The Khelcom women fishers stand their ground

Bargny, Senegal

Violation: intimidation and harassment of women fish processors from Bargny Guedj around the Sendou 1 coal-fired power station.

For 10 years, the Khelcom women fish processors in Bargny, Senegal have opposed the Sendou 1 coal-fired power plant – a ‘development’ project co-funded by the African Development Bank (AfDB)West African Development Bank (BOAD), Netherlands Development Bank (FMO) and the private Compagnie Bancaire de l’Afrique de l’Ouest (CBAO). 

The already constructed power plant poses a major threat to the people in Bargny where fishing and fishing processing by women is the predominant source of livelihoods. The coal power station took the agricultural land of numerous families as well as sites promised by the Mayor for the resettlement of family members who have lost their houses to the encroachments of the sea, associated with the climate crisis. It is women who do the work of fish processing and selling, and who are also in charge of the agricultural activities, and it is women who have therefore been hardest hit. 

In January 2019, Sendou I released wastewater into the women’s fish transformation site at Khelcom, which caused significant loss and damage to their harvest of dried fish. They have, to date, been inadequately compensated and by the end of 2019, the water had still not been extracted from large areas of the processing site. The resulting loss of income and hardship of the impacted families was never compensated for. 

However, their struggle did not end there. Now, the women face yet another threat from TOSYALI, a Turkish global steel manufacturer, which intends to construct a steel complex on their fish processing site. In addition to the psychological, social and economic impacts of these continual threats to their livelihoods, the women fish processors are facing threats to their security. Their only ‘crime’ is their determination to defend their right to decide what development looks like for them and their community. 

Mama Fatou Samba testifies as follows: “On 17 August 2020, I was with women on the Khelcom fish processing site where we make our daily living to document our struggle against the coal-fired power plant with the help of a journalist. We soon saw a vehicle parked at the processing site, which is very odd. Since I am the leader of the women fish processors group, I approached these strangers to see what was going on. 

They told us that they were mandated by a person but did not state their identity and they claimed that the purpose of their visit was to carry out topographical studies. We asked them to leave the site since they did not have any permission to be there and they were disrupting our work. They left without taking any samples. 

The next day, around 2PM, the Police Chief called me to ask if the women had indeed been the ones to prevent the researchers from doing their work. I said ‘Yes,’ and told him that the site was our workplace, and no one should enter it without telling us. The police chief told me that a police vehicle would come to pick me up from my house. Sure enough, they did. They took me to the site where there was a group of people waiting for me. I immediately alerted LSD (Lumière Synergie pour le Développement) and other women so that my whereabouts would be known.  

At the site, there was a representative from APIX (Investment Promotion and Major Projects Agency), the developer of the TOSYALI project, accompanied by police officers. We discussed the incident from the previous day, and I informed them that the site belonged to us and that we would never let anyone else occupy it.

They tried to tell us that the government had relinquished part of the site to a Turkish company to set up a steel complex and they wanted to reassure us that project was not going to destroy our activities. But the women and I stood firm. What has continued to puzzle us is why the Prefect instructed the Police Chief to summon me? It was a pure intimidation tactic. But we want to make clear that we will not back down.”

Source for testimony & image: Lumière Synergie pour le Développement, Fatou Samba.

The coal power station took the agricultural land of numerous families as well as sites promised by the Mayor for the resettlement of family members who have lost their houses to the encroachments of the sea, associated with the climate crisis. It is women who do the work of fish processing and selling, and who are also in charge of the agricultural activities, and it is women who have therefore been hardest hit.

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