Gambia’s President Adama Barrow is aware that the land cleared to build a $50 million (D2 billion dalasis) international conference center was part of a preserved forest park, his spokesperson said.
The site is the crux of the dispute between conservationist and the Gambia’s forestry officials, who had given approval for the clearing of the land to give way to the China-funded center.
Press Secretary Amie Bojang Sissoho said authorities have taken great care to preserve the forest and assured that the center will not get in the way of preserving the environment and the park.
“President Barrow is aware that the land set aside for the construction of the International Conference Center in Bijilo, is part of a booming ecological preserve of fauna and flora, called Monkey Park,” Bojang said.
“Great care has been taken in the design to blend it into the environment to maintain a balance between envisaged development and the ecosystem, and to also minimize harmful effects on both the fauna and flora.”
Activists have welcomed the assurance but skepticism remains. They say the Barrow administration has betrayed the declaration to protect the park, which was gazetted in 1952.
Bijilo Forest Park is a forest park in the Gambia, lying in the coastal zone about 10 miles west of the capital, Banjul. It attracts more than 23,000 foreign visitors every year.
President Adama Barrow gave his blessings for the building of the conference center, which is expected to create jobs and attract big conferences to the country. He laid the foundation stone on Thursday.
“China is no friend to the environment. Ecological damage to a great extend cannot be fully recovered. China is a threat to the global environment. The government should preserve the Bijilo Monkey Park and relocate this project to a different site,” said Lamin Jarju.
Gambia resumed relations with China last year raising the prospect of a renewed contest between Beijing and Taipei over allies.
China considers Taiwan to be part of its territory, and it has sought to limit the self-ruled island’s international relationships and recognition.
Gambia has shifted between the two nations and the Barrow administration will be sticking with China, which is heavily investing in African nations.
China and Nigeria’s government announced the Chinese Export-Import Bank will finance 85 percent of the development of a mega hydropower plant in the West African nation, one of the largest in power generating capacity.
(Reporting and Writing by Sam Phatey; Photo by Alhagie Manka/StateOfMic)