Some two weeks before the August 11 elections, thousands of sierra Leoneans started flooding Banjul, fearing possible electoral violence and outbreak of chaos during and after the polls.
Sources at Slok Airlines and Bellview Airlines reveal that business at the Freetown Banjul route is booming as they have had full flights since two weeks ago and this week seems to promise more business for them.
Almost all the passengers, who are mostly foreigners and jittery Sierra Leoneans, booked their return well after the elections.
At the Banjul airport, this writer was interrogated along with dozens of other Sierra Leoneans after immigration and security checks before allowed entry into Banjul.
The security officials asked questions like “may we know you sir, what is your mission here sir, how long are you staying here, how is Freetown, what do you do in Freetown, how are the elections, are the reports of violence we are receiving true, why did you come now instead of waiting to vote, is the election going to be peaceful, what guarantee do we have that you will return on the date you said?”
After the polite question and answer session, the officials gave back some of us our passports and allowed us in while some were left there possibly to answer more questions before they were admitted.
According to Sierra Leoneans in Banjul, the Gambian authorities are jittery that there could be an influx of refugees again in case of post-election fiasco in Sierra Leone.
They haven’t forgotten the problems the rebel war posed for them when their housing facilities were stretched beyond limits, when the Sierra Leonean refugees arrived. Many of the refugees who came here in the 1990s never returned home.
A possible direct effect of the Sierra Leonean influx is that the value of the dollar suddenly dropped by six Dalasi less to a dollar. From 28 to the dollar, it dropped to 22 currently. This is probably due to the increase in circulation of dollars brought in by the Sierra Leonean arrivers.
Hotel operators also have slightly raised their room rates per night due to high demand for accommodation.
According to an immigration official at the Banjul airport, thousands of Sierra Leoneans have arrived in Banjul in the last two to three weeks.
At the Wow Nightclub and the Ali Baba restaurant at Senegambia red light district, this reporter spoke with a lot of Sierra Leoneans who expressed fears that the election and the result of the elections might spark violence and they have therefore left so as not to be caught up in the cross fire. They said that they had not forgotten their experiences during the civil war,
Reports from Guinea and Monrovia also indicate that there is a sudden rise in the number of Sierra Leoneans entering the countries, The fears expressed by such fleeing Sierra Leoneans is not different from those who went to The Gambia.
This exodus of potential voters from Sierra Leone will surely affect the turn out of voters in the August polls. The pockets of violence and skirmishes during the ongoing campaigns in Kono, Bo, Kailahun, and Lumley between supporters of rival parties, notably the SLPP and the APC, have fuelled speculations that the polls will not be violence free.