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PDOIS on Senegal-Gambia relations

Dec 22, 2010, 11:14 AM | Article By: Picture: Halifa Sallah

Following a statement issued last Thursday by the Gambia government outlining its position on issues affecting relations with neighbouring Senegal, and in which Senegalese President Abdoulie Wade was blamed by the Gambia government, the opposition People’s Democratic Organisation for Independence and Socialism (PDOIS) through its Secretary General, Halifa Sallah, yesterday issued a statement on the matter.

The three-page statement, made available to this paper, among others, touched on issues such as the widely-publicized arms seizure from Iran in Nigeria; on the need for The Gambia and Senegal to continue to live as one people; and on the need for peace and security in the Casamance as well as on the way forward.

On the arms issue, PDOIS called on both governments to cooperate with all ECOWAS states to ensure that the truth is known, and ensure that anything that threatens sub regional peace and security is averted.

It noted that conflicts between governments should not lead to conflicts between their peoples, as governments come and go, but the people remain. PDOIS also stated that governments may appear hostile today, and develop friendship tomorrow, based on the divergences or convergences of interest, as the case may be.

On the situation in Casamance, PDOIS indicated that those who love the people in the Casamance area are not those who give them weapons to kill each other. It noted that those who love the people in the Casamance area are those who would create the environment conducive for each child in the Casamance to be part of a family that would guarantee him or her protection, survival, happiness and development, and thrive in a sovereign community and nation that would guarantee education, health care, employment, social security, peace, justice and general welfare.

Below we reproduce the full statement of PDOIS verbatim:

On the 22nd of November 2010, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, International Cooperation and Gambians Abroad issued a Press Release on behalf of the Government of The Gambia to inform the public of the Government’s decision to sever all diplomatic, economic, political and social ties with the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the cancellation, with immediate effect, of all projects and programmes being implemented in cooperation between the two countries. All Iranian Nationals representing the interest of their Government were requested to leave the country within 48 hours. This constituted a complete rupture of relations. No explanation was given for the decision.

“On the 14th of December 2010 the Government of Senegal recalled its ambassador from Iran. The explanation was given to the Senegalese Press that Iran could not give satisfactory answers to enquiries made by the Senegalese Government regarding the containers seized in Lagos, Nigeria, containing arms and ammunitions.

The private media in Senegal began to broadcast that the arms and ammunitions are destined for the Gambia and projected the threats it could pose to the security of Senegal. In the evening of the 14th of December, 2010, the Head of the Civil Service of the Gambia issued a Statement on behalf of the Government of the Gambia indicating that the documents in the hands of the Nigerian authorities contain evidence that the Containers were destined for Nigeria and not the Gambia and further accused President Abdoulaye Wade of harbouring hostile intentions against the Gambia.

The statement read by the Head of the Civil Service indicated that President Wade addressed a “letter to the UN accusing the Gambia of buying long range rockets and other sophisticated weapons from the Islamic Republic of Iran.” The statement further conveyed that President Wade based his arguments on the “arms discovered in the Federal Republic of Nigeria...” The Head of the Civil Service implied that President Wade deliberately leveled accusation against the Gambia “despite documentary evidence, to the contrary as the bill of lading clearly stated who the consignee is for the arms shipment in Nigeria.

The Head of the Civil Service argued that “If those arms were for the Gambia; there is no power on earth that would have prevented The Gambia from negotiating with the Federal Republic of Nigeria for their release to The Gambia.” He concluded his remarks on the subject of the arms as follows: “The real truth and ALLAH is our witness is that those Arms were addressed to Nigeria and that is why the containers were discharged in the APAPA Port of Lagos.

After these remarks Gambia did not break relation with Senegal or recall its High Commissioner. What then is Gambia’s real wish in its relation with Senegal?

According to PDOIS’ observation, despite the unsavory statements made against President Wade, One could also read the desire for a normal relation in the following words of the Head of the Civil Service,  “Our position since 1994 has been and will always be to work harmoniously with the Government and people of Senegal for the rapid socio-economic development of our two peoples who are one people divided by the unfortunate colonialism; a big disaster that befell the African continent and other parts of the World like Asia. To this end, both Gambians and Senegalese stand as living witnesses to our numerous Multi-Million Dollar projects contracted to Senegalese companies up to date. In addition to the above, the Government went a step further to treat Senegalese Citizens in the Gambia just like Gambians, by waiving certain taxes that foreigners in the Gambia have to pay.”

These are the relevant facts buried in the details of the statement issued on behalf of the Gambia Government by the Head of the Civil Service. This is how matters stand as far as the Government of the Gambia is concerned.

On the other hand, the Senegalese foreign Minister had this to say to the Senegalese Public: “There are many things I will not say on this subject. Diplomacy does not happen in broad daylight.” Foreign Minister Madicke Niang is reported to have told reporters in Dakar at a press conference that Senegal has been in touch with Nigeria following the discovery of arms and ammunitions allegedly destined for Gambia. He told journalists that the quantity of the consignment of the arms is enormous and it has the potential to destabilize the sub-region. He said this is a sub-regional problem and Senegal is interested in unearthing the truth. He is reported to have argued that, despite the fact that, Tehran is supporting Dakar’s water and energy sector, and has invested millions of dollars in Senegal, the security of Senegal is paramount. He is reported to have added that since the sacked Iranian Foreign Minister has not provided Dakar with tangible

information about the arms shipment, the Wade administration thought it prudent for Dakar to recall its ambassador in Tehran.”

