by Samsudeen Sarr
The following is a copied and pasted comment made by a gentleman, Mr. Babooucarr Jiteh Bojang on a segment of my last article-“LAWYER OUSAINOU DARBO’S ROLE IN THE 1981 COUP”-
published on the online Freedom Newspaper: “If i can remember well about why the Federation of Gambia and Senegal was not possible was the demands of Abdou Joof for Jawara for the two sovereign countries be integrated financially using the CFA and The GAMBIA to drop the Dalasi as a legal tender.
The second demand from Abdou Joof to Sir Dawda Jawara was that The Gambia was going to be a region of Senegal like Cassamance is a region to the whole of Senegal. In that case Abdou Joof was going to be The President for The Gambia and Senegal, and Sir Dawda was going to be The Vice President. All these two demands were flatly rejected by Sir Dawda Jawara and these were the reasons and many more why the Federation was impossible as far as Jawara was concern. Do they sound reasonable for the federation of Gambia and Senegal impossible? Well maybe. Thanks”.
I first wish to thank Mr. Bojang for taking part in the discussion which I believe should currently be the most important political subject for Gambians to address since the Gambia’s 2017 transitional agenda was usurped by Senegal rather than living in denial of that cardinal reality without even understanding what Presidents Mackey Sall and Adama Barrow have agreed on our fate. It looks like our politicians are saddled with a curse which psychoanalysts often diagnose as misplaced or hidden anger, vitally denoting human frustration blamed on the wrong source. For all I know, Gambians are deeply divided over whether to merge with Senegal all the way or not. We must among other things settle that first before sincerely forging ahead.
Can our media houses please help me with the scientific opinion polls of Gambians on this? Or not that sophisticated yet?
Certainly, we shouldn’t remain indifferent ignoring that PPP syndrome again of expecting the Senegalese to indefinitely provide the comfortable few in power with guaranteed security for mistrusting our own army and don’t expect them to dictate our political destiny in the way that best suits their interest.
Of course, what Mr. Bojang has highlighted as the concept behind the failure of the Senegambia Confederation ratified by Abdou Joof and Sir Dawda Jawara after the 1981 coup embodied the indisputable fact or not far from it. The confederation was hinged on ultimately federating the two states, sharing one economy, one currency i.e., the Senegalese CFA and jettisoning the Gambian dalasi with a loose political affiliation allowing the retention of the positions of both presidents although with the caveat of the head of state of Senegal inexorably appointed the President while the head of state of the Gambia settled for the Vice Presidency.
I believe Sir Dawda was fully aware of the content of the entire protocol when they signed it on December 12, 1981 and was in earnest implemented on February 1, 1982.
It is however a historical fact that the British before granting us independence in 1965 ineffectually attempted to merge the two countries on a similar premeditation due to their lack of confidence in the colony to survive the challenges of an independent sovereign state. But the undesirable proposition effectively unified all our rival political leaders under the directorship of Sir Dawda who successfully attained our independence without the loathed amalgamation.
It is therefore fair to conclude that, Sir Dawda’s decision to agree with President Abdou Joof on federating the two states after 1981, the same idea he had passionately fought against and defeated in 1964 was as a result of two possibilities. The first but seemingly unlikely, factoring his intellect, diligence and experience, was to assume his misunderstanding of the nitty-gritty content of the accord. Second and most appealing to me, was his awareness of the details but at a time when he fully well recognized that the lifeline of his government was directly wired to President Abdou Joof’s desk in Dakar who just rescued him from Kukoi. Hence, for his government to survive, he was left with no other option but to succumb to what would transform his extolled 1965 patriotic image into that of a renegade puppet in 1982. It was no longer about nationalism but about his survivability.
The Senegalese had virtually taken over his personal security and that of his family at the Statehouse, took over the Fajara Barracks and started the formation of a French-styled Gendarmerie force, commanded and controlled by their troops who absorbed a few of the lucky Field Force survivors constituting the pioneers. They turned the British-built colonial structures opposite the Fajara Barracks into their infantry battalion headquarters. The old Yundum Agriculture Department encamped their artillery and mechanized combat forces; remember that the airport was a violent battlefront where a lot of Gambian youth and some of their soldiers perished. An infantry company was deployed to Brikama another town reminisced for the stiff resistance mounted by resilient armed youth to halt their final assault to annex Banjul. Another platoon was deployed to Kartong the escape route of Kukoi Samba Sanyang and his lieutenants to Bissau. And last but not the least was the construction of a new barracks at Kudang village and the deployment of their largest infantry company there.
Sir Dawda was indeed made to believe that their massive presence in the country was imperative, lest Kukoi could return more lethal than before.
But the arrogance at which they manifested the significance of their companionship was repulsive to put it mildly which rapidly started to erode the euphoria and confidence the Gambians had initially had for their intervention to defeat Kukoi.
