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Thursday, February 29, 2024

The historical perspective of Senegambia: The prospects and the way forward

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Indeed his successor, who was not as eloquent as the poet-president, saw the Senegambia as a first step towards unifying Africa, as was promulgated by Kwame Nkrumah and his peers (Thierno Soulèye Mbodj, La Confédération de la Sénégambie : Réalités et Perspectives, Université de Bordeaux I,1985, p180).
On the psychological lane: After independence, Dakar was fighting to regain her erstwhile position as the crossroads and centre of attraction for all the French West African member states, and above all, all the countries in West Africa (including the Anglophone ones). The confederation would enable her to attain this objective by imposing her hegemony on the entire sub-region. It is obvious what the leadership in Dakar was claiming did not go against that of Banjul, which was to assume a low profile in the sub-region.
The above reasons and many more, constituted the basis for the creation of the Senegambia Confederation. However, the establishment of this organisation was going to provoke widespread protests in Senegal, but especially so in The Gambia. The Gambian opposition, led by PDOIS, openly criticised the unconstitutionality of the Kaur Declaration that gave birth to the Senegambia Confederation.
The Confederation: An unconstitutional pact?
A close examination of the Confederation Pact revealed some constitutional dysfunctions even though “The Gambian people and the Senegalese people constitute a single people divided by the vicissitudes of history”.
It is important to point out that the writers of this pact did not take the history of the two countries into consideration, as has been demonstrated earlier. Senegal and The Gambia are two distinct countries, with clearly demarcated geographical boundaries, without mentioning the existence of two different taxpayers on either side of the divide. It is believed that the declaration was designed to serve the interests of the governors rather than the governed.
Another element of unconstitutionality was the call to respect the charters of the United Nations Organisation, the Organisation of African Unity and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, while at the same time these texts were being violated. All these charters indicate, in no unequivocal terms, that no nation shall dominate another: “A nation should not intervene in the internal affairs of another nation; and when they relate, they should relate on the basis of equality and they should recognise each other’s right to self-determination.” (Halifa Sallah, Symposium organised at the Father Farrell Memorial Hall). Therefore, the Confederation Pact did not respect the basic principle of equality. In addition, by recognising the presidency, the vice presidency and the council of ministers as the main organs, as was enshrined in Article 6, which was centred on the composition of the first two, this pact manifestly violated the sovereignty of The Gambia. As a matter of fact, the president of the Republic of Senegal was to be the president of the confederation while that of The Gambia was to be its vice-president in a permanent and irreversible manner. This was another violation of the United Nations Charter which recognises the equality of states. It was therefore necessary to have in place a system of rotational presidency. Worst of all, Article 8 of the pact proclaimed that both the armed and security forces were answerable to only the president. This meant that, being the chairman of the Defence Council (Article 9 of the Pact), the business of defending the country was solely in his hands.  
Chapter 1, paragraph 1, of the Constitution of the Republic of The Gambia clearly stipulates that The Gambia is a sovereign republic; and as a sovereign republic, it should not be under the control of whomsoever: “Its Head of State should not owe allegiance to any foreign power or state”. In addition, paragraph 59 stipulates that “anybody who agrees to owe allegiance, obedience or adherence to a foreign power or state, who allows himself to be dictated to by a foreign power or state should not even be selected to be in the House of Representatives”. The Senegambia Confederation as was enshrined in the Kaur Declaration was a clear violation of The Gambian constitution. This marriage of convenience bore all the hallmarks of an annexation than a confederal arrangement between two sovereign states. Besides, having the confederation army under the sole commandership of the president of Senegal and not under the authority of the two presidents was another violation of the integrity of The Gambia, for it was the president of the confederation who would decide and order the deployment of the confederation army upon consultation with the vice-president (Article 3, paragraph 2 of the Protocol on Defence and Security). Thus, after reflecting on the subtleties between ‘agreement’ and ‘consultation’, Lawyer Thierno Souleye Mbodj affirms that: “These subtleties are important to the lawyer, in that an agreement implies strong unanimity; whilst consultation is a mere formal process.”
Having elucidated the situation this way, we observe that Abdou Diouf, as the president of the confederation, reserved the powers to sanction the deployment and movement of the armed and security forces in The Gambia whether Sir Dawda Jawara agreed or not. Worse still, Article II, Annex I of the Protocol on Defence and Bills 2 and 3 of the President published in the official gazette of the confederation clearly stipulated that “deployment and movement of the confederation forces, issuance of operation and specialised commands in the event of war, crisis or threat, publication and promulgation of confederation bills” are all within the exclusive purview of the president of the Republic of Senegal. Where were the powers of the president of the Republic of The Gambia? As was enshrined in the pact, especially in Article 70, it was clearly mentioned that apart from the agreements signed with the United Nations Organisation, the agreements of the confederation prevailed over all other international agreements. This was surely an obvious violation of the national sovereignty of The Gambia. It was on account of the pact that, when The Gambia and Senegal met during the finals of the Amilcar Cabral Tournament of the Zone II countries in 1985, the Senegalese ambassador to Banjul, His Excellency Mbaye Mbengue, without securing the approval of the Gambian authorities, ordered the Senegalese army to deploy at the Bakau Stadium (The Gambia) – reinforced by helicopters – in order to protect the Senegalese supporters. Some Gambians saw the presence of the Senegalese troops as an attempt to occupy The Gambia; for them, it was the turn of Senegal to colonise The Gambia after the departure of the West.
