Gambian Drivers Call on Government to Review Cross-Border Trade Agreement with Senegal

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By Nelson Manneh

Commercial vehicle drivers from the Gambia have been complaining of economic losses they incur in their trade because of the lack of full implementation of the Gambia-Senegal trade agreement.

In September 2022, The Gambia signed a trade agreement with Senegal, which focused on trade and transit. The agreement sought to facilitate trade in goods and transit.

The Gambia Transport Union has accused the Senegalese Government of not respecting cross-border trading agreement it entered with the Gambia, which is leaving them to incur economic losses.  

The commercial lorry drivers at Abuko told this reporter that they pay 2 or 3 Thousand Dalasi to enter Senegal.

The Gambia Ports Authority

The Gambia Ports Authority (GPA) was established in 1972 as a statutory public corporation with the mandate to operate such port facilities best deemed expedient to the public interest.

The Port of Banjul is located on the estuary of the River Gambia 13° 27 minutes north and 16° 34 minutes west, 26 nautical miles from the Atlantic Ocean, and its area of jurisdiction covers north from Bouniadu Point to the extreme of Cape Point, to the south from the western extreme of Dog Island to the northern extreme of the South Bank of Madina Creek.  

The GPA provides facilities and services for the berthing of vessels, discharging, and loading operations using cargo handling equipment for both containerized and non-containerized cargo.

The GPA, due to its business, manages assets such as container terminals, land, bonded and conventional warehouses, office buildings, tugboats for berthing assistance, dredgers for maintenance dredging, cargo handling equipment such as reach stackers, forklift trucks, tractors and trailers.

 “The Gambia government and the Senegalese government have signed a cross-border agreement for the movement of goods and services in and out of these two countries, but our counterparts (the Senegalese government) have never respected these agreements. They continue to make life difficult for us at the borders,” Omarr Ceesay, the President of the Gambia Transport Union said.

Article 3 of the Revised Treaty of ECOWAS stipulates the removal of trade barriers and harmonization of trade policies for the establishment of a Free Trade Area, a Customs Union, a Common Market and an eventual culmination into a Monetary and Economic Union in West Africa.

The ECOWAS Trade Liberalization Scheme (ETLS) adopted in 1979 with an agreement on agricultural, artisanal handicrafts and unprocessed products, and extended to industrial products in 1990, is the main framework for trade and market integration in ECOWAS as it addresses protocols on free movement of goods, persons and transportation.

The ETLS’s main pursuit of consolidating the free trade area is guided by the National Approval Committees that inform the member States. For this purpose, ECOWAS established an ETLS website to ease harmonization and usage of it.

ECOWAS has implemented a Customs and Connectivity programme to simplify the movement of goods in the region. The ECOWAS Common External Tariff has thus been operational since 2015. Moreover, Member States are increasingly implementing the ECOWAS Single Customs Declaration Form for their customs administrations.

The Gambia Transport Union is established to champion the welfare of commercial drivers within the Gambia and also to partner with other transport unions within Africa to ease the movement of goods in the continent.

Omar Ceesay, President of Gambia Transport Union said: “The Gambia’s commercial transport sector creates job opportunities for Gambians more than any other private sector in this country; but the government has neglected the sector. Commercial drivers are not respected both nationally and internationally.”

On the Gambia-Senegal trade deal, he said: “We have realised our neighbours are not respecting and implementing these agreements across the borders. They keep on harassing our commercial drivers and collecting revenue unnecessarily from them.”

The Gambia Government has been notified of the plight of the drivers at the border, but the authorities are yet to resort to adequate measures to address the problems.

“It is just a matter of lip service when people say the Gambia and Senegal are one nation, the amount of economic losses our commercial drivers experience at the border is uncalled for and is unacceptable,” he said.

Mr Gora Humma, the President of the Senegalese Transport Union holds a similar view that the Senegalese government is not treating Gambian commercial drivers fairly.

“I have been in the transport sector for decades. If the agreements between these two countries were respected and implemented, symbiotically, the two countries would have enjoyed free international trading,” the Senegalese Transport Union President stated.

He said when the Senegalese Sea Port was established, the government of Senegal allowed commercial drivers from Mali and Burkina Faso to enter Senegal freely and transport goods from the Senegalese port to their countries without rigid restrictions.

“When you take goods from the Senegalese ports heading to Mali, you have about three Senegalese security check-points, but if you are coming from the Gambia to Dakar you have to cross numerous checkpoints, which to me is not necessary,” he said.

When it comes to fair treatment, Mr Humma believes the Gambia government is doing better than the Senegalese government.

“In many of my interviews, I have said clearly that these two countries, especially the two governments are not implementing what they say to their people. They keep on saying that Senegal and Gambia are one country. Why are Gambian drivers not allowed to enter our country (Senegal)freely?” President Humma asked.

The Senegalese Transport Union boss admitted that Gambian commercial drivers experience more economic loss across the border than their Senegalese counterparts. He said the number of checkpoints along the road is too many.

“As the president of the Senegalese transport union, I want the government of the Gambia to consider reducing the tariff at the Senegambia Bridge. Many drivers complain that they spend a lot of money when crossing the bridge. We all know that the bridge has brought easy access between the two countries, but the tariff there needs to be considered,” he said. 

Gambian Lorry drivers who mainly transport goods from the Gambia Ports Authority to other countries lamented the financial challenges they encounter along the way before reaching their destinations.

Gambia commercial vehicle drivers said they are not treated fairly outside the Gambia and they accused the Senegalese Government of not respecting the cross-border agreement Banjul signed with Dakar. 

“You find it difficult to move goods from the Gambia to other countries, in fact, at some point you are not allowed to cross the border. Our government should look into this or even close the borders, let every country struggle on its own,” some of the drivers at Abuko told Foroyaa.

Lamin Fadera a lorry driver who transports goods outside the Gambia, always faces economic challenges when he travels to Senegal.

“As a truck driver, you spend more than five thousand dalasi when transporting goods to Dakar, Senegal. You have to give money to the police in and outside the Gambia as you drive to Dakar,” he said.

The drivers feel that the Presidents of Senegal and Gambia have been misinforming the people about the trade agreement they signed because the reality remains there is no free movement of goods.

Momodou Bah, another lorry driver whom this reporter met at the Ports in Banjul said before the expansion of the Senegalese ports, the movement of goods into Senegal was not as difficult as it is now.

“My observation is the Senegalese authority wants to popularise its seaport that is why they want to frustrate the transportation of goods from the Gambia to Senegal and make it easy for other international drivers to re-export goods from the Senegalese ports to other countries like Mali,” he said.

Some of Mr Bah’s colleagues who transport goods from the Senegalese ports to other countries do not experience such economic losses.

“The transport sector employs a lot of young people directly or indirectly. The economic loss we encounter is unjustifiable. If you spent more than five thousand dalasis to deliver goods, what are you expected to take home at the end of the day,” he said.

Drivers lament there are instances when Gambian trucks are parked at the borders and not allowed to enter Senegal without providing them any reasons.

 An anonymous Police officer said the Gambian government should not allow it to be caged by the Senegalese government. 

“The Gambia and Senegal are different states and need to be treated differently. If the Senegalese government doesn’t respect any cross-border agreement, why should our government allow it to be exploited?” the policeman said.

There are laws governing the transportation of goods in and outside the Gambia, and these laws must be respected by everyone driving on the roads. 

“I have worked at the borders for many years and I have seen and witnessed where our drivers are maltreated at the borders but as a police officer I have my limitations,” he said.