As the year 2023 draws to a close today, December 31, I find it necessary to extend my heartfelt wishes for a joyful 2024 New Year to the world. Although this is a departure from my usual practice, I believe it is crucial to share not only my greetings but also my hopes and expectations for the future of our nation and for neighbouring Senegal where a change in national leadership is anticipated in the next couple of months.

Before delving into the particulars, I would like to express my gratitude to my immediate family—especially my wife and wonderful children, along with their beautiful spouses and my grandchildren—for their unflinching support and inspiration. Additionally, I extend my thanks to members of my extended family, friends, well-wishers, and everyone both in the country and abroad who continually demonstrate their love and appreciation for our relationship.

In a world grappling with significant challenges, from the ongoing Israel-Hamas war causing unimaginable human suffering and extensive destruction to the now lesser-discussed Russian-Ukraine conflict and humanity’s disregard for the pervasive killing fields in various parts of Africa, it is worth acknowledging that The Gambia has, to some extent, been spared from these global calamities.

While our nation may still be categorized among the poorest in terms of economic and natural resources needed to elevate our status, the people, despite occasional grievances, seem to value the prevailing peace and tranquility over uncertainties that come with change.

Perhaps the absence of the economic prosperity we desire is fundamental to our humanity and our enduring tolerance for each other, fostering the creation of an admirable society.

Indeed, politicians and the political climate of a country often play a critical role in causing conflicts at both the individual and national levels. Fortunately, since gaining independence in 1965, we have been lucky to avoid such destabilising politics. Although politicians have historically played the ethnic and regional cards to secure votes and retain power, I am optimistic that Gambians have transcended such divisive political strategies, evolving towards a more positive and inclusive politics conducive to a peaceful and sustainable society.

Evidently, as we come to the end of December 2023 and assess the current national mood in terms of political, social, and economic stability, The Gambia stands out as a successful and content country. Those in power seem to have little to worry about in the next three years, with the ruling party growing stronger while opposition parties appear to be weakening day by day. No need to elaborate on that assertion. You all know what I am exactly indicating.

National Assembly Gambia

Although our constitution, slated for amendments to include a two-term limit for the presidency, remains unfulfilled, there is no certainty about whether President Barrow will step down in 2026 to allow a new leader at the statehouse. I don’t anticipate the controversial draft constitution incorporating presidential term limit to pass before the 2026 general election and am unsure how the required amendments in the 1997 constitution can be approached to resolve that electoral huddle when it is still demonized as “Jammeh’s Constitution.”

Nevertheless, nationally and internationally, there is a strong belief that limiting the term of sitting presidents is key to sustaining peace and stability in contemporary underdeveloped African countries.

In my view, The Gambia’s stability is intricately linked to the stability of the Republic of Senegal for certain important reasons. Since the unusual change of the country’s leadership in 2017 from former President Yahya Jammeh to President Adama Barrow, The Gambia has become more dependent on Senegal than ever before. While late President Sir Dawda Jawara and former President Yahya Jammeh had bilateral relationships and cooperation with our neighbour’s leaders and administrations, President Adama Barrow’s dependence on President Macky Sall’s government is unprecedented.

I am not just referring to the obvious, such as Gambia’s dependency on Senegal’s stabilising military forces present in the country, but also to the covert support rendered by Sall to Barrow that I believe is oddly kept confidential between the two leaders. It concerns me that Senegal may unilaterally withdraw that support in April 2024 when President Macky Sall hands over the leadership of the country to a new president.

Despite the ostensibly positive rapport between President Macky Sall and Adama Barrow, purportedly surpassing the relations shared by our past two Gambian presidents with any Senegalese head of state, and acknowledging the myriad benefits, both known and unknown, that Senegal also derives from The Gambia, it remains perplexing that the economically detrimental border closure imposed by Senegal in 1989 persists with unprecedented rigidity. This closure obviously originated following the dissolution of the Senegambia Confederation, triggered by the discord between late President Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara and former Senegalese President Abdou Diouf.

Gambian drivers, whether involved in commercial or private endeavors, seeking to traverse into Senegal and beyond in accordance with ECOWAS-sanctioned trade laws consistently lament the egregious harassment inflicted by Senegalese border guards, police, and customs officers.

This issue, which has persisted throughout the era of President Jammeh and endured during the terms of the subsequent three presidents of Senegal, has become a source of constant frustration. We all bear witness to the challenging times that marked the Senegalo-Gambian relationship.

But most notably, my foremost concern revolves around Senegal’s security forces, which have been instrumental in supporting the country since 2017.

