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Sall & Jammeh; presidents of Senegal & Gambia respectively
Sall & Jammeh; presidents of Senegal & Gambia respectively(L-R)

By Mama Jankeh Wally

Since the arrest and the subsequent detention of members of the United Democratic Party on the 14 and 16 April respectively, Senegalese government, the people as well as the civil society joined Gambia at home and abroad to condemn the oppression of the opposition by Yahya Jammeh’s regime. This was particularly mirrored in the extensive media coverage by various Senegalese TV channels, and the unprecedented demonstration by Senegalese civil society activists and Gambian exiles in Senegal at the Place de la Nation (l’Obelisque) in denunciation of the climate of suppression in The Gambia.  However, the arrest of the opposition and the subsequent demonstration in Dakar were preceded by the closure of border between Senegal and Gambia, which affected the economies of both countries severely. Thus, it is worthwhile to reconsider the motive behind Senegalese preoccupation with political development in the Gambia so much so that Senegalese took to the street to voice their anger against the regime in the Gambia. The question that begs itself is whether Senegalese solidarity with Gambians a guanine one or Dakar demonstration was a reflection of Senegalese growing frustration with the conduct of Yahya Jammeh which led to the border closure.

The demonstration in Dakar and the relevance of Gambian issue on the Senegalese print and online newspaper as well on their TV channels in the past three weeks or so do not vindicate that Senegalese people and their government were sympathizing with their Gambian neighbors. Rather, the obsession of the Senegalese people with the political developments in the Gambia reflected the exhaustion of the tolerance of  Senegal with antagonizing discourse of Yahya Jammeh against Senegal, and the growing frustration and anger of Senegalese people over the recent border closure. The concurrence of these developments with the arrests of UDP member encouraged Senegalese media and the government alike to mobilize support for the anti-Yahya Jammeh rhetoric in Senegal. Thus, as border issue has become a topic of the past, Senegalese enthusiasm with cause of the Gambian struggle for democracy will wane on the agenda of Senegalese media as it will also diminish in daily talks of ordinary Senegalese.

This claim could be proved if we reflect back to the historical approach of Senegalese consecutive governments to the conduct of the Gambian politics since Yahya Jammeh came to power in 1994. Since 1994 the administrations in Dakar generally show their interest in the conduct of polity in Banjul only if Senegalese economy and security as well as its people are threatened by Yahya regime. Throughout the history this happens first: when the rebellion in Cassamance is escalated as this situation forces Dakar to count on the Banjul to deescalate the violence given the influence the Gambian leader has on the rebels by virtue of their tribal affinity; second, when Senegalese economy is affected by border closure as Senegalese will dispatch envoys to negotiate terms and conditions to facilitate the flow of goods between two countries ; third, when the life of Senegalese citizens are threatened as happened in the case Tabora Samba who was executed alongside with other nine inmates in the Gambia. Apart from these incidences, Senegal favors the status quo in the Gambia as far as Senegalese national security remained untouched.

Therefore, as border is reopened, the plight of Gambians in their struggles against Yahya Jammeh will not garner attention of Senegalese anymore. While Gambian issues and their problems might be covered in the Senegalese TV, it would be featured sarcastically in the form of comedy in the comedic shows like Koutha Show on TFM and Sandongo on WalfTV. At government level, Senegalese officials will continue on their position to avoid antagonizing Yahya Jammeh who might use his leverage in instigating rebellion against Senegal by supporting rebels in Cassamance. At popular level, Senegalese celebrities (Musicians and Wrestlers) will continue to grace events that are organized by Yahya jammeh in order to return back handful with cash. This is even acute when we know one of Senegalese popular female musician TITI is currently in the Gambia to perform at Yahya Jammeh 51st birthday.

In light of this, Gambians should not count on Senegal for the help to advocate for the regime change in Banjul. Instead of looking up for Senegalese support, Gambians in Senegal and abroad should buy airtimes in Senegalese private media, which are daily viewed by average Gambians, to get their message across and to propagate their agenda against the regime in the Gambia. If strategically designed, these messages could counter Yahiya’s propaganda aired by the GRTS, thus, they can refute many of his propaganda programs in the eyes of the Gambian.