By: Demba A. Jawo,
The announcement by President Adama Barrow that his government will build a bridge across the mouth of the River Gambia between Banjul and Barra has attracted quite a lot of debate, both for and against. No doubt most of those in favour of the idea are the frequent users of the ferry service who are cognizant of the daily hassles they experience, including the delays and the over-crowding, and even anxious moments when the ferries experience technical problems. However, the opponents of the idea include those who see the exorbitant cost of the project as not being worth it.
There are also those who see the pronouncement as just another political gimmick that was cleverly used by Babili Mansa during his regime to hoodwink the people. We can recall his promise of constructing a railway across the length and breadth of the Gambia and also the famous CD that he said contained all the information about the discovery of petrol, giving the impression that it was just a matter of time before the Gambia became a donor nation.
While it is possible that there could be a political element to the announcement, but the very fact that President Barrow has given a timeline as to when the project would commence, means that it is much more definite than the Babili Mansa projects. He indeed aims to be the Oceanbili Mansa.
Personally, I do not see it as a bad idea, but we need to be clear first as to where that huge amount of money would come from. Apart from the frustrating experience of crossing with the ferries, with motorists having to spend sometimes days just to cross, it is also very expensive to maintain the ferries. Therefore, no matter what the cost of the bridge may be, it will in the long run be much more cost-effective than running the ferries. Even the very fact that people and vehicles can be able to cross at any time of the day and night without having to queue or wait for the ferry, is itself quite a welcome prospect, particularly for the people of the North Bank and travelers to and from Senegal and beyond.
It is quite obvious that the Gambia will never be able to raise such an amount needed to construct such an expensive bridge, not even through loans, as no creditor will ever give that kind of loan to a poor nation like the Gambia. In fact we are well above the acceptable threshold of incurring more loans. Therefore, the only other possible means of raising such an amount would be through an investor or group of investors willing to risk investing on it on a BOT (build, operate and transfer) basis. Which means using their money to construct the bridge and operating it, probably on a share basis with the government for a specific period during which they would recover their money and then transfer it to the government. I just cannot see any other means of raising the amount.