By Samsudeen Sarr
Twenty-seven years ago, in October 1993, I wrote an honest monograph, warning every senior technocrat at the executive level of the Gambia government about the precarious national security threat looming in the Gambia National Army (GNA), inadvertently created by the commanders of the Nigerian Army Training team & Assistance Group (NATAG). Except to the president, I distributed copies of the paper to every senior functionary, down to the middle and lower executive cadres at the president’s, vice president’s offices and ministry of defense. I was in my second year working at the ministry of defense as GNA liaison or staff officer.
It was a warning underscoring the mistake committed by the Nigerian commanders who in their innocent endeavor to fulfill their primary duties of training and properly equipping the GNA to the best standard of a modern army, unintentionally compromised an effective and long-standing balance of power between the two major security forces in the country: the Gambia National Army and the Senegalese-created Gambia National Gendarmerie (GNG). The GNG was renamed the Tactical Support Group (TSG) of the Gambia Police Force after the disintegration of the ill-fated Senegambia Confederation in September 1989.
I also narrated the appalling conditions at Yundum military barracks where soldiers were underpaid, underfed, poorly clothed, inadequately sheltered and above all bored to death with having nothing important to do with their profession other than to occasionally perform parades, guards of honor and very annoying guard duties especially for VIPs.
Alternatively I suggested an antidote starting with the reestablishment of the original modus vivendi where the TSG will equally be trained and armed with the same quality of sophisticated weapons now introduced to the GNA. Otherwise, I highlighted, if the GNA again resorted to holding the government to ransom, like they did twice in 1991and 1992, the TSG would lose their capability to restrain the soldiers as they successfully did then. Another consequential remedy was the exploration of involving our soldiers in United Nations or international peacekeeping missions. Since the end of the cold-war with conventional wars becoming increasingly anachronistic, nations that couldn’t afford to downsize their bloated armies negotiated good missions for their troops to serve in international peacekeeping operations that provided their soldiers with professional-job satisfaction and lucrative incomes.
I thought it was a wonderful proposal until a very senior secretary at the president’s office read it and invited me for a special counseling.
In a very rude manner he chastised me for writing to them as my superiors when I was nobody but an “ordinary GNA captain.” That they had contracted “Nigerian generals and colonels” in the country purposely to advise them on national security matters. Adding that an army as ineffective as the GNA was, that couldn’t even organize satisfactory national parades will only embarrass the Gambia if deployed for international peacekeeping operations. The guy was ruthless, to say the least.
I must say this: The GNA and the Gambian security forces in general are now being credited at the UN level as some of the most disciplined and professional peacekeepers in the international arena.
“Undertaking such responsibilities on your own accord Captain Sarr” another but more honest senior administrator at the defense ministry later advised me, “portrays an image of a person desperate for higher position.”
I went home that day thinking that I was all wrong in writing the paper until nine months later on July 22, 1994, the day the GNA used their superior arsenals to overthrow the government by first overrunning the TSG main camp without encountering any significant resistance.
Twenty-seven years later I am here in 2020 once again feeling the same compulsion to write my concerns to the Gambia government and to every other Gambian interested in national security affairs. It is my belief that our current national security challenges are increasingly becoming a threat to the overall stability of the country. I am not sure about the feasibility or effectiveness of the remedial measures I have in mind to forestall the impending “turbulence” but I hope they will be given due consideration for possible implementation.
I can already imagine the critics without modicum of finesse attributing my initiative to another government-job-seeking gambit, which is not the case at all. I also expect to be reminded of my defiant position during the political impasse in 2016/17 against foreign military intervention in the Gambia as if that was a crime punishable by permanently silencing me on Gambia’s political or security discussions. But I have been through such rollercoasters and have after several rough bumps insulated my skin thick enough to withstand many more rides.
And one more thing folks, I will only entertain civil discussions and analysis about the article which will appear on my facebook page for all friends and acquaintances. Anything else will be blocked and deleted.
However, having quite a lot to discuss in this series, I simply wish to enjoin my readers to be openminded and kindly spare me the usual allegation of being a mere supporter of former President Yahya Jammeh. My conscience is clear as a positive neutralist on this subject, openly inviting talents to discuss our country’s national security problems, period. Yes, it is not about supporting or opposing President Adama Barrow, former President Yahya Jammeh, or any political party leader in the country per se, but simply about raising awareness on a subject I deem very important to keep to myself.
Listening to President Jammeh’s recent audio trending on social media about his homecoming intentions, I am afraid he is relying on an untrustworthy agreement tailored by the UN, AU and ECOWAS before his unceremonious departure to Equatorial Guinea in 2017. I think the contract was contrived by unscrupulous brokers who merely wanted to save his dignity and pride and to prevent the war that had almost started.
