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close this bookThe Courier N 119 Jan - Febr 1990 - Dossier National Languages - Country Report: Gambia (EC Courier, 1990, 100 p.)
close this folderCountry report: The Gambia
View the documentMarket forces rule, OK.
View the documentAn interview with Sir Dawda Jawara
View the documentThe demise of the Senegambian Confederation
View the documentThe Gambia-EEC Cooperation

The demise of the Senegambian Confederation

The end came suddenly for the Senegambian Confederation last August. According to sources in Banjul, a Gambian suggestion that the presidency of the Confederation should rotate between the Heads of State of Senegal and The Gambia rather than held permanently by the President of Senegal, as it had been since 1982, annoyed the Senegalese. Within 24 hours the Senegalese army and police units in The Gambia-the most visible symbols of the union between the two countries-had been withdrawn and President Dawda Jawara had accepted, not the proposal for a “freeze”, but the complete pulling down of the Confederation. He asked his foreign minister, Mr Omar Sey, to begin negotiations immediately for the dismantling with his Senegalese counterpart. So came to an end the latest (if not the final) chapter in the saga of voluntary union between the two countries which goes as far back as the 19th century.

The Gambia is surrounded by Senegal on three sides, dividing the latter almost into two. In terms of area, Senegal is 20 times the size of The Gambia. Culturally, both countries share the same ethnic groups and languages (Mandinka, Fula, Wolof, Jola and Serahuli). Islam and Christianity are the dominant religions in both countries.

It has always been believed that it was a matter of time before Senegal swallowed up The Gambia since both countries were carved up in the Versailles Treaty of 1783. But for one reason or another, The Gambia has remained separate. In the 1870s the French proposed to exchange The Gambia with territories elsewhere. This proposal seemed at one time to be finding favour in London, but it was successfully scuttled by lobbyists of Bathurst-based English merchants. The British were again prepared, before independence, to see The Gambia absorbed by Senegal, a position strengthened by a UN report which favoured federation. This idea was vigorously opposed not only by the emerging political party in the territory, the PPP (the Protectorate People’s Party which was to become the People’s Progressive Party) but also by some Senegalese politicians, particularly Doudou Thiam who, it is believed, had an eye on the vice presidency of Senegal-a position which was being proposed for The Gambia.

A physical inconvenience for Senegal, the independence of The Gambia was received in Dakar not without a feeling of disappointment. But in the Senghor years that followed, both countries learned to accommodate each other, moving closer step by step after initial difficulties.

In 1964, the FAO proposed a customs union between the two countries but nothing came of it. Three years later, however, they signed a loose Treaty of Association and joined other West African countries in 1975 in signing the ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) treaty-a treaty which has among its medium-term objectives a customs union throughout the region.

In 1978, both countries set up The Gambia River Development Organisation which has among its development targets the building of a bridge/barrage across the River Gambia. The bridge/barrage, it is hoped, will provide energy and irrigation possibilities for The Gambia and the fastest and easiest link between the northern and southern parts of Senegal, vital for Senegal not only economically but also from the point of view of security. The project has still not got off the ground for a variety of reasons, the most important being the considerable reluctance on the part of The Gambia, which, informed sources believe, is not really convinced that the economic benefits that will flow from such a bridge will overshadow the implications as far as The Gambia’s sovereignty is concerned.

The Gambia, however, contrary to most forecasts, has proved economically viable despite its geography. Although The Gambia shares the common principle of plural democracy with Senegal, this small country has an entirely different economic system, which seems to work. Gambians continue to guard jealously the independence and sovereignty of the country. They have never made a secret of the fact that The Gambia’s sovereignty is non-negotiable in its relationship with Senegal.

An abortive coup

The abortive coup d’etat in The Gambia in 1981, put down with the help of Senegalese army, forced the authorities to reappraise The Gambia’s relationship with Senegal. It strengthened the ties between the two countries. This culminated in an Agreement which set up the Senegambia Confederation-a union that came into force in February 1982. As well as consolidating the cooperation already existing between the two countries, the Agreement provided among other things, for joint independent institutions: a parliament, an executive and an army with the President of Senegal as President of the Confederation and the President of The Gambia as the Vice-President (Both countries retained their full sovereignty and official languages); harmonisation of foreign policy; strengthening of cultural and technical cooperation and eventual economic integration.

The Confederation’s budget was being financed two-thirds by Senegal and one-third by The Gambia. For the Senegalese, the Confederation represented a step along the road to political union between the two countries. For The Gambia it was a forum for cooperation and eventual economic union, no more, no less. It was this difference in conception of what the Confederation actually meant that was beneath the unspoken disagreement between the two countries and the slow progress towards economic integration.

