FARAFENNI, Gambia (AP) — Gambian President Adama Barrow and his Senegalese counterpart, Macky Sall, cut the ribbon this week on a project that was decades in the making, a bridge that links the north and south banks of the Gambia River and ties the neighbors closer together.
"Our wish is that the bridge stands from now on as a symbol of Senegambian unity, friendship and love," the Gambian leader told thousands of people who gathered to witness the inauguration and walked across in celebration.
Tiny Gambia pokes like a finger into the side of Senegal, its larger and more prosperous neighbor.
For years, many Senegalese living in the capital, Dakar, and other parts of the north had to drive for hours to skirt around Gambia or wait in long lines for a ferry to reach the southern region of Casamance.
The 1.9-kilometer (1.1-mile) Senegambia Bridge is one of West Africa's longest and is expected to have positive impacts on the economy.
The project emerged in the 1970s but failed to materialize due to profound areas of disagreement. Gambia's first president, Dawda Jawara, was interested in constructing a dam across the river. Longtime President Yahya Jammeh, who stepped down in early 2017, considered the bridge as the least of his priorities.
Fode Seck, the new executive secretary of the Senegalo-Gambian Secretariat, said the whole West African subregion will benefit from the bridge, describing it as part of the Trans-African Highway project.
The CEO of the Gambia Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Alieu Secka, said the bridge will boost trade between the countries, saying Gambia exported $11 million worth of products to Senegal in 2016 while imports totaled $81 million.
"The bilateral trade is expected to surge," he told The Associated Press.
Funded by the African Development Bank, the bridge is expected to last 100 years.
Fatou Njie, a resident of the nearby community of Farafenni, told the AP that people's prayers have come true.
"We will no more experience long queues of vehicles that used to delay the free movement of people across the river Gambia," she said.
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