Senegal-Gambia relations: Going a notch higher

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By Lamin Saho

In my master’s degree thesis on dynamics of regional integration with specific reference to the European Union, the genesis and the contours as well as the architecture of the European Union was studied in depth and it was discovered that the idea for the creation of this most successful regional body was conceived a long time ago, but it became a geopolitical and economic reality following the end of the Second World War when Europe was in ruins and the two protagonists and arch-rivals – France and Germany – did play a crucial and commanding role in the realisation of the European project.

The strategy was simple – given the recurring animosity and schism between the two European giants over an extended period of time, it was felt necessary to jointly form the European Coal and Steel Community – two key economic endowments and mainstay of their economies – thus invoking the essence of the Schuman Doctrine. In essence, by integrating these key economic sectors, both countries felt it would be less likely to “war, war” because fighting and schism would disrupt trade and economic advancement of the two countries and gradually the two countries would integrate at economic level and this to stimulate other processes. Thus, in 1951 with the initiative of France, West Germany, and joined by Italy and the BENELUX countries signed the ECSU agreement. Gradually from these humble beginnings the European Coal and steel Union evolved into the European Economic Community (EEC) and this further evolved in to the European Union (EU) – a very advanced and successful regional grouping envied by all other regional groupings given the depth of its integration processes, with Germany and France still serving as driving forces.

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In my humble view, the Senegalese authorities are taking a cue from the same strategy since the advent of the ‘New Gambia’ and have recalibrated their approach to Senegambian relations. A careful observation of the Senegalese approach will reveal certain incontrovertible truths. First, the Senegalese authorities have since accepted the fact that The Gambia is a sovereign state, though small, and each and every sovereign state has its national interest to safeguard and the freedom to pursue its affairs without any hindrance and to forge relations with nations based on the principle of mutual respect and coexistence – a key principle in international relations.

Second, the Senegalese authorities have taken due cognisance that The Gambia though small is able to soldier on since independence with relative ease despite constraints in size and economic resources, thus strategic investment in vital sectors of her economy can equally breed integration.

Therefore the challenge is how to forge a more sustainable relationship with this country that nearly divides Senegal into two halves, without repeating past mistakes and at the same time respecting the sovereignty of The Gambia. In my humble view, the Senegalese are taking a cue from the Schuman Doctrine and most specifically the experience of France and Germany in the European Coal and Steel Union – the nucleus of the European Economic Community (EEC) and here the Schuman Plan is a major reference point. It has been realised that top-down integration model has not been realistic, and now focus should be more on the long-term and a gradual and realistic approach to integration, initially focusing on people-to-people ties and economic and cultural relations at grassroots level.

They seem to believe that attention should be more towards soft power and focusing on key and commanding sectors of the Gambian economy such as the energy deal between Nawec and Senelec, the fishing agreement signed on the heels of the unfortunate political impasse – which one local commentator describes as “unfavourable”, the recently signed MoU between the Gambia Tourism and Hospitality Institute and its counterpart in Senegal as well as the wrestling competition between two Senegalese wrestling giants during which the flag has been jointly dedicated to both the Senegalese and Gambian presidents.. The recent launching of Senegal-Gambian women platform as well as the aborted interfaith convergence are all in the same vein meant to foster people to people contact, thereby enhancing mutual trust and understanding between people of the two sister republics. These may seem small steps, but giant leaps in the march towards integration at Senegambia level.

In the area of tourism, both countries are cognisant that boundaries in modern tourism mean nothing, as tourist products transcend national boundaries and tourists are more inclined to experience products that transcend national borders thus giving impetus to the concept of multi-destinations. In this vein, Fathala National Park across the border in Senegal continues to receive more Gambian-based tourists, and in terms of round trips, more and more tourists continue to partake in tours designed to expose them to the flavours, sights and sounds of the two sister republics. Thus the need to enhance travel facilitation between the two countries cannot be overemphasised with a view to boosting intra-state and regional tourism.

As the Germans and the French realised immediately after the Second World War, integrating key sectors of the economy and facilitating people-to-people contacts can expedite mutual understanding between two peoples and eventually lay the foundation for sustainable interstate cooperation and integration. This is further alluded to in the book We Asians: Between Past and Present where it has been pointed out “as in Europe, economic integration may be the necessary condition for the reduction of inter- state conflict…”
Therefore, this new Senegalese approach and strategy is worth noting and I urge the new Gambian authorities and more especially the mandarins at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as well as the newly constituted Department for Strategic Policy to pay more attention to these new approaches. In my humble view, the Senegalese true to their mastery of geopolitics and by extension international relations, are invariably revisiting the term ‘one people, two state’s in terms of policies and the game plan to suit their going concern, in tandem with their national interest and this is being rolled out gradually.

The author studied International Relations and Tourism Management with emphasis on destination marketing. He also served as Director of Marketing at the defunct GTA and GTBoard and Director of Planning at the Ministry of Tourism and Culture.

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