People are seen moving across the street in Banjul, Gambia January 17, 2017 REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

Occupy Westflied protesters denied police permit

A group of young people planning to protest the energy crisis in The Gambia was denied a permit by the police to camp at a square that became the symbol for change for activists.

#OccupyWestfield, which takes its name from the Wall Street tumult was seeking to get swifter government action is addressing the frequent power cuts. The cuts often last for the most part of the day.

Residents in suburbs outside Banjul are getting frustrated with the poor supply and feel short-changed by the state-owned company, NAWEC. The company has given a timeline and promised to have some form of stabilization by December.

Police spokesperson Foday Conta said the permit was denied due to security concerns. The police, including the Inspector General, met with protest organizers, who said they understood their position and demanded protection.

“We accepted their concerns as valid and suggested that they send in protection for the place of convergence. This too they denied with no sufficient explanation except to say they might not have the necessary force for that,” said Alieu Bah, a protest leader.

Bah said they will seek redress in court over the denial and urged citizens to exercise restraint. The Gambia’s public order act is already being challenged in the Supreme Court by former opposition leader and now Foreign Minister Ousainou Darboe.

“We are going to start the next step, which is to sue the government of the Gambia for invoking an unconstitutional clause of an act namely, the Public Order Act to prevent us from exercising our civil and human rights to assemble and protest peacefully,” according to Bah.

The power supply in rural Gambia has been more stable than in the inner cities, where electricity supply can be cut for more than 20 hours. The Kombo Metro area has seen at least three major blackouts and week-long water supply shortages.

New President Adama Barrow has visited NAWEC and had said numerously that the energy situation in the country concerns him. He has called it an economic and national security matter as he tries charming investors.

NAWEC has a monopoly over the energy sector. It is equipped with outdated decades old generators unable to meet the energy demand. Engineers are working on installing an 11-megawatt generator purchased by the ex-government.

New poles are lining from Senegal across The Gambian border to transport some 30 megawatts of electricity to supplement electric supply to NAWEC by Senelec.

The Barrow government said it is hopeful that in two years Gambia will meet its full electricity demands. An agreement has been signed not just with Senegal’s Senelec but with China’s Sinohydro. The fact, however, remains that Gambia needs more than half a billion dollars to resolve its electricity crisis.

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