By Mathew K Jallow
Border closures between neighbor countries happen rarely, and when they do, it is typically over issues of significant economic and political interest and weight. The prevalence of indistinguishable artificial boundaries around the world, notwithstanding, most countries expend a considerable amount of effort to promote mutual co-existence, avoid discord, and often disregard and exercise deference to the recklessness of neighboring countries. But, no one, in contemporary African history, has so flagrantly disregarded this diplomatic axiom as habitually and maliciously as Yahya Jammeh has, since 1994. Senegal and the Gambia, two peas in a pod, inseparable by culture and condemned to co-exist by the accident of geography and the economic necessities of their people, have experienced testy relations since the crowning of the Gambia’s military regime. Motivated by tribal bigotry, and impelled by wild fantasies of a Gambia, Casamance and Guinea-Bissau Jola hegemony, and dreams of his own grandiosity, Yahya Jammeh has, from the very beginning, incessantly used the treats of Senegambia border closure as diplomatic leverage in his bid for Casamance independence, and most recently, seek expulsion, from Senegal, of members of Gambia’s exile community, and possibly, secure their repatriation to the Gambia for incarceration, torture or certain death. In a country that lacks even the most basic infrastructure for good governance, Yahya Jammeh frequently and deliberately stirs up border rifts, which entangle both counties in needless squabbles that cripple economic activity, even as they adversely interrupt the free flow of interstate commerce and people. The persistent border closures between Senegal and Gambia, under Yahya Jammeh, mirror the interminable tensions between North and South Korea; a constant reminder that the Gambian tyranny thrives in a state of permanent chaos. And between Presidents Abdoulaye Wada and Macky Sall, there have easily been more than a dozen border closures since 1994, an insane number, by any standard of objective measure.
The inconspicuous unrest throughout the Gambia, and the frequent fulminations Yahya Jammeh unleashes on Senegal, the US, UK and the west, illustrate a state of mind indifferent to reason and cordial relations. The manufactured conflicts that are so often expressed in the Senegambia border closures, demonstrate Yahya Jammeh’s disdain for the enduring Senegambia bloodlines legacy and the sacrosanct covenant written in the collective psychology of the Senegambia mind. The Gambia’s downwards spiral into the diplomatic abyss has often tested the limit of Senegal’s endurance, and tempted its leaders to dip into the mud-pit of un-neighborly diplomatic abyss. Yahya Jammeh’s narrow concept of mutual co-existence is absolutely at variance with the expanding bilateral and multilateral partnership paradigm. The isolationism Yahya Jammeh has chosen for the Gambia, reflected in the recurrent border closures, is completely in conflict with the broad national consensus. In Gambia, there is unanimous consent that Yahya Jammeh is a political aberration to its people, the sub-region, and the wider international community. More specifically, Senegalese and Gambian citizens, deeply united by far more than mere economic materialism, lament the crushing agony of the attitude that Yahya Jammeh incessantly exerts, in order, to torpedo the reciprocity, which both ECOWAS and the Africa Union struggle to build and cement, in the common interest and the idealism of racial unity. In demonstrating frustration over Yahya Jammeh’s constant efforts to paralyze Senegal’s economy, draw both countries into an unnecessary tiff, and perhaps even coerce President Macky Sall to crawl at Yahya Jammeh’s altar, Gambians, both at home and abroad, have begun to express sentiments no one has heard in more than three decades; Senegal’s annexation of the Gambia. The sense of defeat many Gambians evidence is manifesting in so many unlikely ways, as the opportunities for a change of government in Gambia dwindle after each contested elections.
Even as Yahya Jammeh’s unbearable idiosyncrasies hinder Senegambia economic security, political reaction in the Gambia, to the recent border closure was, as usual, dreadful silence and uneasy conformity to fear and capitulation. But, putting aside the phobias inherent in dictatorship, an element of not so latent tribalism, is subsumed in Gambia’s political culture; a tragic devaluation of the common objective, which has a profound effect in widening the chasm between political parties, and further deter the exercise of prudent political judgment, based, not on exclusive self-interest, but on the public good. Evidently, the solution to the unending border closures to ensure the free movement of people and commercial activity, lies in political change and the democratic process, but this cannot happen in a vacuum. And without a form of political unity among the political parties, Gambians will continue to explore other solutions to the nagging problems of Gambia’s totalitarianism. The invariability of political change and the apathy of the political establishment at home, more than once induced diaspora Gambians to sidetrack what most critics characterize as moribund opposition, and attempt to unsuccessfully force change. The ideality of the diaspora and political establishment working in partnership, is, in the end, inexorable, considering that the mass exodus of Gambia’s brain trust, professionals and shilled man-power has dramatically impeded the civil service to a grinding halt. As Yahya Jammeh puts on a veneer of calm that betrays the reality of massive state dysfunction, Gambians embedded in the inner sanctums of a regime teetering on the precipice of economic collapse, reveal the extent of the regime’s failures. The border closure, the result of unilateralism and unconventional bureaucratic practices, particularly in relations to a friendly neighboring sister country, amplify Yahya Jammeh’s intrigue as emotionally unstable, ostentatious, and not informed by logic, professionalism, and sound judgment. This instance will hopefully serve as reminder to President Macky Sall that Yahya Jammeh is conniving, devious and untrustworthy; a starkly different persona than the one he projects for public consumption.