Law enforcement officers in The Gambia discovered nearly three tonnes of cocaine in a salt shipment from Ecuador, its drugs agency said Friday, in the tiny West African country’s largest-ever seizure.
Officers searching a container in the port of the capital Banjul on Thursday found 118 bags of the illegal white powder, which were labelled as industrial salt, according to a statement from The Gambia’s Drug Law Enforcement Agency (DLEAG).
The container was part of a consignment of four containers originating from the Ecuadorian port of Guayaquil.
Lamin Gassama, DLEAG’s intelligence director, told AFP that the 2.9 tonnes (6,400 pounds) represented the largest ever drugs haul in The Gambia — a poor nation of some two million people, and the smallest on mainland Africa.
He added that the seizure was worth approximately $88.5 million.
In its statement, The Gambia’s drugs agency said that local law enforcement is searching for the consignment’s owner, a 37-year-old French national named Banta Keita.
West Africa is an important transit region for cocaine trafficked from South America into Europe, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
Seizure of the narcotic across the African continent rose from 1.2 tonnes in 2015 to 5.6 tonnes in 2018, the agency said in a report in June.
The Gambia asked the UN’s top court Tuesday to order Myanmar to “stop this genocide” of the Rohingya Muslim minority, as a hearing attended by Myanmar’s former peace icon Aung San Suu Kyi got underway.
“All that The Gambia asks is that you tell Myanmar to stop these senseless killings, to stop these acts of barbarity that continue to shock our collective conscience, to stop this genocide of its own people,” Gambian Justice Minister Abubacarr Tambadou told judges.
A Gambian military court on Monday sentenced seven soldiers to nine years in jail for plotting to overthrow President Adama Barrow, and handed a three-year prison term to another.
The sentences relate to events in 2017 after the ouster of strongman Yahya Jammeh, who ruled the tiny West African country with an iron fist for 22 years.
The court in Yundum, about 25 kilometres from the capital Banjul, acquitted four other soldiers arrested along with the eight who got jail terms.
Tribunal head Colonel Salifu Bojang said two of the 12 soldiers accused had accepted plotting “how to arrest cabinet ministers, the Chief of Defence Staff and battalion commanders of the Gambia Armed Forces.”
He said the soldiers had also created a WhatsApp group where they planned an attack on the West African Military Force (ECOMIG) stationed in Gambia to help keep order.
Gambia has set up a Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission, modelled on South Africa’s post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission, to shed light on Jammeh’s brutal 22-year reign in the hope of providing justice and closure for victims.
It began its work last October, empowered with the right of investigation and recommendation for prosecution or reparations, but not to pass sentence.
Jammeh fended off several attempted coups during his long reign, including one in December 2014.
He is still a force to reckon with despite living in exile. Last week, he reacted to a recording put up on WhatsApp showing an incident in his native village of Kanilai on March 19 in which a local was injured by a Gambian soldier, saying the “problem will be dealt with”, without elaborating.
Jammeh is accused of spiriting away hundreds of millions of dollars while one estimate put it as high as one billion dollars.
President Muhammadu Buhari Thursday received the new ambassador of The Gambia, H.E Amadou S.O Taal with his wife and the ambassador of the Democratic Republic of Congo to Nigeria, Mr Jacques Obindza at the State House on Thursday.
Gambia’s National Environmental Agency (NEA) has agreed to settle out of court with Chinese-owned Golden Lead fishmeal factory, which it had taken to court for pollution and flouting proper waste management regulations.
Golden Lead has to pay a bond of 25,000 US dollars, take immediate measures to treat its wastewater and pay for testing of already contaminated water.
When contacted by Reuters, the company’s owners declined to comment but had earlier denied dumping wastewater into the sea.
“They were supposed to have a waste treatment plant in the sea too on the factory itself. So that they treat their wastewater and then they apply for a discharge permit. So that we are able to conduct a water quality analyses test to ensure that we establish that the wastewater that they discharge into the waterbody is not going to cause any harm. But then, unfortunately, they did not do or they are yet to install that water treatment plant,” said Lamin Samateh, senior environmental inspector at the NEA
The dispute started in May when thousands of dead fish washed up on the beach in Gunjur, a small fishing town in the south-west of the country.
