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The OIC Conference: Can The Gambia host it, or will it be postponed again?

The chances of The Gambia successfully hosting one of the biggest international events – Organisation of Islamic Cooperation Summit, 2023– hangs in the balance.

With only a few months to the end of the year, there are doubts the country could complete its projects in time for this all-important conference. It remains unclear whether the country will lose its hosting rights if the conference scheduled for this year is postponed again. However, the conference would not be held in The Gambia if the OIC projects were not completed in time.  

Despite the cloud of uncertainty hovering around the hosting rights for the OIC summit of Presidents and Heads of State in The Gambia, DUBAWA takes a closer look at the summit, its importance to the government and people of The Gambia, and the recent events associated with the hosting.

What is the OIC?

The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) is the second largest organisation after the United Nations, with a membership of 57 states spread over four continents. The Organisation is the collective voice of the Muslim World. 

The Summit of the OIC is held once every three years as part of efforts to achieve the ideals of the OIC charter. The last Summit, the 14th, was held in Makkah, Saudi Arabia (31 May 2019). The next edition of the summit was slated for The Gambia in 2022. 

However, last year, there were still doubts about the government of Gambia’s preparedness to host the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Summit of Presidents and Heads of State.  

There were claims that the country lost its hosting rights, but the government refuted the claims. Despite the uncertainties surrounding Gambia’s hosting of the summit this year, President Adama Barrow reassured citizens that the country would host the conference in December during his State of the Nation Address.

In spite of the assurances by the president, there are still several key projects that have to be completed in time for the summit to take place.

Delayed Road Projects

The OIC Road Project is the construction of a 22km road stretching from the Airport Junction through Bertil Harding Highway to Sting Corner and the construction of 20 new roads within the Greater Banjul area. The roads are expected to improve traffic conditions leading to and around the Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara International Conference in anticipation of the Summit. These road projects are anticipated to reduce traffic flow, enhance safety, and reduce travel times.

“Once completed, these 20 new roads will decrease the volume of traffic logjams and speed up travel by more than the usual time. Given their strategic geo-locations, the identified roads, which connect major communities, will reduce pressure on major highways enabling commuters to move with ease and pace,” Yankuba Dibba, the Chief Executive Officer of the OIC Secretariat, explained in 2021 at the award of contract ceremony for the 50km OIC urban road project.  

The 20 roads are GPPC –New Jeshwang (GACEM Junction)– Jokor Junction, Kanifing Hospital- Bertil Harding (Methodist) Kanifing Estate road, GPPC Road- Westfield (Jokor)- Abuko, and Kotu- Nawec Link, Sukuta. 

Others are: Latrikunda Sabiji, Kololi Tavern-Bijilo-Brufut, Touba Sanchaba Road-Kerr Serign-Sukuta, Bijilo- Sukuta Nemasu, and Sukuta-Wullingkama-Brufut-Ghana Town.

 Junctionba- Hermann Gmeiner Road, Bijilo site access, Rev. J.C. Faye,  Sukuta Health Center- Kololi Senegambia Road intersection, Bakoteh dumpsite- Manjai police, Bundung Highway, Kanifing Hospital- GTMI, Sheikh Zayeed Eye Hospital- Bertil Harding (Mass Kah), Kololi/Senegambia Road intersection- Touba Sanchaba Road, Kairaba Avenue (former IEC)- BJL\Serrekunda Highway (GTTI) and Coastal Road (Zion Welding workshop)- Wullingkama Car Park are also among the project. 

The road projects were to commence in 2021, but there was a delay, which the OIC secretariat blamed on “difficulties with donor procedures exacerbated by coronavirus.” 

Two years on, the project is still dragging. There are fears that it may not be completed in time for the Summit in December. 

The Growing Impatience

The new development comes at a cost. Some of these include property demolitions, pollution, and the cutting down of trees, all of which have affected businesses to a greater extent. 

In September last year, Ebrima Dibba, a member of the opposition party, United Democratic Party (UDP), who was a desk officer for the OIC Secretariat in Jeddah, reportedly in an audio recording, demanded the government close down the OIC Secretariat in Banjul or there would be a protest. 

“OIC projects have all failed woefully, including the roads. This sent million dollars questions to people. Will The Gambia host the conference, or will the roads be completed? I am sure the Islamic Conference will never be held in The Gambia,” he remarked. 

A vegetable vendor at Kairaba Avenue, Adama, told DUBAWA: “This is supposed to take them nothing less than one year as promised, but here we are almost three years and still not much improvement has been made. They also unnecessarily cut down useful trees in these areas, which is bad for the climate. Those trees have nothing to do with their construction.”

“This project has led to temporary detours and changes in traffic routes. Such alterations redirected traffic from the usual path, leading to decreased customer flow towards our tropical flower garden,” said Remi Martin Jatta, a florist along the Bertil Harding Highway.

Frustrated, Remi added: “Before, I made sales of five thousand dalasi daily, sometimes even more. But we now experience a decline in sales, which has led to financial instability and difficulties in covering our operational costs and expenses.¨ 

Numerous homes have been demolished to create space for the new roads, with some owners still complaining about outstanding compensation. In January, homeowners in New Jeshwang whose homes were marked for demolition met with authorities, seeking answers on the issue of compensation

False Hopes?

Having already postponed this summit before, there are fears the summit may be taken away from The Gambia.

In a 2022 FatuNetwork publication, the director of communications and branding for the OIC Secretariat, Nfally Fadera, said: 

“It is safe to say that The Gambia cannot host the OIC this year, but there has not been any cancellation of the right of the country to hold the conference. We will come out and inform the people when a date is scheduled. We don’t have an official communication to confirm whether we will host the summit, but practically, logistically, a summit that will host more than 50 heads of state cannot be held in one or two months. This year it cannot be hosted in The Gambia.”

In his address last week, Barrow said: 

“In addition to the rural road projects implemented by the Ministry of Transport, works and infrastructure, the road expansion and OIC related projects are underway, as the country prepares to host the OIC Summit by December this year.”

In response, National Assembly Member for UDP, Lamin Ceesay, said the President should “stop giving empty promises.”

“How can you host a summit when the road constructions are far from done? We were made to believe that the roads would be near completion by May, but we have not seen any signs that would happen before December. So, the president should stop making claims he knows are impossible to achieve,” the Standard Newspaper reported.

He added: “The manner in which the government is handling its projects is bizarre and because of that, we have no, or a very slim chance of even hosting the summit in the next two years.”

Before the summit was postponed last year, questions arose about the country’s preparedness to host it. Similar questions are resurfacing. The road constructions are yet to be completed. Just last year in August, Barrow laid the foundation stone for the Radisson Blu five-star hotel. The Radisson Blu will see the arrival of close to 1000 delegates and 57 countries. With the efforts invested thus far and visible evidence that there is still more work to be done between now and December, will the summit be postponed again to another year? That is, of course, if the country still maintains its hosting rights. 

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