By Samsudeen Sarr
I will start by confessing my doubt over the effectiveness of my last article entitled, ‘Reform the faulty SOP’ to stop the killings finally, where my central theme was about an attempt to persuade The Gambia government to rectify the flawed operating procedure of arming Gambian security units with combat rifles and live rounds on community policing and crowd control that have periodically resulted in avoidable civilian deaths.
However, in the light of the subsequent developments of charging the police officers involved in the Faraba Banta incident, it is apparent that my solicitation for the authorities to spare them on the regrettable episode was ignored. I will therefore no longer stretch my dissension to avoid being misread as negating the conventional wisdom over the issue; nonetheless, from the same vantage point, I still think charging the police officers of murder and even convicting them is tantamount to settling for an impromptu fix to a rather complex technical breakdown.
No matter what, I am afraid we have to be cognisant of the fact that peaceful demonstrations as far as their global reputation denote, have not always been necessarily as peaceful and orderly as their honest organisers always intend them to be. They have, in fact, culminated in adverse unintended ramifications as extreme as unseating well-entrenched governments reminiscent of the Tunisian, The Egypt and Burkina Faso cases – 2010, 2011 and 2014 – respectively, or in other incidents, demonstrations degenerating in bloody civil war rendering well-built nations ungovernable and totally destitute, like the current situation in Syria and Libya.
Hence, while they are generally considered legitimate and benign, I have from a national security point of view, frequently registered my apprehension over their impulsive convening, because of their proneness to fermenting delinquent pandemonium, especially when the participants display blatant obsession of settling eccentric scores with the establishment. In other words, demonstrations have come with certain undesirable elements concealing mischievous intentions aimed at exacerbating any inflammable opportunity; these characters hardly understand or care anything about the genuine remedy-seeking crowd trying to honestly address their economic, political or social concerns.
And with the rapid mobilising effect of cyberspace and other expedient-communication instruments, “peaceful demonstrations” whether sanctioned by governments or not, will continue to happen in our experiment to consolidate durable democracy. Notwithstanding, it is still fair to say that no matter how well we may trivialise its destabilising effect to society, we must never fall short of adequately preparing our security forces for the ONE demonstration that could, someday, unpredictably get out of hand. The critical question therefore is how to get our security forces appropriately drilled for those peaceful demonstrations that could unexpectedly pose existential threats to our national security? To answer that, I don’t think we need to look too far with Senegal having everything we need in terms of training and equipment. I think they will be more than willing to help if we asked. They have done it for The Gambia in the 1980s when the country was in a more calamitous state.
From a scientifically endorsed merit index, Senegal has been credited for having the best crowd or riot-controlling security institution in the sub-region, regardless of their negligible setbacks from time to time for manhandling disruptive demonstrators. They could not have possibly achieved such status in the sub-region if they had depended exclusively on assault weapons for community policing like it is habitual in The Gambia.
By the way, military doctrine teaches that unless there is a declaration of a state of emergency by a head of state with martial law in effect, due perhaps to a general disruptive situation beyond police control which require the deployment of the armed forces in the streets to enforce law and order, assault rifles such as AK 47s must never be allowed out of the barracks.
Such tenet, I must admit, will be hard to honour in our current security arrangement given the presence of Ecomig as a full combat force with their role and tenure not clearly defined to the Gambian public. I am told that the EU and France shoulder the main responsibility of funding their presence in The Gambia. But how long they will stay and whether or not the French and EU support will continue after the coalition government or the current Senegalese government leave office, should be food for thought to every concerned Gambian. That said, I also think Gambians need to know whether in the event of a major internal crisis in the country, President Adama Barrow, is empowered with the authority to declare a state of emergency and deploy Ecomig into our communities. I want to still know how feasible that will be with The Gambia
The Gambia Armed Forces is still supposed to fulfill such a role.
