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Trade in the integration of Senegambia -A lecture organised by ECOMANSA UTG-2013

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By Almamy Fanding Taal

The last few weeks have been auspicious for Africa for the many celebrations made to mark the Golden Jubilee of the OAU/AU, the organisation which had fiercely and resolutely fought for the emancipation and political liberation of the continent. These celebrations were colorful in many places, but the occasion was taken by many interested in the future of Africa as a time for reflection and charting a forward progression on the Pan African Agenda.

I believe your association has chosen to commemorate the Jubilee by organising these lectures both in The Gambia and Senegal, may I congratulate you for choosing an extremely relevant theme.

May I also share with you the words of the Gambia’s greatest living intellectual, Prof Lamin Sanneh of Yale University Divinity School.

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‘The challenge for all of us is to bring the fruits of scholarship to bear on issues of faith and service, to make a vital connection between knowledge and life. We should humanise scholarship with the demands of faith and illuminate vocation with the light of scholarship’.

Since the transformation of the OAU into the African Union many attempts have been made to bring about economic integration, on the one hand a compelling case has been made for Economic Integration to be effective, it must be pursued through regional regroupings— Ecowas, Sadc Comesa etc, on the other hand through various kinds of economic associations between fully sovereign states such as Custom Unions and Free Trade Areas.

The West African Monetary Union has been the most durable and in many respects the most successful. It predates the Euro, however the CFA has always pegged on the French Franc, and now that the French Franc is no legal tender in France, the Euro which is now the currency of the Eurozone is the preferred peg.

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Conversely, Ecowas has been a lot less successful in the integration of its three hundred million markets participants and tremendous natural resource bases; please note  all members of WAEMU are members of Ecowas. Further note that  Ecowas has the most elaborate legal framework for the free movement of peoples and goods. Treaties and protocols abound but implementation of the treaty obligation is near impossible, even the transformation of the Ecowas Secretariat into a Commission has not energized the integration process.

Several interesting questions arise in relation to these integration processes: How important are the Economic gains? Can economic association without some kind of political union produce an optimal pattern of economic development? Can economic association survive without some degree of political unity? Is economic association likely to develop into some kind of political association? The last question is of particular interest to Pan-Africanist.

A general answer to these questions have eluded the European Union, on which the AU is modeled, in dealing with financial crises that swept through the Eurozone, but the experience of the European Project may provide useful pointers.

Given the importance of the issue of economic integration in present day Africa, it is in any case vital that problems and experiences of economic integration should receive as wide a discussion as possible. It important to note that the EEC was the forerunner of the European Union; it would appear that where there is a community, economics will go there first followed immediately by politics!

Today I wish to share some thoughts about the historical reality of Senegambia and to discuss with you the economic inevitability of the integration of the economies of the Sahel. Because I believe that if you do not understand history, you cannot make history. Senegambia, including much of what is now the Gambia and Senegal, was the name of a British colony which existed from 1765-1783.

My thoughts are mainly focused on the economic aspects of the integration process because the chances of any closer association, freely entered into by both sides, will largely turn on economic issues. The Gambia and Senegal are an extreme example of political entities that owe their existence entirely to the colonial rivalry and policy between Great  Britain and France.

Geographically, Rivers, Oceans and mountain ranges have provided natural boundaries between nations, peoples, and political states; in the case of Senegambia there are two rivers running through the territories of present-day Gambia and Senegal, therefore it would make more geographic sense if the territories along and around the two rivers have to be divided at all, such division have to be equitable or at least take physical geography into account.

Instead, historians and political scientist have characterized the Gambia as the ‘the finger poking at the heart of Senegal’, ‘an intrusion into the much larger country of Senegal, stretching from the coast inland along both sides of the Gambia river, making up a landmass of 11,000.sq. miles. Although roughly following the course of the river, the Gambia does not extend to the natural limits of the basin on either side, nor does it reach the source of the river, which lies in Guinea. Parts of the map of the Gambia are straight lines arbitrary drawn without due considerations to history and other factors.

