The Chairman of The Gambia Wood Exporters and Forest Users, Lamin Barrow, says both Senegal and The Gambia have done little and are yet to be consistent in their efforts to stop illegal timber trading. Mr. Barrow told The Chronicle that the business on illegal timber is still happening in The Gambia despite a ban on the export imposed by The Gambia government since August 2019.
According to Lamin Barrow, the legally authorized timber trading lasted only a short period. Yet, he said, illegal trading continues all year round with Gambian timber dealers still investing huge sums of money in attempts to smuggling logs of lucrative value such as Mahogany, Tali and even Rosewood. Mr. Barrow said all these species come from the Southern part of Senegal, in Casamance and Tambacounda regions.
From his position as the chairperson of the Wood Exporters and Forest Users, Lamin Barrow has been approached on several occasions by timber dealers who fear to lose money in attempting to pass through the export ban to smuggle logs to China. “Timber traders caught smuggling logs have come to me to raise concern about the border patrol agents that seized their trucks and sometimes set them ablaze. I have received complaints these days from timber dealers claiming that Police in The Gambia, at a border point in Basse, seized their timbers. The trader has alleged that the police has sold his seized timbers to other dealers. I am doing my independent investigations’’, Lamin Barrow explained.
He however added that his association does not have the powers to release logs confiscated by the police and that he only appeals to the authorities.
Quizzed if he is one of the illegal timber exporters, Lamin Barrow denied being involved in any illegal timber trading. He said that since the ban was imposed, he abandoned trading logs and reconverted his business into exporting peanuts and cashew to China and India. Barrow claimed that currently, he invests little money in timber business as the risk of losing investment is enormous.
Recently, one Saikou Konteh, a member of Lamin Barrow’s organization, was caught attempting to smuggle 22 containers of rosewood logs to China. Lamin Reacting to the coming prosecution of Saikou Konteh, Lamin Barrow said members of his organization must stay away from any illegal dealings. He said he has always advised that get the right approval from the authorities in order to remain in legal timber trading.
The Chairman of The Gambia Wood Exporters and Forest Users believes that the failure to stem the illegal timber trading is the fault of both The Gambia and Senegal. “Why can’t The Gambia and the Senegalese security agents at the border points stop these illegal timber trading? There is no way you can smuggle illegal timbers without the awareness of both authorities and the border security. If the Senegalese authorities cannot stop their people from cutting trees, there is no way timber smugglers can stop their business because is a chain work’’, Lamin Barrow.
He said that Senegalese timber loggers travel kilometers at night, with loaded donkey-carts, just to smuggle illegal logs to The Gambia. Once they make it to the border points, they meet their business counterparts in the Gambia. Consequently, some timber dealers purchase their logs within the country at the border points of McCarthy (CRR), Mansakonko (LRR), and Basse (URR). He added that timber logging in The Gambia is very limited as most of the logs are from Senegal.
On how Gambian timber dealers get their logs exported from Banjul since they are originated in Senegal, Lamin Barrow said the timber dealers process official documents that involve The Gambia Revenue Authority (GRA) for export duties, G.C.C.I for certificate of origin, Department of Forestry for export license and other Port charges.
On the fact that Senegalese authorities are complaining about the illegal timber trade via The Gambia for more than a decade, Lamin Barrow replies that “if they wish, they will end all illegal practice” as according to him, the Senegalese security agents are more to be blamed as he said that the Senegalese have the human resource and the standard security equipment to trace smugglers.