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Saturday, June 19, 2021

Bassirou Sène High Commissioner of Senegal to The Gambia

The Standard: Your Excellency, your predecessor High Commissioner Salieu Ndiaye was a much-loved diplomatic figure in The Gambia. You are new and relatively unknown, could you tell us about yourself?

High Commissioner Bassirou Sène: I’m a career Senegalese diplomat. I graduated from the Ecole Nationale d’Administration of Dakar where following my second masters, I specialised in diplomacy for two years. All my life I was outside of Senegal. In Addis Ababa, I stayed for 16 years as consul and later got hired by the African Union as an international civil servant. I worked there for a year and later got posted to Addis for five years as ambassador. Then, I was posted to Geneva, Switzerland for one year and then Paris for five years. Now I am happy to be here in The Gambia. Maybe it’s because I am coming to the end of my career. I am very proud and happy to be here because The Gambia and Senegal are the same family.

Indeed, the Banjul High Commission is one of the most important diplomatic missions for Senegal, geopolitically and all otherwise. Why do you think  President Macky Sall chose you for this sensitive and all-important assignment?

The Gambian post is a very important one for Senegal. That is why President Macky Sall himself called me and said Mr Séne, now The Gambia and Senegal are reaching a new point or quality of relations, so, I need a new profile of ambassador to be posted there. It is why he sent me here and I am very proud and happy to be here. There is good understanding between the two heads of state. I’m married, I have children. They have now graduated. The last one is an engineer. Here is my wife [pointing to a picture in his phone]. And, I am very, very happy. I have good friends, good people. I enjoy life. The work in the Gambia is a delight for me.

What are the cornerstones of Senegal’s foreign policy with regard to The Gambia?

For us, all sectors are important. The most important one is to maintain peace and stability. Before any development, we need peace and stability. Without peace, no development. So, our first mission is to contribute to give the maximum of ourselves to maintaining and promoting the peace and security between the two countries. And it gives me occasion to thank the people and government of The Gambia for the hospitality granted to my people. They live here in peace, in security and with open mind and friendship, so, they can do their jobs properly, without any harm, any difficulties. I am very happy for that. My main objective is to promote this peace and security, and of course we are looking into other sectors as trade, transport, education.

The Gambia is like a snake, or if you like, a finger, in the belly of Senegal. We share the same languages, culture and history, what does the future  hold … how do you see Senegalo-Gambian relations evolving in the future?

We are hoping to continue to have a realisation like the power of the Senegambia confederation. It is an example of integration between our two countries. Such kinds of realisations are very important for our imagination, for our mind, our sub-conscience and for our people to see that our two governments are working and [having a desire] to be able to realise such kind of integration. We are also together in the OMVG project, we share the same river and we are trying to make a lot of energy from the OMVG and boost our two economies. If we can create proper land to be able to make good agriculture so that we are able to secure food for our people, it would be very nice. It’s such kinds of objectives we have here at the High Commission, and at the [Senegalo-Gambian] secretariat. We are trying to do this as a government to recongise the main points we can collaborate and do something together. What is sure and clear is that the people of the two countries are the same and no one can change that.

Some scholars believe the  confederation which you just alluded to, the like of which was experimented in the 1980s, is the best likely option. Do you agree?

We can check after an evaluation of the confederation. I think it was one time very nice. We showed to the rest of the world that it is possible two sovereign independent states can accept to go together as one towards the same objective. That is what the Confederation was. We [stood] together and defended our priorities in the international arena as one. It was a very good example. When [other] countries were splitting like Ethiopia and Eritrea, Sudan and South Sudan, we in Senegal and The Gambia, we accepted to go together. It was a very, very good example. Unfortunately, we have spoilers who destroyed this very good example. Shall we go again to do that or not? Our heads of state or our people will decide that. Myself, properly, I think the two sovereign independent states are here and we have to make steps every day to show that we are one and not two. The OMVG is one such project. We can have the same in the solar energy, agriculture. One day, it will be the people who decide. I believe that one day, like the United States, like the EU, Africa will unite and become as one. It is my hope. And I see in Senegal in our constitution, it is written under Article 98 that we are ready to be part of a one region Africa or a united 54 African states.