The water in the nearby lagoon in Bolong Fenyo Wildlife Reserve also turned red overnight.
Initially, environmentalists were up in arms because they thought effluent waste from Golden Lead’s factory had killed the fish but later found they had been dumped there by Gambian and Senegalese fishermen unable to sell their catch to the fishmeal makers.
NEA has fined some of the fishermen and has reached an agreement with the factory stopping them from making orders where they cannot guarantee purchase to the local fishermen.
Local fisherman, Omar says his colleagues had no choice.
“Yes, because the Chinese people call them and give them money and they cannot buy all. The fish, they are already dead, where you can… you will drop them. Because of this, all blame is these people. Because they are the people who call them to bring in more fish. They are the ones who request. So why you cannot buy all, if you cannot request all. Why you call all,” he said.
After a few days, the water regained most of its natural colour, but tests found it was still unsafe.
Badara Bajo from the Gunjur Environmental Protection and Development Group in Gambia (GEPADG) monitors the reserve.
He convinced the government to give it a protected status – a first in the country.
Bajo wants the Golden Lead factory shut down.
“Really, really mad and very much uncomfortable because we spent a lot of energy, lots of time for so many many years and to see that arriving at an endpoint within a second it is just devastating. It’s just driving us crazy,” said Bajo.
Golden Lead has also been ordered to remove the waste water pipes going to sea, cooperate on ecological assessment and pay for water testing and work on correcting the damage already done.
“What they could do now in the absence of a wastewater treatment plant is to make sure that all their waste water is collected to a wastewater treatment facility which is somewhere in Kotu, some several kilometres from their location. They were doing that, but along the way, I want to believe that the cost implication is not sustainable. So instead of asking for advice on the next course of action or to undertake some kind of financial expenses to implement certain strategies to make sure that their wastewater is treated before it’s discharged, they secretly connected a pipe that discharges wastewater from their plant into the ocean. And this was discovered by the local community. Who reported to us and then we took action,” said Samateh.
West Africa has some of the richest waters in the world, but fish stocks are being depleted as industrial trawlers, some operating illegally, comb the oceans from the seabed to the surface, environmental group Greenpeace says.
Chinese fishing operations especially have been accused of double standards, as China improves sustainability provisions in its own domestic legislation while continuing to defy laws in Africa.
Mr Jammeh had earlier said he would accept the result of the election but changed his mind few days later, insisting that another election should be held.
Nigeria’s Minister of Defence, Mr Mohammed Dan-Ali, explained that ECOWAS decided in a meeting to use its standby force in upholding the result of the presidential election held in December 2016, which produced Mr Adama Barrow as winner.
The Minister added that in line with the ECOWAS directive, the Nigerian military would deploy its assets to protect the people of The Gambia and maintain regional peace and security.
The President of the ECOWAS commission, Marcel Alain De Souza says ECOWAS troops deployed for mission in The Gambia would remain in the country ahead of the arrival of the elected President Adama Barrow.
Briefing members of the diplomatic corps and commissioners from member countries, the President said that it has retained troops from Nigeria, Senegal and Ghana to secure the city for the next six days ahead of President Adama Barrow’s return.
The ECOWAS president appealed for financial support from international partners to conclude its mission successfully in The Gambia.
Responding to the allegation that the former president, Mr Yahaya Jameh took away 11.4 million dollar from the country’s treasury, ECOWAS promised to encourage and support any form of investigation.
ECOWAS says while it lends support to the present government in any investigative move on the former President Yahya Jammeh, it has not validated the joint declaration by the EU and AU to grant him presidential amnesty.
The British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Paul Arkwright, has commended the Federal Government for its readiness to dialogue with the people of the Niger Delta, in seeking political, rather than military solutions to the problems in the region.
“What I saw in that visit, is a Federal Government that is ready to engage with the people of the Delta, which is looking out for dialogue and political settlement as the way out.
“I think it is symptomatic of the willingness of the Federal Government, to engage and I hope that they continue with that.
