This week saw the official handover of a new butchery complex at Kotu which has been set up with support from the Department of Agriculture as part of our LHDP (Livestock and Horticulture Development Project) and which is to be run by a group of local farmers. You may remember this ceremony has been postponed twice in the past, but finally on Tuesday we managed to get all the stakeholders together at the same time for the grand opening.
The sun shone (it always does!) and my colleague Alimou and I were on site by 8am to find the site deserted except for half a dozen ladies sitting on the steps, and no obvious signs of activity, although somebody had been busy the previous day as the pillars in front of the building were decked in the colours of the Gambian flag along with green and yellow ribbons, balloons, and a large ribbon across the central two pillars. The premises looked very smart and comprise six “stalls” selling beef, goat/sheep, and chicken, and in due course pig meat.
Soon after 9am a young man arrived with amplifiers and loudspeakers in the back of a truck and began to set up a sound system from which (after the obligatory “hullo, hullo, hullo” sound check) we were loudly entertained by lively West African music as we began to put out rows of chairs under the awnings set around a square in front of the building. The guests had been invited to arrive between 10.00 and 11.00 for registration and slowly people began to drift in – mostly ladies, all very smartly dressed – although from the speed of their arrival it didn’t look as though anybody expected a prompt start. The butchery ladies donned their white coats and headdresses and began clapping to the music, swinging and swaying to the beat as if it were Saturday night at the dance hall, not 10.00 on a hot Tuesday morning. From time to time there was a loud bang as another balloon burst in the heat.
Among the guests we were expecting the Minister of Agriculture, the Lord Mayor of Kanifing, the Governor of West Coast Region, the Alkalo of Kotu, the Imam, and various other civic heads together with representatives of some of the big hotels who we hoped would be sufficiently impressed by the project to place regular ongoing orders. The tourist season is more or less over now until about October, but if they could be persuaded to support the new business from the start then we could expect sales to increase as the hotels started to fill up again in a few months. Meanwhile the operation could grow slowly as the group running it became more confident and their skills increased.
In due course a smart 4×4 drew up and Mr Solomon Owens (the Minister of Agriculture) emerged complete with a rather large policeman, followed shortly afterwards by the Minister for Youth and Sport with his own police escort, and then finally, as if waiting for his cue, Mr Yankuba Colley, the newly re-elected Mayor of Kanifing, resplendent in a sharp white suit with matching trilby, along with another policeman and an immaculately coiffed young lady PA in a smart business suit. We could begin!
The ceremony was due to begin at 11am with prayers led by the Imam of Kotu, but of course this took place rather later than scheduled and was followed by a procession of speakers with musical interludes, or perhaps I should have said “interruptions”. In attendance was a group of drummers and singers who according to the programme were due to give two or three musical intervals. In fact, what frequently happened was that when one speech finished and the retiring speaker introduced the next one to the podium, the newcomer had to stand and wait as the musicians burst spontaneously into life at high volume and seemed intent on drowning out any attempts to stop them. To persuade them to desist each time, it was necessary for one of the principal guests (often Mayor Colley or one of his staff) to approach the band with a wad of banknotes and give out several handfuls. Unless they considered the donation sufficently generous, they continued playing, and at one point one of the drummers came out to harangue Mr Owens face to face, loudly, and at length, presumably because he felt they were not sufficiently appreciated. This behaviour didn’t seem to surprise anyone, but it’s the first time I’ve seen anybody pay for the band to stop, rather than to continue playing. The Mayor obviously had some of his supporters with him too as whenever his name was mentioned, which was quite frequently as each speaker in turn paused in their speech to congratulate him on his re-election, there was a burst of applause and cheering from the crowd, and a drum roll or a burst of flattering song from the musicians. The observance of protocol is very important here, and each speaker in turn individually recognised all the other dignitaries, finishing invariably with the phrase “all protocols duly observed” (I assume this was in case they had forgotten anyone) before beginning their speech.
There were some excellent speeches and several of the speakers, apart from praising the new facilities emphasised that this was only the beginning. The premises and equipment have been provided at a cost of 2 million dalasi (about £40,000), a large number of members of Group Legay have been trained in meat hygiene and butchery skills, but now is when the hard work really begins as they must now build a sustainable and profitable business.
During the course of the speeches we also had two brief dance interludes when a group of local youths performed a mock wild animal hunt with their quarry elaborately dressed with large horns.
Finally, after refreshments had been served, it was time for the Minister of Agriculture to cut the ribbon and the Lord Mayor to hand over the keys to the Lady President of Group Legay, following which the guests toured the premises and numerous photographs were taken. The television crew were busy recording an interview with Mr Falalo Touré (Deputy Director General of Agriculture), the politicians moved on to their next engagement and the rest of us began to stack chairs and pick up litter.
The site looked like a battleground with soft drink cans, foil containers and paper napkins strewed all round but the meat on the hook looked good so I’ll be going back in a couple of weeks to see what it tastes like.