Article 8, Chapter 2 of the Confederation Pact stipulated that the management of the budget was the province of the president; this implied that the annual budget that obtained from the contributions made by the two countries (52 million by Senegal and 26 million by The Gambia) was to be managed by President Abdou Diouf. This budget (78 million dalasis) was distributed thus: the presidency: 8.1 million; the parliament: 3 million; security: 5 million; finance: 2.5 million; economic affairs 600,000; transport: 696,000; information: 1.8 million. And from the same coffers, the executive secretary received 115,000, the ministers 43, 000 and the members of parliament 21,000 as allowances!  It is clearly demonstrated that the confederation budget served the interests of the minority and not those of the Gambian people.
In view of the analysis above, it is observed that the Senegambia Confederation was an act that was both unconstitutional and unpopular. This was because, as observed by Arnold Hughes, “President Jawara’s inclusion of a substantial number of Senegalese soldiers among his bodyguards, while no Gambians performed comparable military duties in Se negal was resented”.  This was why, in spite of the intensive media coverage of the meetings between the two governments, and between the two political parties (the PS and the PPP), a good number of the Gambian people refused to subscribe to the objectives of the confederation. This general spite for the Senegambia Confederation shows very clearly that the people wanted perhaps another form of integration. Unfortunately, such was not the case.
However, the collapse of the Confederation in August 1989 would not have taken place were it not for the campaign of denunciation mounted by the Gambian opposition. Under the leadership of MOJA (Movement for Justice in Africa), the Gambian intelligentsia spared no efforts to denounce the unconstitutionality of the pact that created the Senegambia Confederation. The PPP, through its newspaper, The Times, saw its position evolving: from the application of the total directives of the confederation to the contestation of the agreements signed earlier, in 1981-1982. With regard to the constitution and the economic sector, the Senegambia Confederation was then illegal because it violated the sovereignty and territorial integrity of The Gambia. By bringing about this rupture, The Gambia had only decided to take back her place in the concert of independent and sovereign nations.
In the wake of this resentment against the integration of Senegambia, Gambian writers would not sit down unconcerned. Scores of literary works were written on the topic particularly by Gabriel John Roberts (The Goosieganderan Myth), Fodeh Baldeh (Fate of an African President), Sheriff Sarr (Meet Me in Conakry) and Nana Grey-Johnson (Weekend in July). Senegambian integration – a way forward
1. Political will: Both governments have to have a strong desire manifested in a constructive political will to integrate. This will mark the beginning and shape the direction of any form of integration that the two sovereign countries may take.
This integration needs to take a gradualist approach. To do this, the Senegalo-Gambian Secretariat explore possibilities of creating common policies in, for example, fishing, health, education, and so forth and to establish a Senegambian free trade zone as long as it is beneficial for the peoples of both countries. The aim will be to establish the technical and economic feasibilities of long term integration.
2. Overcoming the enduring effects of neo-colonialism is as significant as the political will but it affects Gambians and Senegalese differently, that is to say, the attachment to former colonial masters in terms of direction or influence or power over post-independence public policy making and implementation. To understand this is to look at our current relations. While The Gambia barely has any significant relations with UK, Senegal is the complete opposite. Senegal is more attached to France for many things. Our colonial experience/political histories (British indirect rule and French assimilation) will probably explain why Senegal is still “assimilated” into France. It looks like any future integration with Senegal will be decided not by Senegal but by France. Hence brain-washing these neo-colonial tendencies is likely to project positive attitudes to constructive Senegambian integration.
3. Contemporary Franco-German relation: The Gambia and Senegal should take a leaf from France and Germany who probably have been the bitterest of enemies in history, but who both have played transformative roles in the European integration process into an Economic union with a single Euro currency, because they consider their mutual interests in the process. Hence The Gambia and Senegal should consider their national interests first before anything. This certainly will favour integration, and can create a model integrated institution for other areas of Africa. This is possible because we are so homogenous in the sense that whatever is found in one country is also found over the border. Hence there is no need for border closures.
4. Realisation of our historical realities: Border creation at the Berlin Conference 1884/1885 -and other Anglo-French agreements, understanding our collective situation as foreign imposition and building up a strong desire and will to overcome it for the purpose of achieving our common destiny, will certainly promote Senegambia integration in the interest of the people of Senegambia.
5. Addressing the Casamance conflict:  Senegambia integration cannot be achieved without a successful resolution of the Casamance crisis. Both The Gambia and Senegal have equal interests which may be interpreted differently.
Dr Pierre Gomez is a senior lecturer and acting dean, School of Arts and Sciences at The University of The Gambia.


By Dr Pierre Gomez


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