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Book of the Week: Senegambia – Unity is Our Salvation (2022) By Dr Morro Krubally

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By Dr Cherno Omar Barry

Chapter 5: Integration of Senegal and Gambia

WHAT  halted the progression to the integration of Senegal and Gambia?  Is it FEAR?

In 1958, Senegal’s Premier Mamadou Dia initiated contact with the Gambian leadership and political class for integration. The initiative, however, was met with certain challenges from personalities among Gambia’s political heavyweights of the time. The Reverend JC Faye, for example, proposed and preferred a federation with another British West African territory. A federation proposed for the Gambia would have complete internal autonomy but would share foreign affairs, external communication, defence, and currency.

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As regards Senegal, Faye preferred close cooperation in economic affairs but not in the political domain. And this position was stated in a much earlier African conference in 1948. In that speech, Faye elucidated that he agreed with Mr Edward Francis Small, who shared a view that they did not want French rule. Faye said, “We are British and want to remain so. But it does not gainsay the fact that our affairs are so wrapped up and linked up with Senegal that a commercial understanding with the French is as relevant as it is salient to the economic development of the Gambia.” Today, such a sentiment may be antiquated and seen in a much wider context of 21st-century realities of internalisation and economies of scale, a business consideration of significance to economic advancement.

PS Njie, a politician of Gambia’s pre- and post-independence politics, who was the leader of the United Party (UP) had a different position supporting unification with Senegal that would create a Wolof nation through the unification of the Gambian Wolof with the majority in Senegal. Njie, therefore, supported any move that would bring the two nations together politically. Njie’s proposition was rather flawed and motivated by thinking along tribal lines. This would have meant a clear balkanisation of the peoples of Senegambia along tribal lines a recipe for intertribal antagonism among the ethnic groups in the region. Njie’s proposition would have had a dangerous compartmentalisation of the Gambian people in tribal cocoons.

PS Njie, a Gambian politician

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Throughout 1958, considerations were underway to place the Gambia on a more viable footing as a nation. In 1958, Gambia’s future was debated in the British House of Commons in its consideration of the general problem of finding a viable and acceptable framework for its future. In this quest, three possibilities were identified: 1) Federation among Senegambians themselves; 2) Integration with Britain or some other Commonwealth country; 3) Dominion status with representation in Westminster (the Malta Plan); or 4) autonomy within internal affairs and Britain maintaining to look after defence and foreign policy (the Channel Islands- Solution). Option 1 & and 2 generally overlapped with those of the Muslim Congress (MC) and the Democratic Party (DP), which was proposed in the period prior to 1958. Albeit these were options that could have been selected, the British did not rule out some form of institutional governance arrangement with the non-British territory. This would have meant an arrangement of some sort with Senegal.

In 1959 the Legislative Council adjournment debate again provided an opportunity for parties to articulate their positions on the political future of the Gambia and its relations with Senegal. By this period, the DP articulated a position that favoured links with Sierra Leone but with guarantees that the Gambia’s identity would be protected. J. C. Faye, on the other hand, favoured the earlier position that would have removed trade barriers between Gambia and Senegal so as to facilitate economic cooperation. In his speech, Faye emphasised the importance of Senegal and the Gambian tights:

But the Gambia today and since 1948 had always retained sight of the mutual advantage and economic benefits that would stem from a sensible economic agreement that could be effected between herself and her next-door neighbour. The readiness of Gambia to cooperate with Senegal has already been manifest (sic) in the Gambia’s conceding to Senegal the privilege of evacuating upper Casamance nuts from the river ports of Basse and in the existence and operation of the Trans-Gambia Road. Such economic and cultural association (not a customs union, for that is rather complicated) would create a closer relationship between the people of the two territories, more than this should not now be sought. (Senghor, 2008, p. 75)


Faye could not have said it better here. He underscored the importance of the economic benefit as an outcome of a sensible economic agreement with Senegal. The mutual advantage of such an arrangement has always been readily known since the colonial days. The 21st-century realities and the interests of nations to improve their GDPs through trade, interest in industrialisation, interest in international cooperation, interest in economic scale, interest in SME growth, interest in improved communication, and interest in affordable energy make it now abundantly clear the need to revisit this issue of unification with the benefit of hindsight but also with a new prism. This renewed call is to bring Gambia and Senegal together in the most viable federated arrangement of mutual interest.

What was the motive for halting steps towards Senegambia cooperation and integration?