I have in my last article explained how on their watch and active participation, members of the main opposition party, the NCP and their leader, Sheriff Mustapha Dibba were unjustly persecuted by the PPP government, and thanks to Lawyer Ousainou Darbo’s stand in defense of their innocence coupled with the International pressure exerted on Sir Dawda that the victimization eventually ceased.
There was another sad incident when one of their soldiers shot and kill an innocent Gambian, head of a family, at the Denton Bridge. Mr. Kojo Elliot, an unarmed civil servant was driving in broad daylight from the Kombos to Banjul when according to the shooter he violated their checkpoint regulation by moving beyond where he was ordered to stop. I don’t think anything significant came out of that case or whether his wife and children were even compensated for his wrongful death.
Another young Gambian believed to have been a supporter of the PPP party in Serekunda on a routine visit to Minister Omar Jallow’s compound was also shot and killed by another Senegalese soldier on guard duty there. Independent sources narrated how the unarmed visitor was murdered for merely getting into an altercation with the soldier after being denied entry to the minister’s compound, a case that was later dismissed, ascribing it to the victim’s mental problem.
Invariably, some of their hyper aggressive soldiers got into street and bar brawls here and there with young Gambians, perhaps in a display of Post-Traumatic-Syndrome Disorder (PTSD) as a result of the bloody war they had experienced for the first time in their careers, an affliction not by then quite understood by African doctors or armies.
I had however expected Sir Dawda to elaborate on the subject in his book Kairaba, published in December 2009, but he was rather economical on the topic claiming to have been surprised when Senegal suddenly terminated it that September morning. As he stated, President Abdou Joof in an unexpected move didn’t even accord him the curtesy of writing or calling him directly about his troops’ immediate withdrawal but channeled the message informally through the Senegalese presidential guard commander at the Banjul Statehouse.
Minister Omar Jallow (OJ) had in his testimony at the Truth Reconciliation & Reparation Commission (TRRC) in January 2019, expressed his never wavering support to keep the Senegambia Confederation alive, further conveying his reservation over the decision to invite the Nigerians. Was his position ever known to Sir Dawda, especially when the government started compromising the very principles on which the treaty was founded as highlighted below? I need to know.
Like I said Sir Dawda didn’t want to say much about what exactly happened, although pundits continue to reveal more theories behind the failure.
In his divergent viewpoint, If I understood him correctly, Mr. Halifa Sallah in his November 7, interview with Harona Drama, host of Paradise TV, he alluded to the pivotal role played by PDOIS in influencing Sir Dawda or the PPP government in their decision for the discontinuation of the confederation, denoting he later opposed it. In what he said was a well researched document submitted in 1985 they had brought to the attention of the government the rather wasteful funds committed by Senegal and the Gambia at a ratio of 3:1 respectively for the upkeep of the confederation, all spent on the maintenance of the security forces alone with virtually nothing trickling down to the Gambian people.
I would have loved to hear what Mr. Sallah and Mr. Jallow think about the Senegalese-dominated and commanded foreign troops occupying the country now on similar arrangements with the bulk of the money provided by the EU and France monopolized among themselves with nothing trickling down either.
Nonetheless, listening to Mr. Sallah’s interview from the comfort of my living room, I had cringed over his conscious or unconscious omission of how Senegal throughout the confederation had looked the other way while the Gambia profited immensely from the lucrative opened border reexport trade of cheaper imported merchandise that was in effect hemorrhaging their economy into a coma.
Before and after independence Gambian commercial vehicles were free to transport passengers and goods to and from Banjul, Bissau, Guinea Conakry, Bamako, Kolda, Cassamance and Dakar without any major problems on the way. Of course, all these free movement of goods and people stopped after September 1989, a blockade they still enforce today. President Joof initiated it, President Wade reinforced it and President Sall shows no appetite of reversing it.
President Jawara’s vice president at the time Mr. Bakary B. Darbo once disclosed in an interview, his innocence over how and why the covenant ended. That he was not in the country then, period. I couldn’t remember whether he was asked the next logical question of whether he had taken any efforts to later find out or what he had felt about it, but I think the answer to the whole puzzle was conspicuous in President Jawara’s unorthodox behavior throughout the best years of the agreement. By his actions one would wonder what took President Abdou Joof so long to understand that Sir Dawda was all out to terminate the untenable agreement.
Sir Dawda perhaps couldn’t say much about how he sabotaged the confederation in his 2009 book because of the ramifications attributed to the eventual collapse of his government in 1994. He also had retuned home in 2009 from exile enjoying the retirement life of an ex-president under the regime that toppled him.
But I believe if nothing had gone wrong, uninterrupted, until his retirement in politics, he probably would have frankly apologized to the Gambians for betraying their trust by “surrendering” the sovereignty of the nation to Senegal in 1982 out of personal interest, a “taboo” he had zealously fought against when the British tried to lure him into it in 1965.
