People continue to flee Banjul

Monday, January 09, 2017

For the past two weeks, people are leaving the Kombos for the provinces and out of The Gambia by every modern means of transport available in the country, by land, sea and air.

While the majority of Gambians are going to the provinces, non-Gambians are going back to their countries in fear, as the political impasse following incumbent president Yahya Jammeh’s rejection of the result of the 1st December presidential election continues.

Officials of Bundung garage, the main garage that connects the Kombos to the countryside through the South Bank, said the number of vehicles that leave from the garage with passengers has increased by more than 500 per cent.

Jabel Choi, public relations officer of Bundung Car Park Association, said for the past two weeks, the number of vehicles to Basse, Soma, Bansang, Brikamaba, and Farafenni from the garage has increased from barely 2 in a day to more than 15 vehicles of 22 and 30 passengers, daily.

He said vehicles now start to leave from the garage as early as 5a.m. whereas in normal times before the impasse, the first vehicle from the garage would leave at around 10a.m.

Because the journey is prompt, some parents send their families unprepared; not even with enough fare.

The vice president of Bundung garage association, Malick Lowe, said often times people come with their families, and they do not have even enough fare for all.  For example, a family that can take five seats would only have enough fare for three or four.

One of the drivers at the garage said some passengers would load all the belongings they are travelling with, before begging for a reduction in the fare to enable them pay for all the seats they are to occupy.

“We have no option, but to allow them because we know their trip was prompt,” the tall dark driver said.

Before the political impasse began, most of the people used to travel to places like Soma, Basse, and Brikamaba from the Kombos by bus, because it is cheaper than the other commercial vehicles.

But officials at the Bundung garage said, at the moment, even the commercial buses have enough passengers to fill them, talk less of the GTSC buses.

Indeed, the demand on the buses has increased tremendously. A staff of the bus company, Gambia Transport Services Company, said even if they have additional buses on the South Bank, they would not be able to satisfy the demand of people leaving the Kombos.

While those travelling along the South Bank from the Kombos are going by bus, those going through the North Bank are crossing the river.

Traffic from the Banjul end of the Banjul-Barra ferry-crossing point has increased dramatically.  The passenger traffic is similar to what used to obtain in the build-up to feasts like Tobaski (Feast of Sacrifice), when a lot of people in the Kombos cross to go spend the religious feast with their provincial families.

The traffic out of The Gambia has also increased phenomenally. 

The Gambia has a large number of citizens of Guinea Bissau and Guinea Conakry, in addition to those from Senegal.  But most of them are going back for the first time is many years.

The number of vehicles at the Guinea garage can hardly serve the people leaving the country.  The same is true for the Senegalese. 

Momodou Jallow, a Guinea Conakry resident who was travelling with his wife and three children, said he has been living in The Gambia for the past ten years, during which he has never gone to Conakry.

Morr Dem, a Senegalese, said: “It is not my wish to close my shop and go, but I have to because my life is more important to me.”

But not only the Senegalese are going to Senegal. Even Gambians are going there for safety.

“My husband has sent in money for me and our two children and his mother and one sister to go to Dakar,” Tida said. 

She has no relative in Senegal, but her husband in Germany said they should take an apartment and stay there (in Senegal) until the situation in Banjul is resolved.

Foreign staff of international organisations, companies and embassies are booking tickets and flying out of The Gambia.

The US Department of State has ordered foreign staff and family members of the embassy in Banjul to leave The Gambia.

It is understood that other embassies in the country have issued similar orders.

The Chinese owner of a restaurant in Senegambia has ordered the restaurant to cease operations on 15 January, when he is travelling to America.

“When the boss was travelling, he told us that the restaurant would close on the 15th until when the situation is normal,” said Lamin Joof, an employee of the restaurant.

The Gambia is one of Africa’s smallest countries and, unlike many of its West African neighbours, it has enjoyed long spells of stability since independence in 1965.

However, following President Jammeh’s rejection of the result of the 1st December presidential election, the security situation in the country remains uncertain. 

Since then, fully armed soldiers and paramilitaries are deployed in town and they have put sandbags at strategic places in preparation for a possible backlash.

The government has begun taking restrictive measures, including shutting down radio stations.

Meanwhile, the government has issued a press release reassuring the public that The Gambia remains “peaceful and stable”.

Analysts said people are living in a state of fear, because Gambians are not used to such heavy security presence in the public, and the ongoing political rhetoric is adding to the situation.

Author: Lamin Jahateh