By David Kujabi
The Gambia Police Force (GPF) is the legitimate governmental body given the authority to maintain order, prevent crime, enforce the laws and prosecute offenders. In other words, GPF ensures that the government remains a stable and respectable entity within society. Chapter XII (12) of the Constitution of The Gambia provides that – “There shall be a Police Force of The Gambia Police Force of which the Inspector General of Police shall be the head.” The constitution goes on to provide that, “ The Police Force shall be equipped and maintained to perform its traditional role of maintaining law and order, and such other functions as may be prescribed by an Act of the National Assembly.”
In theory, the job of the police does not exclude anyone from abiding by the law. However in reality, political influence over the police has not allowed for the realization of this theory. Politics could be described as the art of exerting one’s power over the government or public affairs. Political action can result in imposing one’s interests within the government, in leadership within the government, in control over resources, and in holding government office. Politics influences who will hold various criminal justice positions, such as Inspector General of Police (IGP), judge, and Director General Prison.
Local government officials like mayors are elected officials, whereas service chiefs are usually appointed by the highest political official. As a result, the focus of these officials tends to appease those who put them in office. As the preceding explanations imply, political control over the police could lead to a redefinition of the police force/service. That is, a police force/service is a governmental body with the authority to maintain order over political enemies or other dangerous classes, to prevent the crimes of these people, and to enforce the laws of government over everyone, except those who politically influence the police. Suffice to say, the by-product of political control over the police is corruption. This latter presentation of the police has been the focus of much reform effort throughout the history of the police organizations as well as GPF.
The history of police in The Gambia is the history of politics in this country. Policing started in The Gambia in 1855 by Her Majesty’s government. The body which was then called the River Police (a close look at the police crown will show a boat) was charged with the responsibility of maintaining law and order, suppression of rebellion and prevention of smuggling, both at sea and land. One would note that the role of police then, was to serve colonial interests.
In 1888 the name was changed to Gambia Police Force (GPF) and its mandate redefined to cater for the needs of the colonial master, these included the protection of the governor and the administration.
The Field Force was formed in 1958 as a Police Paramilitary Unit and was charged with the responsibility of external security. When Gambia gained independence in 1965, GPF continued on its traditional role of maintenance of law and order and crime prevention, with its head still being appointed by the head of state. This continued throughout the thirty year rule of the People Progressive Party (PPP). It is worth noting that during this period, 7 IGPs served as head of GPF all appointed by the head of state. In 1981 after the July 30 coup attempt and eventual signing of the Senegambia Confederation, the Field Force was dismantled and the Gambia National Army and Gambia National Gendarmerie were established (the latter possessed both military and police powers).
In July 1994, through a military coup, the PPP regime was replaced by the Armed Forces Ruling Provisional Ruling Council (AFPRC) which after two years transformed to become Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC). During its 22 years rule, GPF had 12 IGPs some serving terms as short as 6 months. This is a manifestation of the amount of influence government held over the leadership of the police. Officers were hired, fired, and promoted based on their loyalty to the political boss.
What political influence does to policing
Studies show that when police heads are chosen and influenced by political heads, they tend to work to increase the power of the political bosses through enforcement of vice laws against political enemies, or at least, those who did not support the political bosses; and through lack of enforcement of vice laws against political bosses. In most cases, the police do not hesitate to use brute force in furthering the interests of the political elite. It must be recognized that politicians see the need not only to strong-arm the public but to please the voters as well.
Politicising the police
If a police force/service operates within a corrupt political system, it is almost impossible to eliminate the corruption within that police force/service. It has been recognized that since police is the enforcement arm of government, the relationship between the police and the supervising executive branch of government must maintain a balance of political responsibility and operational independence.
Therefore, in this coalition government where there is much talk about security sector reform, such reform has to focus on eliminating, or at least minimizing the influence that politicians have over GPF. The political patronage system of policing should be replaced with democratic policing and community policing models which are devoid of exploits by politicians.
Police leadership must fight to maintain independence of action from politics based on the premise that politicians do not understand the responsibilities of good practical policing. To protect IGPs from political interference, there is need to ensure civil service protection for them, while simultaneously requiring that they be held accountable for the actions of their departments by developing service contracts rather than by the whims of a political boss.
The issue of politics and the police speaks to the integrity and legitimacy of the police as a law enforcement institution in society. The police institution possesses symbolic power that is taken for granted in a democratic society. This symbolic power gives the police institution a legitimacy that is often unquestioned. In the Gambia, political interference in policing by the past governments has caused a decrease of public trust and confidence in the police. It hoped that this new government will seek to give the police more independence in the execution of its duties.
