Managing waste has been a huge challenge in the Kanifing Municipality, the Gambia’s busiest region, for many decades. In some residential parts, rubbish piles up in the streets, filling the air with a nauseating smell. Heaps of trash loom large in the municipality’s biggest open-air rubbish dump which harbors the garbage of hundreds of thousands of residents.
In the absence of an effective and a consistent official trash collection system for many years, donkey cart owners took up the responsibility of collecting household garbage to the dump.
Among them is 36-year-old Omar Camara, who hitches his donkey to a cart every day going house to house to collect trash. He’s been doing that for the past two years across the municipality.
“It’s like any other job,” he tells The Chronicle. “What I earn from waste collection and disposal is what I use to feed my family.”
Camara earns at least three hundred dalasis a day and as part of his routine, he does waste collection during week days and pick his money from customers during the weekend. “Sometimes they might not have money to pay on a daily basis, so I’d give them the opportunity to pay weekly or even monthly, depending on how much I’m owed.”
It is estimated that there are more than 300 donkey carts collecting and disposing garbage daily within the Kanifing Municipality. Alpha Jallow, a 52 year old father of six has been collecting garbage using his donkey cart for more than three years.
“I see this as both a regular job and a great service to the community,” he says. “People have bags of garbage in their homes and when you walk down the streets you see heaps of trash in front of the houses. There were no trucks provided by the authorities. So naturally we became the people’s only hope.”
Mamut Saye, a donkey cart driver says he’s more passionate about environmental cleanliness than the money he earns from collecting household garbage. “Yes this is my source of livelihood. But beyond the financial gain I see myself as people’s champion. I provide a vital service.”
“Imagine what would have happened in the households we cover and how they’d deal with the trash without us. When people ask me how much money I earn from this job I always tell them that the question should be how many lives I save by keeping the environment clean.”
Mamut works from 7am to 7pm Monday to Sunday. Last year, he was able to buy a second donkey and a cart which his brother-in-law has been using to collect garbage.
“He used to follow me to work. He didn’t understand why I loved my job so much. But after he followed me around for a few weeks and saw how people in the community embraced me because of the service I provided, he told me he wanted to pick garbage.”
“For the past nine months he’s been collecting garbage in another area and he’s passionate about it. We are helping our people and our environment and we are proud of ourselves.”
Recently, the Kanifing Municipal Council brought in fleets of trucks to collect and dispose waste across the municipality. This means the earning power of donkey cart drivers will reduce. But for Mamut, that’s not a big deal.
“Some of my friends are worried about the arrival of the trucks and I can understand. But for me and many others, it doesn’t matter. The trucks will do what the trucks can do and donkey cart drivers will do what they can do. We can all serve our people side by side.”