Gambia’s Minister of Tourism has warned, mostly underprivileged youths, trying to befriend holidaymakers on the beaches of the West African country that they will be jailed until the tourist season ends.
Hamat Bah made the threats during a visit to one of the hotels in the capital, Banjul, where he was inspecting the progress of renovations at a hotel ahead of the start of the season.
“This year there will be no issues…Bombsters, don’t worry about them. We know where to keep them until the season ends. If it means making a law at the Parliament, we will. Don’t worry about it,” Bah said.
“When you are caught, you are locked up six months and at the end of the season, you are released. We cannot allow bombsters to spoil the industry; we will not. We will not let that happen.”
Bah, the leader of one of the political parties that backed Gambia’s President Adama Barrow in last year’s elections said a law by neighboring Senegal and China should be copied to keep locals away from the beaches around resorts.
The contentious minister returned from China last month. He has faced backlash and ridiculed for being impulsive, and unprofessional and reckless with his remarks.
Gambians have complained about being stopped by the police while walking around the so-called tourism development area, where hotels filled with tourists from Europe lined up the strip. They have also been barred by security forces from accessing the beaches.
Security forces have been accused of detaining and abusing mostly young people, who accused them civil and human rights violations. Cases of torture and cruel punishment by security forces around the hotels have been reported.
Hotels have also been accused of discriminating against locals, who have reportedly been denied from renting rooms and facilities during the height of the tourist season.
Gambia’s economy is heavily reliant on tourism. It makes up at least 20 percent of the country’s GDP. Tourism plunged after the regional Ebola crisis, although The Gambia had registered no case. It was further strained by the political impasse after the country’s former President Yahya Jammeh refused to cede power.
At least 200,000 tourists are expected to be choosing the country as their holiday destination this year and the first flight with 183 holidaymakers from the UK have landed in the country this week.
Gambians say although tourism is critical to the country’s economy, it does not warrant the discrimination and disrespect they face. They do not have any other recreational options in the country and are decrying the attempts by authorities to deny them the use the beaches and other facilities.