Political Crisis: Mass Exodus From Urban Gambia

9 Jan
Non-Gambians are also fleeing the current political uncertainty. This photo shows commercial vehicles preparing for a long, tedious four days trip to Conakry, Guinea from Serekunda, The Gambia. (Photo Credit: The Voice)

Non-Gambians are also fleeing the current political uncertainty. This photo shows commercial vehicles preparing for a long, tedious four days trip to Conakry, Guinea from Serekunda, The Gambia. (Photo Credit: The Voice)

By Lamin Jahateh

For the past two weeks, people are leaving the Kombos to the provinces and out of The Gambia by every modern means of transport available in the country, by land, sea and air.

While the majority of Gambians are going to the provinces, non-Gambians are going back to their countries in fear as the political impasse following incumbent president Yahya Jammeh’s rejection of the result of the 1st December presidential election continues.

Officials of Bundung garage, the main garage that connects the Kombos (the general name of urban Gambian settlement) to the countryside through the South Bank said the number of vehicles that leave from the garage with passengers has increased by more than 500 per cent.

Families fleeing unprepared

Jabel Choi, public relations officer of Bundung Car Park Association, said for the past two weeks, the number of vehicles to Basse, Soma, Bansang, Brikamaba, and Farafenni from the garage has increased from barely 2 in a day to more than 15 vehicles of 22 and 30 passengers, daily.

He said vehicles now start to leave from the garage as early as 5a.m. while in normal days before the impasse, the first vehicle from garage leave at around 10a.m.

Because the journey is prompt, some parents send their families unprepared, not with enough fare even.

The vice president of Bundung garage association, Malick Lowe, said often times people come with their families and they do not have even enough fare for all.  For example, a family that can take five seats would only have enough fare for three or four.

One of the drivers at the garage said some passengers would load all the belongings they travelling with before begging for reduction in fare to be able to pay all the seats to they are to occupy.

“We have no option but to allow them because we know their trip is not prepared,” the tall dark driver said.

Before the political impasse began, most of the people used to travel to places like Soma, Basse, and Brikamaba from the Kombos by bus because it is cheaper than the other commercial vehicles.

But officials at the Bundung garage said at the moment, even the commercial buses have enough passengers talk less of the buses.

Indeed, the demand on the buses has increased tremendously. A staff of the bus company, Gambia Transport Services Company, even if they have additional buses on the south bank, they would not be able to satisfy the demand of people leaving the Kombos.

While those travelling along the south bank from the Kombos are going by bus, those going through the north bank are crossing the river.

Ferry-crossing  increased dramatically

Traffic from the Banjul end of the Banjul-Barra ferry-crossing point has increased dramatically.  The passenger traffic is similar to what used to obtain in the build-up to feast like Tobaski (Feast of Sacrifice) when a lot of people in the Kombos cross to go spend the religious feast with their provincial families.

The traffic out of The Gambia has also increased phenomenally.

The Gambia has a large number of citizens of Guinea Bissau and Conakry, in addition to those from Senegal.  But most of them are going back for the first time is many years.

The number of vehicles at the Guinea garage can hardly serve the people leaving the country.  The same is true of the Senegalese.

Ousman Bah, a Guinea Conakry resident who was travelling with his wife and three children, said he has been living in The Gambia for the past twelve years during which he has never gone to Conakry.

Morr Dem, a Senegalese, said: “It is not my wish to close my shop and go but I have to because my life is more important to me.”

But not only the Senegalese are going to Senegal.  Even Gambians are going there for safety.

“My husband has sent in money for me and our two children and his mother and one sister to go to Dakar,” Tida said.

She has no relative in Senegal but her husband in Germany said they should take an apartment and stay there (in Senegal) until the situation in Banjul is resolved.

Flying out

Foreign staff of international organisations, companies and embassies are booking tickets and flying out of The Gambia.

The US Department of State has ordered foreign staff and family members of the embassy in Banjul to leave The Gambia.

It is understood that other embassies in the country have issued similar orders.

The Chinese owner of a restaurant in Senegambia has ordered for the restaurant to cease operation on 15 January when he was travelling to America.

“When the boss was travelling he told us that the restaurant would close on the 15th until when the situation is normal,” said Lamin Joof, an employee of the restaurant.

The Gambia is one of Africa’s smallest countries and, unlike many of its West African neighbours, it has enjoyed long spells of stability since independence in 1965.

Security situation uncertain

However, following President Jammeh’s rejection of the result of the 1st December presidential election, security situation in the country remains uncertain.

Since then, fully armed soldiers and paramilitaries are deployed in town and they have put heads of sandbags at strategic places in preparation for possible backlash.

The government has begun taking restrictive measures including shutting down radio stations.

Meanwhile, the government has issued a press release reassuring the public that The Gambia remains peaceful and stable.

Analysts said people are living in a state of fear because Gambians are not used to such heavy security presence in the public and the ongoing political rhetoric is adding to the situation.

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