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Tuesday, June 2, 2020

What Jawara, OJ, Halifa and BB Dabo said about the demise of the Senegambia Confederation

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By Samsudeen Sarr

The following is copied from a comment made by a gentleman, Mr Baboucarr Jiteh Bojang on a segment of my last article Lawyer Ousainu Darboe’s Role In The 1981 Coup:“If I can remember well about why the Federation of Gambia and Senegal was not possible was the demands of Abdou Joof for Jawara for the two sovereign countries be integrated financially using the CFA and The GAMBIA to drop the Dalasi as a legal tender.

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“The second demand from Abdou Joof to Sir Dawda Jawara was that The Gambia was going to be a region of Senegal like Casamance is a region to the whole of Senegal. In that case Abdou Joof was going to be The President for The Gambia and Senegal, and Sir Dawda was going to be The Vice President. These two demands were flatly rejected by Sir Dawda Jawara and these were the reasons and many more why the Federation was impossible as far as Jawara was concerned. Do they sound reasonable for the federation of Gambia and Senegal impossible? Well maybe. Thanks.”

I first wish to thank Mr Bojang for taking part in the discussion which I believe should currently be the most important political subject for Gambians to address since The Gambia’s 2017 transitional agenda was usurped by Senegal rather than living in denial of that cardinal reality without even understanding what Presidents Macky Sall and Adama Barrow have agreed on our fate. It looks like our politicians are cursed with what psychoanalysts often diagnosed as misplaced or hidden anger, essentially denoting human frustration blamed on the wrong source. For all I know, Gambians are deeply divided over whether to go with Senegal all the way or not. We must settle that first.

Certainly, we shouldn’t remain indifferent ignoring that PPP syndrome again of expecting the Senegalese to indefinitely provide the comfortable few in power with guaranteed security for mistrusting our own army and don’t expect them to dictate our political destiny.

Of course, what Mr Bojang highlighted as the concept behind the failure of the Senegambia Confederation ratified by Abdou Diouf and Sir Dawda Jawara after the 1981 coup embodied the indisputable fact or is not far from it. The confederation was hinged on ultimately federating the two states, sharing one economy, one currency – the Senegalese CFA, jettisoning the Gambian dalasi with a loose political affiliation allowing the retention of the positions of both presidents although with the caveat of the head of state of Senegal inexorably appointed the president while the head of state of The Gambia settled for the vice presidency.

I believe Sir Dawda was fully aware of the content of the entire protocol when they signed it on December 12th, 1981 and was in earnest implemented on February 1st, 1982.
It is however a historical fact that the British before granting us independence in 1965 ineffectually attempted to merge the two countries on a similar premeditation due to their lack of confidence in the colony to survive the challenges of an independent sovereign state. But the undesirable design effectively unified all the rival political leaders under the directorship of Sir Dawda who successfully attained independence without the loathed amalgamation.

It is therefore fair to conclude that, Sir Dawda’s decision to agree with President Diouf on federating the two states after 1981, the same idea he had passionately fought against in 1964 was as a result of two possibilities. The first but seemingly unlikely, factoring his intellect, diligence and experience, was to assume his misunderstanding of the nitty-gritty content of the accord. Second and most appealing to me, was his awareness of the details but at a time when he fully well knew that the lifeline of his government was directly wired to President Abdou Diouf’s desk in Dakar who just rescued him from Kukoi. Hence, for his government to survive, he was left with no other option but to succumb to what would transform his extolled 1965 patriotic image into that of a renegade puppet in 1982. It was no longer about nationalism but about his survivability.

The Senegalese had essentially taken over his personal security and that of his family at the State House, took over the Fajara Barracks and started the formation of a French-styled gendarmerie force, commanded and controlled by Senegalese and absorbing a few of the lucky Field Force survivors who constituted the pioneers. They further occupied the British-built colonial structures opposite the Fajara Barracks, turning it into their infantry battalion headquarters. The Old Yundum Agriculture Department encamped their artillery and mechanised combat forces; the airport was a violent battlefront where a lot of Gambian youth and some of their soldiers perished. An infantry company was deployed to Brikama another town reminisced for the stiff resistance mounted by resilient armed youth to halt their final assault to annex Banjul. Another platoon was deployed to Kartong the escape route of Kukoi Samba Sanyang and his lieutenants to Bissau. And last but not the least was the construction of a new barracks at Kudang village and the deployment of their largest infantry company there.

