The authorities from Senegal and The Gambia have today had a dialogue in an effort to find a solution to the recently ignited border dispute over Tranquil, a border town in the Southern part of Senegal, Casamance.
The border tension intensified in August when armed Senegalese soldiers posted at the border village of Touba in the Southern part of Senegal (Casamance) have visited the village of Tranquil, reportedly in arms, which they claim to be part of their country.
The peace talk which was brokered by the Senegalo-Gambia Permanent Secretariat, an institution established by the two countries to foster trade, economic integration and settling disputes amongst them, brought the two authorities at a meeting held at the border, less than ten metres from the military posts of the two countries.
The delegations of the two countries were accompanied by surveyors and border experts referred to as the “joint (Senegalo-Gambia) border commission” who were tasked to decide where the real border stance.
However, the officials of the joint border commission who were using Global Positioning System (GPS) and Magellan Spor Trak Map to determine the border, told authorities, after more than an hour of waiting, that further calculation is needed to determine the “exact border” post.
Joseph Gaye, the director of Gambia Physical Planning, who leads the Gambian technical team in their joint work with their Senegalese counterparts, said the technologies used by the colonial surveyors and administrators who demarcated the border differs with their gadgets by seconds and decimals thus making it impossible to find the exact border post.
“The technology that the colonial surveyors and administrators used to demarcate this border was UTM 200 and the technology that we are using today is GGS 84. They (UTM 200 and GGS 84) are different in seconds and decimals,” Gaye said.
“We will have to go back and work out those mathematical differences before we can say “this is the exact place”. We can only give an approximate place as at now. However, there is no need for panic because everything is solved now.”
Joseph Gaye told The Standard in an interview that they (joint border commission) are following the colonial border demarcation line which was done in 1896.
“We are doing nothing new,” he exclusively told The Standard.
“We (technical people from Gambia and Senegal) are only going back to the old border which was demarcated since 1896 and those documents are still here with us, in both French and English.”
There was though no slated time for the publication of the work of the technicians but the officials of the two countries are expected to have it on their desk shortly, as was emphasized by Gaye.
However, the result reached by the technicians will also received the blessings of the authorities of the two countries before it is considered binding, The Standard has learned.
Following the border meeting and the report of the technicians, Sheriff Abba Sanyang, deputy executive secretary at the Senegalo-Gambia permanent secretariat, expressed his happiness to The Standard.
“I am the happiest man in the world,” he said. “What do the two countries gain from having a standoff at a border already established over hundred years ago?”
During the dialogue between the delegates of the two countries, the ambassador of Senegal, Salieu Njie, said the only difference between Senegal and The Gambia is the remnants of colonialism.
He urged understanding from both sides saying “there is no country in the sub-region that is closely, in everything, as The Gambia and Senegal”.
The leader of the Senegalese delegation, Colonel Francis Njie, said there was no border dispute between the two countries, insisting that what happened was “confusion of perceptions” and “rumours”.
The permanent secretary of the ministry of lands and local government, Lamin Sanneh, also praised the maturity and restraint with which both authorities treated the tranquil dispute.
“There are people at the border who have their farms at the other sides of the border,” he said.
“Some have their relatives at the other side of the border. Can anyone separate this people? The people of Senegal and Gambia are inseparable.”
The executive secretary of the Senegalo-Gambia permanent secretary, dodou Salla Diop, the governor of the West Coast, and the Alkalo of Touba, Yankuba Jatta, made similar statements.
However, the represented of the alkalo of Darisilami, Tabally Bojang remained adamant that Tranquil is in The Gambia.
Senegalo-Gambia permanent secretariat was the first ground for the dialogue before a trip was made to Tranquil where another meeting was held.
The military heads of the two countries at their border posts were present at the meeting with their juniors in their full military gears and guns.
Senegal and The Gambia are two closely related countries in the region.
