In what seems like a scene out of the movie Armageddon, the ferry terminal at Yeli Tenda/Bamba Tenda is completely deserted – thanks to Yahya Jammeh’s belligerent, recalcitrant, intransigent, and irresponsible behavior towards Gambians and neighbor, Senegal. Otherwise this crossing point is usually the busiest in the country creating a very vibrant economy at the border towns separating Gambia and Senegal – one so strong; it is immune to economic downturns that occasionally pop up on either side of the divide. All gains made over the years in areas affected by the resilient economic boom at this crossing have evaporated, causing a crippling impact on the already suffering Gambians – revenues generated for the Gambia have gone down 60% according to actual figures received by Fatu Network.
Yahya Jammeh has over the years used the border crossing at Yeli Tenda/Bamba Tenda as a political pawn – he has used it occasion after occasion to settle scores with Gambia’s neighbor, Senegal. As a matter of fact, a bridge was commissioned for this crossing with funding from African Development Bank, World Bank, and contribution from Senegal, but Jammeh balked just before the commencement of the project because he was pissed off at Senegal for reasons no one has been able to determine.
Gambians have never had any problems with their Senegalese neighbor – in fact, Senegal came to Gambia’s aid during a coup attempt in 1981 leading to the deaths of hundreds of Senegalese soldiers. The country currently serves as a home to thousands of Gambians fleeing from persecution under Yahya – yet another thorn under Jammeh’s skin – he wants Senegal to repatriate all such Gambians.
Yahya is in the habbit of always finding a scapegoat for his failed leadership. He has blamed everyone but himself for the dire economic situation affecting the Gambia. He has also always found Senegal to be a convenient pawn to give Gambians the impression that Senegal is responsible for their suffering. This according to observers is what is manifesting yet again – he was the main instigator of the current border closures leading many Gambians to express hope that Senegal will this time not capitulate. “Senegal must understand that Gambians are blaming Yahya Jammeh squarely for the current standoff and so should not be worried about how we will perceive their government despite the lies and the impression Jammeh will try to give us” said one distraught Gambian taxi driver who frequents the border crossing and has seen his income reduced 80% because of the situation. “We know he is trying to look for someone to blame for our suffering but we will not be fooled. He (Jammeh) is the one making our lives miserable, not Senegal” interjected another.
In the meantime, a lady Fatu Network hired to go monitor the situation at the border crossing reported back a very grim picture – only four cars and a military truck were found on the ferry. This; for a terminal where cars and trucks used to queue for miles, waiting sometimes for days, to get their turn to get on the ferry. Cars and trucks now wait for hours to get on the ferry because there are not enough of them – officials at the terminal are trying to cut costs by waiting to have enough vehicles before allowing the ferry to leave. Fatu Network has in its possession pictures of an empty terminal – something unheard of for this crossing. The Weighing Bridge is also closed for lack of trucks to weigh according to our investigator.
Experts predict more devastating effects once supplies of the current basic commodities run out in the impoverish country. The border closure means most of those goods cannot enter Gambia from Senegal. Cooking gas (Jammeh has banned charcoal), Armanti Mayonaise, Jumbo, Maggi, Tomato paste, cement, are just some of the commodities imported from Senegal. Ironically, Elton that supplies fuel for the ferry has its headquarters in the Senegalese capital, Dakar. A senegalese Tycoon Wade Thiam has over ten trucks that supply food stuff, soap, and many other commodities to shops in The Gambia, and with this move by Jammeh, his business is at a standstill.
What comes next is anyone’s guess, but regular Gambians it seems have finally found a close ally in Senegal and are hoping that the neighbor will act decisively to help alleviate this cancer call Yahya Jammeh wreaking havoc on both.