By Malamin Barrow
Head of communications
Gambia For All (GFA) party
The presidential election of 2016 was a watershed moment in Gambia’s political history. For the first time since independence, a peaceful transfer of power was to take place, because an incumbent lost free and fair elections. The incumbent, the self-styled Professor Yahya AJJ Jammeh, in true form, later reneged on his earlier acceptance of the election results, thereby creating a Constitutional crisis with ramifications far beyond our borders.
With the threat of civil conflict in a region that has had more than its fair share of political instability, the leaders of the regional block (ECOWAS) decisively went into action to negotiate a way out of the crisis by all means possible. The ECOWAS military intervention force in Gambia (ECOMIG) which the regional body created, with strong backing from the African Union and United Nations, was established to maintain stability, and to ensure that the will of the Gambian people is respected and enforced. The creation of ECOMIG was warmly welcomed by a majority of Gambians, who saw it as the only way out of a crisis that is likely to plunge the nation into a potential blood bath. A prospect that had to be taken seriously, considering Jammeh’s track record of threatening to wipe out anyone who stood in his way.
The military intervention that began in January 2017, was expected to last only a few months; hoping that with Jammeh gone, the new coalition government would be able to create a stable environment necessary for the gradual draw down of ECOMIG. Among the many key transition projects was a promised Security Sector Reform (SSR) program that would make the security services sensitive and responsive to the country’s security needs. A reform that would create a security service loyal to the constitution and the Gambian state. It is understandable that such an enormous task could not be accomplished in a few months, and the extension of ECOMIG’s mandate for another 12 months was accepted by many as necessary.
It is clear that the ECOMIG security forces are not, and cannot be a substitute for The Gambia’s security services. Their presence in the country should be used as an opportunity to accelerate our own Security Sector Reform. However, getting close to five years since the arrival of ECOMIG, Gambians are yet to see any tangible signs of progress in the much-publicized Security Sector Reform (SSR). At the same time, ECOMIG’s mandate seems to be frequently renewed, without a clear definition of their role in the current security landscape.
In the time ECOMIG has been in the country, we have seen them involved in important security operations where Gambian lives have been lost. Their role in our border security, important as it is, has raised suspicion in some quarters that they are being used by external players in furtherance of their own sub-regional security interest. As we are getting closer to the all-important presidential elections in December 2021, it is incumbent on the administration to inform Gambians through our representatives in the National Assembly, not only the justification of the Force in helping The Gambia craft and implement the all-important Security Sector Reforms, but also the socio-economic impact of ECOMIG’s presence, as well as the direct and opportunity cost to the Gambian tax payer.
It is in the interest of the administration, and the sponsors of the military mission to engage Gambians in a dialogue, so as to avoid the perception that ECOMIG is an occupying military force, in what is unwittingly becoming a case of mission creep.