By Mustapha Jallow
A week after the reopening of all the official border crossings between the Gambia and Senegal which were closed since 24 February 2016, the movements of people and vehicular traffic at the Amdalaye-Karang border have intensified with its concomitant socio-economic activities.
The three months long period in which the borders were closed was reported to have a negative effect on travellers and trade activities which had significantly scaled down due to the blockade of vehicles leaving or entering Senegal.
However, with the lifting of the blockade as a result of an agreement reached by the Gambian and Senegalese governments, the border is now teeming with people as vehicles are now allowed to cross with goods. Traders and hawkers are also busy dealing with customers who are either going to Senegal or coming into the Gambia.
When this reporter started to head to the said border crossing on Monday, 30 May, the first thing to be noticed was the increase in the number of vehicles and passengers crossing with the Banjul-Barra ferry which has not been the case during the period of the border blockade. The majority of vehicles at both sides of the terminals and inside the ferries were Senegalese registered. It was also noticed that the Gambian registered trucks were either from or are Senegal bound.
Talking to a staff of the ferry service under the Gambia Ports Authority (GPA), who prefers anonymity, he confirmed that the border closure had negatively impacted on the revenue of the service.
“The period from February 16 to May 24 when the border was closed has seen the revenue of the ferry service drop significantly as the vehicles and passengers coming from or going to Senegal reduced,” said the official.
He said the border reopening is a welcome development not only to economic operators and traders whose businesses were affected but the government of the Gambia as well, particularly the ferry service.
“Some of the Gambian businessmen were seen jubilating openly after hearing the announcement of the reopening of the borders,” he disclosed.
According to him, the trucks from Senegal and traders taking goods have been providing the bulk of the revenue of the ferries.
“In fact, the first and second days after the Karang border was opened witnessed an overcrowding of people in the ferries which compelled him to ask some travellers to come out and wait for the next ferry to come,” he disclosed.
As this reporter arrived at the Amdalai-Karang border area, he noticed that the place was teeming with people and vehicles unlike the last time he visited there to observe the impact of the closure on movements and trade. The petty traders or hawkers selling fruits, snacks, cool drinks or exchanging currency were busy with customers looking for food to eat or gifts to take along on the journey or changing money.
Lamarana Bah, Senegalese national and petty trader at Karang, said he has been hard hit by the three months closure of border which affected the livelihood of his family.
“I entirely depend on this small business which provides the fish money, pays the education bills of my children, rent, utilities and other exigencies but these past three months have been a very difficult period for me and my family,” he disclosed.
He explained that they were all jubilating when the border was opened as it was a long overdue development that comes to revive their businesses some of which were on the verge of closing if the impasse continued.
He said he has been doing business at Karang for the past two years and buys most of his stock from Banjul. He said the closure had meant extra expenses on the transportation of his goods from Banjul to Karang.
Isatou Jallow, a restaurant owner in Karang, said the closure of the border has been affecting her sales and profit as few customers were coming to buy food from her. “It was really good news for me when I heard that the two governments have now reached an agreement and that the border was going to be reopened,” she revealed.
The middle aged woman said the situation of Gambia and Senegal is one people and two countries, adding that as such the two governments have to do everything possible to ensure the free movement of people as and when they wish and at all times.