By Hatab Nyang and Yankuba Jallow
Officials from the Department of Parks and Wildlife were involved in a strong controversial argument with the people of Gunjur over a reserved land.
The Wildlife officials dug a foundation with the intention to erect an office on the said land which led to their dispute with Gunjur Environmental Protection and Development Group (GEPADG) resulting to the use of abusive languages against each other. Members of the Sanyang Kunda family however refilled the dug foundation with sand. The disputed land is said to be belonging to the Sanyang Family who are believed to be the first settlers of the community of Gunjur.
The disputed area has been under the supervision of GEPADG since 1992 but became fully active in 1997 being mandated to protect the area. The area according to the head of GEPADG is the first community wildlife reserve in the country which was gazetted in the year 2008 through Global Environmental Facility (GEF) project and World Bank as the principal funding Agency.
Abdoulie Saho, the leader of the Wildlife officials said his office is under the supervision of the ministry of environment. He admitted that the land is protected under the law. He said the area was initiated by the community for it to be protected and it is not the only community protected area in the Gambia. He also said there are many protected areas such as Faraba and many other reserved lands such as Kiang West Nature Park and the Abuko Nature Reserve. He added that the disputed area of land ‘Gunjur Bolong fenyo” is also one of them,
He stated that if an area is designated as a protected area, it means it has undergone all legal processes. He added the legal process is either gazetted by the minister in the case of reserve or the national park at the National assembly.
He said he does not know what has transpired between his officials and the Sanyang Family but what he can ascertain is that they are all employees of the government. He also said on the protected area there have been some illegal practices such as tree cutting that have been taking place there and the government has come to erect a structure to protect the area.
He said all protected areas are owned by the government not by private citizens, adding that they are within the jurisdiction of his department.
In his counter argument, Director of GEPADG, Badara N. Bajo said the Land belongs to the Sanyang Family commonly known as ‘Domung’ of Gunjur who according to history, were the founders of Gunjur village. He refuted the claim that the land belongs to the government and that all the traditional owners and rulers of Gunjur can attest to the fact of the matter.
He said when he had the vision to develop the land into a reserved land and went to the traditional owners and founders of the village to seek their consent and he was allocated the land. He also said the government has not shown him the land and the land is solely owned by the Sanyang Family.
Speaking, Lamin Keita of the Wildlife Department and also a resident of Gunjur said the lagoon (Bolong Fenyoto) belongs to the community of Gunjur as well as the country. He averred the land was not gazetted in the name of sanyang family but was held to be a community reserved land and not for any individual.
He said their mission on the area of land was to serve as a protection to the environment because the land has now been subjected to some illegalities such as cutting down of trees. He reminded the person that before the land was gazetted, then minister Kotu Cham as well as the Sanyang and Darboe families of Gunjur went to the said land for inspection and came into terms that it can be used as a reserved area. He also said because he is working at the department and also a resident of Gunjur that is the reason he has been stationed there and work. Further, he said they requested for an office from their office to be erected on the site which was successful through a UNDP project and that is what they want to erect
Alagie Sanyang of the Sanyang kunda Family said the Lagoon (Bolong Fenyeto) is owned by their clan and it was given to GEPADG to protect it. He also said every family in Gunjur has title over a specific site on the said land. He explains that the Lagoon is known to the whole community of Gunjur that it belongs to the Sanyang Kunda Family. He said the disputed land has border with the Darboe family at the northern side of the lagoon whilst Saho, Manjang and Bajo families have their own site at the eastern side of the Lagoon.
“We inherited this Lagoon from our parents” he noted. Pa Sanyang Said the land is sacred for their family because they use it for their traditional prayers. He stated that those who dug on the land were all trained by GEPADG but they are no more working for them. He said they are going to discuss with GEPADG and find solutions to the problem.