In the early hours of the 21st of January 2019, 4IP Group Managing Partner, Christian Kingombe, left Greater Banjul accompanied by a number of executives from the Gambian Transport Union in direction of Soma, Lower River Region, in view of participating in The Inauguration of the “Senegambia” Bridge at Farafenni on the other side of the Gambia River approximately 200 km drive from the river’s estuary at the North Atlantic Ocean. We drove through the night from 1.30 a.m. until we arrived at Soma around 4 a.m., while witnessing the Total Lunar Eclipse (Blood Moon) which was very visible on the whole journey given the lack of street light as soon as we passed by Banjul International Airport and throughout the Southern Bank highway to Soma despite passing several small towns each with their delaying (i.e. hidden costs) policy check point. We arrived around 5 p.m. at the bridge whose access roads (360 m south bank and 600 m on North Bank) still were under construction due to the condition of the soil of the area (swamps) on both sides of the river banks, which needs reinforced concrete structure. In the end it was not possible to cross the 12.00 m wide bridge with a carriageway width of 7.5 m, i.e. one lane in either direction, by car until it had been officially inaugurated and the ferry service was not operating for security reasons. Hence, we had to walk across the 942 meters long bridge in order to reach the other side where the programme would unfold. The financing had been provided by the AfDB for the amount of EUR67 Million and the duration of the work had taken 4 years done by Corsan & Arezki Group of companies.
The event itself was a historical moment not only for the two immediately concerned OMVG countries The Gambia and Senegal who had been discussing this bridge for over 40 years to improve the competitiveness of their economies. But it was also a victory for regional integration in Africa because the bridge constitutes a segment of the Trans-Gambia corridor, which Christian Kingombe since November 2018 had been working on through an EU funded project entitled “Support for Governance of the Road transport sector of the Gambia” looking at the Banjul-Dakar; Banjul-Bamako; Banjul-Bissau and Banjul-Conakry corridor performances in terms of logistics costs and delays and transport prices per ton-km as compared to other ECOWAS/UEMOA corridors. This EuropeAid Lot2: Infrastructure, sustainable growth and jobs funded study was timely completed today (29th of January 2019). The Trans-Gambia bridge which now has been renamed the Senegambia bridge is also missing an important missing link on the Dakar-Lagos Coastal Highway project, which means it will lend further support to closer regional integration within the ECOWAS region. Previously in March 2013 as Regional Integration & Trade Officer at the AfDB, Christian Kingombe oversaw the work of the Trade Unit, which contracted Crown Agents to carry out “The Study for the Establishment of a One Stop Border Post (OSBP) and the Examination of Border Procedures and Processes along the Trans-Gambia Bridge”. The soft infrastructure project was in support of the project to build a bridge over the Gambia River and with the increased traffic expected when the bridge is built, it is critical that the soft infrastructure is in place to ensure that the highway’s full potential as a regional trade corridor is achieved. However, the OSBP was not scheduled to open until the bridge becomes operational around five months from today and long after the Presidential Election which will have been held in Senegal on 24 February 2019, which probably explains why the bridge was inaugurated before the project is completely terminated. Notwithstanding the failure of timely completion of the hard and soft dimension of the Trans-Gambia bridge, Christian Kingombe still felt an immense pride of having been part of the project twice in his career. The significance of the event was reflected by the participation of VIPs from both countries. The host of the event was H.E. Adama Barrow, President of the Republic of The Gambia. The Guest of Honour was H.E. Macky Sall, President of the Republic of Senegal. The former was accompanied by the Vice-President of The Gambia and a great number of the ministers of the Government of The Gambia. The latter was likewise accompanied by the Prime Minister of Senegal and several important ministers of the Government of Senegal. As part of the official programme which started much later than scheduled, and after the speeches by the Contractor and the Consultant of the project, according to the official programme the AfDB President, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, was supposed to have given his speech. But for unknown reasons he was replaced by the Mr. Charles Owusu Boamah, Senior Vice-President, African Development Bank. The former AfDB President Donald Kaberuka was also present at the event, since the structuring and approval of the project happened under his presidency of the AfDB. Statements were also provided by the Honourable Ministers of Finance & Economics Affairs and of Transport, Works & Infrastructure, the latter of which were the direct beneficiary of the EU funded “Support for Governance of the Road transport sector of the Gambia” executed by 4IP Group in collaboration with consultants from the EU Framework contractors COWI A/S and PPM.
The entertainment highlights were the musical performances from respective the King of Mbalakh Youssou Ndour (Senegal) and King of Kora Jaliba Kuyateh (The Gambia).
The cutting of the Ribbon followed by the unveiling of the plaque, which took place approximately 3 hours behind schedule, but it still marked a significant historical moment for the sub-region. The official programme was winded up with the two presidents having a car ride on the bridge, while the police tried to control and prevent the public from crossing the bridge.
When we at the AfDB commissioned the study in 2013 we found that the traffic levels along the Trans-Gambian Highway were relatively low, mainly due to unreliable inefficient ferry connections at Farafenni/Soma, which was still the case more than five and a half years later. Also in 2013 the crossing times for large trucks were up to 7 days although only one hour of this related to the actual ferry crossing and the rest was caused by the queue for the ferry on either side. This led to operators adopting less direct routes such as the N1/N6 road which circumvents the territory of The Gambia but adds approximately 400 Km to the journey.
With the opening of the Trans-Gambia bridge both Gambia and Senegal should no longer be losing substantial revenue due to the massively reduced delays and hence significantly increased trade, including goods in transit through The Gambia heading towards third countries, that is between not only The Gambia and Senegal, but also between The Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Guinea Conakry and as far away as Bamako in Mali via the Port of Banjul as showed by the EU funded Trans-Gambia corridor study.
With the Implementation of our proposed Road Map (that is trade and transport facilitation recommended measures) aligned with the relevant ECOWAS protocols to ensure fluid and unobstructed border flows especially by the Governments of The Gambia and Senegal e.g. through the closer collaboration via the so-called Banjul-Dakar Corridor Management Committee addressing trade and transport facilitation issues along this Trans-Gambia corridor, should realise a reduction of transport costs and travelling time on the Trans-Gambia Highway of more than 30%.
The presence of the two presidents at the Inauguration event was an important showdown of strong political commitment to regional integration while at the same time overcoming a troubled past between two neighbouring countries. Because as one of the speakers stated at the ceremony if two such similar countries as The Gambia and Senegal, despite having had different colonial masters, with a common culture, language and history can’t jointly built and subsequently manage the flow of goods and people via the unique border post at the entry to the bridge over the Gambia River, then the overall African and ECOWAS regional integration projects are destined to remain troubled as we have seen with other regional integration projects such as the bridge over the Congo River.