The Gambia River, one of the most navigable and important rivers on the African continent, is the single most important natural resource of one of the world’s poorest countries – The Gambia.
The Gambia exists because of the river that it took its name from. The River Gambia is The Gambia and The Gambia is River Gambia. It is, therefore, a natural resource that must be protected at all cost and to be preserved for generations yet unborn. To protect and reserve it is to protect and preserve Gambia’s national identity.
The original project, under the purview of the OMVG was first mooted in the late 1970s. The project included a barrage component (Bridge – Barrage Project) to provide irrigation water for rice production, a component that was proven to be environmentally unsustainable, according to a USAID-funded University of Michigan study. Gambia’s interest which centered on the barrage for irrigation fell when it proved an unsustainable proposition.
Senegal managed to keep the bridge project alive for over three decades until fairly recently when the project was reconstituted as a Bridge Project. It is important, at this stage of the negotiations, for Gambians to familiarize themselves with the history of the project to appreciate the geopolitical importance as well as the implications of the outcome of the negotiations that is taking place in Dakar.
During negotiations, the Gambian Foreign Minister, Mrs. Neneh MacDouall-Gaye, raised the design issue of the bridge which, according to her, obstructs or impedes the navigability of River Gambia. The fact that Gambia is raising fundamental design objections, albeit late in the project cycle, is extremely important an issue that MUST be satisfactorily addressed by both parties and the donor community, including the AfDB.
The late objection should not be an excuse to proceed without satisfactorily addressing the issue because, if indeed the design obstructs navigation of one of Africa’s most navigable rivers, it will be a national tragedy of monumental proportion that will be revisited by an successor government to Yaya Jammeh.