3. Question: Why do you think the unification of the Gambia and Senegal has not yet been achieved?
Answer: There are many similarities between the Gambia and Senegal, geographically, culturally and socially (blood ties). However, there are also many historical and institutional differences (governmental, administrative and judicial organization), particularly concerning official languages. However, despite these differences, one can still think that unity is within reach because of the great proximity. But the reality of relations between two sovereign countries is more complex than one might imagine. Even if a state is independent, it does not always have unlimited room to do as it pleases. This means that not everything is played out exclusively between the two countries. Attempts to block the process can be internal or external on the part of close or distant partners who, to a certain extent, have no interest in the effective unity of Senegal and the Gambia.
In any case, today, the political will of Presidents Barrow and Sall, as it has been manifested, is a factor favouring this unity.
* What are the common apprehensions about this unification? * What do you think are the historical concerns about this unification?
Answer: Owing to colonisation, the two countries did not follow the same trajectory. This caused fundamentally different political, administrative, judicial and, above all, educational systems.
The differences between the Anglo-Saxon and French systems have resulted in differences in education, mentality, approach and methodology, which is a source of apprehension and even mistrust.
However, nowadays, the need to reorient our education systems with content that is rooted in our own cultures and languages can be a lifeline and a factor that promotes harmonisation, unity.
5. Question: Do you think that the current climate is favourable for starting negotiations for unification?
Answer: We are hopeful that the free movement of people and goods within the Economic Community of West African States, as well as the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), will contribute to more contact, dialogue, understanding and less mistrust.
In any case, the current diplomatic rapprochement, friendship and fraternity between the two heads of state have facilitated the signing of many bilateral agreements, thus confirming their desire to build a strategic partnership. The climate is, therefore, favourable for moving forward.
6. Question: Do you think that a referendum on the subject is necessary?
Answer: A state’s decision to join forces with another state in a formal entity is very important and touches on national sovereignty. But it cannot be taken unanimously. However, a majority of the citizens of each country are needed to give the unification a chance to be strong, lasting and mutually beneficial.
In other words, there should be no doubt about popular approval by the most appropriate means.
Interview No 4
Major General Momat Omar Adama Cham
Chief of Defence Staff
1. Question: General Cham, do you support the unification of Gambia and Senegal?
Answer: As a pan-Africanist, our dream, in line with the vision of our forefathers, is to see greater African unification. But in the context of that perspective, yes, I would definitely want a closer collaboration and cooperation with Senegal.
2. Question: What is your preferred unification structure?
Answer: Well, in cognisance of the fact that these are sovereign states, any integration would have to recognise the sovereignty of these individual states. So, in my own mind, any form of confederation that would respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the states as per the wishes of the people would be something that could be worked out, which will also be to the advantage of the two peoples.
3. Question: Why do you think the unification of Gambia and Senegal remains unachieved?
Answer: In my own little perspective, I think unification…when you talk of unifying people, you look at the reasons.
If it is for economic uplifting and social betterment of the people, then you work out the modalities. But the present limitation is in our Africa, in as much as trying to unify further and improve Africa, is probably the strong external factor and interest that are still affecting our socio-political development. Still, even though we have a colonial legacy we have liberated ourselves from direct colonial rule, there is still a strong element of neocolonialism which is influencing, even limiting, our ability to improve the lives of our people.
4. Question: What are the conventional fears about this unification?
Answer: I think historically, if you look at even before the white men came, we had our local African kingdoms. You have the Sines, the Saloums, the Fulladus, and the rest of them. You know, the state was equivalent to the clan or the tribe. There was no lateral communication across the tribes. And therefore, fear and misunderstanding were always present and have been a limiting factor. But if you regress to before that, you also had the Mali Empire, which was architecture, and African-grown architecture, which through probably, through trade and conquest, was able to establish an empire and a powerful one for that matter. If we want to go further, we should look back at some of those political arrangements and structures to inform whatever approach we have to further unite Africans, especially the West Africa sub-region.
5. Question: If we are to start the discussion on a possible unification, what are the key points that ought to be on the table?
Answer: I think any sort of future arrangements would have to factor in the economic, socio-political and welfare of the people.
Because you cannot unite people without giving them what their advantages in that arrangement would be. So, and then it also must be based on internal domestic economic interests. Uniting Africa to widen the grip of foreign external economic interests would not serve our interest. In other words, if and when we grow to maturity, to understand that our collective security, scientific, economic and social progress would be better enhanced by building stronger ties across the current geopolitical arrangements, then that would be a condition.
6. Question: Do you think the climate is right at this moment to start unification talks?
Answer:; You know the people always create the climate. The messaging of leadership, the messaging of internal growth should begin to prepare the minds of people that yes, there are mutual gains to be made if you have a wider West African ECOWAS union, which will facilitate better trade, greater security, and probably better research and science, just like other bigger state entities so that you do not have a limitation of geography and population like the case of Gambia. You can have a wider economic market interaction, which would definitely be a condition. Yes, the climate of mutual trust and respect has increased tremendously in this present moment. However, that is not to say that is complete, you know, confidence on behalf of the ordinary people. There is always that fear of the unknown, the fear of the other party’s intentions that is always at the surface for everybody in this particular region.
7. Question: Do you have family relations in Senegal?
Answer: Certainly, I do! If I look at my background, originally, I am from the Fulani extract, the Tukulor, and my great-great grandfathers were soldiers who came during the Kaabu wars.
Then we came…our great grandfather came as a young man, married into the region, then migrated from Kaabu to the northern side of the river, there and then also we have marriage relationships. So, my maternal aspect is across the border. Presently, I have one of my aunts who is married in Senegal, and their children are there. So, there are strong family relations in Senegal.
8. Question: Do you think a referendum is required to discuss this matter?
Answer: I think, yes, certainly. Because if you want to embed and straighten democracy, I think the mandate and the consent of the people would have to be shown in any aspect that would affect their environment and personal welfare. For wrong or right, Gambia and Senegal have travelled on different cultural paths, which are the French and the English. We have all seen the unnecessary troubles and conflicts that are present in what we call Cameroon where the issue of Anglophone and Francophone conflict has been wreaking havoc on the people. So, with similar backgrounds, and political backgrounds certainly I think any decision on moving this agenda would have to require the tacit approval of the people. Not only the majority but at least the overwhelming majority of the people in both countries.
Dr Morro Krubally currently works at the School of Business and Public Administration, University of Gambia. He does research mainly in Business Administration.