Senegalese truck drivers are resuming transport through Gambia after a two-month blockade imposed due to complaints of mistreatment and harassment by Gambian security forces.
Trucking in Senegal involves a long, often pot-holed route that cuts across Gambia, the small, 35-kilometer-wide country along the Gambia River.
It is an important road for Senegal because it is the most direct route between fruits and vegetables from the agricultural south to the Sahelian north.
Senegalese truckers are cautiously resuming this route after a two-month blockade of Gambia’s border that drivers imposed because of what they call harassment and human rights abuses by Gambia’s highway patrol.
Papiss Sadio is a driver based in the southern Senegalese city, Ziguinchor. He says he and his fellow transporters did not want to go the much longer way around Gambia, through Senegal’s eastern Tambacounda, but felt they had no choice.
Sadio says he has never been arrested but has had colleagues who have been thrown in jail. He says, if a Senegalese driver gets into a traffic accident in Gambia, that driver will most likely be blamed and put in jail, whether or not he has insurance.
Other drivers report having extra taxes and fees levied on them at one of Gambia’s many checkpoints, further antagonizing the long-standing rift between the two countries.
The countries were both part of the medieval Wolof empire before colonial powers France and England divvied them up, giving Senegal to the French and tiny Gambia to the British.
Sadio says Gambians think the Senegalese are their enemies, but that is not the case. He says they are all brothers and sisters.
Mediation by Senegal’s government seems to have resolved the situation for now, although for how long is uncertain. Sadio says this has been a problem since he began professional driving, nearly two decades ago.
Sadio says the situation seems to be improving since the blockade was lifted and he is hopeful it stays that way.
Truckers are far from the only ones with complaints of harassment in Gambia. Journalists and opposition members are often targets of Gambian police. Human rights groups say rights violations have become a fact of life under President Yaya Jammeh, who has ruled the country since 1994 and says his re-election later this year is a “foregone conclusion.”