By Omar Bah
Most Gambians who encountered the police last year said they had to pay bribes and found it difficult to get help, Afrobarometer survey findings show.
The Afrobarometer survey, conducted in early 2023, shows that 43 percent of Gambians who had encountered the police said they paid bribes to obtain assistance or to avoid problems.
Respondents were asked how often, if ever, did they pay a bribe, give a gift, or do a favour for a police officer in order to get the assistance they needed or in order to avoid a problem during one of these encounters.
Majority of citizens who sought police assistance also said they found it difficult to get the help they needed while 33 percent said police do use excessive force and 39 percent said the police do engage in criminal activities.
Large majorities of Gambians said the government is doing a poor job in reducing crime.
As armed robbery, shootings, and a bank heist make headlines in the Gambia, crime is becoming a top-of-mind issue for many citizens. In a country heavily reliant on tourism, crime/security now ranks fifth among the most important problems that Gambians want their government to address, up from 10th place in 2018, according to Afrobarometer. The GlobalEconomy.com’s (2022) Security Threats Index ranks the Gambia 81st out of 177 countries.
According to the recent survey, only 24 percent of Gambians believe the government is fighting against crime.
An analysis of survey findings from 39 African countries finds that substantial minorities report corruption, use of excessive force, and even criminal activity by their police forces.
The analysis shows that negative perceptions of police professionalism and corruption go hand in hand with low public trust in the police, poor marks on government performance in reducing crime, and citizens’ sense of insecurity.
Only one-third (32%) of citizens say their police “often” or “always” operate in a professional manner and respect the rights of all citizens, ranging from just 13% in Nigeria to 58% in Burkina Faso. Among respondents who sought police assistance during the previous year, 54% say it was easy to get the help they needed, but 36% say they had to pay a bribe while those who encountered the police in other situations, 37% report having to pay a bribe to avoid problems, ranging from 1% in Cabo Verde to 70% in Liberia.
Across 39 countries, three in 10 citizens (29%) say their police “often” or “always” engage in criminal activities, in addition to 27% who say they “sometimes” do while on average, about four in 10 Africans say their police “often” or “always” use excessive force in managing protests (38%) and dealing with suspected criminals (42%).
Fewer than four in 10 citizens (37%) say their government is doing “fairly well” or “very well” at reducing crime, ranging from just 10% in Sudan to 77% in Benin and Fewer than half (46%) of citizens say they trust the police “somewhat” or “a lot”.
Afrobarometer is a pan-African, non-partisan survey research network that provides reliable data on African experiences and evaluations of democracy, governance, and quality of life.
It has completed nine survey rounds in up to 42 countries since 1999. Round 9 surveys (2021/2023) cover 39 countries.
The Standard contacted the police public relations officer Binta Njie–Jatta, who said while she may not be privy to the survey, it is important to know that those who offered bribes are as culpable as those who received it. “While I cannot claim that the Gambia police is 100 corrupt free, the vast majority of the police serve the country with honesty and integrity. What is important is for the citizens to understand that offering bribes and receiving it are both crimes,” the PRO said.