Mar 30, 2009, 6:46 AM
Ambassador Doudou Salla Diop, one of the most seasoned diplomats on the African continent, has taken up position in Banjul as head of the Permanent Secretariat Senegalo-Gambian, PSSG.
The secretariat had been the reference point for Senegalo-Gambian relations in the decades immediately after independence before a temporary absence.
Mr Diop’s appointment came following successful negotiations between the two governments to restart the body. It is based in Banjul with a liaison office in Dakar, with Ambassador Doudou Salla Diop as its executive secretary.
Diop boasted of four solid decades of active diplomatic service including spells as ambassador of Senegal to many countries in Europe and Africa, regional and continental bodies. He mediated over several conflict spots in Africa and presided over treaties and accords across the continent.
In this interview, he sits with our general correspondent Lamin Cham to talk about the PSSG.
The Point: What is the Permanent Secretariat Senegalo–Gambian, PSSG?
Ambassador Diop: The Senegalo-Gambian permanent secretariat as it is widely known here has been in existence for much of the early life of the independent states of The Gambia and Senegal. It is the finest indication of the special and unique nature of relations between the two countries because apart from the convention, ambassadors and diplomatic missions, the PSSG was created by the two states to look after the common interest of the common people of the two nations.
It is premised on the realization of the past leaders and presently re-echoed by Presidents Sall and Jammeh that The Gambia and Senegal are two sovereign states with one people. There is hardly any other place in the world where you can find two countries with the same people.
The significance of the secretariat can be traced in the fact that it is through its work that landmark projects such as the Organization of the Gambia River Basin OMVG, the Senegalese school in The Gambia, joint women’s committees and joint parliamentary committees, etc, were initiated, all with a view to reinforce the special relations between the two nations. It has been dysfunctional for some time, but is now back in stronger form
The Point, Tell us about its re-emergence, and why now?
Diop: Well, I already told you its relevance and importance to the binding of special relations between the two nations. So when he came to power President Jammeh took a keen interest in strengthening relations between the two states and even during the absence of the PSSG, Jammeh has adopted a Pan- Africanist attitude under which he accords freedom and equality to all citizens of Africa residing in The Gambia, especially Senegalese. Just walk around and look at the many development projects he initiated. You will discover that most if not all were built by Senegalese entrepreneurs. All these goes to confirm his love for African integration, and that is in the spirit of the PSSG.
Secondly, President Jammeh had taken concrete steps towards restarting the secretariat, resulting in the successful negotiations beginning in 2006 until 2010 when it was completed. For your information, President Jammeh has provided a fabulous office as our headquarters and provided funds for its refurbishment to a modern office complex at Cape Point. That work is still on meanwhile we are Cont’d from page 3 housed here at Taf Estate in Brufut, where we have a residence and office so as to get started.
The Point: How have you been functioning, pending the completion of your office, among other things?
Ambassador Diop: We naturally do not sit down doing nothing. No, I feel that we can start work, and thanked God we have been fortunate to have some advance funding as we await our budget. This advance funding enabled us to put in place some basic needs like transport, office equipment etc. As you know, our budget is 50-50, half from Gambia, half from Senegal.
The Point: This brings us to the structuring of the secretariat. I’m curious to know how it is staffed.
Ambassador Diop: I am the executive secretary from Senegal and a Gambian has been appointed as my deputy, and currently all other directorates are gradually being put in place also on an equal basis, with both countries providing personnel. We are also having a liaison office in Dakar headed by a Gambian. As I have said, our budget is supplied by both countries. So you can see how big is the importance both leaders attach to the secretariat as a platform to foster greater cooperation between the two people, outside normal diplomatic channels.
The Point: What shall be the role of the PSSG in this present globalization in world affairs?
Ambassador Diop. Good point. We are very much aware of the new challenges brought about by globalization, hence the expansion of the directorates from the previous two to four. These are political, social and cultural department, communications/infrastructure/transport and environment, trade/commerce, and defense and security.
A lot of areas are covered under each of these these departments ranging from youth , sports, cultural programmes, infrastructural development, inter-state transportation matters, customs, defence and security matters to achieve peace in the two nations, and free movement of the people and trade, all geared towards bringing the people together.
What is more, unlike, conventional diplomatic missions the secretariat’s status allows it to make project proposals, approach donors and get aid to implement them. That is why our vision is to provide the common people living in these two borders with common interest projects that will benefit the citizens in the two nations.
In fact, it may interest you that we presided over the negotiations that led to the signing of the accord to build the Trans-Gambia Bridge across the River Gambia at Yeli-Tenda – Bamba-Tenda. These are the kinds of integration projects central to our agenda.
Also, we have a joint border commission that is a specialized unit in the secretariat, which deals with borders demarcation issues and the joint needs of the people living on the borders of the two nations. This is very important, as it creates greater understanding between the two nations and avoids conflicts. The borders of African countries were created by the colonialists, who did not take into account ethnic affinity of the people they are dividing and, as such, some demarcations pass through village centers here or part of the other people’s market there.
All these issues are taken care of by this joint border commission. Secondly, it helps us to conceive and proposed projects such as health facilities that could attract people from across the border. This will narrow down any trace of a feeling that they are living in different countries. I have seen many examples of this in the region, and its successful in bringing peace among peoples.
The Point: It will interest our readers how such projects could get funding.
Ambassador Diop: Well, I told you that our status empowers us to enter into funding negotiations with donor agencies and other partners. There are a number of funding bodies that are keen on supporting projects of integration of people, and all what we need is to come up with very good proposals and the blessing of our governments to sell them to the funding agencies. In fact, it may interest you know that it often much easier to attract funding for a project benefitting two nations or a region than an individual state. That is why I suggested to both governments to ensure that the secretariat is staffed by heads of department who are competent and knowledgeable.
The Point: What is your relationship with the two governments?
Ambassador Diop: Well, the accord is such that the authority rests on the two governments. The consultative committee is presided over by the vice president of the Gambia and the prime minister of Senegal and together with their respective cabinet colleagues each side decides what it wants and when they have found a common ground , it is then passed down to the secretariat. Conversely too, the secretariat can also make a proposal for their perusal and consideration.
The Point: What is your last word as you take office up as the head of this important body?
Ambassador Diop: I would like to thank the president of the Gambia, Yahya Jammeh, the Gambian people and President Macky Sall for their foresight in revitalizing the PSSG; and I would endeavour alongside my team to work towards the realization of the dreams and principles of the protocol that established this very important pillar in our relations.
I thank you for taking time to talk to us.