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The Gambia’s Glaring Security Dilemma

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December 1st 2016 ushered in the eyes of many a new dispensation or so many Gambians thought. There was an air of optimism that things will be done differently; that the era of impunity is gone for good; that the negative peace that The Gambians were accustomed to is at last gone. There was a palpable belief that this time things will be different, that positive peace which goes beyond just the absence of physical violence but peace of mind and thought is at hand. However, recent occurrences or happenings around the country have awakened citizens to new unprecedented and dire security threats which have in turn created an atmosphere of fear and uneasiness in the hearts and minds of many Gambians. Numerous reports on various media outlets and the general public have noted a dramatic increase in gruesome murders, armed robberies, kidnappings, politically motivated ethnic clashes, seizure of weapons from individuals and so on.

In fact, according to the Foroya Newspaper of 16th April 2018, the Inspector General of the Gambia Police Force (IGP) has announced that they will reinstate check points around the country in a bid to curb the rising crime rate in the country. This comes amid the recent armed robbery at the Jah Oil petrol station in Brikama.

Just as recently as the 4th April 2018 a dead body of a Gambian Army Corporal was found in a well near Tanji village (ibid). These events are a radical departure from what Gambia was used to for the past 50 odd years.

This paper will seek to identify some of the possible factors responsible for the glaring breakdown of security in this tiny West African nation. Peace and security has always been taken for granted by many Gambians but it is about time that the Government which is supposed to have control over the coercive machinery of state to realize that the maintenance of peace and security of any nation is not a given but it requires eternal vigilance.

One might be tempted to ask what is “Security”? Security is not an absolute value as absolute security is almost impossible and it is a constant challenge to keep sociopaths and other delinquents at bay. The bad guys are constantly evolving new strategies to beat the security apparatus so it is incumbent on government to constantly be on its toes to protect the lives and properties of the citizens. In fact, it is for this very reason of protecting our natural rights of life, liberty and property as posited by Locke that we voluntarily surrendered our rights to a higher authority (Government and State). In essence, if the government fails to secure our lives, liberty and property then it has failed in its reason of being. It has breached its end of the contract that it entered into with the people; it has defaulted on its promise and therefore can and should be removed by the citizens.

To Emma Rothschild (1995) in her paper titled “What is Security?” she postulated that…security must be broadened from its traditional focus on the security of states to the security of people. The United Nations Development Program took as the principal theme of its 1994 Human Development Report the transition “from nuclear security to human security,” or to “the basic concept of human security,” defined as safety from “such chronic threats as hunger, disease and repression,” and “protection from sudden and hurtful disruptions. “The United Nations Secretary-General called in 1995 for “going “beyond armed territorial security” towards enhancing or protecting “the security of people in their homes, jobs and communities.”

In light of this, it is fundamental that the relevant security stakeholders realize that the absence of large scale outright conflict does not mean security is ensured as many Gambians have been experiencing since 2016. The Gambia’s security woes can be attributed to a number of factors as would be outlined in this paper. The views expressed in this paper are my own opinions and not necessarily sacrosanct.

Peace is the mother’s milk of progress and therefore there cannot be any meaningful progress in the absence of a stable, peaceful environment. The Gambia being a tiny country known for its peaceful atmosphere must not be allowed to degenerate into the Hobbesian state of nature where everyone is out to get everyone.

There is no way to peace; peace is the way as Mahatma Ghandi once said. So it is incumbent upon every Gambia, more so those who wield the coercive machinery of state to make things right.

Many pundits, political commentators and civilians alike have over the years been positing that the former government was a dictatorial one. These thoughts and opinions became more pronounced in December 2016 when Yahya Jammeh’s regime was ousted in a democratic peregrination. Some would argue that security is always fragile after ousting “dictatorships” and that the current security lapses are as a result of this. It would be pointed out that dictatorships are heavy handed regimes that over emphasize security and therefore squashing any dissent or delinquency. However, since the election in 2016 there has been a remarkable rise in criminal activity especially armed robbery, murder, court cases, rape, even kidnapping. This as some would argue is as a result of criminals feeling that this is the break they have been waiting for. The lack of focus of this new government on security has provided a breeding ground for criminals to thrive. The promise of democracy and the lack of heavy-handedness of the current regime serve to only embolden the misfits in society.

However, the security problems cannot be solely blamed on the gap left by the former regime because there are other culminating factors that further exposed the security woes of the country. Dr Ceesay who is political analyst and a lecturer at the University of The Gambia at some point pointed out the fact that the presence of ECOMIG troops in the country will not prevent a long term security risk unless President Barrow tries to win over the trust and support of The Gambia Armed Forces. I am tempted to agree with him for the simple fact that the Gambian Army is the long term solution to our security challenges. In fact, it would be fatal for the state if the Gambian Army officers become disgruntled. The number of ECOMIG forces in the country is not sufficient to control all the border posts and mount effective patrols to curb the armed robberies afoot. It is a well-known fact that The Gambia Police Service has never been and is not well-equipped to effectively respond to the security needs of the citizenry.

Therefore it is incumbent upon President Barrow to be proactive in trying to win the loyalty and support of the Gambian Army Officers because a rogue army is a dangerous one. By the way, they are all Gambians and want the best for this country. In addition, the borders of this country are so loose that people can just waltz in and out without any proper checks whatsoever. Incorporating the Gambian Army Officers into the fabric of security will help curb these border problems. In essence, the sidelining of The Gambia Army has contributed to the rising security issues especially crime rates in the country. It is arguable that internal security of the state is vested in the Police but the frequent armed robberies have proved that the Police are incapable through no faults of their own to deal with this menace. So the army could and should assist during these trying times.

