Kinteh was born in Banjul and attended schools in Serekunda and Banjul. After completing Gambia High School, he got government scholarship to study law at Usmanu Danfodiyo University in Sokoto, Nigeria. In 2000, he enlisted in to the Gambia Police Force, as Cadet Assistant Superintendent of Police. He had his first stint with the police at the prosecutions because of his legal background and became second-in-command of that unit.
In 2004, he received a Chevening Scholarship and studied International Human Rights Law at the University of Essex in England. While he was in Essex completing his masters degree, he was confirmed as assistant superintendent of police. He returned home and became the head of Prosecutions Unit as officer commanding and later commissioner after the unit was transformed into Prosecutions and Legal Affairs Unit.
In 2006, he was commander of a hundred-man contingent to Darfur in Sudan, under then African Union Mission before it was taken over by the UN. After serving in that mission, he served in various capacities, such as officer commanding Airport Division and West Coast Region among others. In June 2017 he was appointed Inspector General of Police replacing Yankuba Sonko. In this edition of Bantaba, anchor Omar Wally began by asking the nation’s chief security officer:
What is the security situation of The Gambia now?
The security situation of The Gambia is calm and quiet. Fortunately, we are bordered on all sides [sic] by Senegal. We don’t have much security threats. You will agree with me that gun crimes are rare in The Gambia compared to other African countries. We have normal security challenges that other people have. Notwithstanding, we are not saying that we don’t have to put plans in place to combat all other things that are not happening in The Gambia.
You embarked on a familiarisation tour when you took over, what is the condition of your men and women?
Some of the facilities I saw were appalling. The condition of men living there are not something to write home about. I was not surprised because the police did not benefit much from the former regime for various reasons. Out of the 22 years of the presidency of Yahya Jammeh, it’s only the Sibanor Police Station that was built by the government. All other police stations in the country where more or less built by philanthropists, good Gambians and sometimes even the communities were the police stations are located. We too, as a force, have a welfare fund that contributed in building most of the police stations. This, we could not have said in the former regime.
So, for a lot of police stations that are sprouting around town, people think they were built by the then regime. This is not the case. Now we can talk about this freely because that system is no more here. We received very strong commitment from the current government that they will give us support that we deserve. The police got the restoration of their dignity, meaning all the things we are supposed to be doing or supposed to have done which we did not do during the former regime are now given back to us to do.
There was talk in the grapevine that you lobbied for your appointment through Interior minister Mai Fatty.
I never lobbied for this position. Actually Mai got to know of my appointment later. Mai never got me this appointment. What people are saying, I don’t know where it’s coming from. But people will always talk.
Then tell us how you got appointed IGP?
Well, I was just appointed, I don’t know, I don’t know, where it came from but I was just appointed.
How independent are you in your work as IGP?
Very Independent! You know why I said very independent? I have worked as a policeman for the past 22 years, even though I was not IGP, I know the kind of interference I have been having in doing my job. But with the little time I have spent here, I had little or no interference in the dispensations of my duties as IGP.
So since you took over, you didn’t receive a call from say the president or your minister asking you to carry out certain instructions that might not be in line with the law?
No, no. Never! It has never happened.
Opposition GDC leader Mamma Kandeh and Fabakary Tombong Jatta (FTJ) of APRC were called for questioning by your officers for statements they made on political platforms. Why didn’t you leave politicians alone? For example, if you felt their statements could incite violence, the matter could have been directed to the Inter-Party Committee.
Well, let the Inter-Party Committee address other issues. I’m the Inspector General of Police and if we feel an offence is committed or is about to be committed, we have the right to call anybody, be it Mamma Kandeh or any citizen to verify the truth. If we feel an offence is committed and when actually we meet you and realised that no offence was committed, we can allow you to go. I am not looking at the personalities as party leaders, I’m looking at them as Gambians. We can call upon any Gambians to come and clarify issues or matters of security.
FTJ’s argument was that what he and Kandeh had said were not too dissimilar from the political rhetoric by other ruling Coalition party leaders but they were not called by your officers for questioning and therefore the police acted in a partisan way?
I cannot confirm that. And then if I were you, we could put politics aside. You know we are not politicians, we are police officers. Comfortably, I can tell you that we don’t belong to any political party, in those days we cannot say that. In most of my speeches and engagements with communities, I start with the facts that we are apolitical, meaning we don’t belong to any political party. We are here to serve Gambian people, regardless of who they are or which party and religion they belong to. We uphold and enforce the law and that is it.
You claimed to be an independent IGP, if other political leaders in the Coalition government, for example President Barrow made an incendiary statement. Will you call him for questioning, like you did to Jatta and Kandeh?
If a president made a statement [laughs]… All I want to tell you is, if any person commits an offence or is about to commit an offence, we as police have the right to call that person for questioning.
Inspector General, you said you are apolitical but you were heard in public discussing with a prominent Gambian asking her if she belonged to the political party that you belong.
That is not true. That is not true. That is not true. I don’t belong to any party, find out, whether I’m a cardholder of any party, of UDP or any other.
Certainly as IGP you will not be waving your party membership card in public but you belong to a party and voted for a party?
Well, before I became Inspector General of Police.
So as we speak IGP Kinteh doesn’t belong to any political party?
No, no, because I’m here to serve the Gambian people. I’m not saying IG doesn’t belong to any party. You may sympathise with a political party yes! But I don’t allow my sympathy to becloud my daily activities as IGP.
There will be local government election next year, so you will vote for your party’s candidate?