Sir Dawda was indeed made to believe that their massive presence in the country was imperative, lest Kukoi returns, more lethal than before.
But the arrogance at which they manifested the significance of their companionship was repulsive to put it mildly which rapidly started to erode the euphoria and confidence Gambians initially had for their intervention to defeat Kukoi.

I have in my last article explained how on their watch and active participation, members of the main opposition party, the NCP and their leader, Sheriff Dibba were unjustly persecuted by the PPP government, and thanks to Lawyer Ousainu Darboe’s stand in defence of their innocence coupled with the international pressure exerted on Sir Dawda that the victimisation eventually ceased.

There was another sad incident when one of their soldiers had to shoot and kill an innocent Gambian civil servant at the Denton Bridge who was driving in broad daylight from the Kombos to Banjul. The soldier’s inexcusable defence of killing the unarmed gentleman was for violating their checkpoint regulation by moving beyond where he was ordered to stop. I cannot recall the name but I think he was an Aku or Christian fellow.

Another young Gambian on a routine visit to Minister Omar Jallow’s compound was also shot and killed by another Senegalese soldier on guard duty there. According to independent witnesses, the visitor had gotten into an altercation with the soldier after being denied entry to the minister’s compound, a case that was later dismissed after questioning the sanity of the victim. I am not sure, but the country may have still been in a state of emergency.

Some of their hyper aggressive soldiers got into street and bar brawls here and there with young Gambians, perhaps in a display of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of the bloody war they had experienced for the first time in their careers, an affliction not yet quite understood by African doctors or armies.

I had expected Sir Dawda to elaborate on the subject in his book Kairaba, published in December 2009, but he was rather economical on the topic claiming to have been surprised on why Senegal suddenly terminated the confederation that September morning. As he stated, President Diouf in an unexpected move didn’t even accord him the courtesy of writing or calling him directly about his troops’ immediate withdrawal but channeled the message informally through the Senegalese presidential guard commander at the Banjul State House.

Minister Omar Jallow (OJ) in his testimony at the Truth, Reconciliation & Reparations Commission (TRRC) expressed his never wavering support to keep the Senegambia Confederation alive, further expressing his reservation over the decision to invite the Nigerians. Was his position ever known to Sir Dawda, especially when the government started compromising the very principles on which the treaty was founded as listed below? We need to know.

Sir Dawda didn’t want to say much about what exactly happened.
From a divergent viewpoint, if I understood him correctly, Mr Halifa Sallah in his November 7th interview with Harona Drammeh of Paradise TV, alluded to the pivotal role played by PDOIS in influencing Sir Dawda or the PPP government in the decision for the discontinuation of the confederation. In what he said was a well-researched document submitted in 1985 they had brought to the attention of the government the rather wasteful funds committed by Senegal and The Gambia at a ratio of 3:1 respectively for the upkeep of the confederation, all spent on the maintenance of the security forces alone with virtually nothing trickling down to the Gambian people.

I would have loved to hear what Mr Sallah and Mr Jallow think about the so-called foreign troops occupying the country now on similar arrangements with the bulk of the money provided by the EU monopolised among themselves with nothing trickling down either.
Nonetheless, listening to MrSallah’s interview from the comfort of my living room, I had cringed over his omission by neglect or perhaps out of forgetfulness of how Senegal throughout had looked the other way while The Gambia profited immensely from the lucrative open border re-export trade of cheaper imported merchandise that was in effect hemorrhaging their economy into a coma.

Before and after independence, Gambian commercial vehicles were free to transport passages and goods to and from Banjul, Bissau, Guinea Conakry, Bamako, Kolda, Casamance and Dakar without any major problems on the way. Of course, all these free movement of goods and people stopped after September 1989, a blockade still enforced today. President Diouf initiated it, President Wade reinforced it and President Sall shows no appetite in reversing it.President Jawara’s vice president at the time Mr Bakary B Dabo once disclosed in an interview, his innocence over how and why the confederation ended. That he was not in the country then, period. I couldn’t remember whether he was asked the next logical question of whether he had taken any efforts to later find out or what he had felt about it, but I think the answer to the puzzle was conspicuous in President Jawara’s unorthodox behaviour throughout the best years of the agreement.
Jawara perhaps couldn’t say much about how he sabotaged the confederation in his 2009 book because of the ramifications attributed to the eventual failure of his government in 1994. He also had retuned home from exile enjoying the retirement life of a former president under the regime that toppled him.

