Gambia/Senegal: Travelers route 1000km around Gambia amidst border stand-off

By Sanna Camara

Bus ready to depart for Cassamance
Bus loading baggage for a 15 hour journey around Gambia 

 

A few weeks into the border closure between Senegal and Gambia, passengers travelling between Southern Senegal to Dakar via TransGambia Highway are now left with no choice but to route over a thousand kilometers around the Gambia.

The economically-important road “provides the most important connection between the two parts of Senegal,” Senegal has maintained.  It runs from Kaolack and Nioro, across Gambia and then into Bignona and Ziguinchor in the Southern Senegal region called Casamance.

Fares rose from CFA 6,000 to 8,000

Passengers pay CFA Francs 6,500 from Dakar to Cassamance through Gambia – a distance of 400kilometers. Now they pay CFA Francs 8,000 to travel almost triple that distance around The Gambia, said Jarjue, a Senegalese driver who frequents the route via Gambia.

That is okay, passengers said, if they do not have to face the hurdles of usual ferry crossings, customs and security checkpoints within the Gambia.

The actual 25km long Gambian section runs through Farafenni and Soma but the 800-metre-width of the Gambia River can only be crossed by a connecting ferry.

On Tuesday, 16 February 2016, Karan-Amdalaye, Jiboro-Seleti, Farafenni-Keurr Ayub border posts among several otherswere reported to have been closed to vehicles from The Gambia or Senegal.

New tariffs directive said trucks must pay CFA 400,000

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This came in reaction to “a massive and unprecedented” tariff increase on Senegalese trucks using the TransGambia highway, Senegalese transport unionists have said.

Trucks were charged based on their weight but none were paying up to CFA 100, 000. Now, the new tariffs directive said trucks must pay CFA 400,000.

In August 2005, the Gambia doubled the prices for the ferry crossing. In response, the Government of Senegal closed the border crossings. The prices were reduced at the beginning of October, but Senegal felt the issue was unresolved and threatened that they would construct a tunnel under Gambia, with the claimed support of China.

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‘Hectic travel experiences’

This situation has caused “hectic travel experiences” for travelers, according to a female passenger Khady Seidy.

“The ferry crossing causes serious difficulty for us frequent travelers. We face series of delay in crossing the River Gambia with the ferry. Sometimes we stay hours and days before we can cross [with] the ferry,” Khady said.

Although passengers decry “the costly journey” for them especially during feasts, there seems to be growing consensus among the Senegalese travelers that doubling the distance from Dakar to Cassamance, has been a much easy choice now.

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“Sometimes, we spend two days at the crossing point when travelling through Gambia,” said Astou Diatta, a female petty trader in her forties. Under such circumstances, their perishable goods such as legumes and frozen consumables are all spoilt, causing great loss to our enterprise.

She admits that frequent crossing over River Gambia to, or from Southern Senegal sometimes entails spending the night at the mosquitoes-and-bug infested river side. Even under rains with their kids….

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