According to the Senegalese Foreign Minister, “following the discovery of the arms and ammunitions President Wade has contacted Nigerian President Good Luck Jonathan on the issue”. He pointed out that “Dakar has already briefed American President Barrack Obama, ECOWAS and the United Nations Security Council.”

Despite all these steps, Senegal has not severed ties with the Gambia or recalled its High Commissioner. Now, one may ask: What type of relation does Senegal opt for? According to the Senegalese Foreign Minister, “Dakar bore no grudge against Banjul,” adding that Senegalese and Gambians are one people divided by geographical boundaries. He indicated that “Senegal wants to live peacefully side by side with Gambia.” This is how matters stand with the Senegalese Government.

What then is the point at issue between the two Governments?

The point at issue is that in October 2010, the Nigerian State Security Services intercepted 13 Containers labeled as building materials which were actually rocket launchers, grenades and other explosives from Iran.  Iran is under sanctions by the UN and is banned from trading in weapons. Hence the Nigerian Foreign Minister is required to give report to the UN Security Council’s Sanction Committee on their findings. Investigation is on and the Nigerian Government is yet to reveal its findings to the public.

The issue of the weapons is a matter of Security in particular and International Law in general, which should interest Nigeria, The Gambia, Senegal, our Sub-region and the World as a whole. The severing of relation between Iran and Gambia and the recalling of the Senegalese Ambassador from Tehran confirm that there is a problem. It should further teach that international relations should be circumscribed by principles and International law otherwise one is bound to lose credibility, integrity and friends as is happening to the Iranian Government.

We therefore call on the Republic of Nigeria to lead the way in conducting the investigations on the arms. The Gambia should be in constant touch with Nigeria and cooperate with the team of investigators to get to the facts. The Foreign Minister of the Gambia should issue statements to inform the public of all findings so that the Gambian people will not rely on second hand information to get to the facts.

We have noticed that both the Government of Senegal and the Gambia are distancing themselves from Iran and the arms. Both Governments should therefore cooperate with all ECOWAS states to ensure that the truth is known and anything that threatens sub -regional peace and security is averted. This is the first point.

Secondly, conflicts between governments should not lead to conflicts between their peoples. Governments come and go but the people remain. Governments may appear hostile today and develop friendship tomorrow based on the divergence or convergence of interest, as the case may be. The people of the Gambia and Senegal should continue to live as one people occupying two states which should integrate to serve as a model for African unity, to the rest of the states. Hence the people of the two states should never bow down to narrow nationalism and perpetrate injustice against each other. PDOIS has maintained that it would be proud to have genuine partners in Senegal who are committed to the two states one people principle. This is characterised by state to state and people to people relationship that would facilitate the harmonization of Constitutional and legal instruments,  institutions of governance and institutional policies, plans, programmes relative to the civil, political, economic, social and cultural domains, as well as mutually cultivating the best standards of normative practices in governance, in order to foster the collective development of the two countries and people and further engender sub regional integration. 

Thirdly, those who love the people in the Casamance area are not those who give them weapons to kill each other. Those who love the people in the Casamance area are those who would create the environment conducive for each child in the Casamance to be part of a family that would guarantee him or her protection, survival, happiness and development and ensure that he or she thrives in a sovereign community and Nation that would guarantee education, health care, employment, social security, peace, justice and general welfare.

PDOIS is older than the APRC-led Government. It has followed the situation in Casamance with particular interest since 1986. It has interviewed the deceased priest, Rev Diamacoune Senghore who initially led the uprising in Casamance in 1982 on many occasions and have recommended to both the Governments led by ex-President Diouf and current President  Wade to call for a Sovereign National Conference to discuss the future of Casamance which should allow academics, political figures and leaders of combatants, religious, traditional, and community leaders to discuss and pass resolutions on the future of Casamance in particular and the Senegalese State in General with the aim to build a sovereign National Community and Sovereign Nation that would deserve the allegiance of all its members irrespective of ethno linguistic origins and other differences. We have called on successive Senegalese Governments to work out a Comprehensive “Development Programme for Casamance with the involvement of the inhabitants of the area and its indigenes in order to eradicate its uneven development with other regions and then call a donor conference with the UNDP to raise funds to finance the programme. We have maintained that the sharing of power and resources would create a free and prosperous citizenry who would have more reason to defend peace than wage war in Casamance. This is the way forward for Casamance. This is what PDOIS would have pursued if it held the helm of state.

The future of the African Continent lies in the hands of the people. The time has come for them to take charge of their destiny and build an Africa where peace will be guaranteed not by spending billions on arms but by spending it to eradicate poverty and injustice. If the rich farm land in Casamance is turned into the bread basket of the region or the source of fuel instead of growing Cannabis, there would be no need to transform any son or daughter of the soil into an outlaw who is hunted down and killed or caged like wild animal or beast without a Nation. We in PDOIS are ever ready to promote the sovereignty of the African people every where so that all will enjoy liberty, dignity and prosperity.