“As I have said in the past, I do not believe that a military solution to what has happened in the Niger Delta is viable in any way – a political solution is what is necessary.
“For a political settlement to really take roots, there needs to be dialogue and discussion, maybe disagreement; but also agreement – we need to talk to each other and that’s why I was particularly encouraged by the visit of the Vice President.”
Meanwhile, Mr Arkwright, who was also speaking on the recent developments in the Gambian election, stated that the United Kingdom would give its full support in ensuring a peaceful transition of power in the west African nation.
The British High Commissioner, saysthe UK has recognized Adama Barrow as the new President of the Gambia.
Although he stated that the United Kingdom hopes to avoid any kind of military intervention, he explained that if it comes to that point, the UK would not hesitate to offer its full support.
“Just last night, the security council in New York agreed a resolution, supporting the new president, calling for the former president to stand down, saying that all political measures should be exhausted first, but recognising that a military intervention may be necessary.
“If that military intervention is necessary, it would have the full support of the United Kingdom; as we voted in favour of that resolution.
“We join all countries in hoping that a peaceful solution would be the actual outcome of this crisis.”
He then added that: “In line with the constitution and with respect to the views of the people of the Gambia, former President Jammeh, should now stand down to avoid any violence or bloodshed.
“We hope that these negotiations which are currently going on in Banjul would result in a peaceful outcome.
“It’s important for the new president to take up his office and to start to implement his programme because that’s what he was voted in to do.”
The British High Commissioner therefore reiterated the UK’s support for Barrow, while also appealing to the former president to stand down in order to ensure a peaceful transition.
Speaking on the withdrawal of the Gambia from the Common Wealth of Nations, Mr Arkwright described the common wealth as a family of nations and according to him, Jammeh left the family.
This, he said, did not come to him as a surprise because according to him, the former president had been “unpredictable” and he had made such pronouncements in the past.
He however stated that he is very pleased that the new President, Adama Barrow has promised to re-instate the nation in the common wealth.
“The fact that we now have a more stable government in place, with a president who has a much more responsible international view than his predecessor, gives hope that the Gambia would move back into the common wealth.
Furthermore, he commended the efforts of ECOWAS in trying to push Yayah Jammeh to relinquish power.
“It’s a very important role that ECOWAS has played in this crisis,” Arkwright said.
The coalition of seven political parties that produced President-elect of The Gambia, Adama Barrow, earnestly looks up to Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari, to deploy his vast experience, alongside other African leaders, to resolve the political logjam in the tiny West African country.
This was revealed on Wednesday, in a statement by the Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to the President, Femi Adesina.
Speaking with the media during the high-level ECOWAS /AU/UN Joint Mission to The Gambia on Tuesday, Hamad Bah, one of the coalition members, declared:
“We need the experience of President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria in many ways. Like President Jammeh, he is a former military officer, so he knows how the military thinks, and would be able to talk to him appropriately.
“Again, President Buhari was in the opposition in Nigeria for about 12 years, before he won election in 2015. So, he also knows how the opposition thinks. He can feel what we feel. We are quite glad that President Buhari is here, it gives us a lot of hope.”
The high-level team, in series of meetings that lasted the whole of Tuesday, met with President Yahya Jammeh, twice, conferred with Barrow, consulted with security chiefs, members of the diplomatic community, leadership of the electoral commission, and many other interest groups.
The consensus was that President Jammeh needed to respect the result of the December 1 election, which he had earlier accepted and congratulated the winner, only to recant a week later, calling for fresh polls “to be conducted by a God-fearing electoral commission”.
The Joint ECOWAS-AU-UN team, made of President Buhari, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia (current Chairperson of ECOWAS), President Ernest Bai Koroma of Sierra Leone, outgoing President John Mahama of Ghana, and Dr Mohammed Ibn Chambas, (UN Special Representative for West Africa), encouraged Jammeh to reconsider his rejection of the election results citing “tallying errors” and his call for new elections.
Jammeh was also urged to hand over power “within constitutional deadlines, and in accordance with electoral laws of The Gambia”.
President Johnson-Sirleaf said discussions on The Gambian impasse would continue, as ECOWAS leaders meet in Abuja this Saturday.