Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Gambia Weathers Senegal Split WEST AFRICA

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Gambia Weathers Senegal Split WEST AFRICA

Article excerpt

ALMOST a year after the dissolution of their confederation, Gambia, the smallest country on the African continent, is surviving the economic sanctions of Senegal, the country that borders it on three sides.

The Senegambia Confederation was formed after Senegalese troops rescued the Gambian government from a coup attempt in 1981. But Senegal's desire for greater economic and monetary integration with Gambia was rebuffed when Senegal pushed too hard, observers say.

"Senegal saw the confederation as a stepping stone toward absorbing Gambia," says Sulayman Alieu Jack, a Gambian government official.

A confederation seemed natural. The two countries share ethnic groups, African languages, and traditions. Most people living near the border have family on the other side. The two countries have been trading together since the days when the British colony of The Gambia, as it is formally known, imported cheap Indian cotton to trade for cattle with the French colony of Senegal.

But upon independence, the two countries took different economic roads. Gambia maintains a liberal trade policy. This is recommended by international lenders and donors and is perhaps the only viable strategy for the Connecticut-sized country. Senegal has high tariffs to protect and develop local industries that produce such items as cotton textiles, sugar, and tomato paste. It aims to reduce dependence on European countries.

Senegalese customs agents had periodically sought to crack down on the flow from Gambia of cheaper European goods, which are often superior to the Senegalese equivalents.

For instance, Senegalese traders would cross the border to buy consumer items such as toothpaste, matches, and Chinese tea, and then return to their villages to sell these items at a profit. Gambia survives largely because of this re-export trade, which accounts for about three quarters of its exports.

Since the breakup of the confederation, Senegalese entering Gambia are strictly forbidden to carry more than the equivalent of $70, effectively prohibiting trade. The wholesale movement of rice, sugar, and cloth across the border has been interrupted.

"Senegal will not accept to serve as a dumping ground for Gambian contraband," says President Abdou Diouf. "During the confederation, because we wanted to play by the rules of integration, we were a bit lax, perhaps we let things go. …

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