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Tuesday, October 4, 2022

The Securiport deal with The Gambia: Beyond the 20 dollar payment

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Dear editor,

Beyond the extra 20 dollar charge at the airport, I am just as concerned with the information Securiport collects on those of us who are processed by their systems. I refuse to believe their claims that they are a completely independent company or that they have no affiliation with any government whatsoever!  You cannot have a security company operating internationally and claim you have no affiliation with any government. I must admit though that their claim of independence along with the claim that no government budget is required are excellent selling points that entrap Africans into signing without bothering with much due diligence!

If you pay attention, fighting terrorism is still big business even if who is a terrorist depends on who controls the narrative. And if you rely on Securiport’s websites, you may be led to believe that the company is saving us from big bad terrorists and transnational criminals. And while that may be true to an extent, their business practices in Africa belies the almost Samaritan posture they project on their websites.

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You see Gambians are not the only ones paying extra unnecessary fees at their airport. Last I read, Sierra Leoneans are too. As with many major contractors operating in Africa, particularly in The Gambia, these contracts often emanate deep from the cesspools of the presidents’ office. And since those in that office are sometimes more concerned with kickbacks or perks they receive, they rarely bother to read the fine lines of any contract.

Take the case of Sierra Leone where in 2012, the government signed a contract with Securiport in the hope that they will be able to tag on Securiport’s operational costs on inbound and outbound air ticket fees. When the airlines rejected this proposal, Securiport claimed Sierra Leone owed it 19.8 million dollars because Sierra Leone could not collect the fees from the airlines. They played the same game on Gambians in 2018 that they played on on Sierra Leone back in 2012. And you don’t think Securiport knew that Gambia wouldn’t be able to tag these fees on inbound and outbound ticket fees when we signed a contract with them? Remember this was long after Sierra Leone had the same exact challenge!

In Sierra Leone, Securiport eventually agreed to a discounted 12 million dollar payment which was amortized until 2019. The poor people of Sierra Leone are the ones paying for the terrible decisions negotiated and signed from the office of the president. You would think Gambian officials would have asked Sierra Leone about their experience before committing poor Gambians to Securiport’s contract. We were lucky in that they only told us we owed them 4.5 million dollars due to our inability to tag the fees on tickets. African governments hardly bother with any due diligence on contracts and obligations they sign. More so when the contract provides some opportunity for travel and per diem collection.

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Let’s also consider the case of Benin where the administration of Boni Yayi signed a contract with Securiport to provide security services at their airport. The Patrice Talon administration cancelled the contract and gave it to another company because they believe the contract was not awarded according to law. Sounds familiar? Securiport fought the cancellation of the contract and secured a 95-million-dollar award against poor Benin. Benin tried to fight the case but in the end, a contract signed is a contract signed especially if it was signed from the president’s office.

There is a saying that “data is the new oil of the 21st century.” And we all know that the discovery of oil changed the fate of some nations for good and others for worse. Someone should tell Gambians that their data, in the hands of anyone, friend or enemy, can decide their fate for good or for worse. When data is refined, it becomes information. And information is powerful; so powerful that it is identified as of one of the principles of power. Whoever controls your information controls you! That is why some countries insist on digital sovereignty through data localization. It’s a national security issue! Yet, we Gambians have zero idea what Securiport does with our information!

Information collected on us includes demographic and biometric information. We innocently submit our fingerprints and have our pictures taken when asked to do so. We have no idea where our information is kept or what it is used for. We surrender ourselves to the security systems because they tell us they are keeping us safe. The scary part is, one does not need to keep information to access it. Ours is a country where the last time I checked, there’s no comprehensive data protection law. But I guess we can continue to put our faith in Securiport’s stated model of “build, maintain and transfer.” I don’t know why that strategy reminds me of the military strategy of “clear, hold and build.”

Alagie Saidy-Barrow

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