Activists and villagers in Gambia’s coastal town of Kartong have taken to streets to protest against the building of a fishmeal plant and the “illegal” activities of Chinese fishing firms polluting the environment.
Tens of people marched on the streets on the southwestern Gambian town, 41 miles from the capital, Banjul holding placards that read: “smiling coast, not stinking coast.”
“The waste from the fishmeal factory smells very bad and the toxic odor is affecting the health of many here,” says local resident and environmentalist, Mustapha Manneh.
“It’s affecting businesses here and making life just too hard for the small business owners.”
Youth leaders and residents say the health department and the government have ignored repeated calls to address the issue, triggering the protest for the shutdown.
In neighboring Gunjur, the sea has washed ashore dead thousands of dead fish sparking an outcry on social media. Gambian authorities instead released a statement telling local fishermen to follow regulations, angering activists, who are blaming the Chinese firms for the environmental disaster.
Activists from Kartong and Gunjur are to meet with a Gambian minister on Monday in Banjul for talks. The minister, James Gomez have already hindered talks after protesters say he was unapologetic and unsympathetic.
Gambia has a new government and it says it is unaware of the activities of the Chinese fishing companies. But in what seems to be a propaganda news report on the state-owned national television, GRTS, employees reported being satisfied with their job, which is reportedly paying them “D5,000 per day,” about US$125 in a country where most earn less than US$562 per year.
Citizens of the two coastal towns are joining forces and vow to continue their protest until the government addresses the environmental crisis they are facing and enforce regulations.
Kartong was the epicenter of the last environmental protest Gambian authorities faced. Dozens of youths, who were protesting against sand mining in their community were arrested.
Although no one was arrested during Saturday’s protest, activists and youths say they do not mind if it comes to that as long as it will lead to having a safe and healthy environment for the future generation.