President Adama Barrow and his Sierra Leonian counterpart on Wednesday expressed their resolve to push towards deepening the economic ties between the two countries as President Julius Maada Bio began a three-day visit in the West African nation.
The two leaders made this commitment during a news conference held at State House in Banjul.
Accompanied by a high-powered delegation, President Bio jetted into Banjul Tuesday for his first state visit since he emerged victorious in the last Sierra Leonian elections. His visit comes at a time when The Gambia is transitioning from dictatorship to democracy.
“Our two countries have had a very long relationship of more than 300 years. We want to take it to higher heights. We want to deepen this relationship,” President Maada Bio told reporters.
During the civil war, The Gambia was the landing site for many Sierra Leoneans who were able to integrate.
As leaders, he went on, we have to identify top priority areas, share contacts and our experiences.
For his part, Barrow said The Gambia wants to open up to the world and expand ties with Sierra Leone.
He thanked Sierra Leoneans for the leading role they played during the electoral impasse that followed Yahya Jammeh’s dramatic u-turn.
The Gambian leader then added that Sierra Leone needed to be commended for helping to solve the political imbroglio in which the country had found itself.
A young leadership, he explained, has taken over Africa, but they have a big responsibility to moving the continent forward.
While Barrow outlined education and trade as priority areas of cooperation, Maada Bio made it clear that Sierra Leone will count on Gambian expertise to boost its tourism sector.
The transition process
As tiny Gambia is recovering from two decade-long of dictatorship, expectations are high that country can learn from Sierra Leone in making a critical review of its past.
When asked what lessons The Gambia can learn from Sierra Leone in order to navigate smoothly its transition process, Julius Maada Bio said one can learn from the wounds and move forward.
He welcomed The Gambia government’s decision to set up a truth and reconciliation commission. But he was quick to add: “it is not meant to go back and open up new wounds but help break certain lessons that can be incorporated in the government’s structure so that the mistakes of the past are not reparted.”
President Bio urged Gambians to make efforts to catch up with the rest of the world and move on.
“We cannot sit and grumble about the past. We can make efforts to move ahead by learning from the past.”
Similar sentiments were expressed by the Gambian leader who made it loud and clear that his country should learn from Sierra Leone.
“After a bitter war, they [Sierra Leoneans] were able to reconcile. I think we have to learn from them,” President Barrow reiterated.
In an attempt to widen the scope, President Barrow also said there is a lot to learn from countries like South Africa and Rwanda.
He called for a change of mindset, describing it as an important stage that can help to bring the necessary changes.