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Saturday, September 19, 2020

Reassessing Banjul-Bissau ties

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By Gibril Saine

After months of political intrigue, regional bloc, ECOWAS, has recognised president Umaro Cissoko Embalo as winner of Guinea Bissau’s protracted election. The communique, a result of its first ever virtual summit due to coronavirus has seen West Africa throw its weight behind the new government in Bissau.

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The country gained independence from Portugal in 1974, though unlucky with coups and counter coups which derailed attempts at stability on development initiatives.

Through no fault of their own – the people of Guinea Bissau have suffered quite enough at the hands of bad leadership, or just about trigger-happy militias devoid of any conscience. To that effect, I reached out to an ally whose parents originate from Guinea Bissau, gauge his thoughts. Muhammad Banoramas is a proud Gambian, had known each other on the activist circuit years earlier campaigning against Yahya Jammeh.

A second-generation Gambian, he observed that immigration from Guinea Bissau into Gambia has been a long-standing process for centuries. And that, ‘most of the Mandinkas that came through originate from Bissau and the now [in]famous, “Kaabuu” region – “Mankanyis” & “ Balantas”, even some “Fulas”, among the settlers.

He further recounts how his own parents travel from Mansowol to settle in Baddibu NorKunda, and Salikenni; and that roughly30% of Gambian population could either direct or indirectly trace their linkage to Guinea Bissau. That is such a bold stat, although reasonable, given that ethnic Mandinka account for the biggest slice of the population.

I have identified three avenues through which Banjul-Bissau relations could be enhanced:
Political strand – For a sisterly republic been to hell and back due to decades old war, peace has finally returned to the streets of Guinea’s war ravaged capital, Bissau. Even in the most of false tides on detente over the years, we can safely say that peace has finally returned under the leadership of president Embalo.

His Excellency, President Barrow, should mobilise the Gambian state’s resolve to help that country on its difficult path to establish law and order, provide economic dignity for its citizens. Through multilateral settings as ECOWAS and the African Union, SeneGambia efforts should lead calls to cushion (limited) training capacity in terms of policing, military, naval patrols, help the new government establish on its two strong feet.

Commerce strand – The economic strand stands, arguably, the most crucial conduit to further strengthen Banjul-Bissau ties. But it has to start somewhere. Once upon a time, Banjul was a shiny city over the hill for West Africa’s businesses transfixed on the lucrative re-export trade …. save for losses accrued under 22 crude years of APRC banditry.
The Gambia government needs a hastily arranged bilateral summit with its Bissau counterpart touching on all areas, be it political, trade, agriculture, fisheries, and so on.

The country’s private telecom providers, mobile internet and construction firms should be put forward to explore untapped opportunities with govt backed guarantees.Back in the day, business is second hand clothing and cashew nuts, did extend into Cape Verde, Conakry and Mali from the spoils of Banjul port to such relief with its cheap customs duties. The Gambia leads charts in the region in terms of ease of doing business.

The administration needs rush to reestablish lost lines of trade, underlined by win-win objectives. Since direct flights seem a tall order at the moment, both countries should look at ambitious plans for a motorway bringing marketplace closer. The Kartong-Bissau ferry connections could be had too – diversify trade and transport routes for a robust economic activity.

As The Gambia grapples with own failings to produce enough rice for domestic consumption, Guinea Bissau fares even worst. They too are blessed with fresh water rivers – the “Woyeenko” region being equivalent of Gambia’s “Jahally Pachar. “ The two countries need to collaborate on the technical front on rice self-sufficiency – the FAO included.

People to people – There exist deep family and cultural ties between the two peoples, hence every tribe in The Gambia today has presence in Guinea Bissau. These shared rich cultural ties should see student exchange programs, as today with Senegal. The power of the media needs exploit for good relations, given that #RadioGambia was once as popular in Guinea Bissau as slice bread is to the English. Evidently, the country has lost its hand of friendship. But these are fixable,reassured by measures thus far under president Barrow’s leadership.

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