Gambia’s Solar Park
In 2019, the Gambian government announced that it would construct a solar park, the first 150 MWH utility-scale park in the nation. Apart from the government’s greater initiative to improve the Gambia’s energy reliability and affordability, the government plans to launch the solar park in two phases: an 80 MWH unit set for 2021 and a 70 MWH unit set for 2025.

The Background

Prior to national elections in 2016, the Gambian government struggled with a decreasing GDP, poor macroeconomic performance and high liabilities from the National Water and Electricity Company (NAWEC) and other state-owned enterprises. As cited in a 2018 World Bank report, the governing bodies of SOE’s such as NAWEC were highly inefficient and caused internal dysfunction under President Yahya Jammeh’s leadership. The government’s inconsistent budget support to NAWEC resulted in a “fiscal drain on public resources” and inadequate energy supply.

Therefore, as apart of the region’s master plan to increase energy availability to the public, the current Gambian administration will conduct a study measuring the feasibility of implementing a 150 MWH solar park. The park will connect to a substation in Soma, The Gambia, which is a grid infrastructure that should increase electricity access in the nation by 60 percent. The feasibility study will have three primary objectives:

  1. To select the land for the solar park.
  2. To finalize solar power station details.
  3. To evaluate the feasibility of creating a National Dispatch Center.

The Process

In selecting land for The Gambia’s solar park, consultants will choose a land size of around 250 Hectares within a 20 km perimeter from the Soma substation. They will conduct studies that measure the potential constraint to connect the substation to the park. Once consultants choose an ideal site, they will proceed to finalize aspects of the power station. The power station will produce shifts in solar energy for two to three hours toward the peak of each evening. Through a detailed study, consultants will need to confirm the phases required for the installation of the park and proceed to undertake a diagnosis for the creation of a dispatch center. Through a diagnosis, consultants will be able to construct an “evaluation of required investments in capacity building (research, training), and modernization of the network (hardware equipment, software, smart grid technology, etc.).”

The government plans to construct the park not only to provide further electricity to The Gambia’s citizens but to also reduce the electricity costs for SOEs and the government. The government plans to remove the system of auction organized with public-private partnerships (private banks, etc.) as a means to reduce the cost of electricity for SOEs and citizens.

As the first of its kind, The Gambia’s solar park will increase Gambians’ access to electricity by 25 percent. The park will serve as one of the administration’s first steps in transforming the nation into a hub for sustainable energy.

– Niyat Ogbazghi
Photo: Flickr

Human Rights in GambiaHuman rights in Gambia remain limited. The small West African country struggles to provide its citizens with freedom of expression. Meanwhile, politically driven police brutality and arbitrary arrests continue.

In April 2016, Gambian citizens were beaten with batons and exposed to tear gas while protesting the death of Solo Sandeng, who died at the hands of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) while in custody. Nineteen of those protesters faced three years imprisonment. Forty more people were arrested while protesting the trial of the 19 sentenced, and 14 of those 40 went on trial near the end of 2016.

Gambians were reportedly beaten and tortured, and others died due to insufficient medical care while in custody. The president admitted that people die in custody regularly. Political and religious leaders are arrested and abducted, including leaders of the United Democratic Party (UDP), which opposes the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC) and President Yahya Jammeh.

Anyone who speaks against the government runs the risk of retaliation, representing a huge denial of human rights in Gambia. In fact, many journalists avoid strong criticism of the government for fear of arrest or death, and many have left the country out of fear.

The government would not allow the U.N. or outside organizations to record prison conditions, but some NGOs report poor air flow and pest problems. Furthermore, many members of the UDP were held in solitary confinement.

A separate, but important issue for human rights in Gambia is human trafficking. Women and children continue to be sold into sex and domestic slavery, and yet the government has not taken adequate action to resolve this.
Although human rights in Gambia desperately need improvement, major gains in women’s rights were made recently. Gambia made child marriage illegal in July 2016. Previously, “according to the U.N., 40 percent of women aged 20 to 49 in Gambia were married before the age of 18, while 16 percent married before they turned 15.”

Gambian women also suffered significantly from female genital mutilation. However, in late 2015, legislation passed to make this illegal as well.

The victor of the 2016 presidential election, Adama Barrow, shows promise for progressing toward less corruption and stronger human rights in Gambia. Gambia must have fair and lawful leadership in order to leave behind its history of injustice.

Emma Tennyson

Photo: Google

LGBT Community in Gambia
In the midst of a televised speech for the Gambia’s 49th National Day, President Yahya Jammeh directly threatened the LGBT community of his country, declaring, “We will fight these vermin called homosexuals or gays the same way we are fighting malaria-causing mosquitoes, if not more aggressively.”

Jammeh’s feelings on the LGBT community have not been a secret. In September 2013, in his address to the United Nations General Assembly, he made a point of calling homosexuality one of the “biggest threats to human existence” and in early 2012, condemned “ungodly gay marriages.”

While Jammeh has previously stated that the people of Gambia will not be discriminated against based on color or religion, he is adamant that they behave in an appropriate fashion. He clearly does not accept the LGBT community as adhering to appropriate behavior for members of his country, going so far to say “We will respect human rights where a human being behaves like a human being”.

Jammeh strips the LGBT community of its rights by persecuting the people for living an authentic life. United States Secretary of State John Kerry released a statement in response to Jammeh’s speech, imploring, “the Government of the Gambia to protect the human rights of all Gambians, and we encourage the international community to send a clear signal that statements of this nature have no place in the public dialogue and are unacceptable.” Kerry went on to express his support to the LGBT community in Gambia.

Additionally, Britain and other Western nations are threatening to cut aid to governments that pass anti-gay laws, which would include Gambia.

However, Jammeh is unshaken by this and even claims, “We will not accept any friendship, aid, or any other gesture that is conditional on accepting homosexuals or LGBT as they are now baptized by the powers that promote them.” Jammeh is adamant that Gambia will become a completely independent nation free from international aid. His hateful stance toward the LGBT community may ensure that he loses international aid sooner than expected.

Despite Jammeh’s desire for a free and independent Gambia, he does not support all his citizens and directly threatens those who identify as LGBT or any diplomats who identify in the same fashion. “Let me also make it very clear that Gambia will not spare any homosexual and therefore no Diplomatic Immunity will be respected for any Diplomat who is found guilty or accused of being a homosexual.”

At this time it is unclear what can be done from the outside to shift perception and laws in Gambia.  It is hoped that promoting human rights for all will eventually remove the stigma from the LGBT community in Gambia. Nonetheless, the international community must take action to prevent the persecution and possible death of Gambian citizens threatened in President Jammeh’s speech.

– Cameron Barney

Sources: The Point, Slate, U.S. Department of State, The Daily Observer, The Independent
Photo: Demotix