Gambia's 'optimists with tears in their eyes'

The following article was received from a Gambian student in the United States after Senegal put down a coup in Gambia but before Senegal and Gambia announced plans for the merger which he speaks out against.

The recent intervention of Senegalese forces into the Gambia to crush a rebellion came as a surprise to virtually no Gambian. Ever since 1965, and even before, Senegal had been exploring all avenues for the realization of a merged Senegambia.

The first of these, in 1966, was the building of tuition-fee French schools, thus reducing the enrollment in Gambia's expensive English schools and encouraging young Gambians to go to French-speaking Senegal for higher education and jobs.

Among later steps, in the 1970s, was a mutual defense treaty. Mutual? This is really a farce. Just what military aid could Gambia render Senegal? Absolutely none. If Senegal with its 10,000-man military cannot push back an invasion or put down a rebellion in Senegal with all their modern weapons and training, one wonders what Gambia's 500-man police force, equipped with 1955 weapons and do-what-you-deem-fit tactics, could do.

The treaty was just another bait by which Gambia could be drawn closer to the fangs of its neighbor, which was anxiously waiting to devour this tiny sovereign nation. It doesn't really matter what actions are taken -- Gambians have to pay the price for it.

The recent Senegalese intervention was justified by the treaty, and more than 500 Gambians were reported killed in just two days of fighting. Doesn't this bother Senegal or even the international community? Are people going to be watched dying just because a party felt a merger was necessary? This is absurd.

Only about 25 percent of the Gambian population is literate, and they live in and around Banjul, the capital. Since almost all of the victims of the fighting inhabited this area, then surely most of the nation's intellectual resources have been eliminated. These people understood Senegal's politics and thus stood against it. Who is going to replace them is the concern of all Gambians, something Senegal doesn't care much about.

It might be interesting to note that the Gambian government never, ever came up with any proposal whatsoever to challenge the Senegalese government in its bid for a Senegambia. Why hasn't there been a referendum since 1965 to check whether the Gambian people would consent to a merger? In my mind any referendum to this effect would surely have failed.

The Mandingo tribe constitutes about 49 percent of the Gambian population, and they have been most outspoken against the idea of a Senegambia. Why? Because they feel they are going to be disadvantaged upon the realization of this idea. More than half of Senegal's population is Wolof, the tribe which also forms about 30 percent of Gambia's population. Members of the Mandingo tribe don't hold any important offices in Senegal, though they do in Gambia.

Since the success of a referendum seemed very remote, the Senegalese government had to resort to some other means to bring about "unification." The Senegalese were going to intervene in the recent abortive coup even it Gambia President Jawara had not invited them. Perhaps senegal's President Abdou Diouf was right: "Gambia's insecurity undermines Senegalese security." But what on earth does Senegalese security mean? Certainly Gambia, with its 500 men, would never dream of hurting a blade of grass in Senegal. So what security problems would Gambia have posed for Senegal if the coup had succeeded? None, absolutely none, except that the possibility of a merger would have further dwindled away.

Even if Senegal had not intervened the coup was going to be met with a countercoup, geared toward a fairer distribution of the nation's wealth. Corruption among ministers and other high-ranking officials provided the recipe for rebellion carried out under the wrong banner. But coup or not, Senegal was always going to focus on a merger, whose realization is going to be both expensive and detrimental on the part of the Gambians.

Is gambia then on the verge of losing its sovereignty and its people their identity? Only time, which has already narrated much about the issue, can tell. Some people don't want to listen to the rest of the narration; they've already got the picture. However, the optimists with tears in their eyes still lend an ear.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.