By Omar Bah
The government spokesperson Ebrima Sankareh has disclosed that the Barrow administration has removed several non-Gambians who were enlisted in the country’s armed forces by the former regime.
“Several non-Gambians who were allegedly enlisted in the forces by the previous regime have been removed since President Adama Barrow came to power,” Sankareh told journalists at a very tense press conference on Friday organised to update Gambians on the progress made on the security sector reform.
He said a specific case was that “of one Omar Sarjo who enlisted into GAF with fake credential, trained and served until he was finally dismissed and voluntarily left the shores of The Gambia. Sarjo now lives in his native Casamance in Southern Senegal.”
“Sarjo was a guy who lived in Marakissa for so long he then used his familiarity with Marakissa to be enlisted in the National Army. All the credentials he presented were Gambian credentials – you know how things go here – you can just go because people are so hospitable you get a birth certificate and one document to another. But when the Barrow presidency came to power, they decided to do a thorough vetting process and it was in that process that Sarjo and several others were actually identified and removed,” he said.
Asked to disclose the number, the government mouthpiece argued that because “of security reasons it is not sometimes advisable to be very specific with figures.”
Sankareh also hailed his government’s transformation from the past, arguing that “there is no more state sanctioned banditry in the country”.
The Minister of Defence, Sheikh Omar Faye said Friday’s press conference was requested by the president to address issues of misinformation and lies circulated by detractors of the government.
“This government is very serious about its reform agenda,” he said.
Minister Faye said the SSR is still committed to the planned downsizing and rightsizing of the country’s security forces.
“A lot is going on. But the security sector reform is not only about the army. I know there was lot of problem with the army but the reform is focusing on all security forces in the country,” he said.
He said before any decision can be made on downsizing, attrition, deaths, discharges, desertions and retirements have to be established first.
Minister Faye said since 2017, GAF’s trend has reduced despondently “a lot of people are talking about thousands – some because of death, better opportunities while others were removed because they were considered as security risks.”
“There are negative issues associated with downsizing – remember these people are also Gambians – you cannot just kick them out in the streets. We should organise a soft landing for them,” he said.
He said despite beliefs among Gambians that the soldiers are too many, recruitments might be needed for some units, given the number of officers who have left since 2017.
The Minister of Interior Yankuba Sonko said the security forces under his ministry are undergoing serious transformation in terms of training and infrastructure especially in the country’s prisons.
“We are conducting lot of trainings for our prison and police officers on the basic of international standards procedure. The security sector reform is a work in progress but a security that was completely dismantled, you don’t expect that to be fixed in a short period of time. In fact, it is going to be a continuous process,” he said.
However, Minister Sonko said, it will be unfair for anyone to say the government has not made any meaning progress in its reform process.
“Visible among the progress is that the SIS is no more effecting arrest, the army is not taking complaints from the members of the public and the police attitude towards certain individuals has also changed. Have you seen an instance where a police officer tortured somebody and he was taken before a commission? So really there has been some progress,” he said.
The president’s Security Adviser, Momodou Badjie gave a rundown of what his office has been doing over the past three years.
Badjie said the SSR’s next steps will focus on drafting a National Defense and Internal Security Policies, enacting of vetting agency, enactment of office of national security, train and operationalise the vetting agency and develop counter – terrorism strategy.
“We have gone very far with the process. But those who are anticipating for the SSR to complete in a very short period will be disappointed because reforms especially security are a gradual process. While enormous progress has been registered in this endeavour, we are not oblivious of the remaining challenges and we are ever determined to tackle them head on,” he said.
Commenting on issue rightsizing the security forces, Badjie said: “The president has constituted a taskforce chaired by the Secretary General Nuha Touray to look at the issues of rightsizing and other issues of concerns.”
“We have even discussed it in our last National Security Council meeting. We are now at the level of questionnaires and applications of those who may want to go voluntarily and then what would be the soft landing,” he said.
The SSR when completed, Badjie said, is expected to address the lack of institutional policy which has contributed to mismanagement and maladministration of the country’s security institutions.
“It is also envisaged to address the visible low level of professionalism of the security sector during Yahya Jammeh’s regime that is attributable to the absence or infectiveness of the management or oversight mechanism and lack of political will.