By Abdou Jarju
I am following with a great interest the development of the bilateral cooperation between Senegal and The Gambia under President Adama Barrow’s administration and I am aware that numerous agreements have been signed between Dakar and Banjul, in different areas or sectors of interest to the two countries.
There are two sensitive areas where the current administration needs to be warned and drawn attention because those sectors have much to do with The Gambia’s sovereignty and have been always the cause of breaking of many other agreements signed in the past between the two countries.
These deals with security and monetary union. A quick study of Senegalo-Gambian relationship’s history will prove this reflection right. Recently I came to know about the recent agreement signed between the two governments, through the last interview accorded to the press by the Minister of Defence, when he branded the so-called“hot pursuit security agreement”, which allows the Senegalese forces to enter The Gambia without notice, in the event that a criminal runs into The Gambia. In fact, the minister brought the document to the public knowledge trying to justify the incident in the Basse area, where Senegalese security officers entered in The Gambia and shot, arrested and carried away a Gambian national. This incident raised the concern of many Gambians about their safety in the hands of the present administration. However, my concern lies somewhere else and compelled me to pose the questions: Where is our sovereignty? Where is our independence?
According to the minister, the “hot pursuit agreement’s” clauses require consultation and collaboration of both forces prior to entry into the other country, but what happened during the Basse area incident was not the case. This revealed that both sides did not have the same interpretation of the agreement document. And the strangest part of the minister’s interview is when he said that people who are speaking about the Basse incident are not aware about the existence of this agreement. But I ask, was this agreement ratified by the Gambian parliament before it entered into force?
I am reminding the current administration that they have been given the privilege and honour to look after the interest of Gambians and they should know that leadership is about service. It does not mean that they are better than the rest of the Gambians. Today is their turn, tomorrow will be somebody else’s, may be the one they trifled with or treated with the most injurious contempt. Great leaders always think of future generations. Let me remind them that Senegalese policy towards The Gambia did not change from Senghor to Sall and will never change until they get what they want, if that is possible. The main two objectives of the Senegalese policy are: making The Gambia part of Senegal or forcing The Gambia into a monetary union. Lest anyone doubts, take a cursory look at our bilateral cooperation history. In international relations, each country does what is in the best interest of its people and I have no doubt that Senegal is doing that. Is The Gambia leadership doing what is in the best interest of this country? I doubt so.
Furthermore, I want to let the Senegalese authorities know that for The Gambia to become a region of Senegal it must be the will of the Gambian people, not that of a transitory regime such as the one currently in The Gambia. As clearly stated by President Senghor during his visit in 1961 in London: “It would be only natural if The Gambia sought to unite with Senegal after achieving its independence. … It will be up to the Gambians to decide what they want once they have got their independence.”
There is nothing wrong in cooperating with Senegal. In fact if one studies the foreign policy of our founding father, Sir Dawda Jawara, one would realise the special attention he reserved to the relation between The Gambia and Senegal. Likewise President Jammeh’s regime. The Gambia attained independence in February 1965 and as early as 1966, it signed its first Free Trade Agreement with Senegal. But after two years, Senegal broke the agreement and pulled out of it on the claim that it went against their interest. But the unspoken reason known to the Gambian authorities is that Senegal wanted to use cross-border transactions to condition The Gambia and that is what they have been doing ever since. Within 11 years The Gambia and Senegal signed 23 agreements, the most significant of which was the confederation. The structuring of the confederal institutions showed that the agenda of Senegal was a full political unification and monetary integration as in a federation. A Senegalese was appointed secretary general of the Senegal-Gambian Permanent Secretariat.
This went against the tradition that a country cannot host the head office at the same time occupy the position of secretary general. Even the deputy secretary general was a Senegalese as were heads of four of the five departments. To cut it short, when the Senegalese realised that The Gambia was not keen on economic integration and political unification, they called off the project. Those who read my essay on Sir Dawda’s legacy, would remember that I emphasised the historical difference between the two administrative systems, namely the Anglo-Saxon and the French one. I will elaborate on the issue of the differences of the two systems which could be traced to what I referred here as the “two types of independence” – the “Francophone independence” and the “Anglophone independence”, the Francophonie and the Commonwealth. The demonstration of this difference will allow Gambians to understand the trap awaiting us if we do not define properly our foreign policy towards Senegal.
