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Hope of Gambia and Senegal finally solving trade impasse

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I find it regrettable that I couldn’t attend the joint press conference and project updates organized by the Ministries of Lands, Information, and Youths on June 5, 2024, moderated by the Gambia government Spokesman Ebrima G. Sankareh. Fair enough, it was apparently for the press and journalists, of which I am affiliated to none.

Despite the myriads of topics covered on domestic issues, I was particularly captivated by the Land Minister, Honorable Amat Bah’s, closing topic on the Gambia government’s scheduled meeting with the Senegalese government in July in the Senegalese town of Sally. The meeting aims to address the chronic trade problems lingering between the two neighboring countries since the late ’80s. While I am often drawn to matters of The Gambia’s national security concerns and quick to share my opinions on them, I don’t think there is ever a subject I have written about more in the past two decades than the cross-border trade impasse affecting our two nations since August 1989.

In the two books I published, “Coup D’etat by the Gambia National Army” (2007) and “Testimony of a Retired Gambian Military Officer and Diplomat” (2024), I exhaustively discussed the political and security causes of the trade impasse between The Gambia and Senegal. This issue has transcended six tenures of Senegambia presidents, including that of President Adama Barrow. I have undoubtedly attributed it to what started in 1982 as a goodwill bilateral agreement between Presidents Abdou Diouf and Sir Dawda Jawara, aiming to establish a mutually beneficial confederation of the two states. However, this agreement ended abruptly and bitterly in August 1989 details of which are readable in my book.

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Since then, the Senegalese government has adopted a strict national economic policy to maximize the export of their merchandise to The Gambia while minimizing Gambian goods exported to Senegal, including those goods destined for other countries through Senegal. Considering that The Gambia is surrounded by Senegal on all its common land borders, this embargo is like an economic death sentence to The Gambia’s economic survival and growth.

In my book, “Testimony of a Retired Gambian Military Officer and Diplomat,” I explained how the PPP government survived the unexpected and hurtful embargo from 1989 to 1994 and how the APRC government faced similar harrowing conditions from 1994 to 2016, until it was ousted.

To reinforce my argument that entrenched economic policies within the Senegalese political system were at the root of these issues, I referred to the cordial relationship between President Adama Barrow and former President Macky Sall. This special relationship, unprecedented among previous presidents of the two states, persisted for seven years. Despite this, the subject of lifting the economic embargo remained off the table.

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I vividly recall how one day, Honorable Amat Bah, as Tourism Minister, protested at The Gambia’s northern border with Senegal, denouncing the unfair treatment of Gambian travelers under the guise of enforcing the trade embargo. I expected this incident to trigger an emergency meeting, similar to the one scheduled next month to address the issue. However, nothing happened, and the cordial relationship between President Sall and President Barrow continued as if nothing was wrong.

One of the reasons I always opposed President Macky Sall’s government in favor of PASTEF was their political stance. Long before coming to power, PASTEF proclaimed their intention to change the seven-decade-old post-colonial system that prioritized France’s interests over those of Senegal and its African neighbors. Following PASTEF’s election victory two months ago, their government has been actively implementing their pan-African objectives.

For the first time, The Gambia has taken a firm stand toward regularizing the abnormal situation with Senegal. Additionally, for the first time, a Senegalese president has expressed recognition of the need to explore concrete measures aimed at solving the problem permanently. During the PPP era, Nigeria bailed out The Gambia to weather the economic storm caused by the blockade. During the APRC era, the frequent border closures consistently hurt traders and travelers of both nations. Despite frequent interventions by international organizations and sympathetic governments abroad, Senegal remained intransigent.

With the emergence of the PASTEF government, there is now a glimmer of hope that the problem will finally be resolved. Both President Diomaye Faye and Prime Minister Ousman Sonko have repeatedly stated that African countries deserve better bilateral and multilateral relationships than the economic and political restrictions imposed on them by colonial powers. They have even called for the eradication of artificial borders, particularly in trade and development ventures.

A meeting in July between The Gambia and Senegal, with an invitation extended to Guinea-Bissau for broader participation, represents a significant step towards realizing this ambition. It is imperative to send knowledgeable and optimistic representatives to this meeting to finally find a long-elusive solution. The current leaders in Senegal are different from their predecessors, who were more committed to France’s success and their own personal gains than to the well-being of Senegal, its people, and its neighbors.

Wishing The Gambia, Senegal, and Guinea-Bissau the best outcome in this special endeavor!

Lt. Colonel Samsudeen Sarr (Rtd.)

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