By Omar Bah
Dr Momodou Lamin Sedat Jobe, a former foreign minister and diplomat, has advised the government to consider building a new modern international port in Barra that would have the capacity to connect West Africa.
Speaking to The Standard last week, Dr Jobe said instead of expanding the Banjul port, Gambia should prioritise building a standard port in the North Bank settlement that would have the potential to consolidate Gambia’s sovereignty.
“In the 1960s, when the African states were claiming and getting their independence from France and Great Britain, many people in The Gambia, Africa, Europe and the Americans thought that we would not exist as a sovereign state. But thanks to the determination, courage and preposition of Sir Dawda Jawara and his government, the recommended unification with Senegal did not take place. But the Atlantic Seafront saved us,” he said.
The Gambia, Dr Jobe added, is a natural gateway for trade for the whole of West Africa and beyond.
According to him, some years ago former Malian president Tumani Toure came to see former president Yahya Jammeh about a possible collaboration with The Gambia for the expansion of our port to be used for goods and containers destined for landlocked Mali.
”At the present moment Bamako is using the ports of Guinea Conakry, Senegal and Ivory Coast for its trade with the outside world. However, none of these ports is really suitable for Mali because of the distance to Bamako. It is at this point that we can really see the advantage of Gambia’s Port which at the moment is 400meter long and can take five ships with normal cargo but has only 2 container berths and 6600 meters of storage area. This alone shows how much we have lost in not developing our port,” he observed.
The former Gambian Ambassador to France said eighty percent of the goods that are landed in the Gambia are in fact re-exported to countries in the sub-region including Senegal despite its port in Dakar.
He said the natural strategic position of the mouth of the River Gambia has given the country a “great advantage”. “Goods from Dakar Port to Bamako have to make an additional 800 kilometers to get there but if Malian goods landed at the Gambia port, it would save the economic operators 800 kilometers to get to the Malian capital. We have been told that due to the lack of infrastructure of a longer or bigger port – we lost $200 million in 2019. If we have lost the same amount in 2020, 2021 and 2022, in total will be $800 million in four years and we have read elsewhere that with $500 million we could build a port that could return us to our former and natural position as the port of the Supermarket of West Africa and beyond.
“It is at this point that I want to humbly suggest that the port of Banjul cannot continue to be the main port of the Republic. We should now think of transferring our international port to Barra. This will require dredging but we could start a port that is a mile long that would double what already existed and can continue expanding for several miles,” Dr Jobe said.
He added: “We should think big and believe that we will have no difficulties getting $2 billion to develop an international port in Barra. No one can compete with us; it is our greatest natural gift from the creator. Let us fix in our minds that if we did not have the river there would never have been a justification for the existence of The Gambia.”
Dr Jobe argued that Banjul has “no more space for storage of goods or containers”.
“To fulfil our natural role, we should also in collaboration with Senegal and Mali build a railway line from Barra to Bamako via Kungel as a united rapid solution where we will have it as Barra-Farafenni, Panchang and Kungel to Bamako. There is a railway from Dakar to Bamako which at present is not being used, the volume of Malian goods from our new port and the port of Dakar will justify our participation in the rehabilitation of the Dakar-Kungel-Bamako line in the interest of Senegal and the Gambia.
“I believe that Senegal and The Gambia could easily convince investors to participate in this project. In fact, if we prepare a solid project document for the one-mile port in Barra and the railway line to Bamako we will not even have to request for the participation of investors but we will have investors begging to be shareholders in the project. Let us think big. We have an asset which alone when fully developed will guarantee our sovereignty and in addition have the biggest port in Africa.
He said the railway line which will connect from Barra to Bamako could extend to Accra, Abuja, Nairobi and then to Mombasa. “There will then be the international railway line from Barra – Mombasa on the Indian Sea Front then linking the two oceans, import from Asia could be off loaded in Mombasa and could reach all the West and Central African countries quickly and economically than going via the Cape by Sea on the Atlantic Ocean,” he said.
He said the Gambia should invest in what will make the country respected in the world. “We should imagine what we can offer to Africa to justify our existence, yes, we are a small country but we can make it become a giant in world trade and transportation,” Dr Jobe concluded.