covers an area of 51.3 hectares. It includes the entire space referred to today as Monkey Park, the Bijilo Forest Visitors’ Centre, and the West Africa Livestock Improvement Centre (WALIC) which was originally occupied by ITC. It was opened to the general public in 1991 and an NGO, the Gambia-German Forestry Project created a nature trail across the park which is still there. If you look at the picture of the original signboard, you will not see ‘Monkey Park’ written on it because at that time they only know the place as Bijilo Forest Park only.
Hence it is misleading for the Department or anyone to claim that Bijilo Forest Park is different from Monkey Park, or they are two separate locations. Monkey Park is an integral part of Bijilo Forest Park just as the visitors’ centre and Wildlife offices inside Abuko Nature Reserve as part of the nature reserve. No amount of fencing can separate Bijilo Forest Park from Monkey Park.
Any inch taken away from the visitors’ center, or WALIC or any part of the forest means an inch has been taken away from Monkey Park! The Department should therefore not mislead the people.
Furthermore, while the Forest Act gives the power to the minister responsible to de-reserve a forest park provided it is published in the gazette, such a decision should not damage any other rights arising from de-reserving a forest park. The law expects that any attempt to de-reserve will be guided by the highest level of responsibility and common sense. The law also requires that the Minister establishes a Reserve Settlement Committee for each forest park. This means any decision about Bijilo Forest Park should therefore also include this committee. Hence the Government does not have the liberty to de-reserve Bijilo Park as he likes.
What citizens must realize is that the attempt to assault Monkey Park is a consistent and continuous pattern of behaviour of this Government to mismanage and pillage the forests, seas, rivers, lands, and entire environment of the Gambia. For example, we have seen the Government blatantly erect a mighty edifice, the Kairaba International Conference Centre inside Monkey Park thereby destroying it. All around the Bijilo Forest Park, we see how public and private entities have constructed all sorts of structures thereby imposing more stress on the forest and the primates, birds, reptiles, insects, and vegetation in it. This is why it is common to see monkeys wandering on and around streets, homes, restaurants, and hotels just to get food because of the encroachments on their habitat.
Look around all forest parks in this country and you will see how they have become dumping grounds while the indiscriminate felling of trees can be seen all over. Furthermore, from Salagi to Nyambai to Furuya and all the way to the Kiangs, Fulladu and up to Basse and other parts of the country, one can see how public and private individuals and entities are encroaching on reserved lands and forest parks without any consequences. In many cases we can notice fires in forest parks and yet no one is held accountable.
What this means is that the Department of Forestry, the Department of Wildlife as well as the National Environment Agency among other public institutions mandated to protect and preserve our environment are failing to do their job well. They do not enforce the laws as they allow private entities and individuals to encroach and plunder the environment just like that.
Therefore, what we expect the Department of Forestry to say and do is to defend and preserve Bijilo Forest Park. They need to be seen and heard telling their Minister to stop and not to give away Monkey Park to any entity on earth to build anything on this land. But we do not expect that Department to justify an encroachment and plunder of that forest but have the audacity to rebuke the Gambia Environmental Alliance which has dedicated itself to defend and preserve the Gambia environment.
The Gambia is not short of suitable locations for the US Government to find and build an environmentally friendly embassy. Monkey Park and the entire Bijilo Forest Park deserve the full and total attention and commitment of the Department of Forestry to manage to excellent standards. Bijilo Forest Park is an employer, a revenue earner, a research facility, and a place of leisure while serving as part of the history and heritage of the Gambia. It deserves to be preserved and not to be plundered in the name of anything!
For the Gambia Our Homeland.