Critics of The Gambia’s president Adama Barrow say he is a poodle being pulled by the leash by President Sall. Do you think this is a fair assessment of the relationship between the two men?

I would be very happy if you could tell me in only one area where Adama Barrow followed or obeyed Macky Sall. Just one area, please.

Well, among others, he embraced the white horse symbol of President Macky Sall’s party as his own party emblem.

Oh, stop joking! We are in politics, we are in high-level decision [times] for our countries, for our people, and you are talking about a horse on a paper. No. If you are saying that, you must also talk about the agriculture, infrastructure, the other domains. Those are the critics, and you are a specialist of information. You cannot also be a part of these rumours. You say The Gambia is independent and sovereign, so how can an independent and sovereign country follow another president, for what? The Gambia will never be in Senegal. Senegal will never be in The Gambia. We are two independent sovereign states. Mr Barrow is making his decisions as a wise and independent head of state. We respect [him] too much. I finished a countrywide tour recently and have seen that the number of roads is increasing in the country. I have seen the level of agriculture this year.  I am very proud of Mr President Barrow. He is doing a very good job for his country. He is doing his own politics; he has his party and he is doing his programmes.

They say The Gambia acts like the 15th region of Senegal and…

[Cuts in] No, this, I will not respond to. This is absolutely false. The Gambia is a foreign and independent country.

Your Excellency don’t you think Senegal is compromising the sovereignty of The Gambia with the frequent incursions of armed Senegalese forces into the country under the controversial so-called “hot pursuit” agreement…

[Cuts in] You remember two weeks ago, Gambian forces entered Senegal and went all the way to Medina Sabach, took two people and took them to Farafenni. Are you not aware of that? So, where is the problem? And if one army enters into the other’s [country], it is not to do harm, it is not to fight against the people; it is to save peace and stability. When a terrorist runs from Senegal and enters into… it is our duty to take him out. Absolutely when a terrorist comes from The Gambia and enters Senegal, The Gambia should take him out because it’s bad for us. Before, when our parents see a child doing a bad thing, they beat him because they believe that child is also theirs. It’s exactly the same.

Why should Senegalese soldiers continue to be in charge of the security of President Barrow and The Gambia’s presidential palace, especially when many Gambians want the entire Ecomig contingent withdrawn?

It is the security of Ecowas. It is not a… it is the decision of Ecowas. At that time, you and others, you need the international forces to come here, at that time. It is a decision of Ecowas. And we should respect that decision. These forces were needed here. When the duty finishes, Ecowas will decide to take them out and they will go.

There is also the issue of the controversial fishing agreement signed between the two countries. It states that the Senegalese fishermen can enter, fish and leave Gambian waters as it pleases them…

[Cuts in] Like Gambians can go in Senegal and fish. Yes.

But Gambians are of the view that it’s highly one-sided and benefiting only Senegal. Do you agree?

No, no, I don’t agree. Let them give us statistics showing that only one side is benefiting. Then I may discuss that. They don’t have any statistics. They are spoilers. Only spoilers are saying that, I tell you.

Recently, ANC, a party allied to President Sall and headed by Moussa Sy, signed a memorandum with the PPP, a party allied with President Barrow in The Gambia. The leaders of the two parties publicly stated that they will work towards helping Barrow win the 4 December presidential election.  Many Gambians see this as clear proof that the Senegalese government, directly or indirectly, is trying to interfere in this election. Is this true and which candidate – between Ousainu Darboe and Adama Barrow – would Senegal want to win in December?

Senegal has no choice [in this election]. Stop creating difficulties and problems which didn’t exit. The parties are without social or liberal systems. They are cooperating together. It doesn’t mean they will intervene directly in the [election]. The election will be organised by Gambians. Registrations are open and all Gambians qualified to vote must go and register. If a party said it will support, it is known in the world. [In] our last election, one French party was supporting the opposition. In Guinea, someone said a Senegalese was supporting [Cellou] Dalein Diallo, Est-ce que ça veut dire

Dalein Diallo is a winner? It’s a political relation which cannot impact the final decision. The final decision will come from the Gambian voters. They will go to register and on the day of the vote express their position. They are the only ones who can decide this election. It is not the MoU, it is nothing. It is a nonsense paper. We the Senegalese will respect the decision of Gambians. And we will do our best for Senegalese to keep themselves away from the [electoral] process, the entire process. What happens later, only God will decide.