The present frontiers of the Gambia cut through both natural features and human settlement patterns. Wholly surrounded by present day Senegal except on the coastline, the Gambia largely isolates the southern region of Casamance from the rest of Senegal. Ethnically the people of the Gambia and Senegal are the same.

 At the same time the two countries have for a long period been subjected to the influence of two quite different colonial systems. This has created divergences in administrative as well as governance and economic institutions which are significant obstacles to closer trade and economic integration of the two countries.

Clearly the problem of Senegambia is manmade, and as President JF Kennedy once said: “Our problems are man-made – therefore, they can be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings. Man’s reason and spirit have often solved the seemingly unsolvable – and we believe they can do it again”.

It is inconceivable that in a highly globalised world these two countries can act completely independent of each other, there are obvious disadvantages for both in such a situation. Firstly, the present economic borders are disadvantages to both countries; for Senegal it means a partial isolation of the southern province of Casamance and an inability to use the Gambia River.

For the Gambia it cannot optimally exploit its main natural asset, which is the river basin, and the port of Banjul is deprived of the opportunity to serve as the port for a larger economic area which the Gambia’s natural position entitles it.

Secondly it is impossible to make adequate use of the economic resources of the Gambia and Senegal without close cooperation, which is hindered by the inherited colonial, political and economic frontiers. It is amazing that even after 50 years of independence both countries have continued to accept the colonial legacy that was bequeathed to divide one people and keep them in pigeonhole economic spaces; these demarcations have kept both countries on the list of Least Developed Countries for far too long.

For the avoidance doubt, the possibilities of integration was explored at the beginning of the end of colonial rule in 1961, the two countries established an inter-ministerial committee to discuss matters of mutual interest. Amongst other things that Committee considered such matters as Post, Telecoms and Feeder roads. The effort was not particularly successful.

Subsequently the two sovereign governments discussed the possibility that when the Gambia achieved independence some form of association between the two countries may be  entered into.

It should be noted that in all these talks the Gambia Government made it crystal clear that it would only consider association on terms which would guarantee the Gambia a high degree of autonomy in internal affairs—which amounted in effect to a willingness to consider only a confederal association. These talks led to the commissioning by the United Nations of a Study to consider the various possibilities of integration.

In the event, and following the failed attempted Coup D’état in July 1981, the Senegalese army came in and restored the constitutional order; this led to direct talks for the establishment of the Senegambia Confederation, which was short lived, having survived for only 7 years 1982-89.

The attempted Coup of 1981 was a bolt out the blue and it jolted the first republic of the Gambia out of its complacent attitude towards closer association with Senegal, because in reality if it was not for the army of Senegal more lives and property would have been needlessly lost, the country could have easily descended into anarchy, lawlessness, or civil war as was witnessed in Liberia and Sierra Leone in the 1990s.

By the time the Senegambia Confederation was winding down in 1989, the Gambia had a fledgling army and had become a ‘star pupil’ of the IMF and World Bank having successful undertaken economic reforms structural adjustment programs, the ERP, and the PSD. These reforms involved the privatization of state-owned enterprises such as the GPMB, NTC and GUC. It was predicted that this will spur the Gambian private sector and strengthen free market institutions.

The dalasi was devalued; price controls and fixed exchange rates were abolished; the exchange rate of the dalasi was to be determined by free market forces. There were even dreams of turning the Gambia into the Singapore of West Africa.

This may have created the illusion that the Gambia can ‘go it alone’ and that it does not need Senegal to be economically viable as a state. At the same time Senegal was going through a series of challenges on the economic front as well as in its political governance; The MFDC was leading an insurrection in Casamance and there were reports of violence, as such travelling to and from the Gambia to Casamance were considered dangerous and ill-advised.

Things were no less precarious in the two Guineas, Conakry, and Bissau. The instability in the subregion propelled stable Gambia into re-export hub for the region, because of its natural position as the Gateway to West Africa and this made the port of Banjul the re-export hub of the sub-region, traders from as far afield as Mali used to come to Banjul for their goods and supplies.