But I believe if nothing had gone wrong, uninterrupted, until his retirement in politics, he probably would have frankly apologised to the Gambians for betraying their trust by “surrendering” the sovereignty of the nation to Senegal in 1982 out of personal interest, a “taboo” he had zealously fought against when the British tried to lure him into it in 1965.
It was nonetheless discernible that he essentially started applying obstructive measures to the protocol in 1983 when his government offered a contract to a Ghanaian non-commissioned officer, Sergeant Major Frimpong, to form an exclusive Gambian army free of Senegalese interference, disregarding the article assigning that responsibility to his saviours.

Who in the PPP government at the time honestly cautioned the president for flouting a major rule of the confederation?
The Ghanaian, in order to fulfill his task, chose Farafenni Barracks, an ideal camp not occupied or easily accessible to the Senegalese.

However, to the disappointment of the Gambia Government, no sooner had MrFrimpong’s first platoon graduated from training than the Senegalese managed to take the entire unit to Dakar for reorientation. By the time they returned, the Ghanaian was fired as if it was his fault for not resisting the Senegalese action.
In 1984, Sir Dawda turned to the British for assistance. A British Army Training Team (BATT) arrived to help achieve what SgtMajor Frimpong couldn’t. That was the birth of the Gambia National army (GNA) in July 1984.

Some of those who were integrated from the defunct Field Force and some newly trained young men in the Gambia National Gendarmerie (GNG) were moved to the GNA including Sir Dawda’s aide-de-camp in 1981 who was appointed army commander.
The BATT kept away the Senegalese from everything they had to do to make the army purely Gambian in the precise manner prescribed by the PPP government. It stayed like that until they completed the formation of the first infantry company, Alpha Company. The company was not taken to Dakar for reorientation as in Frimpong’s batch but the Senegalese asked and got the whole new detachment attached to their battalion in the country.

It was like introducing the GNA soldiers to the real career that motivated them into joining the army in the first place. In addition to the fun enjoyed by the young troops with their foreign counterparts, away from the humdrum life at Yundum Barracks characterised by guards of honour, parades, guard duties and endless field crafts, the wages paid by the Senegalese were unbelievably excellent.

With France helping to maintain the troops in the Gambia, the Confederation army paid salaries and benefits far exceeding that of the GNA’s. Soldiers earning D400 per month at Yundum received D1200 or more per month at Kudang or Kartong. GNA officers paid D1,000 received D4,000 to D5,000in the Confederal Army.

So instead of now capping the new GNA size as originally planned into a single battalion with basic support units such as a band, engineering, transport units, and so forth, insulated to take over from the Senegalese, it became more or less an auxiliary force supplying one company at a time to the confederation on a two-year rotational tour of duty. In the end, nothing mattered more to a GNA officer or soldier than to serve at least once in the Confederal Army for better emoluments. So on the day the Senegalese unilaterally walked away in 1989, the mood in the GNA, except perhaps for the elite officers, was as if we just heard the obituary announcement that our parents had died in a plane crash. It was the beginning of the morale and psychological decay in the army that continued to degenerate into the 1994 rebellion.

Before getting into those details, I want us to zoom my lenses on the events of April 1989.
Senegal had had a border dispute with Mauritania that almost escalated into a full-blown war between the two neighbours. But when Abdou Diouf sought the cooperation of Sir Dawda to support them when the situation deteriorated to an imminent war, The Gambia Government refused, declaring a position of neutrality in the conflict and even offered to mediate for peace between them which Senegal rejected out rightly.

Diouf, I understand had in that particular event felt really betrayed by the Gambia. Then before Sir Dawda sent the letter to Diouf that finally broke the camel’s back, his government protested about its discovery of foreign aid being unilaterally sought and received by Senegal in the name of the confederation unbeknown to The Gambia. Diouf, they said, defended their action on the pretext of Senegal footing the larger amount of the bill to maintain the confederation.

Finally, in August 1989, the decisive letter from Sir Dawda was sent asking Abdou Diouf for the two governments to sit and review the Confederal Protocol so as to amend the clause on the appointment of the two heads of state . He wanted the presidency and the vice presidency to be rotational rather than what they mutually endorsed before. Abdou Diouf, upon receiving the letter took the definitive resolution to abort the pact in September, 1989.

Shortly after, Sir Dawda was once again confronted with the dilemma of how to fill the vacuum left by Senegal’s withdrawal which was negatively impacting discipline among the troops, especially when the soldiers went out twice in the streets in 1991 and 1992 to demonstrate against his government. The history of the contract of the Nigerian Army Training and Assistance Group (NATAG) started from there.
Read my next paper on the creation and dissolution of NATAG.
Samsudeen Sarr is a former Commander of the Gambia National Army. He was also a diplomat and is the author of several books. He is currently on a private visit to New York.

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