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Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Stopping alcohol abuse among soldiers

Six days ago, a video became viral on social media of a man in military uniform apparently inebriated and drinking alcohol while being passengered in a public transport in broad daylight.

The man was later identified as Warrant Officer Class Two, Ousman Touray, a serving officer of the Gambia Armed Forces. In the video, Touray was heard saying he had the right to drink alcohol in the vehicle as The Gambia is a democracy. When the other passengers complained that he was disrespecting his uniform by taking in an intoxicant in a public transport while kitted in his military attire, he replied in his drunken slur: “I do not care about my uniform.”

After the video had gone viral, within 24 hours, the Gambia Armed Forces issued a statement about the“compromised” officer and upbraided him for being “unprofessional and [acting in a manner] unbecoming a member of the GAF”.

The army said Touray was helping the military police, the disciplinary unit of the army, with their investigations “into the circumstances surrounding the said video.”

A statement put out by the very able army spokesman reassured: “The Armed Forces wishes to reiterate that it has a policy of zero tolerance for drugs and alcohol abuse by its members. The alleged attitude and behaviour of Warrant Officer II Touray does not represent what the GAF stands for as an institution.

“Therefore, the GAF Command wishes to stress that such a behaviour by a member of the Armed Forces is reprehensible and is a clear case of indiscipline and would not go unchecked in accordance with the Armed Forces Act and Regulations for Discipline.”

Over the past week, this matter has been trending and more information has been coming out. Of note, an unidentified writer wrote in the US-based Gambian Freedom Newspaper:

“Upon evaluating the case of soldier Ousman Touray who was videoed drunk, I am of the view that the army command should give him a second chance. Touray’s case should be used as a learning point to help soldiers struggling with alcohol issues. There are psychological issues associated with such a conduct. I was informed Tourayhas a death in the family. He lost his biological mother about two weeks ago and has been struggling with that pain.

“Some people would resort to alcohol consumption and drug use to tackle depression or stressful situations. Touray is also a Darfur veteran. He had served two years mission in that South Sudan troubled region. I am not in any way trying to justify Touray’s reprehensible conduct, but it is imperative for GAF to factor the issue of depression, PTSD, and mental health care, affecting some force members.

“The 35-year-old Ousman Touray is married and blessed with kids. He has his own compound. He is the breadwinner of his family. He also takes care of his extended family. Given his past valuable services to the state in the form of foreign peacekeeping, national duties, coupled with his family commitment, I do not think it would be wise for GAF to send him home. He should be disciplined, but firing him would be something too extreme, in my view…”

The writer has a point and we hope CDS General Yankuba Drammeh and his people will look at the matter holistically and take the necessary punitive action for the good of Touray, the armed forces and the country. But if for anything, the WOII Touray scandal has oxymoronically, lifted the lid in on an open secret. For years, from the days of Jammeh, soldiers including very senior officers, would leave their work during official working hours and walk or drive their official vehicles and park them right outside bars dotting Bakau and Serekunda and spend hours their drinking alcohol.

This may be a reason why a subaltern like Touray may feel emboldened to do what he had done. So General Drammeh and his people have their work cut out for them: To stop alcohol drinking among soldiers during working hours, catch the BIG ones first and set an example with them.

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