Friday, January 31, 2014

The boycott of the GPA ferries continues

The Senegalese Transport Union's boycott of the Gambia Ports Authority (GPA) ferry services continues unabated.  The meeting held this week between the union and Gambia government officials ended in a stalemate.  Meanwhile, the intransigence continues with no end in sight.

It must be noted that the borders between The Gambia and Senegal have not been closed.  It is only the President of the Republic of Senegal who has the power to close his side of the border, and no anyone else, including the Transport Union. Senegalese commercial vehicles are bound by union rules to observe the boycott but non-commercial and private vehicles are unaffected by union action.

The Senegalese union is a typical "bread and butter" organization that protects the economic well being of its members, and promotes their general welfare.  It is independent of the Senegalese government - an independence they guard jealously against government and third party interference.  The ferocious nature of the union's defense of their independence against government interference is shared by unions across francophone Africa, something inherited from their colonial heritage.  Unless the national security of Senegal is threatened, the union will not accommodate any attempt by the government of Senegal to interfere in the boycott.  It is the State that will determine when the national security line has been crossed, at which time all concerns will act in unison.

Unlike The Gambia, Senegal is a democracy that values the separation of powers, and the independence of unions to engage in legitimate activities on behalf of its members.  The unions are boycotting the ferry services because Yaya Jammeh changed the rules by requiring the payment of foreign currency.  The mandatory nature of the decision is what caused the boycott.   Although the payment in CFA had been optional, it had always been a currency of choice by both the Gambia and Senegal since the inception of the GPA in 1972, but for different reasons.  For the Gambia, the CFA it is a source of foreign exchange, and for the Senegalese, it is convenient because it is their national currency, and since it was optional, they preferred it to going to a forex bureau to change to local currency.  Revenue collected by GPA, especially the CFA component has always been accessed by Jammeh since he seized power in 1994 for use outside the normal operations of the GPA which has contributed to it's current insolvency.

Even when the dalasi was losing value against the CFA, the GPA under the Jawara regime never changed the rules which was a smart move.  To change the rules automatically removes the option that the Senegalese drivers enjoyed all these years - a change which sparked the current controversy leading to the boycott. The rapid loss of value of the dalasi is the obvious trigger, a decision that is costing the Gambian economy in decline in revenue for GPA and other commercial activities around the crossings at Farafenni and Barra, in particular.

Resumption of negotiations over the boycott between the Senegalese Union and the government of Yaya Jammeh is uncertain at this point.  Meanwhile, the economies of both countries suffer, however disproportionately, and in our view, unnecessarily.