By Omar Bah
A visiting delegation from the European Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs has expressed concern over last December’s foiled coup attempt and advised the government to prioritise its security sector reform.
The delegation comprising six parliamentarians, were in Banjul to reaffirm the EU’s interest in further deepening its partnership with The Gambia.
Speaking to journalists yesterday on the outcome of their meetings with government and national assembly officials at the EU Delegation’s office, the head of delegation and chairperson of the committee David McAllister, said the security sector reform is an expected milestone on the part of democratic consolidation.
“We noted that the coup attempt in December last year is a matter of concern and that it has shown the urgency to advance on ambitious, inclusive and transparent security sector reform. That was one of our messages in dealing with our Gambian counterparts. It is now about turning political will into concrete action to consolidate democracy in the country,” he said.
EU- Gambia relations unchanged
Turning to relations between The Gambia and EU, McAllister said: “Our partnership with The Gambia is highly valued and we see The Gambia as a solid and reliable partner. The EU has supported The Gambia from its very first hour of democratic transition process starting in 2017 and our support, both financial and political to the ongoing consolidation of democracy, national reconciliation and social economic developments, remains unchanged. Let me also underline that The Gambia is one of the country’s that would benefit from the EU’s Global Gateway Project to improve the infrastructure along the Dakar-Abidjan corridor.”
During the visit, he added, the delegation also discussed four areas of mutual interest focusing on current regional geopolitical challenges and their cooperation within this context. “One prominent geopolitical issue as you are aware is the Russian aggression against Ukraine which has now been ongoing for more than one year. The battles are fought in Ukraine and the consequences are felt all around the world. The energy and food crisis are the most evident and direct results felt strongly in African countries. In our meetings, we have discussed our shared understanding that Russia’s aggression against Ukraine is a blatant violation of the United Nations Charter and its international rule-based order. We made it clear that this war is a brutal attack on the most fundamental values and democratic principles and should be a matter of deep concern to all. Let me underline that I welcome the Gambia’s light-minded solidarity with Ukraine, including at the level of the United Nations,” McAllister said.
On regional dynamics in the West Africa and Sahel, McAllister said they have expressed concern about the threats to stability, security and democracy that some countries in the region face and the profound regional and international consequences these challenges have.
He added that cooperation between the EU and Ecowas countries on matters of security, development, humanitarian and democracy support, assistance for peace and security across the region are key in this matter. “We also discussed the progress that Gambia has already made and the steps it continues to undertake in the process of democratic consolidation. We reiterate our support to The Gambia in its efforts towards implementing pending reforms that would help the country complete this important process. We encourage and we stand by the Gambia in achieving important milestones, namely, the long pending constitutional reform as well as the security sector reform,” he said.
The EU official said they have taken note of the ongoing work towards the setting up of a Special Prosecutor’s Office and a hybrid court in partnership with Ecowas. “W are hopeful that the Gambia’s efforts and commitment to the process will in the end result in sustainable reconciliation and guarantee for nonrecurrent for all. It is our shared understanding that the fight against this tread should be continued at multilateral level. Let me underline that there can be no impunity for human rights violations and crimes against humanity,” he stressed.
On the issue of migration, McAlIister said they have acknowledged improvements made by the Gambia in 2022 as regards to cooperation on returns and readmission, for example lifting the moratorium on chartered returned flights, returning operational cooperation with several chartered flights organised by EU members states and that the European Union now expects that this year the Gambia will continue improving its cooperation. “We are fully aware of the sensitivity about these issues and I think we as Europeans should definitely acknowledge the improvements that have been made last year and I think if these improvements continue in 2023, the member states and the commission would be ready to reassess the situation,” he said.
The EU Ambassador to The Gambia, Pampoloni said migration is a right but it must be done following certain international rules. “It is not worth losing so many lives in the backwaters when there are legal ways to migrate. We should work together and discourage this kind of migration. It is risky and not worth it because an unskilled migrant will not be able to find a decent job in Europe,” he said.
Commenting on the EU’s investment in Gambia, Ambassador Pampaloni said: “The EU’s investment in the Gambia from 2017 to now, has been one of the highest investments that we have made in the world, some euro 500 million.”