Sunday, May 15, 2016

Border closure negotiations will be long and tedious

Negotiations on the 12-week border closure between the two countries opened today in the Senegalese capital city of Dakar, after wranglings about the venue was settled following Gambia's insistence that they should take place in Banjul.

The opening statement by the Senegalese Foreign Minister, Mankeur Ndiaye appears to have set the stage for what promises to be a long drawn-out affair lasting weeks which will be against the wishes of the Gambian dictator who is now under a variety of pressures ranging from economic, resulting from the border closure restricting commerce that, in turn, has significantly reduced government revenue, to diplomatic and political because of the increasing diplomatic isolation of Jammeh as a result of his regime's recent use of excessive force to crackdown on a month-long of protests against his regime. and diplomatic pressure

According to Radio France International (RFI), the resumption of the bridge project over River Gambia, abruptly stopped by Jammeh without explanation, is front and center of Senegal's demands. The 10,000% hike in the road transport tariff that led to the boycott of the TransGambia route by the Senegal Transport Union was also done unilaterally and without notification to the other party - Senegal - before it became effective, contrary to existing agreements between the two countries.

For this reason that in calling for solutions, the Senegalese Foreign Minister was quoted as urging both parties to "respect the agreements signed in the past", in direct reference to recent infractions - the bridge and the tariff hike - both decisions initiated in Banjul and approved by Jammeh, in direct contravention of, not only bilateral agreements but also loan agreements with the African Development Bank and other co-financing agencies.

In addition to the bridge, Senegal seems to be signalling that the agenda will be expanded to include "road transit, bilateral trade relations, judicial cooperation and mutual legal assistance, on maritime and inland fishing and migration.

While the Senegalese may succeed in getting the Gambian delegation comprising of the Finance and Interior Ministers who are led by Neneh McDoudol-Gaye, Gambia's Foreign Minister, to negotiate on all the points raised by the Senegalese side, it will remain to be seen what can get done on the first round.

These Ministers are there in name only.  They have no power to agree on the minutest of points without a nod from Jammeh in Banjul.  And given the numerous and complex issues that the Senegalese Foreign Minister would like to negotiate and reach agreement on, the process is going to be exceeding long.

One key problem Senegal will face is how to get Jammeh to honor any agreement that may emerge for someone who has not respected past agreements, just as he has no respect for Gambian laws.  As an absolute dictator, he does what he wants when he wants it, regardless of law or agreement.