The potential departure of President Macky Sall before the realization of our long-awaited Security Sector Reform (SSR), the key figure behind the deployment and ongoing support of ECOWAS forces in The Gambia and Guinea Bissau, raises apprehensions about the subsequent impact on the political and security landscapes of both nations. Whether President Sall is succeeded by Amadou Bah, his chosen prime minister for the upcoming February general election, or another leader, the dynamics of a new Senegalese president’s relationship with President Barrow are bound to undergo significant changes.

One pressing question is whether the new Senegalese leader will continue exporting electricity to The Gambia, especially considering the daily struggles of Senegalese citizens due to its inadequacy and unaffordable cost. This issue should be of paramount concern to every Gambian.

Additionally, the potential shift in Senegal’s leadership, especially if the new leader opposes President Sall’s pro-French colonial policies, raises broader concerns. These policies, perceived as antiquated and hindering progress in Francophone African nations, may face opposition, impacting our diplomatic ties and regional cooperation.

The prospect of a Senegalese leader diverging from President Sall’s stance on French colonial policies resonates with the sentiments of Senegalese citizens eager to sever or renegotiate the ties with France.

The post-colonial arrangements, such as the requirement for Senegal and other former French colonies to deposit 50% of their foreign reserves with France’s central bank under disadvantageous conditions, have become increasingly unsustainable after almost seven decades of superficial economic independence.

This is, indeed, one of the many post-colonial economic agreements imposed on former Francophone colonies by the French as a prerequisite for gaining independence. Subsequently, these agreements have been consistently honored and bolstered by African heads of state like current Presidents Macky Sall and Alassane Ouattara of Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire respectively, serving as a means to safeguard their positions in power and, in a few instances, to prevent possible French-instigated coup d’état or even assassination. Historians can attest to the regrettable reality of this phenomenon.

The modern generation of Senegalese and French-controlled-Francophone politicians and intellectuals is pushing for an end to such arrangements. The recent actions of Guinea Conakry, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger in breaking ties with France’s central bank serve as precedents, inspiring hope that Senegal and other neocolonial African countries will follow suit, putting an end to the longstanding umbilical cord tying them to France.

In any case, President Sall appears determined not to bring it to an end and is so committed to maintaining French interest in Senegal that President Emmanuel Macron has even assured him of a special job in France, purposely aimed at preserving French interests in Africa after his departure from Senegalese politics in 2024.

The unfolding situation in Senegal brings to mind the period when General Sani Abacha replaced General Ibrahim Babangida as the head of state of Nigeria, triggering the deterioration of the fragile security situation in The Gambia that depended exclusively on Nigeria’s security support.

This deterioration in law and order was precipitated by President Sir Dawda Jawara contracting Nigerian military personnel to assume command and control of the Gambia National Army in1992 who failed to prevent or crush the GNA junior officer’s 1994 military takeover on their watch.

Alternatively, one could attribute the initial setback to the unilateral withdrawal of Senegal’s Confederation military forces in 1989. This withdrawal occurred after “friendly” President Abdou Diouf, angered by President Sir Dawda Jawara’s unexpected political resistance, turned into Gambia’s mortal enemy. Further details are outlined in my new book, “Testimony of a Gambian Military Officer and Diplomat.”

Hopefully, the Gambian government will not repeat the same mistakes made by the PPP government in 1989, 1992 and 1993 if, in 2024, President Macky Sall is replaced by a leader less receptive or sensitive to the political, economic, and security needs of President Adama Barrow and, by extension, the Gambian people.

Undoubtedly, a new Senegalese leader unwilling to cooperate with France, like their predecessors—Senghore, Diouf, Wade, and Sall—may spell economic, political, and security instability for both Guinea-Bissau and The Gambia.

Certainly, I may err in my national security projection, but I urge you to peruse my last two books. Within their pages, I meticulously detail my experiences as a military officer serving during the PPP regime. When needed, I had consistently sounded alarms to the political elites and their skeptical technocrats, outlining the country’s genuine and impending national security threats.

Unfortunately, my warnings were often brushed aside or dismissed as baseless cynicism, with the consequences becoming evident only when it was too late. At times, I attribute this dismissive attitude to a misguided resistance, perhaps stemming from the inappropriate placement of individuals in roles unsuited to their capabilities—akin to trying to fit square pegs into round holes, metaphorically speaking.

Happy new year folks!

By Retired Lt. Colonel Samsudeen Sarr

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Please disable your adblocker and support our journalism. Thank you.