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Revisiting and shaping The Gambia – Senegal relations

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By Andrew Sylva

The Gambia-Senegal relations has been far flung, dating back even to the pre-colonial period; having been located around the Senegambia region of the Sahel. The two countries are culturally and ethnically intertwined, as they have the same cultural ethos, same cultural life styles, cuisines and almost all the ethnic groups found in The Gambia are also found in Senegal. But due to colonial accident occasioned by the European struggle for African territories in the nascent period of colonialism, the two countries found themselves in two different colonial camps, the British and the French, which speak two different languages, English and French. However, the different colonial backgrounds and experiences did not deter the collaborations between the two countries.

The Gambia and Senegal was ‘one people’ separated through the instrument of the 1889 Anglo-French convention which partitioned the people between Britain and France. In spite of the colonial dichotomy which portrayed the blood related neighbours as different people, the two states at Independence still see themselves as one and have taken decisive steps to look and relate beyond the legacies of the colonial expedition. Although efforts to foster cooperation and continual friendly relations in terms of political union were threatened and eventually aborted by colonial legacies because they could not fit into each other politically, partly due to different colonial administrative experience, and this has strained relations between them. Nevertheless, being propelled by some latent factors, the two states still see the possibility and the prime need to forge friendly relations amidst the threatening colonial legacies.

The two separated people had lived as one prior to the coming of Europeans and their relations were largely influenced by their shared culture, language and history which were further strengthened by economic exchanges of diverse kinds. The colonial expeditions altered the pre-colonial relations and separated the ‘one people’ with distinct homogenous components and identities into two different states. Today, the two countries speak similar indigenous languages with two different official languages; Gambian speak English while Senegalese Speak French.

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Given the colonial influence on the two countries, their behaviours, modes of thought and value system took opposite direction, as Gambia took after Britain and Senegal after France, which by implication extends to educational, judicial and political systems in both states. As expected, the colonial arbitrary border created between the two bloods neighbours continued to dot their aged-long friendly relations.

The bilateral relation between Gambia and Senegal is historically phenomenal. At independence, the two neighbouring states geared efforts to restore their pre-colonial brotherhood which had been altered by colonial expeditions of 19th to 20th century, during which peoples with homogenous features and history were separated into different nations for perceived political and economic reasons (gains). The desire to address these aged-long colonial legacies dominated the affairs of the two states at independence in the 1960s. They were faced with means and how to better close the gap between them. This necessitated the quest for formal political union in terms of functional integration which eventually led to the merging of two independent countries into a single confederated state of ‘Senegambia’.

However, the relations between the two blood related neighbours took a new turn few years after independence in efforts which culminated into the merging of the two separated independent states into a single state of Senegambia in 1982. The two states formed the Senegambia Confederation, a formal loose political union that attempted to achieve a “United Senegambia” and redefine the longstanding political polarity and partition caused by colonial expeditions between the two states. Nevertheless, after seven years of failed negotiations on the implementation of the protocol instruments, the Confederation came to an abrupt collapse in 1989.

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Having seen the evils of the colonial division, attempts to foster cooperation between the separated ‘blood- neighbours’ started before the two states gained full independence from their respective colonial masters. Considering the geographic, socio-economic and political peculiarities of the two states, sincere moves in form of strategies and discourse on how to create and achieve a socio-economic and political union between the two states after independence were made from 1958. Concerted efforts were geared to work out the approach to and strategies for furthering cooperation, the purpose and objective of such cooperation and what accurate modalities were to be adopted.

Broadly, the Gambia-Senegal relations evolve in phases and it’s multidimensional in outlook and approach. The first phase which saw the constitutional process and issues which eventually led to the birth of the two states was the most critical. It coincided with the most intense competition for political power as circumstances pointed to the coming of independence in earnest. The process had commenced since 1954 and became more competitive by the end of the decade. A major reason was the emergence of the Protectorate as a political force to challenge the Colony-restricted politics; the introduction of universal adult suffrage contributed to these new dynamics. The political stakes were higher. In the circumstances, the issue of cooperation and integration between Gambia and Senegal was trapped in the turbulence of national politics. By the end of the period, especially after the negotiations over the UN report in May 1964, it appeared that the functional strategy was the preferred option of The Gambia government, which favoured a compromise “association,” which would allow for a more leisurely progression toward closer union. For the Senegalese government, on the other hand, instant integration was favoured, but she decided to go along with the Gambian position in the expectation while noting that, with time, the latter would be won over.