The boom in trade from the Gambia into the subregion started in the late 1980s and continued well into the new century with intermittent border closures at the behest of Senegal. As the bigger country, Senegal naturally resented the seeming economic  prosperity of the Gambia.

The resentment on the part of Senegal whilst understandable was not justifiable on economic principles or treaty obligations of the Gambia. The fact of matter was that Gambia took advantage of the reforms prescribed by the IMF and World Bank to develop a better economic governance framework. The bloated civil service was trimmed down with retrenchments and privatization. This freed up resources for the Government of the Gambia to concentrate on the core functions of responsible government: the entrenchment of the rule of law, internal peace, and security.

Against this backdrop of history and geography, I wish now to say a few words about the structures of the Economies of the Gambia and Senegal. From the point of view of size, the two countries are very different. Senegal is much larger in population and in area. However, in terms of basic economic structure at Independence, the two countries were very similar. Both were essentially mono-crop agricultural economies which relied mainly upon groundnut products. Both have significant trade deficits In both countries the greater part of the population is engaged in agriculture.

However, there is an important caveat to make in any discussion of the similarities between the two countries: There was a nucleus of industrial development in Senegal which dates back to the days when Dakar was the capital of French west Africa and its products circulated freely throughout the CFA Zone, mainly food, drinks, tobacco, and other consumer goods of various kinds.

Although they are very similar in basic structure and resources, the two economies were organized on very different bases. In Senegal a protectionist and discriminatory trade policy was pursued in respect of the Gambia and import charges were high. The Gambia’s trade policy has always been liberal and non-discriminatory, and import charges were relatively low.

A second important difference between the two countries is that there was a substantial difference in both the structure and general level of internal prices. A number of goods were relatively expensive in Senegal, due in part to relatively high tariffs. This led to high food prices estimated to have been up to 100 percent higher in Dakar than in Banjul, wages up to 80 per cent higher, and in general the cost of living to be 50 per cent higher in Senegal.

Given these differences and the difficulty of policing the artificial frontiers, it was not surprising that there are allegations of smuggling from the Gambia to Senegal. Traders will always find ways to be competitive whilst governments continue to find ways of making their economies competitive by offering legitimate incentives such as import-substitution schemes  and protection of specific nascent industries.

At the beginning of the new millennium, Senegal got a coalition government that was able to wrest power from the Socialist Party of Senegal that had managed to stay in power for 40 years.

The new Government led by President Wade was liberal in it approaches to the economy of Senegal. Within a decade the Wade Governments were able to transform the Senegalese economic position in the subregion, the conflicts in Cote D’ivoire repositioned the Port Dakar as the Port for Landlocked Mali, coupled with major economic reforms; tariffs were significantly lowered, the port of Dakar was privatized.

These reforms and given Senegal’s size relative to the Gambia, Senegal was able to regain the leadership role in its trade relations with all neighboring countries. Now Senegal is seen as the regional hub for sea and air transport. Trade is booming in all directions. The Gambia now imports more from Senegal than in the past. The port of Banjul continues to be competitive, but it is not booming as it was in the late 80s and 90s.

Trade in the integration of Senegambia is a historical fact and an economic necessity but understanding this fact and acting on it have proven to be illusory; for if we are one people why don’t we know more about each other? Why do the Senegambia media have an unofficial news blackout about the historical imperative and economic inevitability of integration? Why are our universities not teaching Senegambia Studies? I have so many questions and that’s why I have come to the university to ask them!!!

I will end my remarks by pointing out the fact throughout this address I have deliberately stayed away from the facts and figures of intra Senegambia trade, or quotes from treaties, protocols, laws, and regulations.

I do so because I believe you can through copious body of  research to  find these facts and figures; instead, I have focused my comments on history and geography because in the  end we can make history by changing the political geography of the Sahel. I do not believe that trade statistics or legal texts can bring about genuine integration of a people that are historically one.

How we teach each other about a shared past, a shared destiny and a shared future that works is the challenge of our generation. And as President Kennedy said long ago: “For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s futures. And we are all mortal”. Thank you very much your kind attention.

 @AFTaal

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