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Last Updated: Thursday, 12 October 2006, 10:57 GMT 11:57 UK
Gambian bumsters clean up their act
By Lucy Fleming
BBC News website, Gambia

A bumster plays the drums on a beach in The Gambia
Many bumsters seek a living, but some want a wife and a new life

None of the 100,000 tourists who sun themselves on Gambia's glorious beaches each year can avoid the advances of the West African country's notorious "bumsters".

This is a local term given to young unemployed men who hang around hotels and beaches hoping to earn some money from holidaymakers.

"Everyone I can say is a bumster," says Lamin, a drummer on the sea front.

"If you want something you must bum [off someone] to get it," he says.


As soon as tourists step outside their hotel complexes they are accosted, charmed and implored with bumster offers of advice, friendship and, sometimes, love.

Gambia's Secretary of State for Tourism Susan Waffa-Ogoo
We need to educate people at an early age to know why the tourists are coming here
Tourism Minister Susan Waffa-Ogoo
"I am trying to find a white wife," says Lamin's friend.

"I don't mind her age because if I have the opportunity to marry I'd probably have a chance to go to Europe," he explains.

The sight of middle-aged white women walking around hand-in-hand with Gambian men 20 to 30 years their junior is not uncommon.

But it is a phenomenon that Gambia's Tourism Minister Susan Waffa-Ogoo says is culturally frowned upon.

She has headed the tourism ministry for most of the 12-year rule of President Yahya Jammeh, and believes she has put paid to the aggressive attentions of most bumsters.


For starters the Gambian Tourist Authority (GTA) has been set up and there is now a training school for bumsters.

"The Tourist Guides Training School is where we try to get some of them who are educated so they can be gainfully employed as guides and give them some self-esteem in the process," she says.

Gambian official tourist guide
We are Gambian ambassadors
Some 90 official tourist guides, who earn their money from tourist tips, offer tours of the area.

"I enjoy taking tourists to Serrekunda market to see the local ladies doing their shopping to cook African food," says Delamonte, who sold fresh orange juice on the beaches until he became a guide five years ago.

"We're here to sell Gambia; we are Gambian ambassadors. We do not hassle the tourists," he says, trotting out the GTA's slogan that Gambia is the "Smiling Coast of West Africa".

The success of the tourist guide project has spawned another to target schools - tourism studies is soon to appear on the school curriculum.

Tourism is Gambia's biggest foreign exchange earner after agriculture and the second largest employer.

So it is essential to keep the visitors coming and Gambians happy.

"We need to educate people at an early age to know why the tourists are coming here and who a tourist is: these are not multi-millionaires who have lots of resources to give out, these are people who take time off to come and relax after a year's hard work," says Mrs Waffa-Ogoo.


Since 1965, the tourism industry has relied on the charter market.

A brief trial of all-inclusive packages, where even drinks and meals were pre-paid, was abandoned by the GTA as the local economy was not benefiting.

And after the tourism slump following the 1994 coup, the industry has never looked better - more upmarket hotels are being built, with the Sheraton due to open soon.

Young men relax on a beach in The Gambia
The beautiful beaches lure tourists to The Gambia
But for Gambia's Child Protection Alliance (CPA) the growing tourist trade brings concerns about child sex tourism.

Their survey three years ago revealed that minors are being targeted by some visitors, especially from Europe, for sex.

Mrs Waffa-Ogoo admits the problem exists but feels it is "being hyped up".

"That's about opinion," says the CPA's Bakary Badjie. "The issue should be based on fact. We've interviewed children who confessed they've had interaction with tourists in hotel rooms."

"It might be difficult to see what the magnitude is but it is really happening in the communities around the beaches and hotels."

For Mrs Waffa-Ogoo, the key to the problem is again sensitisation.

"Gambian society is very open and very friendly and I think naivety is very much the root cause of the whole thing.

"In most cases people accept a so-called friend into their family and are not aware of what is going on."

This is an area where the CPA and authorities have worked together and Mr Badjie says there have been concerted efforts to protect the children.


Legislation has been tightened up in the last few years - depending on the type of offence, those caught face either a $360 fine or a jail term of up to 10 years.
Women in The Gambia invite guests to eat food they've just prepared
Guides take tourists to see life beyond the beaches

The GTA has issued a code of conduct signed by hotels and restaurants to ensure that tourists don't take children into their rooms and the Gambia Tourism Security Unit has been set up to guard tourist areas.

But for the majority of bumsters, the soldiers and official guides have just made life more difficult.

"The guides inform on us a lot and the soldiers can be rough," says Lamin. "It's not easy to deal with tourists here and sometimes we can't even walk on the beach area where they are lying down."

Playing their drums on the beach, Lamin and his friend sing a plaintive song about a young man who must say goodbye to his family to chance his future far away.

"His mother tells him not to cry because in life you can find your own luck," Lamin explains.

It could be a mantra for all bumsters, who always seem willing to chance their luck and able to surmount the obstacles the authorities throw in their path.

"I must work, and when you like somebody, nobody can stop you, no matter what they say, no matter what they do," he says.

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