Frequently Asked Questions About Plans for a New U.S. Embassy in Banjul
The United States Embassy has outgrown its current building on Kairaba Avenue, a location it has occupied for the past four decades. Our goal is to develop a state-of-the-art, environmentally sustainable embassy that provides our staff (both American and Gambian) the workspace they require to expand initiatives that assist the Gambian people and strengthen our bilateral partnership with the Government of The Gambia. The Bijilo Forest Park (often referred to as the “Monkey Park”) is a national treasure. The new U.S. Embassy will not be built inside the Bijilo Forest Park. Our intention is to contribute to the preservation and protection of the Park and its fauna and flora and preserve public access to the beach.
Over a three-year period, the U.S. Government meticulously reviewed more than 70 properties. We reached agreement with the Government of The Gambia in October 2022 on the recently announced new embassy location currently occupied by the West Africa Livestock Innovation Center (WALIC) on the Bertil Harding Highway. Respect for the neighboring Bijilo Forest “Monkey” Park and beach access were fundamental requirements for both the Gambian government and the U.S. Embassy. Consequently, the new U.S. Embassy will be constructed on the WALIC site in a manner that preserves the Bijilo Forest Park and ensures public access to the beach. To ensure that the surrounding environment is protected, the planning, design and construction of the new U.S. Embassy on the WALIC site will take at least eight years to complete.
With the Agreement now signed, the detailed technical assessment work can begin to determine whether the site is suitable to meet our goal. Over the next 16 months, experts from The Gambia and the United States will thoroughly investigate and assess many factors, including the environmental impact. Many Gambian and American experts from numerous technical fields will be involved in the 16-month due diligence assessment phase. We commit to being transparent throughout the years-long planning, design, and construction phases, sharing findings, and listening to concerns and ideas. Already, we have held productive sessions with local environmentalists and others and will continue these discussions through the formation of an advisory body. Our Ambassador has also signed the State Department’s Green Diplomacy pledge to protect the environment in every way possible.
Consistent with our promise of transparency, we will publish periodic updates. As we listen to your questions, concerns, and comments, we will regularly provide the best answers available at the time. Below, we are pleased to address the most frequently asked questions we have received to date.
What agreement has been signed between the United States and the Government of The Gambia regarding a new U.S. Embassy?
The United States and the Government of The Gambia signed an Agreement on October 6, 2022 as the first step toward the acquisition of property for a new U.S. Embassy. This Agreement allows the United States to conduct “due diligence” on the site, ensuring it meets all physical, legal, political, administrative, environmental, and technical requirements for the new embassy project.
What does “due diligence” mean?
Due diligence is an in-depth survey and analysis of the proposed site for the new U.S. Embassy, the results of which will form the basis for its design. Many Gambian and American specialists will participate and contribute their expertise to the process.
Where is the new proposed site of the new U.S. Embassy?
After a multi-year search process, we identified the proposed site, which is currently occupied by the WALIC, formerly known as “ITC,” off the Bertil Harding Highway.
What will happen to WALIC?
As part of the Agreement, WALIC will be relocated and rebuilt as a modern, functional facility. The United States will pay for WALIC’s design, construction, and relocation.
How long will it take to build a new U.S. Embassy?
The Agreement begins a 16-month due diligence process for the property, which will form the basis for the U.S. Embassy’s design. After the site is purchased, design and construction will take several more years.
What is the next step?
The next step is to start the due diligence phase, ensuring we can develop a safe, secure, functional, and environmentally sustainable U.S Embassy. U.S. and Gambian teams will work with local environmental and other experts to collaborate on the best way to preserve the natural surroundings and abundant plant life at the new embassy project site on WALIC.
WALIC is near the “Monkey Park.” Will the “Monkey Park” be affected?
The new embassy will not be located in Bijilo Forest Park. As part of our partnership with the Gambian people, we will help improve the Bijilo Forest Park, such as training guides, fixing trails, designing an upgraded and environmentally sustainable visitor center, and enhancing the preserve in many other ways that the Gambian people and its environmental advocates see as appropriate. Beginning in the due diligence phase and continuing throughout the construction project, we will work closely with the Ministry of Land’s Forestry Department and local experts to find ways to support the park. The Bijilo Forest Park and its fauna and flora will be a treasured neighbor of the future U.S. Embassy.
