"Spend our tax monies wisely"
Over 150 rights holders from Bakalarr, Madina Sidia, Nema Kunku, Mademba Kunda, Pakau Njogu, Pakau Saloum and other neighbouring villages in Upper Niumi District, North Bank Region, engaged their duty beaters in an open dialogue held in Bakalarr village. The right holders demanded their main access road connecting over nine villages, to be constructed. The road has been in a very bad condition for over fifty years.
Speaking on behalf of the Executive Director of ActionAid International The Gambia, Mr. Saikou Darboe, ActionAid’s LRP 9 Manager, said that the community dialogue was triggered by an appeal for support made by the community of Upper Niumi to ActionAid for the construction of their main access road that connects over nine villages. According to Mr. Darboe, the community submitted a budget estimate of about six million dalasi, and when he consulted the National Road Authority (NRA), they told him that the cost for constructing the road is way more than six million dalasi. “Six million dalasi cannot construct the road so we decided to organize this community dialogue to discuss how we can solve the road problem. Since we know that we all pay taxes, there is a Mandinka proverb that says: what belongs to everyone, should be protected by everyone” he said.
Darboe further stated that ActionAid has a stake in the dialogue based on the fact that people appealed to the organization for support, and as a rights-based organisation, ActionAid wants people to take charge of their own development.
Representatives of different communities explained the difficulties they’ve encountered on daily basis in trying to access the road including numerous encounters with crocodiles.
Mariama Jawara from Bakalarr said that most of the hardships encountered on the road are faced by women. “Every rainy season, our men come together to try to find a solution to make the road manageable in order for us to have access to do our daily activities. But our goods are often left at the main junction for days before they are transported”.
Isatou Demba of Bakalarr village said that there is a health centre in Nemakunku village but accessing it is a problem due to the bad road. According to Isatou, she escorted a pregnant woman to the health facility, and she was referred to Esseu Health Centre but in the process, the child died. “When we got to Essau, we were referred again to Banjul but unfortunately the baby died before we reached Banjul. Probably if the road was good, the child could have been alive” she said.
Isatou further stated that Bakalarr has a Senior Secondary School, and they have children coming all the way from Bakandick, Sitanyunku and Aljamdu villages, but in the rainy season, they have to take off their school uniforms to cross the tributary. As a result, some parents are withdrawing their children from the school.
Ebrima Darboe from Madina Sidia Village said: “We want the road to be constructed before the next rainy season. Parents are always afraid when their children are crossing the tributary to go to school, knowing full well that there are crocodiles there”.
“When the food supply for the school feeding programme comes, the food items are often offloaded at the main junction, so they have to find ways and means to transport them to the school. If it is during the rainy season, sometimes the water would spoil the rice. When we harvest our crops or our garden produce, it becomes difficult to sell them. The middlemen determine the prices and buy them very cheap. All of that is due to the poor condition of the road” said Sarjo Drammeh.
Speaking on behalf of the youth, Lamin Jallow of Mademba Kunda village said that construction of the road will help the youth. He said, he often closes from work at night around 8pm and every other day he would see a crocodile lying on the road. Jallow also shared an incident which he witnessed about a child who was sick and taken to Nemakunku Health Centre and was later referred to Esseu. But the child died and he helped to carry the dead body.
“I have made several Facebook posts seeking support for the construction of our road, as well as reminding the concerned authorities about the condition of the road. My Facebook posts were not in vain” Jallow said.
Sadibou Jarjou bursts into tears as he recalls the difficulties that accessing the road had posed on people including a family man whose rice got finished but could not transport the bag of rice he bought from Barra to his house. Jarjou said he was also in a similar situation when the man confided in him for help.
Responding to the concerns and the demands of the communities, the National Assembly member for Upper Niumi, Honourable Omar Darboe thanked ActionAid for organizing such forum which brought together different stakeholders. Honourable Darboe stated when he became a member of parliament in 2017, he promised the people of Upper Niumi that if their road is not constructed and there is no water and electricity in their district, he will never contest again for the national assembly elections. He said a few years later, the hakalang road is under construction, and the Bakalarr access road is also among the roads to be constructed in Upper Niumi. Darboe added that the decision to construct the road is not politically motivated, but rather it is a development issue that had been discussed with the concerned stakeholders.
He expressed regret for the condition of the road and reproached himself as a member of parliament for Upper Niumi for not doing his job effectively to address the situation earlier. He informed the gathering that in other to reduce the risk and find a coping mechanism, he is going to get them a new ambulance that will be able to navigate through the muddy road.
Hon. Yaya Sanyang, the Chairperson for the National Assembly Select Committee on Projects, urged the people of Upper Niumi to be patience, and not to spend the little money they have in trying to fix the road. He said that approval had already been given by government to construct the 16km road under the ‘Addendum Project’. He added that the Hakalang road is not a donor funded project, but it is funded by government through taxpayers’ monies.
Hon. Sanyang concluded that the dialogue is very important because people put aside all their political differences and gathered for their own development, which is everybody’s business.
Other speakers included Chief Chatty Cham, the Chief of Upper Niumi and Malamin L. Bojang, the Chairman of Kereman Area Council.
The dialogue was fully funded by ActionAid's LRP Office in Juffureh (LRP 9) at a cost of over D400,000. The event was moderated by Mr. Ousman Sonko, the head of the Rural Development Institute in Mansakonko.
Members of the community and district authorities inspecting the road across the tributary