Many Gambians welcomed your recent comments calling on the Senegalese community in the country to stay of off the December election, why did you do that?

Because I received the UDP party. They said could they visit and I accepted. Their main purpose was to say that the former president was asking people from Foni to come and vote, and that they didn’t want in this election the same to happen. It is what created this reflection on my mind. I said since UDP, one of the important parties, is calling my attention to this matter, maybe it is important. I told them I will do my best to sensitise, to inform my people to keep themselves away. That is why I did that. And, I am happy that the written report of my comments in your newspaper was actually very good. My people now understood what I was saying and they accepted my proposition.  I am proud of them. Because what I don’t want is Senegal to once again push in front… you are here saying your president [Adama Barrow] is after Macky Sall and so on. We have spoilers. [Recently] I listened to some audios, very bad, very sad, from Senegal. They are saying Macky Sall is doing that, and Senegalese are doing this [in The Gambia]. It is false.

What are your views on the recent violence in Sanyang that led to many Senegalese living and working there fleeing after one of your countrymen was accused of murder?

It was very… that was very sad to see. Everyday people are killing other people and there’s no armed assault of any sort. Three weeks ago, one Senegalese was killed here by an aggressor and took his money. He was a young boy, innocent. The Senegalese didn’t react. In Paris, one Gambian was killed badly, the Gambians didn’t react in France. So, what was a private matter between this Senegalese thief and one unfortunate Gambian to occasion such a show of… it was not necessary. But fortunately, your army, your police, were very professional. They tackled the matter and handled it properly and, in the end, there was no harm beside damage to property. But we have taken lessons from that, and that is why I am calling my people to take care. When you are in a country and everything that happens people say Senegalese this, Senegalese that, hmm, it is better to take care.

The foreign affairs ministry said a serving diplomat at your High Commission who was arrested by Gambian police and accused of sex crime in April 2020 has been sent back to Dakar as a result of his alleged crime. Do you think he will face justice in Senegal?

Why? Why should he face justice? If The Gambia gives proof that he was guilty, maybe. But for now, there’s no proof. It was in the month of Ramadan, he was a Muslim and accused by a person they said was mentally unstable. They also claimed she was a minor but that is false. She was in fact 19. The family asked for D70,000 to stop the [legal process but the guy said he was innocent and so he did not pay any money. The family is not even Gambian. So, what is the problem? Some people are trying to create a bad image of Senegal. Je n’accepterai pas ça [I will not accept that]. Never.

Now turning to Senegal, many of your compatriots are of the opinion that President Macky Sall wants to stay on for a third term in contravention of the Senegalese constitution. They claim that, that was one of the reasons why he tried to politically eliminate Ousmane Sonko – a likely opponent – through the Adji Sarre affair?

How they imagine President Macky Sall trying to ‘politically eliminate’ an opponent? It is nonsense. If you don’t know him, you can’t imagine everything and say anything. But Macky Sall is a chance for Senegal. He and Barrow are a chance for Senegambia. They have the same mind, the same belief, they are going together. If you see what Macky Sall has realised in nine years, we didn’t have that since our independence. So how can you imagine trying to eliminate… it is nonsense.

What about his desire to go on for a third term?

We are not at that moment. He said now is time for work. When that time happens, he will give us his position.

Everyone knows there’s no love between former president Yahya Jammeh and the government of Senegal which accused it of stoking the flames of rebellion and insurrection in its southern province of Senegal. What is the position of Senegal with regard to what should happen to Jammeh now?

What we can say is that since his departure Casamance is having peace and stability. And recently they asked for a political decision to finalise the matter. We thank God for that. The Jammeh issue is our problem. The Gambia is a sovereign country and should decide for itself as to what should happen to Jammeh.

Thank you

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