Crossing the Rubicon: Insight into the Sulayman Junkung Jammeh Bridge
Friday, July 23, 2010
Jonathan Swift, the English prose satirist was right when he said vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others. putting this statement into perspective, my recent trip to the Central River Region South, where the construction of a bridge there remains to be one of the most topical issues at various Bantabas.
I am still trying to decode the various interviews I had with individuals about the construction of the Sulayman Junkung Jammeh Bridge, which was inaugurated by the chief architect, His Excellency the President Sheikh Professor Alhajji Dr. Yahya AJJ Jammeh on Tuesday 13th July.
When the National Assembly member for Janjangbureh, Fodeh Manka broke the news during the last motion on adjournment debate at the National Assembly, he did so with pride and ecstasy knowing that as the late Mexican write Octavia Paz puts it, the question we all ask ourselves today will probably be incomprehensible fifty years from now; why because the significance of this Bridge may not be realized now until when the area is dramatically transformed into tourist site. The Sankulay Kunda ferry-crossing had long been a protracted problem even for the colonial administration more than three hundred years.
According to archival materials we stumbled upon at the National Records Office in Banjul, for the whole of 1949 there had been series of consultations between the government and the local authorities mainly in Fulladou regarding the construction of the Sankulay Kunda Bridge. According to one of those letters dated 29th July 1949 from the Commissioner’s Office MacCarthy Island Division to the Senior Commissioner, Protectorate Administration, the people were asked by the government to contribute one thousand British pounds towards the building of the bridge, the estimated cost of the project was three thousand pounds. This was not feasible at the end of the day, thus further frustrating the people who had clunged onto the old age belief that forces of the underworld had vehemently refused.
Chief Biran Baldeh of Upper Fulladou confessed that his grandfather, Seyfo Cherno Baldeh in 1925 attempted to put long sticks together so that people can walk and cross to the other end. But this was just meant to last for awhile, until a ferry was brought into the stretch transporting cars and people on a daily basis.
Like Biran, when Honorable Manka rhapsodised this significant achievement recorded by the Jammeh administration in an area considered as not quite feasible to build a bridge, he ended up talking about what the two communities stand to benefit after the construction of the bridge. An insular community, traders in Janjangbureh had been going through difficult times transporting their goods to and from the island. Manka had also written extensively on this paper about the plight of the island and how the construction of a bridge would ease the sufferings of his people.
The GPTC bus that plunged into the Sankulay Kunda River on the 12th November 1992 killed more than nineteen passengers; it was one of the most tragic incidents ever to rock the district and the country by extension. The bus accident on that fateful day could have been averted if a bridge was constructed, according to a concerned resident of Sankulay Kunda, the ill fated bus was coming from Bansang when it suddenly veered off and went deep into the river.
19 bodies found in bus tragedy’ carried the Daily Observer headline dated 16th November 1992. According to the Daily Observer’s correspondent Musa Jobarteh, who covered the news breaking story, it was one of the most touching moments in his journalism career. "It is really a day I won’t forget, not because I was in the thick of things but because I had never seen a bus carrying passengers submerged into the river," Musa Jobarteh who is a native of Janjang bureh vividly recalled when we sat down to talk about events that unfolded on that fateful day of November 1992.
Jaggel Jawo, a fisherman who claimed to have been a witness to the accident told us how the corpses were recovered and taken to the nearest hospital in Bansang. When President Jammeh announced that he was going to build a bridge between Sankulay Kunda and Janjangbureh, Jaggel, like many of his colleagues were anxiously looking forward to the day when they would no longer have to worry about when the next vehicle is going to come before they cross to the other end.
As a resident of the Central River Region, and having lived in the area for nearly six years while studying at Armitage, more than anything else I know what it means to have a bridge in that settlement. I can vividly remember an incident when we had to attend a cultural programme at YBK at night; upon our return at the end of the programme there was no ferry man to help us cross back to Janjangbureh. It was during a cold and wintry moment as we decided to make ourselves warm by setting a fire and gathered few stones around the river to wait for the next day to come.
One can only imagine that if there was a serious issue we needed to sort out in Janjangbureh would have suffered a setback since we were virtually held to ransom by the river and the lack of a bridge.
The construction of the Sulayman Junkung Jammeh did not come as a surprise to many people especially after the building of the first ever bridge in the North Bank Region – the Kerewan bridge. For many years the community there had been desperately using a ferry to get to the other end, believing that a bridge was a toll order, and those forces of the underworld have vehemently rejected any attempt to construct the bridge. With the firm conviction where there is a will, there will certainly be a way, President Jammeh defied all odds thus connecting communities with bridges that had long been regarded as not possible.
Author: by Ebrima Baldeh