President Jammeh on the Gambia-Senegal border closure As officials of two countries engage in negotiations

Ousman Sillah

President Alpha Conde of Guinea (Conakry) has ended a half day working visit to the Gambia on Saturday, 14 May, in a bid to President Jammeh (Gambia), President Conde (Guinea) and President Sall (Senegal)mediate in resolving the problem of the protracted closure of the Gambia-Senegal border and during which President Yahya Jammeh commented on the issue for the first time in the three months long impasse.

Speaking to state (GRTS television) reporters at the Banjul International Airport, shortly before his departure to Conakry, President Conde, through a translator, described the relationship between Guinea and The Gambia as cordial.

He added “Also there is a family relationship. Don’t forget that the First Lady of the Gambia is from Guinea and in terms of looking into the future; our two countries would try to advance things. There are some difficulties in terms of the relationship Gambia has with Senegal. I thanked President Jammeh for accepting to send a delegation to Senegal in order to resolve these issues. We are Muslims and the month of Ramadan is coming and both of us feel that both populations (Gambia and Senegal) should not suffer. This is why we are taking steps forward in order to make things right. I am returning to Gambia on 2nd June.”

President Jammeh also spoke to the reporters and said the following:

 I am thanking my brother for coming to the Gambia. In Africa we respect age because that is sacrosanct in our values. He came as a brother to visit the Gambia. What he said is true. I hate to see Africans suffer.

I hate to see conflict between African countries. I have no intention of going to settle the issue of the border because our border is opened. The tariffs are down. They closed the border and I will not negotiate with someone that closed the border. A lot of people are suffering. A lot of people of appealing for me to open the border.

 He (President Conde) has been talking to me constantly and he said to me look you have to save the people that are suffering.

 They are suffering more in Senegal than in the Gambia. I said to him, “no, we are going because I did not close the border. I have opened the border”. If the people in Senegal are suffering, they should blame their government and not me because they are the ones that closed the border. People are suffering and that is the truth.

 As a muslim and an African I don’t want to see an African suffer. So if it is for us to go there so that people that are suffering there would not suffer, then I will do it, not because of question of weakness, because of dignity. Because Almighty Alah is with people that are reasonable and humble. He (President Conde) has intervened because he wants the issue resolved once and for all. Remember this is the eight times that Senegal has been closing the border at will since 1994.

 The tariff they were complaining is reciprocal. We charged them the same thing they charged Gambian trucks. So they have no reason to say that Gambia arbitrarily raised the tariff. Gambia has done nothing wrong, if Allah could be offended and he forgives, why not us?

Meanwhile as reported in the Senegalese media a high powered delegation from the Gambia is currently in Dakar meeting with their Senegalese counterparts to resolve the border crisis.

Mrs. Neneh Macduall Gaye, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Abdou Jobe, Minister of Trade, Madam Fatima Singhateh, Minister of Justice, Mr. Ousman Sonko, Minister of the Interior, and Madame Yam Bamba Njie Keita, Office from the President, form part of the Gambian delegation.

As for Senegal, they were represented by Mankeur Ndiaye. Minister of Foreign Affairs and othe cabinet colleagues such as Abdoulaye Daouda Diallo (Intérior), Sidiki Kaba (Justice), Mansour Elimane Kane (Transports Terestrial), Abdoulaye Baldé (Environment), Alioune Sarr (Trade), Oumar Guèye (Fisheries) and Birima Mangara (Budget). The others who also participated in the negotitiatioons were Oumar Maal, the National Director of Police, , Pape Ousmane Guèye, Customs, Saliou Ndiaye, Senegalese High Commissioner to The Gambia, among other high ranking personalities in the Senegalese government.

Mrs. Macduall Gaye, who headed the official Gambian delegation, told the Senegalese media, among other things, that it is important to ease the suffering being encountered as a result of the border closure now that the Muslim month of Ramadan is fast approaching.

She was quoted saying that the Gambia has no problems with building a bridge across the TransGambia but that the architectural design needs to change to allow for river traffic.

For his part, the Senegalese foreign minister said they want the construction of this bridge and to which they have already secured financing from the African Development Bank (AfDB) to the tune of 50 billion francs CFA.