The Chronicle Gambia

The Gambia, Heaven for Pollution by Second-hand Vehicles 

The Gambia is poorly endowed with regulations on second-hand imported vehicles. The country has become “the burial ground” of second-hand cars that run on fossil fuel as the West turns to electric and newer cleaner technologies. In The Gambia, about 80% of all vehicles are second-hand imports. Currently, there are 200,000 cars actively running in The Gambia and some 30,000 cars entering our border every year, according to The Gambia Automobile Inspection and Emission (GAMIE). 

No age limit for second-hand vehicles entering The Gambia

The Gambia Revenue Authority Customs and Excise Act, 2010 does not provide any restrictions on the year of manufacture of a second-hand vehicle to be imported.

Clearly, The Gambia has become a dumping ground for the retrieved petrol vehicles in Europe, looking at the age distribution of retrieved export vehicles and Euro emission classes. The 2020 UNEP report on used cars exported to Africa says the oldest European light-duty vehicles, with an average age of 17-18, go to The Gambia. Fig 2.9 Other African countries in that category are Guinea, Libya, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone.

Age of export vehicles to top 12 countries compared to current import limits

Some African countries like Senegal (since 2012), Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Mozambique, and Kenya have an age limit of six to nine years as of 2019. Other African countries have adopted mechanisms to control used car imports. Egypt, South Africa, Sudan, and Morocco have banned them.

According to Ousman Bah, Head of corporate and Public Affairs of The Gambia Revenue Authority, “When a vehicle is imported, The Gambia Revenue Authority (GRA) is only concerned about the revenue aspect. However, other concerns are related to the relevant GRA stakeholders (the Police in this case to determine the roadworthiness).”

After determining that most cars entering the Gambia are used, mainly from Europe, the USA, and Asia (Ports, 2010), GAMIE sees it paramount to ensure that the cars polluting the environment are shared between the buyer and the environmental body within the Gambia.

Many second-hand cars shipped to Africa from Japan are believed to have failed or been about to fail pollution tests there, according to the U.N. Environment Program(UNEP). But in many parts of Africa, such regulations are often poorly enforced, and rampant corruption ensures that used vehicles can slip by any controls.

The Gambia lacks the resources to conduct effective spot checks for emissions. Over the years, the government has appeared fickle in its attempts to regulate the trade in used vehicles.

In other parts of the world, all second-hand cars are subjected to tests as they cross into the country. But in The Gambia, no inspection on used vehicles is required before importing them into the country. Importers typically provide an original or certified copy of the vehicle inspection certificate from its country of origin.

All for money, nothing for the air pollution and environment 

In The Gambia, the government has never banned the importation of older vehicles. The principal documents for importers of second-hand cars include a Bill of Lading issued by a carrier to a shipper that details the type, quantity, and destination of the carried goods. The requirement also consists of a certificate of origin, a Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN), and a Customs Declaration (SAD). Apart from these tax base documents, importers have no restriction on gas emissions standards.

The government of the Gambia seems not to fully apprehend the gravity of the threat posed by gas emissions from old cars. Momodou Sey, The Gambia Automobile Inspection and Emission (GAMIE) Operations Director, said his institution has trained emission personnel in The Gambia to examine vehicles or even take them for a few minutes drive, ensuring the safety of the car. “It is the Gambian people’s responsibility to make sure that these vehicles are safe and environmentally sound to drive on our roads,” Sey said.

European vehicle emissions standards of retrieved petrol vehicles exported to West African countries in the top 12. Data: combined Customs and RDW. ©ILT-IDlab

Euro emissions standards regulations define acceptable limits for exhaust emissions of new vehicles sold in the E.U. They are designed to become more stringent over time to improve air quality because petrol and diesel engines produce different emissions types, subject to different standards.

Diesel, for example, produces more particulate matter, or soot, leading to the introduction of Diesel Particulate Filters (DPFs). In Europe, light-duty vehicles (LDVs) are available for purchase as of September 2014, and heavy-duty vehicles (HDVs) as of January 2013 have to comply with Euro 6/VI standards.

Meanwhile, the retrieved vehicles exported from Europe are nothing of what could be acceptable if the government of the Gambia considers a more proactive approach to trim the gas emission and improve the quality of air in a couple of years, for example.

GAMIE operations director has hinted that his institution will set up an entity that inspects and perform emission testing on vehicles within the Gambia to reduce the risk of accidents and further create a healthy environment by reducing emissions from moving automobiles. “From my vehicle maintenance point of view, the number of vehicles emitting black smoke in the Gambia could reduce immensely by introducing emission testing and certification,” Momodou Sey said.

Being affordable, more old and highly polluting cars coming in 

The GRA announced that older cars would pay less import duty than newer cars, sparking criticism from environmentalists who argued that the measure would encourage people to buy cars that are more harmful to the environment. The fact remains that the vast majority of imported vehicles are older than the upcoming age requirements and do not comply with the minimum Euro 4/IV emission standard requirements.

“Essentially, in The Gambia, the vehicles for commercial transportation are second-hand cars. They are becoming the standard means of commercial transportation in the country,” says Ba Foday, a taxi driver in KSMD. “Transport fares are very insignificant in the Gambia. It would be hard for anyone to recover the investment cost in a vehicle if we were to buy new vehicles. We would never afford to buy them“, Ba Foday explained.  

Foday recognizes that older cars have higher emissions, while many of those cars are dumped in countries such as The Gambia because they are no longer considered fit for the roads in their countries of origin. He still believes that second-hand cars’ prices can be reduced if the levy by GRA is reduced. “Immediately you ordered a car from the other parts of the world, you are expected to pay more than D30 000 as clearance when it arrives at The Gambia Ports,” Ba Foday said.

We have second-hand vehicles in garages all over the country, but ask for their price it will cost you an arm a leg. What is the essence of having these cars all over the country when only a few of us can afford them?” Asked Foday.

Gambia a transit point for second-hand vehicles 

The number of vehicles imported into the country and on transit through the Gambia to other West African countries, like Senegal, varies from year to year. Officially, 390 second-hand vehicles passed The Gambia to different countries every month. One thousand two hundred fifty second-hand cars enter the country for domestic use, mainly from Japan, Germany, Europe, and America.

Mileage of retrieved vehicles to top 12 countries per judgment type. Data: combined Customs and RDW. ©ILT-IDlab

Ousman Bah, Head of corporate and Public Affairs of The Gambia Revenue Authority, revealed to the Chronicle that 15,000 second-hand vehicles enter The Gambia from other parts of the world, while 4,680 second-hand vehicles transit through The Gambia to other West African countries.

The U.N. Environment Program 2020 reports on used exported vehicles to Africa finds millions of substandard cars that pose safety, health, and environmental hazards are exported every year from developed countries to developing countries, mainly in Africa. The report says millions of used vehicles exported from Europe, the United States, and Japan to the developing world are of poor quality and a significant contributor to air pollution and climate change.

The UNEP calls air pollution a “silent killer” in Africa, responsible for about 7 million deaths each year, and has warned that vehicle emissions are a significant source of deteriorating air quality in booming cities.

The question of whether to impose import restrictions remains contentious despite broad recognition of the dangers of an unlimited flow of used vehicles into Africa, the continent least equipped to deal with climate-changing carbon emissions.


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