The legal status of the foreign forces in Gambia may soon be another catalyst for unrest in the country. Today there are four armed forces in the Gambia: The Gambia Armed Forces, ECOMIG, Senegalese Armed Forces and foreign armed contractors from Senegal. The Barrow administration needs to address the ongoing obfuscation within Gambia security establishment before it inevitably leads to a breakdown in the command structure similar to the events that led to the 22 July coup d’état in 1994.
It is imperative that President Barrow brings clarity to the status of all these armed forces that are currently active in the Gambia’s national security equation. The Gambia Armed Forces is constitutionally mandated subject to Gambian law, the ECOMIG is a result of a multilateral arrangement and any other Senegalese Forces present in country must be a result of a bilateral agreement. However, the ratification of these agreements by the National Assembly is still uncertain. If they exist then public has a right to see these documents. The supreme law of the land, the Constitution states, under Section 186:
(1) There shall be the Armed Forces of The Gambia which shall consist of the Army, the Navy and the Air Force and such other services for which provision is made by an Act of the National assembly; and
(2) No person shall raise an armed force except by or under the authority of an Act of the National assembly.
In the absence of any status of forces agreement (SOFA) under international law the presence of foreign troops in the Gambia can be perceived as forces of occupation and should they ever engage in any form of transgression, then President Barrow could be held criminally liable in the future. A SOFA establishes the rights and privileges of foreign troops; and how Gambian criminal laws apply to those foreign troops. These agreements are generally peacetime documents and they do not cover the rules of war or the Laws of Armed Conflict. If there is any conflict between these foreign troops and the citizens of a host country then these agreements are thrown out the window- they became inapplicable. The reality of such possibility is more pronounced today in the wake of the recent 3-YRS JOTNA protest last year. The 3-YRS JOTNA is slowly evolving into a national movement in the absence of any serious resolute action by the government; and the likelihood of a mission creeping into a full-blown nationwide protest is imminent. In such a scenario which security force present in the Gambia has the legal mandate to address a domestic political upheaval- GAF or ECOMIG or the Senegalese? The answer to this question must occupy the mind of our president right now because I do not believe he is getting right advice from his Attorney General and his security chiefs. Neither the ECOMIG nor the Senegalese troops in Gambia have any legal standing as far as I know to interfere in a domestic political situation in The Gambia. However, I stand corrected but I am yet to see any rules of engagement ratified by the National Assembly giving foreign troops the authority to interfere in the Gambia’s domestic issues.
If President Barrow has any executive agreement with the Senegalese government then he needs to disclose its contents to the public right now in order to protect himself from any future liability if these troops ever engage in any form of criminal activity. The UN resolution 2337 in January 2017 did express support for ECOWAS efforts to negotiate the transition of the presidency, but requested the use of “political means first” without endorsing any military action or intervention into the Gambia. I hope and pray that President Barrow never loses sight of this fact. The best suggestion I can offer the Gambia government today is to pursue a legitimate defense pact with Senegal that will ensure the collective security of the two nations that share a common fate. This is an inevitable future for both countries in this era of transnational security threats and criminal activities.
Capt. Ebou Jallo