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Sunday, October 25, 2020

On comparison of the 1981 and 2016 Senegambia Pact

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By Samsudeen Sarr The presence of the Ecomig/Senegalese forces in The Gambia following the 2016 political impasse and now supported by a Senegalese gendarmerie contingent for the protection of The Gambia’s president simply reminds me of how over three decades ago the Senegalese Armed Forces occupied The Gambia with a similar gendarmerie contingent for the protection of former President Sir Dawda Jawara and his immediate family members. That’s a reference to what transpired after the 1981 aborted coup d’etat by the Gambia Field Force led by the late Kukoi Samba Sanyang. The major difference in 1981 was that the Senegalese Armed Forces invaded the country with a definitive mandate signed by former President Sir Dawda Jawara and President Abdou Diouf and sanctioned by the international community authorising their troops to fight the mutinous forces of Kukoi, secure the ground and help restore the overthrown PPP government. Hence, they invaded The Gambia by air, land and sea and fought bloody street battles for over a week against unexpected resistance mainly composed of armed gangs of civilian youths together with the Field Force fighters that ultimately caused the death of 33 Senegalese soldiers with many more wounded. As for the details of the Gambian casualties, other than the two mass graves visibly located between the Banjul cemeteries, we still don’t have an official number of how many were killed or wounded, a figure conservatively estimated to be over a thousand dead. Whereas in 2016, although the Senegalese with Ecomig were assembled to fight any resistance in The Gambia if President Yahya Jammeh had refused to cooperate with their demands, this time around, thanks to the timely intervention of effective intermediaries, the country was spared the bloodshed and mayhem so many people had anticipated. There was not a single pocket of resistance against the invading foreign forces, a reality of which the Gambia Armed Forces deserved special commendation. Notwithstanding, in the ’81 event, Presidents Diouf and Jawara associated impressively, pretty much similar to what we saw in 2016 between Presidents Sall and Barrow. Senegal and The Gambia worked together before the invasion and throughout the battle to capture the country followed by the transparent accords after the victorious return of President Jawara from Dakar escorted in Senegalese armored personnel careers (APCs). The Gambia Field Force, the de facto “Gambia Army” then was virtually decimated and the Senegalese Armed Forces in fulfillment of their first obligatory security treaty took over the nation as peacekeepers and peace-builders with a unique task to conduct a comprehensive security reform. The most important agreement however was the two governments’ declaration of establishing a confederation of the two states aimed at federating French-speaking Senegal and English-speaking Gambia as soon as possible. There were sceptics over the feasibility of such a grandiose objective but given the circumstances in its early trial, the overall sense of optimism among the stake holders outbalanced that of the doom and gloom prophecies. An encouraging factor in the whole equation was the indisputable reality of the two countries being condemned by geography, culture, religion and tribe to live and work together regardless of the colonial blunder that balkanised us in the Berlin Conference of 1888. At the people’s level, the governments and politics aside, Senegal and the The Gambia have been naturally evolving into solid federation that brings us together more than separate us. By 1984 therefore the Senegalese while having a full infantry battalion and a mechanised fighting unit in the country, formed a gendarmerie company at the Field Force main depot in Bakau that started enlisting and training young Gambians. It took the structure and purpose of a para-military force identical to their corps in Dakar and was generally viewed as a very successful initiative. Notwithstanding, the British in 1984 signed a contract with The Gambia Government to form a modern Gambian army, officially named the Gambia National Army (GNA). But before long the GNA that was supposed to be styled into a British-oriented-Gambian army started to attach its graduating recruits to the Senegalese Confederation Army. The GNA precisely evolved into an infantry force with its significance and sense of purpose derived from serving in the “Senegambia Confederation Army.” Serving in the Confederation Army indeed became the greatest desire of every GNA officer or soldier. Gambian troops attached to the Confederation Army received salaries and benefits far higher than they would earn serving in the GNA. And because their two-year deployment in company sizes (45 to 50 personnel) was rotational, every officer and soldier eagerly looked forward to his turn to join the foreign forces. With such disposition, everything about the security of Senegal and The Gambia appeared perfectly organised and durable until in April 1989 when the first sign of a major estrangement in the relationship occurred; a serious political problem erupted between Senegal and Mauritania that almost resulted in a war. And while the Senegalese had firmly believed that The Gambia was utterly on their side against Mauritania especially in their preparation for an imminent war, The Gambia government, to their disappointment, declared a neutral position over the conflict offering instead to mediate for peace with a conspicuous commitment not to fight any war against Mauritania. The Senegalese government and people did not take that well and started to bluntly accuse The Gambia government of ingratitude and treachery. Then in mi-September, 1989 the Senegalese for reasons never shared