By Omar Bah
In the wake of the recent riot in Sanyang which led to heightened tension and destruction of private and public facilities, after reports that a Gambian youth was killed by a Senegalese, former Interior minister has said the failure of government to heed both the SIS and police intelligence warnings of simmering tension within communities was responsible for the melee.
“Clearly, there was no failure of intelligence on potential communal violence, land disputes, the economy and their impact on internal security, and therefore the Sanyang incident is symptomatic of more critical phenomena,” Mai Fatty told The Standard.
Fatty added that the incident in Sanyang and elsewhere, “are not failures of intelligence but rather the reckless failure to act on actionable intelligence. It is the inexplicable omission on the part of policy makers to engage communities to tackle early warning signals and to effectively respond to the urgent needs of communities.”
“It translates to a failure of leadership not only to grasp or appreciate the critical exigencies but also to devalue the recommendations of those state agencies with the ability to monitor and analyse public pulse, from the prism of national security. I hope the state as the duty-bearer will adopt a more pragmatic approach,” he advised.
The GMC leader said from a governance point of view, civil protest is treated as an inconvenience or a threat to be extinguished.
“At least our recent history and experiences have shown this to be the conventional attitude of the state but broadly speaking, it’s about insecurity as there is the general feeling that no one is in charge, and therefore no one cares about public protection and safety. Public impression is that the state, through willful negligence, is not interested in protecting communities at home, places of business or in the streets and the rapid rise in violent crime justifies this thinking,” Fatty said.
He added that security is fundamentally about perception and the state must up its act, noting that lip-service and rhetoric alone will not do the job.
“It is beyond that and monetary inducements to pockets of youth groups to appease them too will backfire in a short period as it is not sustainable. So the government must change its general attitude towards governance and more particularly, how it engages and addresses the grievances of relevant communities. The problems are not political, but rather economical, and this factor must be resolved quickly,” he noted.
Government, he emphasised, must demonstrate more commitment towards fighting poverty and creating opportunities for decent livelihoods.
“It is easier to miss the picture if the government simply looks at the immediate factors that triggered the unrest. In many cases, the protests have been sparked by austerity measures such as uncontrollable price hikes, high youth unemployment and excruciating living conditions of most Gambians,” he stressed.
Mai said the government cannot treat such deep endemic economic predicaments through a palliative approach.
“Distributing bags of rice and then assume that the problems will fly away. You are compounding the problem. There has to be durable, practical, tangible policy prescriptions to accompany any limited palliative intervention, such as the purr version of a ‘stimulus package’,” Fatty noted.
He advised the government to commit a frontal approach to corruption, rising inequality, declining standard of living and high unemployment.
“Government must shift its current excessive concentration on political activities and accord primary but urgent attention to bread-and-butter issues. The problems of The Gambia are fundamentally economic factors, which cannot be addressed using palliative politics,” he said.
The 2020 Crime & Safety Report on The Gambia Security Office at the U.S. Embassy in Banjul identified the country as a moderate risk from civil unrest, as public protests, demonstrations, and strikes have become more common, as Gambians no longer fear government retaliation or persecution in their desire to exercise their freedoms of speech and expression.