Senegal has a clear mind as to what they want but are we clear as to what we want from the relation?
Two types of “independence”
There is a fundamental need for Gambians to understand the difference between the two types of “independence”. For the French this word needs a redefinition. When the French realised that the road to independence was irreversible, they crafted a very pernicious document named “The Pact for Independence”, which in reality should have been named Pact for the Continuation of Colonisation, in which they put the conditionality that if their colonies wanted independence they should submit it for a No or Yes vote. Between 1958 and 1961 there were 14 such votes in French African colonies for independence but the content of the document they were voting for was not openly discussed as it should have been. Only two countries, Guinea of Ahmed Sékou Touré and Mali of Modibo Keïta voted No.
France said that for those countries to gain their independence they should sign the pact whose terms were as follows: all the 14 countries are requested to deposit 85% of their bank reserves with the French Ministry of Finance, under the French Central Bank and under the control of the French Ministry of Finance. France was going to take the 85% deposit from each one of those countries, deposit those huge amounts from African countries into the French stock market under the name of France, and obviously those countries may not know the returns. Studies revealed that for the tens of billions that France invested in the stock market from Africa, they are realised hundreds of billions in return, every year.
Still under the pact terms, should one country want to access some of its money that it has deposited in France, it has to submit its financial returns and if approved it can get it as a loan and it can only access up to 25% of its own money. And can one imagine, a loan with commercial interest. As in fact that was not enough, the clauses of the pact include that for all the minerals and oil discovered or yet to be discovered, France or French companies have the first option to buy.
The pact stated that the countries only use a currency that was created for them, that is the CFA francs and France is the only one that can print it. From 1958 to date, France has been the sole printer and mint for them. And if a particular head of state starts misbehaving, they just stop printing the money and his country gets into trouble. The pact stipulated that the language of instruction in those countries shall be French, that France will have military presence in the countries, that the military can only be trained by France, that they can only buy military equipment from France, that they cannot have any military alliance with their neighbours, and that in the event of war, their allegiance must be only to France. And because they have military presence in the countries, they can invade without notice, should they feel that their interests were being threatened. Remember how the French toppled Lauren Gbagbo in Côte d’Ivoire, how they installed and later removed Jean-Bédel Bokassa in Central Africa and Thomas Sankara in Burkina Faso?
The reason I am highlighting this information is to draw the attention of the current Gambian authorities to the trap we could fall in as a sovereign nation. Senegal is until now under the yoke of this pact. In fact remember that the last French “administrator”, Jean Collin, left Senegal when Abdoulaye Wade came to power.
There are many similarities between many of agreements the current Gambian administration is signing with Senegal and the Pact of Continuation. We have Senegalese military presence in The Gambia and we are told that it is not under Ecowas but under a special arrangement. We have this “hot pursuit” agreement, allowing Senegalese forces to enter The Gambia without notice, all under the watch of our National Assembly Members. And Senegal is pressurising every other day for The Gambia to join the CFA. I hope one day we will not go to bed as The Gambia and wake up as part of Senegal under this regime. Let me beg our parliamentarians that they should and have the duty to scrutinise any agreement with Senegal before ratifying it because if they ratify those legal instruments and they are registered with the UN Secretariat, we will be done. It will be easier to navigate a vessel on a mud than pulling out from those agreements.
The Gambia is a former British colony which gained its independence under different conditions. A member of the Commonwealth cannot be ruled or colonised again by a country under French domination. Jawara always defended that The Gambia should stand on its own although reserving special close cooperation with Senegal. In all their pronouncements the Senegalese will be saying we are all brothers, we are all the same, we share the same culture and so forth but from time to time, Senegal hides behind their transport union to shut the border with the Gambia, a way of pulling the strings to give signal that they are not happy with something. Who would believe that Senegal would close the border under the current administration? They said Jammeh was the problem and they stood firm to remove him.
The Gambia always plays fair in its relationship with Senegal at all levels. Following the military takeover in 1994, all the major infrastructure projects were given to Senegalese companies, unfortunately Senegal never regarded it as a gesture of brotherhood and good neighbourliness. The current administration should emulate Sir Dawda who used to consult experts whenever he felt that matters are too complex. Why does the present regime not do the same? And I conclude with the question: Can The Gambia, under the current regime, escape the Senegalese trap?
Abdou Jarju is a former ambassador of The Gambia to Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde and the Republic of Guinea.