Is the land being purchased by the United States? How much is the United States paying?
The land on which WALIC is currently located will be purchased by the United States at a fair price to be determined through negotiations with the Government of The Gambia.
Will you hire Gambians to build the embassy?
Gambians will be included in the planning, design, and construction process. Our work will be a collaborative effort with Gambian and U.S. experts in architecture and design, engineering, and environmental stewardship. The construction project will employ hundreds of Gambians, providing jobs and training. We will use responsibly sourced local materials, helping local tradespeople and reducing the carbon footprint of our work.
I heard this is a “green” building. Is that true?
The new embassy will be an example of environmental stewardship for the entire region. The project will use best-in-class technology to improve on-site stormwater management and practice sustainable construction methods. Environmental diplomacy is a pillar of the U.S. Government’s work around the world, which our projects reflect at a local level. This project will, at a minimum, achieve LEED® Silver certification—a green building certification program that recognizes best-in-class building strategies and practices. As the project proceeds into design, and we work further with our partners in The Gambia, the team will explore additional opportunities for sustainable systems or techniques and identify opportunities for a higher level of LEED certification.
What is a LEED® Silver certification?
LEED provides a framework for healthy, efficient, carbon and cost-saving green buildings—it is a globally recognized symbol of sustainability achievement and leadership. To achieve LEED certification, a project earns points by adhering to prerequisites and credits that address carbon, energy, water, waste, transportation, materials, health and indoor environmental quality. LEED Silver is the second level of certification, but many of our projects around the world achieve LEED Gold or higher. We will explore opportunities for a higher certification through the design and construction process.
Will the new U.S. Embassy block the public’s access to the beach?
The public will continue to have access from the Bertil Harding Highway to the beach and ocean.
There is concern that this agreement falls short of taking into consideration issues raised by local environmental advocates. What is your response?
We began considering the environmental impact well before the Agreement was signed, including defining the site so that no part of the Bijilo Forest Park was included. Over the next 16 months, we will work closely with many Gambian experts and continue our discussions with environmental groups. During this process, the United States welcomes the views of all parties, including those who have expressed concern over the proposed project. We will continue to factor these concerns into our plans for the new embassy.
Environmental activists have launched a petition with a view to barring U.S. Embassy from going ahead with its plans. Is there any possibility for United States to go back on plans to build an embassy in a protected area?
The United States will work with the Gambian people to develop the location in a manner that respects the local environment, and, whenever possible, improves it. Our preference is to move forward and develop an environmentally sustainable project that protects and enhances wildlife habitats and becomes an example of global best practices.
Is the U.S. government ignoring its international obligations toward mitigating global warming with this effort?
The new U.S. Embassy construction project is closely aligned with the Biden-Harris Administration policy to address the climate crisis at home and globally. We will adopt methods to mitigate global warming in this location and achieve green certification. Ultimately, this project will advance the U.S. Government’s best practice for constructing and operating environmentally sustainable embassies.
Why does the U.S. Embassy need a ten-hectare land? Will it include a military base?
We are not building a military base. This is a new U.S. embassy that will allow us to enhance diplomatic engagement and increase technical assistance and development programs that support the Gambian people. The new chancery will be surrounded by landscaped areas, providing space for local flora and fauna to flourish, and creating outdoor event space. By securing a location with sufficient space, we will also be able to ensure visitors seeking consular services have a comfortable and appropriate waiting area.
The Gambia Environmental Alliance says WALIC is essentially part of the “Monkey Park.” The Director of the Department of Forestry says it’s not. Which is it?
According to the Government of The Gambia, Bijilo Forest Park is separate and distinct from WALIC, demarcated by a physical wall. We recognize there is disagreement on this point. We also understand and agree that both the Bijilo Forest Park and the WALIC site must be respected for the benefit of the fauna and flora in the area.
Out of all the lands in the country, why would the U.S. Embassy choose the “Monkey Park” as property for its new Embassy?
We reviewed more than 70 locations over a three-year period. According to the Government of the Gambia, WALIC and Bijilo Forest Park are separate and distinct properties. The WALIC-occupied property best meets the criteria needed for a new embassy. We took steps to define the WALIC site in a manner that does NOT encroach on the neighboring Bijilo Forest Park and ensures public beach access.