Despite the seeming unagreeable stance between the two countries’ cordial relationship still existed between the Gambia and Senegal. Under Senegal’s First Republic under Leopold Senghore and Gambia’s First Republic under Dawda Jawara, the two countries fostered a harmonious relationship based on economic exchanges (ties), cultural ties and presidential visits by the two leaders to respective countries. Both Gambian and Senegalese citizens were freely allowed to enter each others countries without let or hinderance\harassment. Other successive governments in Senegal ranging from Abdou Joof to Abdoulaye Wade had enjoyed cordial relationship with The Gambia, except for a few skirmishes experienced under Yahya Jammeh.

The Gambia and Senegal under Macky Sall’s regime enjoyed a relatively peaceful coexistence and relations as Senegal has always assisted The Gambia in times of need. Senegal’s role in containing the political impasse in The Gambia under Yahya Jammeh is paramount and phenomenal! Senegal has always played a leading and senior brotherly role to Gambia in times of necessity. For example, during the political stalemate of 2016 in the wake of the December 1st Presidential election, Senegal was highly instrumental to ensuring that peace and harmony were restored in the country by given ECOMING a leeway and air space to operate and dismantle Jammeh. Senegal offered the president elect of The Gambia, Adama BARROW a succour and security until Adama Barrow was sworn in Dakar when Jammeh refused to cede power. 

The relationship between The Gambia and Senegal is reciprocal and based on mutual respect for one another. Senegal has always respected Gambia’s territorial integrity at any point in time. Senegal has no ulterior motive (s) in pursuing close bilateral relations with The Gambia. According to Macky Sall, “Senegal is not looking for anything in The Gambia apart from peace and mutual cooperation. We don’t have any other ulterior motive apart from building on the already existing mutual respect between the two countries,” He went on: “Senegal’s main interest is in its security; we all know what is happening in Casamance, and we have made it clear that we will never allow any country to harbour people and allow them to use their territory to attack us. We will not tolerate or accept anything like that, but apart from that, we have no problem in The Gambia.”

Under Adama Barrow, the relationship between Senegal and Gambia has been very intriguing and peaceful. Barrow has always prayed for collective commitments to consolidate the peace, security, stability, and prosperity of the Senegambia subregion and strengthening the Banjul-Dakar transport corridor. There is strong evidence that the free movement of people and transport resulting from the Senegambia Bridge supports more fluid trade between the two countries. “The lesson is that intensifying trade could be a major game-changer for the prosperity of the two nations. Essentially, therefore, we must continue to address trade-related barriers and the occasional issues that disrupt the smooth conduct of business across our borders, Barrow opines.

As Senegal launches into a new political dispensation under Bassirou Diomaye Faye, it is expected that the already harmonious relationship between the Gambia and Senegal under his predecessor should continue to blossom. He should strengthen economic, social and cultural ties between The Gambia and Senegal. Better relations between the two countries will stimulate economic growth and contribute to poverty reduction in both countries. International trade can provide new growth opportunities for companies, leading to increased profits and business expansion. Additionally, it can stimulate important sectors of the economies such as transport and ICT. Moreover, better relations between countries can lead to the integration of different aspects of the economy, such as trade, resulting in interdependence and interconnectedness between countries.

As president Bassirou Diomaye Faye of Senegal pays his first official STATE visit to The Gambia, we wish him a blissful visit and pray that this epoch-making visit will attract more investors and rekindle the already existing palatable and mutual and bilateral relationship between The Gambia and Senegal. This august visit is one visit too many, as it clearly depicts that The Gambia occupies an important placement under President Faye. As we shape further this close ties between The Gambia and Senegal, we need to have bilateral relations characterized by mutual respect. By dedicating so much concentration to the issue of security, bilateral matters pass to a secondary level.  We could only solve our problems by cooperating with other countries. We must not sacrifice the short term for our bilateral relationship. The association promotes a way of life, not causes; a harmony in living, not political faiths; a bilateral loyalty, not commercial or social projects. Yet it is an association for as noble a purpose as any involved in any prior decisions.

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