The military action launched by Dakar to eradicate marijuana-producing fields in Casamance seems to have ignited strong reactions from politicians, activists and ordinary citizens who are suggesting that the move is another ‘serious blow’ to President Yahya Jammeh.

Ensa Sey“Dislodging the rebel factions and destroying their marijuana farms has indeed dealt a major blow to Yahya Jammeh and his circle. No more marijuana, no more timber, no more illicit flow of small arms which is another income generating avenue for Yahya Jammeh means he will ultimately be exposed as a belligerent armed bandit,” former Gambia plenipotentiary to Taiwan Essa Bokkar Sey told this reporter in reaction to the unfolding events in Southern Casamance.

Last Sunday, the Senegalese army communication unit issued a news dispatch indicating that they carried out a successful operation targeting marijuana-producing fields located along with Gambia-Senegal border, in Southern Casamance. Rebel factions linked with the Movement for Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFDC) are suspected to be behind what appears to be a ‘lucrative business’ sustaining a war economy
deeply rooted in Gambian territory.

Former Gambia plenipotentiary to Taiwan welcomed the move and stated that  dislodging the rebel factions and destroying their marijuana farms has indeed dealt a major blow to Yahya Jammeh and his circle.
“No more marijuana, no more timber, no more illicit flow of small arms which is another income generating avenue for Jammeh means Jammeh will ultimately be exposed as a belligerent armed bandit,” he told this
reporter.

According to him, he has been following recent developments in troubled Casamance  region with Senegalese army resuming military offensive against separatists  running marijuana fields. “You know MFDC as an entity or a movement itself as a “victim” of compelling and negative forces. These compelling forces are adverse effects stemming from the activities of interest groups like Jammeh’s government and unruly rebel factions like the ones led by Salif Sadio,” he said.

Sey seized the opportunity to emphasize that MFDC was originally formed for the sole purpose of turning it into a political party or nationalist movement. “Some of the original founders are men like Ibou Diallo a native of Casamance. It is when extremists like Salif Sadio blended in that the movement was hijacked and then automatically turned into a so-called Jola hegemony,” he recalled.

Former Gambia Foreign Affairs Minister Sidi Sanneh who spoke to this reporter warned that ending the war economy will not necessary usher in permanent peace but it will greatly help to scale it back.

“It is common knowledge and an open secret that trafficking in marijuana has been a primary source of finance of the low-intensity rebel war that has been going on in that part of the Casamance region since the early 1980s,” he said.

Sanneh was quick to indicate that it was years after that illegal logging has been another lucrative source of financing the war. “While cutting off these two primary sources of financing will have devastating impacts on the MFDC in prosecuting the war, it will not decisively and permanently end it.”

Crops Substitution To Marijuana?

However, he acknowledged the fact that there is a risk lying ahead as sustainable alternatives such as crops substitution need to be provided to farmers linked with the growing marijuana business controlled by MFDC rebel factions in order to prevent them from resorting to banditism.
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“If these sources are shut down, the rebels, as in the past, will resort to gangsterism.There will be an uptick in highway robberies, kidnappings, and terrorizing villagers to part with their livestock and small ruminants,” former minister Sidi Sanneh added.

He insisted on the fact that the focus will shift from marijuana and logging to terrorizing the local population and the traveling public for both the sustenance of the rebel forces and carrying out incursions in and around villages in rebel strongholds.

Ruling out the idea that President Jammeh benefited directly from the cannabis trafficking, the Chairman of Senegambian Human Rights Defense League Malick Kah blasted members of the Gambian army and petty pushers for their alleged collaboration on the smuggling and selling of marijuana, with the MFDC rebels.

“For me, the sector in that region from which Jammeh benefited is the logging of trees, this is a very lucrative business and is less controversial, but more devastating to our flora  and fauna,” he revealed.

He blamed Gambian authorities for giving licences to Chinese businessmen involved in logging activities in Senegal “These Chinese companies having to satisfy the insatiable demand of their market take
advantage on the porous border and pay very attractive licence fees which go directly to Jammeh to the tune of millions of Dalasi,” he said.

The recent arrest, subsequent trial, and release of Senegalese Environment Ministry officials have he said, put the spotlight on this ‘lucrative business’ that has been going on for the past 10 years impacting negatively on Casamance forests and the local population livelihood.

“In my last trip to Gambia, I saw almost ten centres of wood sawmills operated by the Chinese and there were trucks loaded of timbers coming from both Casamance and Bissau. These trades are one of the reasons why China is keen to forge diplomatic ties with Gambia. Gambia through Jammeh is making a lot of money.”

Efforts to reach out to Gambia Information Sheriff Bojang for comments remained unsuccessful as he declined to respond to our numerous calls.

Written by Abdoulie JOHN

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