Babilli Mansa’s Trans-Gambia Bridge: Is the Main Issue Hampering the Negotiations? In a communique read to the Press by the Senegalese Ambassador to the Gambia, Mr. Saliou Ndiaye, after fourteen long hours of negotiations, the parties agreed to continue the negotiations to be held latest towards the end of July 2016. However the strong delegations from the Gambia lead by Mrs. Neneh Macdouall Gaye, Minister of Foreign Affairs included Mr. Ousman Sonko (Minister of Interior), Mr. Abdou Jobe (Minister of Trade and Employment), Mrs. Mama Singhateh (Justice Minister), Awa Njie (Deputy Minister Foreign Affairs) and some GRA Officials; came to the negotiations with only one objective: an immediate re- opening of the closed borders.

MACKY AND JAMMEHThe Senegalese Foreign Minister, Mr. Ndiaye, gave the assurance that they will do everything possible to talk to the Transport Unions to lift the blockade of the borders as quickly as possible. Three of the 11 ‘points’ raised during the negotiations will be the object of a future negotiation:  the construction of the bridge on the river Gambia, the sea and river fishing, and the management of the ground borders. The Senegalese delegation also included the repatriation of the escaped prisoner from Senegalese jail Modou Fall alias “Boye Djiné” and the Gambian delegation made a commitment to study the request.

 However, Neneh Macdouall GAYE made a surprising statement about the plan to change the original architecture of Trans-Gambia Bridge which proved to be the main bone of contention at the negotiations and prolonged the meeting until early this morning. In her opening address, she told her counterparts, it is now realized that the architecture of the bridge could hamper navigation along the river and we have to discuss to change the architecture.” This was a big surprise to the Senegalese.

But wait a minute! Was the TransGambia river project thoroughly appraised by the experts at the African Development Bank before going ahead with its financing at a tune of over FCFA 50 billion? Why Isatou Njie-Saidy did went ahead with the laying of the foundation stone in February 2015 marking the 50th Independence anniversary in the presence of the current Senegalese Prime Minster, Mr. Mohammed DIONNE, representing President Macky SALL?

According to information posted on the website of the African Development Fund about the project, “the project would have been executed for a period of five years (2012-2017) and financed by the ADF and the two participating countries. In line with its request and demonstration of commitment to the project, the Gambia government is expected to contribute 0.25% (UA 0.16 million) to cover compensation related costs. The government of Senegal to contribute 13% (UA 0.47 million) to cover costs for project coordination activities.  The statement went further to add,” During the conduct of the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment, public consultations with various stakeholders were undertaken in The Gambia and Senegal. These consultations were meant to: (i) present the project to the stakeholders; (ii) seek their views and concerns with regards to the project’s impacts; and (iii) identify key activities that could contribute to and complement the design of the project. The project has incorporated specific design features in response to the concerns raised by stakeholders. These include: (i) construction of two markets; and (ii) rehabilitation of feeder roads.” 

Details of the project can be obtained online from the AFDB website where it is also clearly indicated that the construction of the bridge is in line with the ECOWAS decision on the establishment of a regional road transport and transit facilitation programme in support of intra-community trade and cross-border movements. The other phase of the project comprises the rehabilitation of 137 kilometers of the Senoba-Ziguinchor road in Senegal and pavement strengthening of 24 kilometers of the Farafenni –Senoba road in The Gambia.

It now begs the question why wait for five years after the project was approved to come up with such unfounded excuses. Putting personal interest aside, this mega project is in the interest of both Gambians and Senegalese to have this project implemented as it could improve the lives of all those in the cross-border trade as well as access to markets for farmers . The economic and social benefits that could be realized after the bridge is implemented far outweighed the glorification of one individual as Babilli Mansa. Cross-border trade between Senegal and Gambia can accelerate growth through poverty reduction, job creation and facilitate regional integration.

Having endured so many years of hardship and oppression, so many Gambians are now fed up with the present status quo and would prefer a much closer cooperation with Senegal to benefit from improved social and political freedom as well as economic wellbeing unmatched in the region.

By using the approaching Ramadan to put pressure on the Senegalese is simply not working. Given that honoring past agreements is not in Yaya Jammeh’s DNA, we are in for a long and drawn out border closure. According to RFI, the borders between Senegal and Gambia are far from being reopened as if echoing the words of one elderly man living near the Gambian border: “the problem between Gambia and Senegal is like hard pounding, we have to see who can pound the longest.”

Written By Our Dakar Correspondent

PS:

If 950,000 Senegalese are making their living in the Gambia plus about 350,000 consist of Sierra Leoneans, Liberians, Nigerians and other nationalities also earning their living in the country. This will become a total of  1,300,000 foreigners of different nationalities  making their living in the Gambia. With a reported population of 1,880 ,000 people (as per 2013 censor ) then it means that  there are only 500,000 indigenous Gambians. This does not take into account those Gambians living in the Diaspora.  Something is not right with Yaya Jammeh’s figures. He either exaggerated those figures or he was referring to other nationalities!

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