BorderTalks1

The nearly ten weeks closure of the Senegambian border seems now to be so much shrouded in secrecy that no one seems to know where we are heading towards. According to Senegalese state spokesmen it was not the act of the Senegalese state but that of transport unionists. The authorities in Banjul denied knowing anything about it until recently when they said that yes they are aware of the border closure but only the Senegalese side is closed not that of the Gambia. In a similar problem several years ago, Gambian transport unionist Ousman Drammeh was arraigned in a Kaur Magistrate’s court charged with “giving false information to public officials” when he told reporters that his and a Senegalese counterpart of unionists, then solved the border problem by reaching  a mutually satisfactory agreement. The Gambian authorities think their counterparts are in Dakar are hiding behind the Senegalese unionists a while those in Dakar think that Banjul , under the mad autocracy of Yahya Jammeh, a virulent provocateur, dislikes any durable peace and harmony with its bigger neighbor. When the pressures mounted too  much for Banjul, the authorities there rescinded their adventurist decision to hike up what Senegalese vehicles pay to cross into the Gambia 100-fold, from CFA 4 000  to CFA 400 000. Saving face they never revealed this until Guinean President Alpha Conde visited Banjul to mediate between the two neighbors. Even members of Conde’s team were astounded by the level of childishness on Gambian officialdom.

Following Conde’s intervention, a top level Gambian delegation, led by Foreign minister, Nenneh Macdouall-Gaye, tail folded in shame, went to meet the authorities in Dakar. Nothing seemed to have resulted from that visit.

At least not till Tuesday 24th May when Pape Seydou Dianko, head of the Karang center Branch of the Coalition of drivers Karang announced late that the boycott from The Gambia by Senegalese carriers has been concluded.Road traffic between the two countries resumed Tuesday morning, he said in a telephone interview with the Senegalese private radio RFM.

“We lifted the blockade on six boundaries that were blocked,” said Mr. Dianko, who is also mayor of the town of Toubacouta, speaking in Wolof.

According to him, Senegalese transporters have been informed by the authorities of Senegal of an agreement Monday night, 23rd May, with their Gambian counterparts.

Howeverthe secretary general of the Union of Road Transport Workers Senegal (STTRS) Gora Khouma, told the RFM he was not aware of the end of the “Trans-Gambian” road boycott. Talking on the same radio, Mr. Khouma asked members of STTRS to continue their boycott of Gambian territory.

The “Trans-Gambian” road blockade is in effect for several weeks in Senegalese carriers.

Because of this measure, Senegalese motorists are forced to make a long detour of more than 500 kilometers around the Gambia. Khouma had once said that the boycott action would continue as long as Jammeh remains in place as head of state of Gambia. He, at the time, the strongly condemned the death in custody of Gambian transport union leader Sheriff Dibba. “This boycott action is therefore an act of solidarity with our fellow unionists and our oppressed relatives across the border,” Khouma had said.

Last week, during the negotiations held in Dakar many hoped the borders would soon be opened. But after the talks much of that optimism quickly dissipated. It seemed many Gambians, very tired of Jammeh’s long and destructive rule, seemed to want his early exit despite the many inconveniences of the border closure.

When I asked a fellow Dakar-based journalist currently in Banjul to cover the ongoing Banjul Plus Ten Pan-African youth conference, he told me , “No I have not heard that the borders are open though they engaged in Dakar before I came over. But you know it is like a dialogue of the deaf when the authorities of Dakar meet with those of Banjul, one talks chebu jeinne the other domoda. You call ours benechine and we call yours mafee, that is the problem. So they end up talking each other to death but without really understanding each other.” But is the border still closed? That is the question.

Ends

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