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REGIONS MIDDLE EAST & AFRICA


Bridgingwest Africa’s integration issues T


GAMBIA’S SENEGAMBIA BRIDGE IS DESIGNED TO SHORTEN ROUTES, CUT COSTS AND LINK UP WEST AFRICAN ECONOMIES. JASON MITCHELL REPORTS


he Senegambia bridge, a new $93.7m bridge over theGambia River, has the potential to trans-


form trade in west Africa by improv- ing the road corridors connecting Mauritania withSenegal and Nigeria. The 942-metre-long toll bridge,


opened by Gambian president Adama Barrow and Senegal presi- dent Macky Sall in January 2019 – is


located entirely in Gambia, close to the town of Farafenni, but has a much wider social and economic impact as part of the trans-Gambia road corridor. It forms amajor plank of an initiative spear-


headed by the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, the economic development pro- gramme of the African Union, to link Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania, with Lagos in Nigeria via a 15-country, 4560kmhigh- way. The aim of the road link is to boost trade and co-operation significantly in the west African region.


Unusual geography Gambia, which has 2.4 million inhabitants and a $1.95bn economy, according to the International Monetary Fund, is a sliver of land surrounded by much bigger neighbour Senegal on its northern, eastern and southern sides. Known as the ‘Smiling Coast’, the Anglophone country is the smallest nation in mainland Africa with a geographic area of 11,295 square kilometres – around the size of theUSstate of Maryland. Francophone Senegal is much bigger, however, at 197,000 square kilometres and has a population of 17 million and a $25.7bn economy. The bridge connects northern Senegal with


the country’s Casamance region, which mostly lies south of the Gambia, for the first time. Until it was opened, Senegalese people had to use an unreliable ferry crossing or go the long route round Gambia. Lorry drivers could spend days – and sometimes up to a week – queuing to cross the river, with the risk that perishable goods could spoil. It now takes a lorry about eight hours to queue up and cross the bridge.


74


The new border posts significantly reduce the timefor customs formalities. However, the Covid-19 pandemic has ham-


pered commerce between Gambia and Senegal and the bridge’s full economic potential will not be realised until the emergency passes. Land borders between the two countries have been closed since March and the bridge’s authorities have only allowed emergency vehi- cles to pass over. “The new bridge will really help Senegal


more than the Gambia,” says Jobe Hally Mass, managing director of Atlas Energy, a Gambian petroleum-importingcompany thatowns29pet- rol stations in thecountry. “The bordersbetween theGambiaandSenegalhave always beenpretty porous but the new bridge willmake it a lot eas- ier for Senegalese to travel betweenthe southern and northernparts of Senegal. “Before it was constructed,many Senegalese


had to travel up to 700km to go around the Gambia. The bridge will cut off a big bottleneck and will also make trade between Senegal and other neighbouring countries such as Guinea- Bissau, Guinea and Sierra Leone a lot easier.”


Cutting time The trans-Gambia highway is expected to slash passenger and freight transport costs by more than 50%, according to the African Development Bank (AfDB). The bridge took seven years to construct and


was almost entirely financed by the AfDB through a grant of $88.4mto the Gambian gov- ernment and a $4.4m loan to the Senegalese government. Construction works were carried out by a joint venture of Spanish company Isolux Corsán and Senegalese firm Arezki Group. The Gambia Ferries Service and the National Roads Authority jointly share the rev- enue fromthe tolls. “For Senegal, the bridge has considerably


shortened travel time and facilitated the movements of goods and people from Dakar [the Senegalese capital] to the rest of Senegal to the south,” says Victoria Billing, the British ambassador to Senegal. “The key impact for Senegal is that the region of the Casamance –


www.fDiIntelligence.com August/September 2020


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