When the eighth anniversary of The Senegambian Confederation was celebrated in Dakar in February 1989, it was all pomp (military march past) and nothing to show for it. At least 80 % of the Confederation’s budget went on defence and security.

In the eyes of The Gambians, however, progress was being made. Trade between the two countries was on the increase and the re-export trade was booming. Agreement had been reached on the Protocols to establish a Free Trade Area and negotiations were continuing on monetary and customs union between the two countries before the sudden collapse of the Confederation.

The Senegalese reaction, according to Gambian sources, was to tighten border control on goods coming into, or in transit through, Senegal from The Gambia as the text of a telex widely circulated in Banjul, from the Senegalese authorities to all customs posts along the border with The Gambia, made clear. The Gambians have, meanwhile, reacted calmly to the situation with some feeling that, despite the collapse of the Confederation, Senegal would respect other agreements on international trade to which both countries are signatories like the UN Convention on transit and ECOWAS treaty. At the time of writing there has been no major development in the relations between the two countries. It is only left to be seen the extent to which The Gambia’s re-export trade and economy as a whole will be affected.


Basic facts about the Gambia

Area: 11 295 sq km along the River Gambia.

Brief history: The Gambia’s first contact with Europe goes as far back as 1456 when Portuguese navigators, Luis de Cadamosto and Antoniotto Usidimare sailed up The Gambia and landed at an island they named St Andrew, after one of their sailors called Andrew, who died of fever and was buried there. For 200 years the Portuguese enjoyed a quiet monopoly of trade with the hinterland until the mid-17th century when they were challenged by other European powers. First by the Baltic Germans of the Duke of Courland, who occupied and built a fort on St Andrew’s Island in 1651. Ten years later, the British captured it and named it James Island after the heir to their throne who was to become King James II.

Then there ensued a long period of rivalry between the British and French as the American and Caribbean colonies expanded, demanding more slaves. The British held on to territories along the bank of the River Gambia and up north to St Louis on the Bank of Senegal River. In 1766 they established the Province of Senegambia with headquarters in St Louis which was placed under the responsibility of the Royal Charter Companies. James Island on the other hand, was placed under a Lieutenant Governor.

Taking advantage of British engagement in the American war of independence, the French in 1779 attacked and captured James Island destroying the fort. The island was, however, returned to the British a couple of years later, under the Versailles Treaty in 1783, when the present-day boundary lines of The Gambia were drawn.

The British acquired the capital, Banjul (formerly Bathurst) in 1816 and administered both The Gambia and Sierra Leone from there until 1888 when they were separated. Apart from trade, the British had little interest in the tiny colony and were willing to part with it in exchange for French colonies elsewhere. Despite French initiatives in this direction, this somehow never happened. As mentioned in the Senegambia article, even at independence, the British were in favour of The Gambia being absorbed by Senegal. a position strengthened by a United Nations report which recommended union. The People’s Progressive Party (PPP) won the elections of 1962 which paved the way to self-government with Dawda Jawara as prime minister. In February 1965, The Gambia became independent and in April 1970 a Republic, with Al-Haji Sir Dawda Jawara as its first president. The latter has held the post ever since having successively been re-elected in a country which embraced plural democracy from the moment of self-government.

Population: 695 886 (1983 official estimate) annual rate of growth 3.4%; density 61.5 per sq km. Ethnic groups: Mandinka, Wolof, Fula, Jola and Serahuli. Eighty percent are Moslem and the rest are mostly Christians.

Political parties: The PPP (People’s Progressive Party in power since 1962); NCP (the National Convention Party), and the United Party.

Capital: Banjul (pop. approx. 45000: 1985 estimate).

Curreney: Dalasi. D13 = £ I (Sept. 1989): D8.6 = ECU I (Nov. 1989).

Gross Domestic Product ( 1988/89 estimate): D 513.4 million: Agriculture 29.9%; Industry 8.9 %; Services 49.9 % .

GDP per capita: US$250.

International trade (1988/89): exports D 311.4 m; imports D 940 m, deficit D 628 m. Goods exported: groundnuts and derivatives, cotton, fish and fish products, fruits and vegetables.

Principal imports: food, drink and tobacco, machinery and equipment, manufactured goods, minerals and fuel. Goods re-exported; mostly rice, flour, sugar, China green tea and textiles.

Principal trading partners: United Kingdom, France, U.S.A., Belgium and Luxembourg, Thailand, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal and Switzerland.

Destination of re-exports: Mauritania, Senegal, Guinea Bissau, Guinea. Mali and Burkina Faso.

Reserves (1988/89): D 184.9 m (SDR 20 m).

Foreign debt (1989): US$355m.