It was nonetheless discernible that he started applying obstructive measures to the protocol in 1983 when his government basically offered a contract to a Ghanaian Non-Commissioned Officer called Sergeant Major Frimpong to form an exclusive Gambian army free of Senegalese interference, disregarding the article designating that responsibility to his liberators.
Who in the PPP government at the time honestly cautioned the president for flouting that major rule of the confederation? Hmmm!
The Ghanaian, in order to fulfill his task was allocated the Farafeni Barracks an ideal camp not occupied or easily accessible to the Senegalese.
However to the disappointment of the Gambia government, no sooner had Mr. Frimpong’s first platoon graduated from training than the Senegalese managed to take the entire unit to Dakar for reorientation. By the time they returned, the Ghanaian was fired as if it was his fault for not resisting the their action. I don’t think President Joof protested about that first violation.
Then in 1984, Sir Dawda turned to the British for assistance. A British Army Training Team (BATT) arrived to help achieve what Sgt. Major Frimpong couldn’t. That was the birth of the Gambia National army (GNA) in July 1984.
Some of those who were integrated from the defunct Field Force and some newly trained young men in the Gambia National Gendarmerie (GNG) had to be moved to the GNA including Sir Dawda’s Aide De Camp in 1981 who was appointed the army commander.
The BATT kept away the Senegalese from everything they had to do to make the army purely Gambian in the precise manner prescribed by the PPP government. And it stayed like that until they completed the formation of the first infantry company, Alpha Company. They were not taken to Dakar for reorientation as in Sgt. Major Frimpong’s batch but the Senegalese asked and got the whole new detachment attached to their battalion in the country. President Joof again didn’t complain but he knew what he had to do.
Exposing the Gambians to the Senegalese force was like introducing the GNA soldiers to the real career that had motivated them into joining the army in the first place. In addition to the great fun enjoyed by the young troops with their foreign counterparts, away from the humdrum life at Yundum Barracks characterized by guards of honor, parades, guard duties and endless field crafts, the wages paid by the Senegalese were unbelievably excellent.
With France helping to maintain the troops in the Gambia, the Confederation army paid salaries and benefits far exceeding that of the GNA’s. Soldiers earning D400.00 per month at Yundum received D1200.00 or more per month at Kudang or Kartong. Officers paid D1000.00 received D4000.00 to D5000.00 at the confederation.
So instead of now capping the new GNA size as originally planned into a single battalion, well trained, well equipped and well motivated with basic support units such as a band, engineering, transport units, etc, ready to take over from the Senegalese, it became more or less an auxiliary force supplying one company at a time to the confederation on a two-year rotational tour of duty. In the end, nothing mattered more to a GNA officer or soldier than to serve at least once at the confederation army for better emoluments. So on the day the Senegalese unilaterally walked away in 1989, the mood in the GNA, except perhaps for the elite officers, was as if we just heard the obituary announcement our parents being killed in a plane crash. It was the beginning of the moral and psychological decay in the army that continued to degenerate into the 1994 rebellion.
Before getting into those details, I want us to zoom our lenses back to the events of April 1989, five months before it all ended which still failed to break President Joof’s steadfastness.
Senegal had had a border dispute with Mauritania that almost escalated into a full blown war between the two neighbors. But when Abdou Joof sought the cooperation of Sir Dawda to support them when the situation deteriorated to an imminent war, the Gambia government refused, declaring a position of neutrality to the conflict and even offered to mediate for peace between them which Senegal rejected outrightly.
Then before Sir Dawda sent the letter to Abdou Joof that finally broke the camel’s back, his government protested about its discovery of foreign aid being unilaterally sought and received by Senegal in the name of the confederation unbeknown to the Gambia. President Joof they said defended their action on the pretext of Senegal footing the larger amount of the bill-3:1-to maintain the confederation.
Finally in August 1989, the decisive letter from Sir Dawda was sent asking Abdou Joof for the two governments to sit and review the confederal protocol so as to amend the clause on the appointment of the two heads of state . He wanted the presidency and the vice presidency to be rotational rather than what they mutually endorsed before. Abdou Joof, upon receiving the letter took the definitive resolution to abort the pact on September, 1989.
Shortly after, Sir Dawda was once again confronted with the dilemma of how to fill up the vacuum left by Senegal’s withdrawal after eight years of securing his government and nation which was negatively impacting discipline among the GNA troops, especially when the soldiers went out twice in the streets, 1991 and 1992 to demonstrate against his government. He had no option but to run to General Ibrahim Babangida head of state of Nigeria he identified as mutual friend. The history of the contract of the Nigerian Army Training & Assistance Group (NATAG) to come to Gambia started from there.
Read my next paper on the creation and dissolution of NATAG.
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