Not only do they share borders from all the three sides of The Gambia but they have commonality in almost everything: religion, culture, the same people, trade and economics in general.
However, several attempts in the past to integrate the economies of the two countries and facilitate trade and movement of people amongst them have been hampered by some frequent diplomatic spats.
The differences, many analysts believe, are as a result of the dip-seated mistrust between the leaderships of the two countries.
Authorities in Senegal, analysts said, believe that The Gambia serve as a sanctuary for the fleeing rebels, who are fighting for the independence of Casamance, a region in the south of Senegal.
Whereas, authorities in The Gambia holds similar suspicion of the motives of their Senegalese counterparts because most Gambian political dissidents and run-away journalists who have problem with The Gambia government are given sanctuary in Senegal.
There have also been frequent border closures between the two countries for various reasons: political spats, trade tariff issues and others.
In January of 2014, for instance, the border between Senegal and The Gambia has been closed to all commercial traffic following disputed changes to border tariffs.
Though the border restrictions on the free movement of people and goods directly conflict with Economic Community of West African States protocols, which aim to increase regional trade and integration and the fact that Senegal and The Gambia are highly economically interdependent, the spat lasted for few weeks.
However, the authorities of the two states are always keen on making observers believe there is “no problem” and that the two “countries are inseparable”, such was the approach at Tranquil.
While Macky Sall’s adviser, Colonel Francis Njie, disputed claims of “border dispute” at Tranquil, describing it as “rumors” and “misperception”, soldiers from both countries were present on the ground in their full military gears.
The Senegalese soldiers were carrying the American-made M16 rifles which their border post commander brought along at the meeting ground while their Gambian colleagues were having AK47 rifles.
And a dip sense of belonging, for the people in that area some of whom claim they are in either The Gambia or Senegal, could also be felt in the same way as the presence of the two authorities.
However, despite the praise-worthy courage of President Jammeh and Macky Sall to talk through the Tranquil issue, the result and what their opinions will be on it, will be crucial in deciding the fate of the Tranquilians, though many analysts and historians have argued that Tranquil is in The Gambia.
An article by Paul Nugent title Cyclical History in the Gambia/Casamance Borderlands: Refuge, Settlement and Islam from c.1880 to the Present, has interesting revelation on the Tranquil issue.
This article is based on research in the national archives of Senegal and The Gambia as well as fieldwork interviews in 17 border villages. Paul Nugent’s research made the following revelations:
“The Gambian border town of Darsilami, which had been renamed by Mahfoudz, was similarly transformed by successive waves of immigrants, blurring memories of the original founders. Karoninkas made up the largest contingent, but Jolas from across the Casamance were also well represented. The land between the town and the border was occupied by successive arrivals from the Casamance. One individual had been so harassed by the chef d’arrondissement in Diouloulou over tax that when he built his small hamlet inside The Gambia he called it ‘Tranquil’. His place was later taken by settlers from Kaniabo, and they were subsequently joined by natives of Mlomp who relocated from nearby Touba.”
But the difference goes beyond the issues of political dissidents, fleeing rebels from Cassamance and border disputes, colonialism does contribute too.
The Senegal was colonised by the French while The Gambia was colonised by the British- this differences resulted into differences in political ideologies which perhaps explained the failure of the Senegambia confederation.
The Senegambia Confederation was founded on 1 February 1982 following an agreement between the two countries, signed on 12 December 1981, and was intended to promote cooperation between the two countries, but was dissolved by Senegal on 30 September 1989 after the Gambia, as was claimed, refused to move closer toward union.
However, the two most important institutions between the two countries are their jointly established Senegalo-Gambia Permanent Secretariat and a civil society organisation call the Senegalo-Gambia Association for Integration and Socio-economic Development (SGAID).
While the two institutions have no political clout to force politicians of both countries to reach a particular compromise, their effectiveness in brokering a middle-ground deal for the benefit of the two states and serving as pressure groups, have averted many potential crisis situations between the two countries.