publicly, unilaterally withdrew their troops from The Gambia and ended the seven-year old pact. Up to this moment in 2018, neither the government of Senegal nor that of the Gambia has ever shared the official reason for the sudden disintegration of the confederation. As for its effect in The Gambia, it is fair to state from personal experience that it contributed immensely in what caused the coup d’etat in 1994. Anyway, now that the Senegalese are back in full force poised to stay in The Gambia as long as the Europeans are willing to annually disburse the 14 million euro grant for their maintenance, I sincerely hope the two governments of Senegal and The Gambia will seize the opportunity of the good times and form a joint commission of inquiry to investigate the official reasons of the failure of the confederation. They shouldn’t allow the same mistakes of the past to be repeated again. The accusations and counter-accusations that The Gambia or Senegal was responsible for its failure without tangible official evidence leaves much to be desired to first get to the root of the past problems before risking another non-transparent bilateral cooperation susceptible to future failure. For all I understand, Gambians had accused the Senegalese of being too controlling and dominant in the administrative, logistical and operational functions of the confederation with minimal respect shown to The Gambia government’s views or input. Similar sentiments are being echoed again by Gambians in this embryonic stage of the new cooperation. Senegalese on the other hand had accused The Gambia of betraying the main agreement of the confederation by stonewalling in their obligations for the desired federation of the two states and had further left the burden of financing and managing its affairs entirely in the hands of the Senegalese government. Gambians on the issue of funding the confederation had also argued that the money for its maintenance came mainly as grants from France and other donor countries which Senegal alone collected and spent without consulting The Gambia. So you see, the recent revelation of the European Union representative in The Gambia that the additional Senegalese troops sent to reinforce the Ecomig forces in The Gambia compelled them to augment the maintenance budget of the initial-2016 troops from 8 million Euros to 14 million Euros annually, encapsulated a behind-scenes arrangements not known to the Gambian public. Until the EU representative revealed that, not much was even heard of or known about the additional Senegalese forces in the Country and their sustenance in the Ecomig package. I don’t want to say that it is out of line but if it is in line, I am afraid it puts some element of doubt over how Ecomig in The Gambia is being deployed and funded. It will be quite helpful to understand whether or not the Senegalese are back with their original expectation of federating the two states with the hope of achieving a monetary union with one currency, preferably the French CFA? And whether the Gambians want that to happen or not or on what condition. In 1989, after their withdrawal they shut down The Gambia’s borders to a lucrative re-export trade with neighboring countries and irreversibly destroying that business for The Gambia. That border closure is still effective regardless of the good times now. Of course the Gambians credits them now for providing electricity supply to many Gambian streets and homes in the north bank area who otherwise would have never dreamed about coming out of the dark anytime soon. Yet retrospectively, we should still worry about the possibility of angering Senegal again into ripping off the power lines and plunging the Gambia into a chaotic darkness. Nothing should be hidden. Was it not baffling when an Ecomig spokesman disclosed that the troops in the infamous Sibanor village incident that many Gambians thought were part of their forces were after all Senegalese soldiers later sent in the country on a separate bilateral agreement between Senegal and the Gambia? We know that the commander of Ecomig in the country has always been a Senegalese operations officer. So for Ecomig to distance themselves from the Sibanor-based unit when the European Union representative in The Gambia one Mr Atilla made it crystal clear in an interview that those troops were funded and maintained as part of the Ecomig force left much to be questioned about the transparency of the entire operation orders. It will be wonderful to see the Senegalese forces amicably work together with the Gambia Armed Forces again in an arrangement that will mutually benefit both forces and Countries. I trust that a straightforward union of the two forces will translate into everlasting peace and security in the whole region. But I also believe that that kind of positive synergy should include normalizing our border issues of 1989 which still symbolizes the failure of the past. With all the appreciation of Senegal’s input to bring about the change of government in 2016, Gambians don’t want to wake up again one day just to realize that the foundation on which their hopes and faith were built was unsustainable and must be dismantled. I also think Gambians and Senegalese alike don’t want to be faced with any state of confusion in the event President Barrow or President Macky Sall or both of them leave office in the near or distant future. The union should be able to outlive their governments and grow to eternity based on reciprocal benefit and respect. So far what I perceive is a situation I would have negotiated differently. But who am I? Please accept my apology if I offend anyone for sharing my opinion or my observations. It is merely my opinion and could be wrong in totality. Long live The Gambia. Long live Senegal. Long live Senegambia. The author is a former diplomat and commander of the Gambia National Army.]]>

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