By Abdoukarim Sanneh, London, United Kingdom
Many African Countries are democratising their police and security services through reforms so that the public can have a say, check and even monitor their abuse of power. Police and Security Force in the Gambia should be accountable, democratic, and constitutional by framing of justice and fair play. From Kant, Mills to Rawls, all call for justice as fairness in their philosophical conceptualisation of constitutional democracy. In his famous book Theory of Justice John Rawls, one of the greatest political philosophers of the twentieth century argued that the correct principles of justice are those that would be agreed to by free and rational persons, placed in the ‘original position’ behind a veil of ignorance: not knowing their own place in society: their class, race, or sex: their abilities, intelligence, or strength: or even their conception of the good.
In relation to Gambia and John Rawls conceptualisation of justice, political repression since after the coup in 1994 in our once Smiling Coast of West Africa, have turned to Crying Coast of West Africa. The human rights capital of Africa, which was once a shining example of democracy and rule of law came into the radar of human rights research for 22 years because of erosion of human rights records part of which included police brutality and corruption, extrajudicial execution, torture, arrest, enforced disappearance, political interference of the judiciary, the executive control and direction of law and order and everyday policing. The aim of this article is to defence the case for police reforms and security reforms within the perspective of principles of justice, the distribution of liberties, fairness and equal treatment.
There is not much research done about state of policing in the Gambia. It is only when you or your family becomes a victim of either state managed prosecuted victim or police corruption and brutality that you can rate the level of policing in the country. In any transparent and accountable participatory functional democracy government, policing certainly enhances law and order, improves governance, and reduces corruption. In their research about the state of policing in the Gambia, Mark Davidheiser and Niklas Hultin of Cambridge University – Policing the Post Colony-Legal Pluralism, Security and Social Control in the Gambia argued about issues of corruption, brutality, inefficiency, poor level of training, inaccessibility and unprofessionalism of Gambia Police Force.
Police brutality is not a secret and the Gambia Police force is not accountable to the Public. Gambia needs Independent Police Complaints Commission which citizens can complaint about serious complaints for example when somebody following contact with police, corruption and police brutality.
Gambia needs to revisit its policing legislation and come with Police Reform Act which will be independent of Pressure, political parties and in principles, of government. We do not have any mechanism in our democratic dispensation to investigate the police and this why for years this institution was been used as a tool of political manipulation. Our vision for New Gambia can be a reality if we set standards for Gambia Police Force to improve the way public complaints are handled. For almost 22 years since the coming of Yaya Jammeh into power, citizens have been torture to death under police custody and none was investigated, both the judiciary, the Gambia Police Force, Gambia Army, Para-Military Forces and NIA now SIS were all one-time repressive arm of the Government. The current state of policing in the Gambia needs proper reform to set it free we do not want a repeat of another political mechanisation and manipulation in the name of state security.
Gambia need a modern democratic police force that should and have to be to be accountable to the public than be use as a tool for political machination and repression. President Adama Barrow and his coalition government in their campaign promise Gambian electorate with security sector reforms. It about time the government come with Police Reform bill which should include t Independent Police Complaint Commission as a watchdog about the state of policing in the country. It is very primitive and archaic for the office of the Ombudsman to be delivering with public complaint about our National Public Force. This Independent Police Complaint Commission composition should include ex-police officers with proven track record of integrity and professionalism and also understand every day operation procedures of policing in our country. With uncontrolled executive power from the top, for 22 years, both the Gambia Police Force and the Judiciary were used as a tool of political repression. The Police Force were used to denied or issue a legally registered political party for a permit in holding political rallies. It is about time we reform our Police Force if we want the vision of New Gambia with be functional inclusive participatory democratic system with human rights safeguards and constitutional guarantee.