The Police are human rights defenders
By Madi Jobarteh
The Gambia Police Force was set up by the Constitution under Section 178 to maintain law and order. In the subsequent Police Act, the general duties of the police have been expressed to include the perseveration of law and order, the protection of property, the prevention and detection of crime, the apprehension of offenders and the enforcement of all laws and regulations. The Gambia Police Force was originally set up in 1950 by the Police Act of 1949.
The powers and duties of the police as expressed by both the Constitution and the Police Act clearly bring to light Section 19 of the Constitution which is the ‘Protection of Right to Personal Liberty’. The first three sentences of that provision states that,
‘Every person shall have the right to liberty and personal security. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest and detention. No one shall be deprived of his or her liberty except on such grounds and in accordance with such procedures as are established by law.’
In light of this one can therefore confidently claim that the foundation of the work of the police is Section 19 of the Constitution that all police officers must read, understand and uphold. For that matter, police officers can only be described as human rights defenders.
From a broader perspective, one must bear in mind that Chapter 4 of the Constitution, which includes Section 19 stipulates the entrenched fundamental rights of Gambians. Section 17, the first section of that chapter states categorically that the primary state agency for the protection of the human rights is first and foremost the Executive to be followed by the National Assembly and then the Courts.
Since the Gambia Police Force falls under the Executive which is headed by the President of the Republic it is therefore conclusive that the Gambia Police Force is a human rights protector by law. The rights that the police protect are the very rights spelt out in Chapter 4 and other laws of the Gambia. Hence when the Police Act states that the purpose of the police is to enforce the law it is only referring to those laws that stipulate the rights of Gambians.
For example when a thief breaks into my house, the police have a duty to search, arrest and prosecute the thief in order to restore my right to property. When an assailant attacks me the police intervene to protect my personal liberty and security. When I wish to protest, the police provide security to enable me enjoy my right to protest. When I express my opinion the police refrain from doing anything that would make me suffer for expressing my opinion. When the police is informed that a man will set the market on fire, they intervene to prevent the arson from happening.
Furthermore Section 1 subsection 2 of the Constitution states that,
‘The Sovereignty of The Gambia resides in the people of The Gambia from whom all organs of government derive their authority and in whose name and for whose welfare and prosperity the powers of government are to be exercised in accordance with this Constitution.’
This section establishes that all public institutions and public and security officers exist and hold their positions simply because the citizens of the Gambia have given them the power, authority and legitimacy to do so. Hence all public servants including police officers must understand that their entire purpose and function is to serve Gambians and only Gambians. This provision therefore also fully establishes that the Gambia Police Force is a defender of the rights and sovereignty of Gambians.
Given these constitutional provisions and the Police Act it is clear that the Gambia Police Force is indeed one of the foremost human rights protection institutions in the Gambia. This is the understanding and orientation that the men and women of this noble institution should have and uphold. For that matter the leadership of the Gambia Police Force needs to urgently re-orient its men and women in uniform especially given that since the establishment of this force the culture of human rights has not been fully created, nurtured and strictly adhered to. Rather the Gambia Police Force has been one of the leading violators of human rights in this country.
Thomas Sankara of blessed memory had said that a soldier without political education is a virtual criminal. We can also say that a police officer without political education is also a virtual criminal. Without the proper understating and adherence to the provisions of Chapter 4 of the Constitution and the Police Act, a police officer is bound to therefore violate human rights hence a criminal. But with proper knowledge, understanding and adherence to Chapter 4 provisions and the Police Act, a police officer would therefore be a human rights protector.
It is when the police are seen to be protecting human rights and freedoms of citizens will the general public therefore have a positive view of the police. With favorable public perception, the police stand to gain immensely in their crusade to fight crime and ensure peace and security in a society. Hence the Gambia Police Force must understand that if it wishes to obtain public support and cooperation, it is necessary that its officers are educated about human rights in full and to uphold and defend.
Both local and international law require that police officers must at all times uphold the rule of law and treat all persons, be they criminals, suspects or convicts with dignity. A police officer must not personalize the law by harassing individuals who break the law. The job of an officer is to subject that individual to the rule of law but not to take matters into his or her own hands. Let the law take its course so that the rights that are damaged are restored in full and the victims well compensated.
Police work is a noble job that is necessary and good for society. It is a compassionate job where officers are required to empathize with victims. Police officers must build cordial and respectable relationship with individuals and communities as well as with businesses and organizations in maintaining law and order. An effective relationship between the police and civilians otherwise called community policing cannot function and deliver results without trust and communications which can only be built when civilians notice that the police treat them with respect and dignity and protect their rights.