Senegalese President Macky Sall and Gambian President Adama Barrow inaugurated on Monday the “Senegambia Bridge”, which will promote trade in West Africa and whose completion after decades of delay symbolizes the renewed understanding between the two countries.
The inauguration of the bridge comes two years after Yahya Jammeh’s departure, who for more than 22 years ruled Gambia, a small English-speaking country landlocked in Senegal, with the exception of a narrow coastline that is popular with tourists.
The bridge, an elegant light concrete structure more than a kilometre long located in Gambian territory, crosses the Gambia River, about ten kilometres from the Farafenni border crossing point, which the two presidents, both dressed in white boubou, symbolically used on Monday, standing in the same limousine with an open roof.
“Given the geography of Gambia and Senegal, with a river dividing each country into two parts, one wonders why it took so long to get this bridge,” Mr. Barrow asked himself at a ceremony at the foot of the new structure, whose construction began in 2015, under Yahya Jammeh.
“We can be proud to have turned this dream of several generations into a reality,” Sall said, adding that the bridge project, which had been discussed since the 1970s, had been affected as the relationship between Dakar and Banjul evolved.
Gambia’s presidency said that “the bridge, which is part of the Trans-Gambia Road Corridor, is a vital economic and strategic link connecting the north and south banks of the Gambia River as well as The Gambia, Senegal and other countries in the sub-region.”
It will enable those who want to travel from the north of Senegal to its southern region of Casamance, a tourist and agricultural region whose development has been hampered by its geographic isolation from the rest of the country – to avoid having to take a detour of some 400km.
The opening of the bridge illustrates the dramatic warming of relations between the two countries, long marked by disputes over transportation, fishing and borders, despite the fact that their inhabitants share common languages, ethnic origins and many professional, family and commercial ties.
This rapprochement took place when Mr. Barrow came to power in January 2017, as Senegal was at the forefront of diplomatic and, above all, military pressure from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to force Yahya Jammeh to concede defeat in the December 2016 presidential election.
The country’s security is still supported by the ECOWAS force, composed mainly of Senegalese soldiers, whose mandate has been extended several times.