By Madi Jobarteh
The presence of ECOMIG mission in The Gambia until today highlights everything that is wrong in this country since 2017 for which each and every citizen must be highly concerned. The story of the Gambia between 1994 and 2016 is common knowledge. Hence when the tyrant rejected the presidential election results on 9 December 2016 and backed by the National Assembly on 17 January 2017 when they extended the term of the president, it was finally left to ECOWAS’ military intervention to effectively make Jammeh relinquish power as Barrow took the oath in Dakar on January 19.
The mandate of ECOMIG therefore as expressed by the Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo, “was to create an enabling environment for the effective enforcement of the rule of law, and, in accordance with the Constitution of The Gambia, facilitate the inauguration of the President-Elect, Adama Barrow, on Thursday January 19, 2017.” It was on January 18 that ECOMIG entered the Gambia through Farafenni, comprising 7000 troops made from Senegal, Nigeria, Ghana, Mali, and Togo, with air and naval support.
It is therefore obvious that the intent behind ECOMIG intervention was essentially to ensure that Yahya Jammeh was removed from power so that Adama Barrow could assume office in a peaceful environment. There is no written declaration by ECOWAS nor an agreement between the Gambia and ECOWAS about the continued presence of ECOMIG after the ousting of Jammeh. Thus, since 18 January 2017 when ECOMIG entered the Gambia, it has remained in this country only at the request of President Barrow and the unilateral approval of the ECOWAS heads of state.
Yet it is obvious that the presence of international forces in any country which is not at war, nor a post-conflict society would have to be guided by an agreement. In our context, the 1997 Constitution stipulates that only the National Assembly approves any international agreement that the Government can enter into. Yet since 2017 the National Assembly never received a bill for the ratification of an international agreement to legalise the presence of foreign troops in this country. Why didn’t the President ever take the issue of ECOMIG to the National Assembly?
Apart from the unconstitutional presence of ECOMIG in this country, we must bear in mind that the Gambia has an armed force already which is led by a Chief of Defence Staff with various service chiefs, and whose Commander-in-Chief is the President of the Republic. Yet, four years since taking office in such abnormal circumstances, the Commander-in-Chief is yet to visit any military barracks in this country despite the fact that this country has launched an ambitious security sector reform as part of the wider transitional justice program. Why?
Hence when we get to this point, it will be harmful to the country if our concern is only about the perceived security threats based on the idea that there are Jammeh loyalists in the military. The fact that must be recognised is that the new government was expected to lead a robust transition process that would have addressed the issues and concerns of the country as any serious government would, given our background. Why didn’t they do so meaningfully?
I do not think there are so-called Jammeh loyalists in the military or in any part of our society who are armed to the teeth and lurking behind the shadows seeking to overthrow this government or destabilise our society. No. if so, why are they not doing it until now? Yes, someone will claim because ECOMIG is present. I say to that person, the presence of ECOMIG will only delay that intention and therefore further empower those Jammeh loyalists as ECOMIG will not be present here forever. Hence ECOMIG is not a viable bulwark against such threats.
There are Jammeh supporters in every sector of our society and institutions; and indeed, a citizen has a right to support Jammeh. But the strength of these Jammeh supporters are actually derived from the failure of this President to lead a comprehensive, effective and meaningful security sector reform and overall transitional justice processes. Rather what Barrow has succeeded in doing over the past four years is to strengthen the cleavages in our society, weaken institutions further and undermine the social, economic and political transformation of the country. What this has resulted into is widespread and deep polarisation on all fronts.
To address these cleavages, polarisation, issues and concerns is not to maintain foreign forces any longer. No. Rather, it is time that we demand this government to have balls and lead this country well. We must demand a plan of not more than three to six months for ECOMIG to withdraw, while frantic efforts are undertaken to address all issues and concerns in the security sector.
For example, the issue in the security sector is not primarily Jammeh loyalists versus the country. The issue is fundamentally about the working conditions, leadership, fair play and morale in the security institutions. Go to any military barracks or police station or police quarters or prison quarters to see the deplorable living and working spaces – unkempt compounds, worn-out and rundown buildings, poor lighting, poor ventilation and toilet facilities, poor materials and equipment in the offices, limited vehicles, poor salaries and incentives, and overall low morale. Are these being addressed?
And remember, in April/May 2017 there was an audit of the army to ascertain who was a true and genuine Gambian soldier by asking soldiers to line up to present their documents at Yundum barracks. The audit found out that some soldiers could not read and write English language, while some were never seen in any barracks in this country. But this was an exercise that was a good start to help the Commander-in-Chief and his service chiefs to restructure and transform the military. Did they do that?
Until today, there is no reform of the Armed Forces Act, NIA Act, Police Act, Prisons Act or other laws establishing other security agencies. Yet one cannot do a security sector reform in a post-authoritarian regime without first conducting legal reforms thus paving the way for institutional reforms and capacity building.
Thus, I wish to call on the National Assembly to take up its leadership role urgently and vigorously to correct this gross travesty on our sovereignty. ECOWAS has no mandate to extend the presence of ECOMIG here. Hence NAMs should demand that the President brings to them an agreement for their review. In this review, I wish to call on NAMs to approve only a maximum of six months within which ECOMIG should wind down and leave completely.
For that matter, the National Assembly must demand that the President provide a comprehensive security sector reform action plan covering January to June 2021. This action plan must realistically outline what needs to be done to build a robust security sector that is fit for democracy. There is absolutely no justification to give 12 months to ECOMIG and then transform it into a police mission. This will only serve to delay and derail SSR, undermine good governance and bring unforeseen costs and consequences on the country in the medium to long term.