Gambian President Adama Barrow and his Senegalese counterpart, Macky Sall, inaugurated the Senegambia (or Farafenni) Bridge over the River Gambia at a ceremony on 21 January. The 1,000-metre construction, whose USD85-million cost was financed by the African Development Bank, links the central Gambian towns of Farafenni and Soma. Although Gambian-owned, it will be a critical transport link for Senegal since it will speed up and reduce the cost of transport between its economically marginalised southern province of Casamance and the rest of the country. Journey times from the Senegalese capital, Dakar, to the main Casamance town of Ziguinchor will be reduced from at least 12 hours to eight by avoiding a costly and unreliable ferry.
Significance: The inauguration of the bridge deliberately occurred on the second anniversary of the departure into exile of former Gambian president Yahya Jammeh, whose removal has helped to facilitate a new era of strong ties between Gambia and Senegal, which still provides the bulk of a regional peacekeeping force installed in Gambia. Jammeh was also the main obstacle to efforts to construct the first bridge over the River Gambia, preferring to have the option of obstructing Senegalese traffic to Casamance as leverage to extract government level concessions. In mid-2016, following Jammeh's decision to hike tariffs by a factor of 100, Senegal shut the border, necessitating a 400-kilometre diversion through the eastern region to reach Casamance. Jammeh had also provided material support and sanctuary to the Mouvement des forces démocratiques de Casamance (MFDC) secessionist rebel group, which has been conducting a low-level insurgency since 1982. Jammeh’s departure has left the MFDC without a protector and facilitated the resumption of peace talks in Rome. Although heavy-goods vehicles cannot use the bridge until July, its inauguration is likely to strengthen the basis for a final peace settlement by increasing the attractiveness of investment opportunities in agri-business and mining through improved connectivity, and thereby addressing one of the main MFDC grievances of economic marginalisation.
Risks: Interstate war; Ground cargo; Terrorism
Sectors or assets affected: Defence and security forces