“Blood neighbours” and border enemies: transport, trade, Talibee networks and the Gambia-Senegal relations, 1960- 2015
Since the Senegambia Confederation collapsed in 1989, The Gambia-Senegal interstate conflicts over the border have intensified. Irrespective of the recurrence of interstate political difficulties, people in the two countries nurture a popular belief that they are kinsmen and they have a shared culture. They describe themselves as “one people” and they use kinship metaphors to refer to each other. The two countries have made efforts to foster a closer relationship irrespective of recurrent political difficulties over the border. This thesis argues that shared culture, language and religion mediate the divisive power of The Gambia-Senegal border. It explores the historical, cultural, religious and economic factors that perpetuated the conditions of both conflict and cooperation in interstate relations from 1960 to 2015. It further argues that state and non-state actors (transporters, traders, religious actors and ordinary people) use the resources they have in the state, culture and religion to navigate the complex context of the border, which is a major source of tension in cross-border mobility and trade and in interstate politics. Senegal has had violent conflicts with two of its neighbours, Mauritania and Guinea Bissau, respectively, over their shared borders. But it has avoided similar conflicts with The Gambia. The popular perception that Gambians and Senegalese are “one people” in two countries is partly credited for this situation. The two cultural notions of the “mother’s child” and “father’s child” expressed in the Wollof language as dome-ndeye and dome-baaye, are useful terminologies for understanding why interstate political difficulties never degenerated into violent conflict. The “mother’s child” represents cross-border relations of intimacy. The “father’s child” stands for cross-border relations of competitive intimacy. When state and non-state actors are influenced by the former notion, they behave in ways that deflate conflict. They are motivated to resolve problems and de-escalate interstate tensions. But if notions of competitive intimacy influence them, kinship ties are disregarded and transactional attitudes that re-activate tensions are adopted. Consequently, when economic interests are threatened, cultural principles of cooperation and kinship models get abandoned for transactional behaviour and competitive attitudes. Case studies from the Amdallai-Karang and Farrafenni-Keur Ayib border settlements show that conflict decisions from the top are de-escalated by grassroots processes that are performed through language. State actors and non-state actors use language to negotiate and renegotiate the divisive nature of the border. The political economy of the border influences whether people prioritise kinship bonds or the escalation of tension in their interactions. Cross-border traders and religious actors have been more disposed towards fostering agreeable and cooperative relations. Transporters facilitate cross-border mobility and foster connections. They facilitated the joint transport network in the past. However, they subsequently devised plans that led to the disintegration of the transport network. Currently, they promote and sustain interstate disagreements on cross-border transport. They also contributed to the ongoing conflict on the border. State actors from both sides of the border have also demonstrated mixed goals towards the border. Notwithstanding, the use of kinship metaphors creates new continuities across the discontinuity of legal territory and this has prevented The Gambia and Senegal from veering into violent conflict. Thus, from 1960-2015, social relations acted as political glue in interstate relations in Senegambia.