When the country emerged from the troubles of post 2016 Elections, of course there were a lot of Security vulnerabilities, security risks and perceived threats particularly from within and but definitely not from outside invading force. So this should have been an anticipated national challenge for our new found dispensation needing the presentation of an emergency plan for solution, right from when the new government took over.
I think this should have precisely triggered the government to start from basics/ground zero, by documenting an understanding of what the security risk/threats were, confirming them – through diligent investigations/Board of Inquiry – what, how and where these threats/risks/vulnerabilities are and; use these findings to “arresting” the apparent security challenge and to spearhead a wider reforms, specifically including an urgent, comprehensive and committed Security Sector Reforms.
This should be the right direction to put us where our hearts and aspirations are; in consonance with the fact that no country want foreign boots on her soil because it denigrates national integrity, hurts national pride/esteem and impacts our ability to “stand tall” in the community of nations. These mis-steps and failures are part of the reasons why we continue to extend the stay of ECOMIG. I will hasten to speak for the country, least we, as a nation, be perceived/quoted wrongly; The Gambia and all Gambians are appreciative and will continue to be forever indebted to all foreign troops and nations of ECOWAS including indeed our neighbours – the Republic of Senegal – for coming to our aid, at the time they did. ECOWAS and all donors, bankrolling ECOMIGs stay, have been consistent in doing whatever they could. The above notwithstanding, the country cannot afford to outsource this most important pillar of national development – its national security, to foreign troops, longer than necessary but instead must quickly (and again with the solid commitment, urgency and political will required to pick ourselves up) mobilize the required resources and invest it on the trajectory that will make sure the presence of foreign boots remaining on our soil is as short as possible. Such a measure would have avail us the opportunity to do a quick and incisive short to medium term restructuring, downsizing and indeed resizing of the security services. The strategic end result, in this quick and incisive exercise being, to enable us quickly get back into our “nation security boots” and be able to reassure and demonstrate, to our citizenry, as well as, the community of nations, that our security services are able to take care of the security of their country. Yes, it is a given that this seems to be a monumental task to achieve but with the human capital/resource already available the only critical elements required is selfless and consistent commitment to the collective national interest, anchored on the awareness that this pathway will be difficult, reward-less and overly unpopular. In my opinion, post 2016 elections is yet to see such commitment, focus and urgency on this most important pillar of moving our country from the abyss of the impasse to a steady keel for national development.
Our security challenges post 2016 definitely cannot be solved by an exercise of perpetual extension of foreign troops stay. But what pathway did we chose? Where are we? Again it is my considered opinion, based on my career background and training, that the dilemma the country/government is facing, by having to extend ECOMIG stay always, is partly self-inflicted. The reason being that at every national security platform, what becomes apparent is the efforts at trying, very hard, to avoid addressing “the elephant in the room” i.e the unwillingness to look at our national security challenges from within and or the unwillingness to learn from what our national security history has documented. Why should it be so difficult to recognize that anytime we have been faced with security challenges of the proportion of post 2016 election, it stems from our security services, anyhow one looks at it? For instance the 2016/17 post election Impasse was particularly a stand off between the security services and the rest of the country; the persecutions, abuse and mayhem meted out on Gambians for almost 20years of the second republic, has been the emboldening of a dictator who succeeded in subverting and misusing the security services for his personal/selfish political agenda; the 1994 coup d’etat where the security services misuse the trust of the people to subvert the wish of the very people who entrusted their security in their hands ( as well as, the subsequent coups throughout the Second Republic, perceived or otherwise); the 1981 botched coup d’etat of Kukoi Samba Sanyang, who had the support/was abetted by the then paramilitary forces. That no matter how much light shines from the lamp pole, if what you looking for is dropped elsewhere, you will never find it, is a relevant truism. Again in my considered opinion, the core to the security reforms should begin by making the recognition of our national security history, use the learnings thereof to redesigned our security proposition and positioning, looking inwards and most importantly grounding it on our national values, national power (with emphasis on where our strength lies i.e “Soft” Power) and national aspirations. The Gambia has throughout its history been recognized as a bastion of peace and democratic values. A “Power” dynamic this country has exported to all corners of the worlds. The security services indeed contributing immensely, through international Peace Keeping missions, and in the process carving out a solid professional reputation/commendations for themselves and the country in general. And probably one of the only reference of the security services, both men and women in uniform, as well as, the country has ever been and will always be proud of. Further more it is about time that we embrace this gift of God who, in His infinite wisdom, endowed us with a country whose borders are ring fenced by another country, on all sides (yes even on the east, for if a country has, superiority in speed/access from land, sea and air; resources and sophistication, it is in reality the one who covers it). Our security threat is overwhelmingly unlikely to be external, particularly in this 21st century of global/international and continental checks, balances and accountability frameworks. Our problem is demonstratively internal and we have to be bold enough to deal with it from this perspective. The sooner we start, with the requisite leadership – at all levels, the attendant commitment, political will and urgency, the quicker we will put an end to this costly and unnecessary cycle of ECOMIG extension. There is necessarily the need to rebuild a new Armed Forces in particular and Security Services in general by whittling down the current size to a bare 30-25 percent. This is indeed for various valid reasons. For instance those who cannot pass the set fitness test for service; not fit for health reasons; anyone recruited fraudulently/illegally; perpetrators of abuse/atrocities leading to death or disappearance of individuals; close associates of former president, those who opt for voluntary retirement, etc. Another important reason has to do with the issue of has become the mindset and culture of security service during the second republic. Once this is achieved we rebuild a Brigade level Armed Forces, who primary mandate will be Peace Keeping Missions and ceremonial duties and aiding in internal security as secondary mission. Such a downsizing exercise therefore can only be successful, if conducted in an atmosphere of reinforcing nation closure, justice and healing. One embedded also in an overarching reform strategy that encompasses re-skilling, retraining, resettlement and funding/financing of ventures for all those eligible/affected by the security service downsizing exercise. But this normal exercise of security services around the world, it seems, has become a taboo across the defence and security establishment in the Gambia for whatever reason, is primarily for what I consider to be an inherent lack of clarity, circumspection and effective, all- stakeholder communication in our current security sector reforms strategy. Finally, it is common knowledge that because most in the security service, across all levels/echelons may become affected by this reform strategy implementation exercise, it is only reasonable that the security services cannot lead or allowed the prerogative to advice/influence its outcome, for obvious conflict of interest.
The nascent democratic dispensation of the Gambia, for which the security services has played a major role, will continue to call for duty and sacrifices, as it has always called upon her sons and daughters in uniform. The Gambia expects nothing less.
This is critical urgent, among other things, to solve our own security challenges by our very own men and women in uniform, and not through perpetual stay extension of foreign boots on our soil. We have wasted five years in which the core direction of this country should have been reforms, reorganization, restructuring and re-calibration and redirection and nothing else. This is the embodiment of a nation in transition, particularly one with the Gambia’s decades long experience. This national trajectory should not have been conflicted with or allowed the distraction of party politics and or self-perpetuation/interest. We must go back to work!
For the Gambia our homeland