LASPAD – APN Collaborative Research Group
Senegal and the Gambia are condemned by nature to co-exist. The Gambia is a small strip of land on both sides of the riverbank engulf by Senegal on three sides (North, South and East).
Aside from the fact that the two countries share the same peoples (all ethnic groups found in Senegal are in The Gambia), this geographical arrangement has both strengthen the relationship between the two countries but also has been a source of political friction that have led to several border closures since 2000.
The most recent standoff between the two sister countries was in 2016 when the administration under the former president, Yahya Jammeh, decided to unilaterally increase ferry tariffs for Senegalese vehicles who ply the short economically important Trans-Gambia route that runs from Northern and Southern Senegal through the Gambia.
From the normal six – twelve hours travelling time, Senegalese truck drivers and travelers heading to Casamance were forced to take the longer routes via Tambacounda thus creating an unbearable economic hardship for both countries.
One of the promises President Macky Sall made to Senegalese as he was running for the 2012 presidential elections was about the "territorial continuity" of Senegal, which was to be ensured by the Trans-Gambia or Senegambia Bridge – named depending on if you are a pro-sovereignist or a pro-confederate opportunist Senegambian.
In fact, President Macky Sall as a newly elected president did not hesitate to devote his first official visit outside Senegal to his Gambian counterpart, Yahya Jammeh, the days following the celebration of Senegal's independence in April 2012. Moreover, the strongman of The Gambia, who was to host the ECOWAS conference on Guinea Bissau and Mali in May 2012, conceded as a gift the organization of the summit to his Hal Puular nephew (Macky Sall).
But the enjoyment of power as the West or Kocc Barma taught us is far from our societal accommodation of the type of joking relationship (my nephew, my slave…) between [Ajamaat - Hal Puular - Sereer ... and tutti quanti -], because "Buur du Mbokka", in short, the Prince is not bound by family sentiments, which is a very well assimilated State rule in the two Senegambia nations.
Not that Jammeh would have become so naive (!) For a regime known for its authoritarianism, it is more of a sign of loneliness and weariness of power that made him less vigilant to some common thoughts that imply that Senegal gives with the right hand what it withdraws with the left hand.
The new friendship between Jammeh and Macky was so beautiful that in February 2015, the Vice President of the Gambia, Mrs. Isatou Njie - Saidy and Mr. Boune Abdallah Dione Prime Minister of Senegal laid the foundation stone symbolizing the groundwork of the Trans Gambia Bridge.
However, President Jammeh will not witness the inauguration (January 2019) of the bridge with President Macky Sall, who did not hesitate at the first opportunity given to him, to get rid of an unmanageable Gambian President who showed signs of unwillingness in the burning issue of crossing the Gambia River.
In December 2016, Macky Sall would offer in the Senegalese capital the investiture to President Adama Barrow, the transitional candidate supported by the Gambian opposition for three years’ non-renewable term.
Thus, the post-election crisis would throw the President of the New Gambia into the shielding arms of President Macky Sall who knows that by helping Barrow he could better hope to fulfill his promise to the people of Casamance in terms of the opening up of the region and the territorial continuity of Senegal over The Gambia.
From now on, President Macky Sall can count the Senegambian Bridge in his political record. As for the Gambians, they would like to reclaim back their democracy against a Senegalese President whom they suspect to condone President Barrow too much.
This quest for sovereignty justifies their interest in the outcome of the Senegalese presidential elections. Despite the record of President Macky in terms of stability and human security in The Gambia and Casamance, Gambians would see Mr. Ousmane Sonko, the young darling of Senegalese politics, as future President of Senegal.
It must be emphasized that it is the Senegalese army that plays the role of securing our respective borders and under the guise of ECOWAS. The only merit of the Gambia in terms of security and peacebuilding in Casamance comes down to the fact that it is the field of security operations.
The question of sovereignty is one of many reasons that drives the reactions of the Gambian intelligentsia, which seems to accuse President Barrow of selling their sovereignty against his political future.
For instance, the renaming of the Trans-Gambia Bridge to “Senegambia Bridge” has ignited nationalist sentiments in some quarters. Many Gambians expected the inauguration to be a Gambian affair and that includes renaming the bridge. Gambian’s have no problem with the president naming the bridge Senegambia only that they do not think the initiative is his but Macky's. To make it worst, most Gambians learned about the name change through Senegalese TV and media.
As it stands, the renaming of a more than five decades Trans-Gambia project to Senegambia is seen as undermining Gambian sovereignty and independence. This is further provoked by the continuous harassment of Gambian travelers transiting through Senegal and the activities of the Senegalese Military in the Gambia particularly in the South Bank including the shooting of protesters in Kanilai that led to the death of Haruna Jatta and their effort to stop the lucrative timber deal.
For some time now, the Gambian President in bickering with his political party has been encouraging the creation of a youth movement that claims to defend his politics in a non-partisan way. He built up an army of pro-Barrow sympathizers, while the state apparatus served him to settle accounts with his ex-coalition members who had become his opponents under the watchful eye of Senegal.
Recently, Barrow handed over vehicles and Motorbikes to the Barrow Youth Movement for National Development to ease their mobility in mobilizing support for Barrow's "program." Moreover, of course, he would do anything, if he could, to see President Macky Sall win a second term.
As for some of his former allies whom he ended up alienating their sympathy, they are susceptible to the rise in strength of Ousmane Sonko whose southern origin seems to bring them closer; and are already fond of the idea that he would not hinder the political sovereignty of The Gambia by exploiting President Barrow's bonhomie as President Macky Sall does.
The Gambian intelligentsia begins to dream of a victory of the son of Fogni, this great terroir of the south shared between Senegal and The Gambia, and the stronghold of the former President Yahya Jammeh, from where the Atepa Goudiaby, and others like Marie Angélique and Landing Savané originated from as well.
Who would've believed that?
That the Gambia after Jammeh would see in the natural Casamance, an outlet of its complex of sovereignty with Senegal. The South Bank of the Gambia River, which the political scientist Babacar Justin Ndiaye would call the Banjul - Bignona - Bissau axis, is indeed a complex subject.
The political sentiments shared by the Gambians remind us that the victory of President Macky Sall in Casamance is not acquired yet, that the political acts he posed in terms of territorial continuity in the framework of the peace process have duplicative advantages.
Sure, the different candidates will not be campaigning in the Gambia, but they have to know what their neighbors think of these presidential elections and their expectations in terms of relations between the New Gambia and Senegal.
Pape Cherif Bertrand Bassène
History Former Lecturer, University of The Gambia
Sait Matty Jaw
Political Science Lecturer, University of The Gambia