Janjanbureh in the Central River Region has massive tourism opportunities and a lot of untapped resources for investment and economic growth. It’s rich in history dating as far back as 1823, and has some of the country’s most amazing places of attraction. It has the Janjanbureh Island, a Methodist Church said to be the oldest one in sub-Saharan Africa, and numerous species of birds, monkeys and reptiles. There are plenty more. But still when we think of tourism in The Gambia, Janjanbureh rarely comes to mind.
Stakeholders have blamed the problem on poor marketing and lack of branding.
“Janjanbureh has high potential for tourism growth and development and the only sad thing is I don’t remember what Janjanbureh is sold for as far as tourism development is concerned,” said Lamin M.B Keita alias Taka Titi, a griot and the local curator in Janjanjureh. “The government is not doing much in terms of marketing the destination and it’s very sad.”
Since 1991, Taka Titi has been entertaining visitors and tourists in Janjanbureh, relaying and chronicling the Island’s history and stories.
He told The Chronicle that the lack of serious government investment has greatly derailed the growth and development of tourism in Janjanbureh.
“We have a lot of attractions but few tourists know about these,” Taka Titi said. “They include the Janjanbureh Camp built in 1986, Boabolong, Alakabung (now Boabab Lodge) and Armitage High School (built in 1924), one of the longest serving high schools in the country and the only government boarding school in the provinces.”
Kebba Sarjo is the current custodian of the Freedom Tree Monument, generally regarded as the last bastion of hope for slaves who escaped captivity during the slave trade. He appealed to the Ministry of Tourism and Culture and the National Council for Arts and Culture to consider some form of development on the site in order to attract tourists.
“You cannot talk about the history of Janjanbureh and the colonial past without talking about the Freedom Tree Monument,” he said. It was last renovated in 2002.
Sarjo decried the slow pace of tourism growth in Janjanbureh and called on the government to provide incentives to operators within the Island for tourism to become their source of living.
Yusupha Sanyang is the proprietor of 26-year-old Baobab Lodge. It was started by his mother in 1993 purposely for hosting independent travelers stranded in Janjanbureh. He transformed it into a full-fledged tourist camp with a new look, and changed the name from Alakabung.
Sanyang has been battling to lure tourists into his camp.
“I think the government should consider supporting tour operators in Janjanbureh. This will help boost tourism and livelihoods in the area.”
He said if serious investors are attracted to Janjanbureh, tourism will flourish, employment opportunities will be readily available, infrastructures will be improved and migration of young people from the region to the urban areas will reduce.
Omar Jammeh, the Coordinator of the Community Based Tourism (CBT) initiative has not lost hope despite the challenges.
“I’m positive that things will improve. CBT initiative is on course in designing trips for tourists who want to experience Janjanbureh and the surrounding villages. I remain positive that sooner or later we will start reaping the benefits of tourism in not only Janjanbureh but beyond,” he said.
He called on the youths in the region to join the newly-initiated tourism school established by The Gambia Tourism and Hospitality Institute (GTHI) to gain tourism skills.
The Director of National Council for Arts and Culture, Hassoum Ceesay acknowledged the need to improve the existing facilities in Janjanbureh, but said his department is on course to improve the infrastructures and service delivery for tourism growth.
“We have just completed the construction of the fence around the perimeters of the newly-built Kankurang Center courtesy of UNESCO,” he said. “We also completed the training of some youths as tourist guides, and we are on the verge of recruiting a cultural officer at the Kangkurang Museum. These initiatives are all geared towards making improvements in Janjanbureh’s tourism industry.