At a point when the impasse degenerated to its zenith, the foreign forces virtually issued an ultimatum for him to either leave, surrender or face the consequence of a military onslaught aimed at killing or capturing him.
Now, depending on who is interpreting the situation, the facts remain the same in that there is still no consensus in understanding what exactly happened. To his opponents who cared less about the unintended consequence of war and just wanted to see him dead or captured, his decision to leave was tantamount to fleeing from a mortal threat.
But to his supporters, his departure illustrated the personality of a considerate patriotic leader who had saved his nation from the calamity of war that could have resulted in destroying his “magnificent achievements” during his twenty-two years in power.
Anyway, doubtless to say, every one of the fourteen points on that UN/AU/ECOWAS agreement was violated in the three years since his departure. He was indeed supposed to be left alone in peace with all his assets intact and guaranteed a safe return home sooner rather than later. Instead, the Barrow government orchestrated his public trial by the Janneh Commission and the Truth Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC); all his assets, that of his party supporters and of his family members were confiscated, sold, auctioned, given away and in some instances returned to people claiming to have unfairly lost their properties to him by coercion.
Apparently, his supporters on his blessing marching in demand for the UN/AU&ECOWAS to respect the agreement indicates a lack of confidence in the protocol; or else going by the agreement, I don’t think anything should stop him from boarding a plane any time and freely coming back home. It is hard to admit and I don’t have a crystal ball to give a good prediction of where this is taking the country, but as far as I am concerned the signatories to the agreement are unreliable and cannot be trusted to guarantee his safety at this moment. The issue should be best handled between the APRC and the Barrow government.
The UN, AU and ECOWAS representatives in the Gambia and abroad are fully aware of what has been going on and seemed to be perfectly satisfied with everything. They are indeed aliens with little or no understanding about our people, culture and history.
So to think that these international organizations seriously know what they are doing and therefore owe President Jammeh an obligation of fostering his return home because of a controversial agreement is at best wishful thinking and at worst a serious waste of time. They will simply keep on stonewalling over the matter and never honor the covenant. They are still in full support of the Barrow government and will not commit themselves to any action without his approval.
Notwithstanding, people have identified Mr. Halifa Sallah as the government’s signatory to that 2017 document; yet, in the latest press release from the State House, the government spokesman Mr. Ebrima Sankareh, among other things, debunked it with a clear message that President Barrow never signed or saw any agreement as such. And as long as President Barrow doesn’t say anything contrary to his spokesman’s proclamation, drawing his attention to the indenture in a peaceful march will mean little or nothing whatsoever, no matter how large the crowd.
Frankly speaking, I would love to see President Jammeh’s homecoming, if that is what the Gambia needs at the moment to permanently stabilize the nation.
But going by his audio and the language of his party supporters, it is obvious that the former president is not yet opting for retirement as some of his sympathizers would like him to do upon returning home. He has warned his party leaders and supporters not to effect any merger with any political party, a possibility once contemplated by some APRC sympathizers as a bargaining chip with a “Barrow Party” to allow him to come back home.
Meaning that it will now be inconceivable for Adama Barrow to wrap his mind around the idea of Mr. Jammeh coming back as the APRC party leader and continuing his ambitious political career.
In my judgment, his case is another added political predicament to the already over stretched array of difficult ones threatening the peace and stability of the Gambia.
But the most critical ones have to be sorted out first before anything else. We have to find a way of lifting the indefinite military siege imposed on our country since 2017. Without that, our political destiny will continue to remain at the mercy of foreigners and in particular Senegal. I will later elaborate on that issue. We cannot put our house in order if the foreign forces will not excuse us or design an honest and mutually beneficial program for us and them. Gambians will rather be masters of their own destiny.
Empirical evidence in Gambia’s history has proven that a disrespected and mistrusted national security force subjected to constant humiliation and degradation because of the government’s reliance on foreign forces, breeds indiscipline and rebelliousness among the ranks. Have we so soon forgotten about the evidence of the witnesses at the TRRC highlighting how and why the coup de tat happened in 1994 under the watch of Nigerian foreign forces? There was more to reveal well before the arrival of the Nigerians who replaced the Senegalese which I will expound on later.
Since I never had the opportunity to appear at the TRRC, despite my invaluable knowledge of what transpired before, during and after the 1994 coup de tat, I will be reflecting on the missing details so as to complement the facts already gathered from my colleagues.
Follow the next publication.