JC Faye’s position, also a DP’s, espoused the proposition for the Gambia to create links with Sierra Leone. One reason for favouring the Gambia to be linked with Sierra Leone was because of the two countries’ commonality in “political and cultural mosaic”. The two countries had in common an official language and a tradition of international contacts among the world elite and economic relations built over the years of colonialism and post-colonialism. Moreover, Gambia was administered from Sierra Leone from 1821 to 1888 except for the period 1843 – 1866, so the Gambia experienced an administrative system that was not alien to Sierra Leone but rather familiar. Another reason for the DP’s position was that the party’s core constituents and the top executive of the party’s leadership constituted Protestants/Aku. In the policymaking body of Gambia, Aku’s representation was not proportionate to their number in Banjul or the Gambian population. Many of the Akus descended from liberated slaves. They migrated to the Gambia for either trade and/or to staff the lower echelons of the colonial civil service. Up to the 1950s, the Akus dominated the social and political life of the colony society and received preferential treatment in granting privileges and positions in the colonial government. For elite orientation, the Akus were known for their pride in their British connections. The Aku elites’ orientation was manifested in their lifestyle and their glorification of British education, their devotion to Protestantism and British names, in their dress, their eating habits, and residential patterns. More importantly, the grandparents of the Akus were at the forefront of the nineteenth-century campaign against the transfer of Gambia to the French. This opposition was manifested in their strong stand against any arrangements that would have closely linked Senegal and Gambia. And this is why JC Faye said: “She [The Gambia] does not want nor does she intend to sever her connections with the British Commonwealth of Nations. Her 300-odd years of apprenticeship therein she cherishes and will not throw away lightly.”

Based on the above historic fact, one can deduce that the position by the DP party and their leadership for the integration of Senegal and Gambia was merely based on sentimental reasons that served only and nothing less than the special interest of a group of people whose perspective was limited in the greater scheme of things. Today one may classify such reasons as antiquated or incongruous with the realities of globalization and in light of the world trajectory of global economic development of nations.

On the other hand, PS Njie of the UP had a different leaning, a completely divergent view from Faye’s position. The UP believed that a close relationship between Senegal and Gambia was most viable and appropriate. The UP supported in so far as not being averse to integration with Senegal that, in fact, the two countries should be one nation. This position, we learned, was borne out of the UP leader’s desire to consolidate Wolof’s dominance, thereby reviving the ancient greatness of the Saloum State. From the early days of party politicking, Njie had sold this idea to the Wolof electorate and painted Saloumization appealing with a slogan, “Saloum Kheet”, a resounding call and appeal to all those with exclusive and traceable ancestry to the Saloum Sate with no regard to clan or caste to unite the people of Saloum. This idea was methodically ingrained into even names of the organisational units of the UP, even recruitment methods and even the very spirit of the party meetings were all laced with Wolof cultural mores and, if you will, ethos. This was also a way of creating a strong cultural bond among the Wolof people of different religious affiliations, as Njie himself was a Christian. The support for Saloumization was, at the same time, political propaganda. This appealed to Wolofs of all persuasions, without even religion acting as a reason for division among them, and was strongly espoused by Njie and his staunch followers. Politically, this served to make the UP unique in the eyes of the Muslim Wolof who might otherwise have supported the Muslim Congress of Jahumpa but found the “Saloum Kheet” appealing thus, they supported the UP. To the extent that this may have unified Senegambia so far as the Wolofs were concerned, it was, however, not any less than tribalistic. This would have certainly led to the balkanization of the people and caused gravitation to tribal disposition. This was rather a myopic way to address the unification of Senegambia.

Similarly, a parallel deductive conclusion may be drawn equating Faye’s motive to Njie’s motive for their positions relative to Senegal and Gambia integration or lack thereof. Both positions were borne out of the special interest of a cultural group rather than on a more holistic reason for economic development and the greater good for the greater number. The thinking of both leaders and parties’ interests was exploitative of the sentimentality of their people. Not much regard may be given to such thinking in the 21st century. The world is on a trajectory of unification through internalisation anchored in economic development. One such vehicle of unification is the Africa Continental Free Trade Association (AfCFTA). Linking Senegal and Gambia in a framework of integration derives its rationalization from a more economic rationale rather than the special interests of the likes of Njie and Faye.

Selected Interviews

Interview No 5.

H.E. El Hadji Ibou Boye

Executive Secretary, Senegalogambian Secretariat

Before contributing to the reflection in terms of answers to the questionnaire, it seems to me that the notion of unification deserves to be somewhat explained in order to reduce possible risks of confusion about its understanding.

In my opinion, the idea behind the unification of the Gambia and Senegal is not to make the two countries into one, but to have a single body, a homogeneous entity. Rather, it is a question of putting them together following a process of harmonization of everything that can be harmonized, particularly at the institutional level, taking into account their specificities. In other words, unity in diversity is expected from the unification undertaking.

1. Question: Are you in favour of the unification of the Gambia and Senegal?

Answer: Two or more countries do not unite just to unite. They do so in order to achieve jointly defined development objectives that meet the legitimate aspirations of the populations of the entities involved.

In the case of Senegal and the Gambia, I am not only in favour of unification, I wish it with all my heart and, in my capacity as Executive Secretary of the Senegalo-Gambian Permanent Secretariat, with my team, we will spare no effort to contribute to its realisation in the interest of the populations of the Senegalo-Gambian space. The will of the two presidents to always strengthen relations a little more urges us in this mission.

2. Question: What would be your preferred structure for unification?

Answer: The unification process should be gradual, inclusive, participatory and not rushed in order to build a strong and sustainable entity, taking into account the lessons learnt from the Confederation in the 1980s.

Unaware of how the world, Africa and the sub-region will evolve in the years to come, and knowing that major changes at these different levels may have a definite impact on the Gambia and Senegal, I prefer not to confine myself to a specific category. I prefer to work tirelessly to bring the two countries closer together by intensifying exchanges, strengthening cooperation in all areas and promoting integration.

To be continued

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