I read somewhere that the foreign forces – Ecomig- were recently deployed to quell some minor civil disobedience in Brikama. The details were sketchy, so I will desist from commenting on that; though I believe we should be mindful of where and how to use them in solving our internal security problems.
Admittedly, my greatest concern is for the Ecomig forces to someday unceremoniously or suddenly depart The Gambia without a reliable replacement force – preferably a Gambian force – to satisfactorily take over their position and keep the nation peaceful and secure. That’s the kind of predicament we encountered in 1989 when the Senegalese security forces in their huge numbers, without warning, left The Gambia with no requisite replacement forces, exposing the people and the government to the dangerous security void that most scholars attest, laid the groundwork for the 1994 coup d’état. The Confederal forces were not only bigger in number than Ecomig but were far more equipped and better integrated with the Gambia Armed Forces.
While it is now evident that coups are unacceptable and unsustainable in our modern times, we also cannot but acknowledge the pervasive threat of armed rebellions attributed to most contemporary civil wars or armed conflicts scorching the African continent and beyond.
In the end, these senseless wars sometimes veiled in ethnic, regional or religious façade, all boil down to criminal gangs and warlords seizing control and transforming civilised societies into fragmented lawless entities compounded by fervent tenacity not to never allow normalcy to prevail again.
It is therefore imperative for The Gambia to urgently start assembling a dependable security force, small but very capable for the effective replacement of Ecomig when they leave the country in the near or distant future. It will be a selection of proficient men and women from all ranks in the Gambia Armed Forces based purely on merit. They will essentially be tested on a comprehensive military course outline prepared by external and internal examiners with the successful candidates integrated in the Ecomig force for orientation and closer cooperation. It will be just like how it used to be in the Senegambia Confederal Army. Except that this time around, the process will be gradual with a clear objective to minimise and eventually stop the foreign troops coming in and out on a rotational calendar as if the Gambians shouldn’t be part of the force in their own country. From the look of things, and based on my previous experience with foreign forces contracted to secure our country, I don’t believe Ecomig commanders will ever come up with a timetable for the smooth termination of their mission in The Gambia.
Anyway, approval will also be sought for the integrated Gambian troops to not only enjoy equal pay and benefits provided to their counterparts by France and the EU but they will also be kitted with the same uniforms, badges and logos.
While the programme continues on a timetable drawn to achieve the desired forces in strength and competency, the government on a parallel venture, could explore the prospect of engaging Senegal to help provide our police force with the vital gendarmerie kind of training, distinguished for its excellence and professionalism.
If the Senegalese could currently be providing security for the presidency at the State House on French sponsorship, there is no reason why they wouldn’t accept the extension of the bilateral programme nationwide with the same assistance from France. But we will have to ask first. Senegalese governments, past and present, have always exhibited their interest in having our two nations forge closer ties especially in the area of security. With a solid and enduring treaty signed, the two countries could be guaranteed a better security arrangement even in the absence of Ecomig. Without the right security in place, nothing done is guaranteed to stay and every thing built could quickly fall apart.
From 1981 to 1989, Senegal provided the best internal and external security for The Gambia. It’s the indisputable fact. And like I mentioned above, after their unceremonious departure in September 1989, morale in the Gambia Armed Forces quickly spiraled downhill and never came back up even with Gambia government’s pointless effort to replace them with Nigerian military commanders and troop. Five years after their departure, the coup happened. At the time the Nigerian forces were here in charge of the entire Armed forces, a reality we hardly want to reflect upon.
Ecomig, I must further emphasise, shouldn’t work for us. We should instead work with them so as to prepare us for their replacement some day. It’s the answer for a durable peace and security in The Gambia.
As usual, I cannot conclude without again apologising to my readers who may find my article offensive in any way or form. Long live the Gambia! Peace for all!
Samsudeen Sarr who currently operates Jamil’s Auto Centre in Kotu, was a former commander of the Gambia National Army. A published author, he also served as a top Gambian envoy to the US.