What happens when you couple gross lack of security with poverty, unemployment, drugs, poor education and deportations? It is a recipe for disaster if care is not taken. Countries like the Philippines, Columbia, Brazil and others have a never-ending drugs and guns problem. Security in certain regions of these countries is a nightmare and this is as a result of unemployment, drugs, loose security no education and poverty. Gambia has a high rate of unemployment especially among youth, poverty is rampant, marijuana is the first and last order of business among the unemployed and deported youth who struggle to reach Europe in search of greener pastures. It is simple logic that in most countries with high crime rates, the most obvious reasons that the criminals themselves acknowledge are poverty, unemployment, poor education and drugs. The government of the day cannot ignore the fierce urgency of now. Government has to create the enabling environment for the youth to thrive as they constitute the majority in this country. This is especially important in the case of deportees who are frustrated by and with the system for years. Frustration leads to anger and that is when people look for places or objects to vent their anger on. This can be seen in rising crime rates and other social vices.

The inexperience and indecisiveness of the politicians emboldens criminals. Politics is an art but unfortunately most of our politicians do not understand how politics is played. Over and again we have seen indecisiveness on the part of the politicians when events that require a stance arise. Whether this is as a result of incompetence or lack of political will thereof is open to interpretation. Politics in Africa is so ugly that most of the time it does not attract our best men and women, instead we see kleptocracies and kakistocratic regimes. A lot of the time in Africa it is a case of the blind (Politicians) leading the clueless (Mob). The new government needs to look beyond their noses and start being more decisive about the future of this country. The Gambia and Gambians need to be a more hands-on kind of people instead of a hands-out kind of people and this starts with our leaders. Time and again we have seen our leaders going round begging other countries and institutions for funds and this is just sad. Now is the time to focus on rebuilding from within and understand that development cannot come from without.

“Remembrance by Learning” these are the words written at the Kigali Genocide Museum entrance and indeed they have learnt and everyone else should learn from them. Traveling to Rwanda has been an experience for the ages. The Rwandans today do not talk about tribe whatsoever because the 1994 genocide serves as a painful reminder of what tribal conflict can unleash. Nowadays in tiny Gambia you see people and political parties clashing because of tribal differences. Every now and then there is a disturbance of the peace because some lunatic cannot look beyond his/her immature mind because if they did, it would dawn on them that politics is not a matter of life and death issue but a competition of ideas. Besides, poverty is poverty whether you are Jola or Wolof or Mandinka, poor education, healthcare systems, bad roads all affects us equally. In fact on page 2 of the Foroyaa newspaper editorial 23 April 2018, it is pointed out that political parties should save the political from political conflicts. That the leadership of these parties must work for the common good of the nation. The frequent clashes of political parties further threatens the security of this country and even exposes the weakness of the entire system thereby providing a window for criminal networks to operate.

In conclusion, to tackle these myriad of problems requires all hands on deck and a willingness by the leadership to do what is right and necessary to preserve little Gambia. As Dr Ceesay exclaimed, Adama Barrow must win the trust of the Gambia military and give them the confidence to do their work. Two years should be enough time for government to settle down and start the business of putting affairs in order. Employment needs to be created for the youth in order to reduce poverty; capacities need to be built through skills training, our entire education system needs to be reshuffled because it was designed to serve the colonial administration and not the needs of our people. Illicit drug use and abuse must not be allowed to grow among the youth as this is a recipe for crime. There is a disconnect between the governors and the governed and this should not be the case. There should be a direct communication channel between the people and their representatives. Politicians look to the next election, statesmen look to the next generation according to Professor Lumumba. Going round begging is not going to solve Gambia’s problems, solutions must be home grown. Aid is never free irrespective of whether it is a grant or loan so if any meaningful progress is to be realized and the security of this country restored and protected, we have to roll up our sleeves and get dirty.

After 400 years of slavery and colonialism, the British colonialists could only muster enough resources to build us three schools. After 53 years of independence, we skedaddle back to the same colonialist power to beseech for help to fund our development agenda. It defies reason that sovereign African leaders celebrate being colonized by Britain after struggling for so long to regain our freedom. Just recently on the 19-20th of April, 2018, the leaders of members of common wealth countries or former British colonies converged in England to celebrate being colonized and we are being asked by the Prime Minister of England to legalize gay marriage. Gee I wonder why the United States is not part of the Common Wealth even though it was once a British colony. Aid is never free and these are some of the conditions that come with it. The only sustainable way to development is through involvement of the youth in every step of the development process. The youth must be the driving force, the engine of economic growth in this country. They should not be by standers or spectators. Any government that does not cater for its youth risks instability because they resort to destructive means of venting their frustration.

Democracy does not and cannot work without a good economy or sound education. A well-oiled democracy only functions with the presence of a well-informed citizen and the citizen can only be informed through education. The government must also bear in mind that democracy is an ideal; it does not mean western democracy because their form of democracy cannot work in any African country. We must recognize the principle of cultural relativism which argues that different countries have different cultures and therefore require differences approaches in executing a plan or in this case democracy. Gambian democracy must be different from American democracy because our contexts are different, our cultures are different. However, our natural rights of life, liberty and property are inalienable.

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