Well as IGP I’m entitled to have affiliation and that will be kept to my chest. It’s private to me, that is why we have a secret ballot, isn’t it? (Laughed) Yes! Yes!
#Occupy Westfield recently triggered a national debate by your denial of them of a permit on the grounds of national security. Exactly, what are the security reasons?
Actually, we subject every application for permit to scrutiny. I mean we task our relevant units to do the ground works if you apply for a permit. We do some kind of screening, background checks on applicants and what their intentions are and study the ground where they want to hold the meeting or procession or whatever. And if we are satisfied with all these information, then we issue the permit. That is why if you apply today, it may take two or three days. Sometimes we even call the applicants to ask them physically some questions that we want to clarify.
All these are geared towards providing better security, and also we don’t want a situation whereby you grant a permit and security situation emerges. Also, we have to check whether the same place where these people will hold the procession is not the same place where other people are planning to hold a procession. We went through their application and we realised even though it was right for them to protest as Gambians, at the same time that right of theirs stops were that of others begin. We all know that Westfield is a busy part of the town and any procession will affect the inflow of the traffic to Banjul and Brikama. And from the look of things, these activities of theirs will attract a whole lot of people.
That is one side. And again this is a new democracy; the country went through a lot during the 22 years of dictatorship and now we are in a democracy. All of us want this democracy dearly so that it will be rooted and it becomes part of our DNA instead of having it haphazardly. There were strong reasons there was likely going to be counter-demonstration by people who felt that these people were not being reasonable – that the government should have more time to decide on some of the issues that have been inherited. These were never caused by the current government but they were things inherited from the past regime and as reasonable people, six months will not be enough to address all these issues. And there will be people, for sure, who may want to counter whatever these people may want to do, and if that should be the case, we may not be in the position to handle the matter. It could degenerate into more chaos.
Now let us disaggregate the reasons you just gave for denying them a permit. You presumed that a lot of people will come out but however big their crowd might be, it will not surpass the crowd at the APRC rally. Second, the event was billed for a Sunday so it might not cause any traffic gridlock and third, even if there were to be a counter-protest it might not necessarily be at Westfield.
You see this denial or whatever you call it, was not just done like that. I invited them to a meeting even before the Minister of the Interior invited them. We had a three-hour session. In fact they were really impressed that they can be able to sit with the IGP and discuss for that long period with regard to what they planned to do. In fact, I was surprised when they went out to say something different. While they were here with the police senior management, they told me they were not going to go on strike. All they wanted from me was for us to give them a denial so that they will convince people out there that it was not conducive for them to go on strike this time around.
Now, don’t you have enough officers, that is, anti-riot police, or the resources to provide security for them to have demonstration for just a few hours?
The other issue is also the fact some people may not be sincere with regard to the attitude to the procession. We have a feeling that some people will join them who don’t have the same intention that they have. They may use it to fight for their private things. We have lots of people who fell out of favour during the change of government and they cut cross. And any opportunity to vent anger, they may want to seize the situation. I am talking from experience.
Why were you not at the meeting when the #Occupy Westfield people met with the Interior Minister.
My boss calling them for meeting has nothing to do with me. The Minister of the Interior called them to meet. The police fall under the purview of the Ministry of the Interior. In fact it should be their concern also so as regards the security of the country. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. You and other people may not know what we know. And sometimes, it is not proper to disclose all what we know. Gambians put us in this position. They believe we can do it and they believe we are the experts. If we talk, we should be listened to. If people doubt what we say, then it is not proper for us to be here. As a security head there was a reason why I was appointed and I am not working alone, I am working with a team.
What is your assessment of this government’s human rights record?
I am not in the position to say much because we don’t have a national human rights commission in the country yet. I don’t think I am the right person to answer that question. But I have not encountered or heard of any major human rights concern since the new government took office.
Previous IGPs, deliberately or through coercion by the executive, did many unlawful things. If the executive were to ask you to do similar unsavoury things in the name of regime survival, will you acquiesce?
I will assess whatever directive is given to me – whether it is in accordance with the law. If it is in accordance with the law, I will go ahead, if it’s something contrary to law, I will not do it.
Could such a situation warrant your resignation?
Well, the options are many. Because if you didn’t do what you are asked to do sometimes even before you step aside, you may be asked to step aside. But to be honest with you, with what I have seen, I am not expecting such [situations to arise].
What type of force did you inherit from the former system?
We inherited a politicised police force. We inherited a force that worked under directives, meaning we found it difficult to take initiatives, we found it difficult to do things that we were not told to do. This was the kind of police we inherited and we hope to make it a better force.
You were a key member of that system given the positions you held?
Well we were among. Do you want to tell me that all the people that participated in the former regime must be asked to step aside? It doesn’t make sense. In fact, it is even good to be inside to make an impact.
Did you witness any human right violations, like killings or torture perpetrated during in the past regime?
Never! I haven’t witnessed any. I have never tortured, nobody has ever been tortured in my presence and I don’t condone torture.
So, IGP, are your hands clean?
Well that is not for me to say. There is a saying in Wolof ‘sabu duu fote bopam’, soap cannot clean itself. My records are there for people to see. It is not for me to judge.
What are the major security challenges that The Gambia is facing right now?
Armed robbery within the borders. They are not everyday occurrences, they happen once in a while. And they are not sophisticated one. Even the arms that are used in these operations are handmade guns. Our challenge is lack of Police Intervention Unit personnel in some parts of the country but we are expanding on the deployment.
Thank you sir.
You must welcome.