My take on the proposed Banjul/Barra Bridge
The announcement by President Adama Barrow that his government will build a bridge across the mouth of the River Gambia between Banjul and Barra has attracted quite a lot of debate, both for and against. No doubt most of those in favour of the idea are the frequent users of the ferry service who are cognizant of the daily hassles they experience, including the delays and the over-crowding, and even anxious moments when the ferries experience technical problems. However, the opponents of the idea include those who see the exorbitant cost of the project as not being worth it.
There are also those who see the pronouncement as just another political gimmick that was cleverly used by Babili Mansa during his regime to hoodwink the people. We can recall his promise of constructing a railway across the length and breadth of the Gambia and also the famous CD that he said contained all the information about the discovery of petrol, giving the impression that it was just a matter of time before the Gambia became a donor nation.
While it is possible that there could be a political element to the announcement, but the very fact that President Barrow has given a timeline as to when the project would commence, means that it is much more definite than the Babili Mansa projects. He indeed aims to be the Oceanbili Mansa.
Personally, I do not see it as a bad idea, but we need to be clear first as to where that huge amount of money would come from. Apart from the frustrating experience of crossing with the ferries, with motorists having to spend sometimes days just to cross, it is also very expensive to maintain the ferries. Therefore, no matter what the cost of the bridge may be, it will in the long run be much more cost-effective than running the ferries. Even the very fact that people and vehicles can be able to cross at any time of the day and night without having to queue or wait for the ferry, is itself quite a welcome prospect, particularly for the people of the North Bank and travelers to and from Senegal and beyond.
It is quite obvious that the Gambia will never be able to raise such an amount needed to construct such an expensive bridge, not even through loans, as no creditor will ever give that kind of loan to a poor nation like the Gambia. In fact we are well above the acceptable threshold of incurring more loans. Therefore, the only other possible means of raising such an amount would be through an investor or group of investors willing to risk investing on it on a BOT (build, operate and transfer) basis. Which means using their money to construct the bridge and operating it, probably on a share basis with the government for a specific period during which they would recover their money and then transfer it to the government. I just cannot see any other means of raising the amount.
Demba Ali Jawo
Former Information Minister
The Barra-Banjul proposed bridge: A few questions
As a native of Lower Niumi District, North Bank Region, I will be elated if there is a bridge connecting the two. Considering the cost and hassle of crossing from one side to the other, it will be a huge relief for my district-mates and I to have the ability to go and come from Barra without restrictions.
However, hearing the announcement of plans to begin the work as soon as 2019 from the blue, as it were, one cannot help but wonder if it is not a political gimmick to delude the people of the country into believing that the government is about to embark on massive development work. The Wolof have a saying that ‘Ku ndobin rey sa maam foo seene lu nyuul daw’. The rough equivalent of this in English is ‘Once bitten twice shy’. (Not a literal translation)
I can vividly remember Yahya Jammeh announcing plans to construct a railway through the length and breadth of the country to ease transportation; and another claim that Banjul will be rebuilt to meet world standards. In fact, architectural sketches were shown on GRTS giving people hope that it would soon come to pass. As it turned out though, these were tall orders for a poor country like ours. This is why we are skeptical of such mighty promises which are not matched by the answers to the how question.
If Gambians had been aware of a feasibility study on how best to do this; on where the money will come from; on who will construct the bridge, perhaps people would have felt more confident in its being a reality. However, we have not heard of any study to establish whether this is doable, whether or not it will not have adverse environmental effects and so on.
Looking at the problems we are facing in the environment sector, one would expect that whatever government is doing, it will give due consideration to its possible impact on our environment. Besides, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of people in Barra and Banjul whose livelihoods are directly linked to the ferry services. What will happen to them? Will they be catered for?
Another factor that is bothering me is that there was talk, not long ago, in some quarters that Banjul will one day be consumed by the ocean. In fact, I heard that one United Nations expert estimated that this is bound to happen in the next fifty years or so. Whether this is true or not is another question. What is certain however is that if these questions are being raised, a feasibility study should have been conducted to see the viability of the bridge before the announcement was made.
On the area of financing, it is clear that we, as a nation, are not in a position to finance such a huge project on our own. If it is to be on the basis of a loan, then we should be concerned as we are already almost about to be swallowed in debt. These loans will have to be paid by our future generations one day or the other. Thus, all these questions need to be answered,
The construction of the bridge will be great though, so one will be able to cross at any time one chooses. At least it will get the Jarrankas off my back. Good luck in any case!