Politician cautions Gambians about oil excitement

Feb 23, 2004 01:00 AM

A notable Gambian politician is fighting to be heard above the deafening excitement generated by the so-called discovery of oil, by warning the country's leadership not to be oblivious of a possible controversy between Gambia and Senegal over the positioning of offshore oil deposit markings.
According to Honourable Hamat Bah of the National Assembly, current offshore demarcations, which he described as worryingly unclear, may be the source of a possible misunderstanding over oil deposits between the two countries provided President Jammeh's government overlooks what in his opinion is an overriding need to review and redefine them with a view to preventing problems with Senegal in the foreseeable future.

Honourable Bah claimed that the country's leadership is so overwhelmed with excitement over the discovery that, it is unconsciously staring at the dangers of a potential oil palaver with her much bigger neighbour whose government has already completed a study of Senegal's own potential for oil and gas "but made far less noise about it".
According to Honourable Bah, this discovery should be followed by a comprehensive review of the country's borders with Senegal, particularly in our northern frontiers, where he said some settlements were being mistaken for Senegalese villages, which later evidence have incontrovertibly proven grossly unfounded because such villages were found to have been inside Gambian border.

He said although the land area of Gambia has not been exhaustively explored for oil and gas, a review of the country's borders would prevent future controversies if oil, gas or other deposits are discovered in land areas, sitting controversially between the two countries, sharing a peculiar geography. He further emphasised that the offshore border outlines, where some of the oil deposit markings are made seem to controversially fall within the geographical purview of Casamance, which Dakar always sees as its all important southern province, despite a desperate two decade separatistwar.
He said although, there has never been a border flare-up between the two countries, the advent of oil could usher in an unexpected controversy over which country could lay claim to what part of their shared border and with it the natural endowments.

The NRP leader made it clear that Gambian government should set up a boundary commission to review the country's borders, an exercise which should also be conducted with the knowledge and possible participation of the Senegalese to prevent it from acquiring a touch of fraud, that may be exploited by Gambia's much larger neighbour to press for claims or concessions that this country would not entertain.
"This should be approached in a nationalistic way but it is also abiding that the Senegalese have to be consulted so that the exercise will not in itself be controversial. This is the right time to do before both countries start claiming what they are convinced is in their right to control. This will prevent the unexpected and the inevitable," he pointed out.

Honourable Bah also cautioned President Jammeh not to be oblivious to the inherently counterproductive oil politics, that saw many country bogged down by its cruel aftermath. He said lessons from many countries abound in which oil wealth has been misused or misapplied to serve a small oligarchic clique of a country while the mass of the poor are left to languish in depravity, want and crisis of survival. He said the essence of exploring oil and gas in Gambia should hinge on the moral compulsion to improve the lives of the majority of Gambians who are living in hopeless poverty.
The outspoken politician is also of the view that the handling of the oil issue should be taken from President Jammeh and handed over to an independent body of expertise keen to serve in the interest of the majority. On his reservations over Jammeh's handling of the energy portfolio Honourable Bah argued: "his (Jammeh's) track record in oil is devastating, taking into account the two crude oil sagas and widespread corruption linked to oil deals in the past. It would be much more prudent to set up a national petroleum company to deal with the issue of oil".

He also criticised President Jammeh for making no reference to the valiant efforts by the colonial administration of the 1950s and the PPP government after independence to launch oil exploration exercises, the details of whose study are being depended upon by the current government to determine the authenticity of Gambia's claim to "unlimited oil reserves".
"It is unheard of why Jammeh and his government should be conspicuously mute about earlier efforts to determine the availability of oil deposits in Gambia. Studies in that direction began in 1956 and for Jammeh to make it sound as if he has done it all is not fair to those who made the same effort in the past despite varying degrees of breakthroughs. He should neither politicise nor personalise the issue for obvious reasons having to do with his political ambition.”

“Already statements have been made by members of the country's leadership that can only be interpreted as giving undeserved approbation to Jammeh for the discovery as if to say the oil was not there in the past and that it came with Jammeh.”
“As a matter of fact and to avoid the further blindfolding of ordinary Gambians I must say that this discovery was made ages ago. It is wrong and misleading for anyone to start personalising and politicising it," Bah charged.

Bah admitted that if the country's wealth of oil is exploited and honestly used, it could change Gambia's potentials as a developing nation although he also warned that while oil could be a blessing it could also be a curse.
“There are oil wells in Saudi Arabia, Nigeria and Angola but poverty still rears its ugly head in those countries. We should save our country from such a situation," he added.

Source: The Independent
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