By Ndey Sowe & Mustapha Jallow
Tension between the Senegalese and Gambian transport unions on movement of commercial vehicles across the border is building up. The dispute between the unions, which impacts on the lives of passengers boarding vehicles plying the Banjul/Dakar highway, is characterised by acrimony, defiance and stoppage of vehicles plying this route.
Omar Ceesay, the President of the Gambia National Transport Union (GNTU), has on Monday said effective 19th February 2020, they will not allow any Senegalese commercial vehicle to enter Gambian territory, in retaliation to what he said the Senegalese transport unionists are doing.
He made this statement at a press briefing held at their union’s central car park in Abuko. His threat came on the heels of tension between transport unions of the two countries.
He said, “On 19th January 2020, no Senegalese vehicles will enter any Gambian border because their authorities are not doing anything to address the matter.’’
“Why should they block our commercial vehicles with passengers to enter Senegal?’’ He queried: “A vehicle will carry passengers and upon arrival at the Karang garage, the Senegalese will ask the vehicle to offload and return to Gambia, which is a big loss to drivers.’’
“Only one bus with passengers is allowed to enter Senegal, but commercial vehicles are asked to stop at the border,’’ he alleged.
He added: “We want to rely on ECOWAS’s laws, so until the matter is resolved by the relevant stakeholders, we will not open the border.’’
Ceesay allegedly accused the government of the Gambia and relevant stakeholders of not being committed to resolving the issue. “We are not depending on them to solve this matter,’’ he stressed.
According to him, due to this border crisis, Gambia is losing millions in transportation, especially drivers who travel from Gambia to Senegal to do business.
Ceesay explained that on the 27th January 2020, his union wrote to the Ministry of Transport that if the Senegalese authorities kept stopping Gambian vehicles to enter Senegal, they will also do the same.
“We had several meetings to dialogue with Senegal to empower and promote the free movement of services in the two nations,’’ he said.
He said their committee took tremendous effort to dialogue with the Senegalese authorities on the challenges faced by their drivers, but ‘our counterparts (Senegal) were not ready for it and their commitment was not encouraging to us’.
For his part, Abdou Azizz Willan, Communication Officer of the union said it is time for the public to know the issues affecting them.
“Transport is the life blood of the economy”, he said.
Mbye Ceesay, the deputy ‘chef de garage’ at the Karang garage and a member of the Senegalese transport union, on Tuesday 18th February 2020, shrugged off allegations that they stopped Gambian vehicles to ply to Senegal. He said the Gambia Government had issued 100 licences to private vehicles to carry passengers from Gambia to Dakar and this has affected their garage at Karang.
He said: “So, we don’t want that to happen. Yes, it is true we denied some vehicles to carry passengers from Gambia to Dakar, but this latest development does not affect all categories of vehicles.’’
He added: “What we want is what was happening here in those days to return. When a vehicle moves from Dakar to Gambia, it should stop at the border here and return. The same thing should apply when a Gambian vehicle carries passengers going to Senegal.’’
According to Ceesay, only one bus was allowed to carry passengers from Gambia to Senegal, but this has increased to up four buses. He said this increment has affected their garage and that is why they decided to stop the buses from entering Senegal.
“Our drivers also rely on this Karang garage,’’ he said. “If we allow four buses to be carrying passengers from Gambia to Dakar, how are we going to work and earn, ’he asked.
He said they have no problem with a commercial bus leaving Banjul for Dakar, and vice versa. But if the number is more than one, then the only option they would be left with would be to stop the vehicle and ask the driver to bring down the passengers for them to board our vehicles.
“The bus plying from Gambia to Dakar is allowed to work only in the morning,’’ he said.
He added they have held several talks on the matter with the Gambian stakeholders to resolve the matter, but they were not present in one of the meetings recently organized by Gambians at the Amdalai border.
He said: “We heard that Gambia transport unions are going to deny our vehicles to enter in their country. Well, we are not going to do that and our borders are free for every Gambian.’’
He said they are open to dialogue with Gambian stakeholders on the matter.
“We want peace between the two nations because Gambia & Senegal are good friends,’’ he said.
The border debacle between the Gambia and Senegal has been an issue since the time of former President Jawara. The problem escalated during the reign of former president Jammeh to a point that the two country’s borders was closed for some time before it was eventually opened after some mediation and negotiations, between the two Governments.