Residents of Serrekunda teamed up with activists and took matters into their own hands Saturday to clean the Serrekunda Market, the country’s main commercial hub.
Serrekunda Market is littered with trash and sellers and buyers in the busy market complain of pollution and raised health concerns.
The market has stalls clustered together with narrow paths meandering around bricked shops where women sometimes lay small clothes on stool-like tables to sell vegetables.
But in the middle of the narrow roads are heaps of trash. The garbage makes it hard for buyers and sellers to breath.
As the people walk around the trash, vegetable and fish sellers draw their weapon, a scarf in a daily battle against the flies and insects that feed off the garbage and landing on their goods.
The health concerns worry the people, who are buying the food items and taking additional measures to avoid infections and food poisoning.
In the rainy season, it is worse. Rainwater washes down the garbage and forms a river-like puddle. People struggle to walk on the small banks next to stall and find themselves in the germ filled ponds filled with trash.
For years, the people of Serrekunda struggled with a single question: What do we do with all this trash that the municipal council is failing to collect?
“People have taken ownership. When those entrusted with responsibility failed you, the solution is to unite and make the difference,” said youth activist, Lamin K. Saidy.
Residents and activists came out in numbers to clean the market and gave it a new face. A remarkable difference was seen after the cleaning exercise.
Yankuba Colley is the Mayor of the Kanifing Municipality. Last month, he accused environmentalists of shutting down a dumping site, accusing them of sabotage.
He is facing re-elections next year and likely to lose his bid as discontent towards his administration’s handling of garbage grows.
“When we decided, we decided to change what used to be. We decided to stand united and not wait for authorities to make things happen, we decided to take part in community development and make our community better,” said social commentator, Kemo Bojang.
Bojang was referencing a campaign that followed the ouster of the ex-autocratic ruler, Yahya Jammeh and his refusal to cede power.
#GambiaHasDecided became more than a hashtag. It reminded people of Jammeh’s repression and his mismanagement of the country’s resources. Now it seems #KMChasDecided will be the new brand.
But Jammeh had initiated a program, Operations Clean the Nation. Citizens across the country take part in cleaning their environs once every two months.
While the initiative could be one of the few if not the only to get some sort of praising today, it came with its downsides.
Jammeh made it forceful, disrupted businesses and restricted the free movement of people and trade on his sanctioned cleaning day.
Kanifing Municipality has been failing to collect garbage not just from the Serrekunda Market but from homes and the council has failed to implement a proper waste management system.
Most of the garbage is household and business trash as opposed to chemical or industrial waste. It includes trash from offices and restaurants.
Trash is mostly burnt at the Bakoteh Dumpsite. A wave of smoke covers the area making breathing hard of residents around the site and exposing them to cancer.
Some people around the dumpsite have reportedly denied of unknown sicknesses, activists and families of several victims say.
Burning garbage even in incinerators releases dangerous gases and dust, which contribute to global warming and serious health complications.
There is no incinerator and compressor in The Gambia that will at least help remove large quantities of particles and pollutants to ensure cleaner air and save space.
Mayor Yankuba Colley has signed several agreements with recycling and waste management companies amounting to more than $25 million Dollars (D1 billion Dalasis) that turned out to be fake.
One such deal was with an Italian company, JMD that we could find no data on. The project Colley signed with JMD for waste management at the Bakoteh Dumpsite never took off.
Colley said they could not find any genuine partners and for now, uncollected trash continues to pile up on the streets and the bulk of the trash removed from Serrekunda ends up in a landfill polluting the environment.