French-speaking Senegal and English-speaking Gambia have announced plans to form a closer alliance, to be called Senegambia.
The decision was made public yesterday at a joint press conference by Presidents Abdou Diouf of Senegal and Dawda Jawara of the Gambia. Details of the plan were not spelled out, but it is intended to eliminate the problems caused by the existence of the long, narrow enclave formed by Gambia stretching into the heartland of Senegal.
The idea of a tighter relationship between Senegal and Gambia was strengthened earlier this month when Senegalese soldiers militarily intervened in Gambia to crush an armed uprising of leftist rebels and disgruntled policemen. President Jawara, who invoked a mutual defense agreement in asking Diouf to send troops, would have been deposed if Senegal had not intervened.
After a lengthy meeting with Diouf in Senegal's capital Dakar yesterday, Jawara told reporters that the coup attempt in Banjul "opened our eyes to the need to go further" in joining Senegal.
"Our duty is to find a better form of cooperation which goes beyond the integration of the security forces," said Jawara. Senegalese soldiers will have to guarantee Jawara's government's domestic security for the forseeable future. Gambia's 900-man police and paramilitary force, large numbers of whom spearheaded the rebellion, was left in a shambles when the fighting ended.
Diouf echoed Jawara's sentiments.
"We must now build Senegambia and, in that way, present the proof that we are capable of succeeding," he said.
The idea of a Senegambia federation has been discussed since Senegal won its independence from France in 1960.
The existence of two separate entities dates back to colonial struggles between England and Franch for control of the Gambia River Valley, with the British eventually wresting control of the 200-mile-long, 18-mile-wide trading enclave splitting French-controlled Senegal.
In an interview last week, before the plans for a federation were announced, Senegal's Diouf said his soldiers had to intervene in Gambia, because the self-described "Marxist-Leninist" rebels jeopardized Senegal's security.
"You just have to look at a map to be aware that both countries are very entangled," said Diouf.
The only distinct difference between the similar Moslem ethnic groups on both sides of the border is in their colonial legacies. This one cleavage is most evident among the minority elites of both countries, with the Gambians being English-speaking Anglophiles and the Senegalese French-speaking Francophiles. Since independence, both countries have established well-entrenched multiparty democracies, a rare phenomenon in Africa.
Gambia's urban elite leadership has remained suspicious of Senegal's designs on their privileged positions. Moves toward a political association have also been blocked by Gambia's merchant traders in the capital Banjul.
Smuggling both ways across Gambia's borders has had an adverse impact on Senegal's economy.
The rebellion against Jawara's government was put down by the Senegalese troops after a week of fighting. While Senegalese soldiers were combing Banjul for the rebels who escaped, Jawara announced that henceforth the security services of the two countries would be "integrated." Yet even before the fighting ended, a number of Gambians were openly hostile to the Senegalese troops and had begun referring to them as an "occupying army."
Responding to this perception, Diouf said, "If there are some Gambians who fear to be swallowed by Senegal, I believe they are wrong.
"I am convinced that if tomorrow we were to achieve Senegambia, Gambians would certainly benefit from it in terms of liberty, democracy, dignity and justice," continued Diouf.