Army reform on course: Gen. Cham

Thursday, April 05, 2018

Brigadier General Momodou Cham, commander, Gambia National Army has said that the reform of the army is on course and that it is being complemented by that of the national security sector reform.

In an exclusive interview, Brig. Gen. Cham explained that what they did at the level of the army was to recall everybody back to their respective barracks as part of their restructuring programme of the Armed Forces.

Established by an Act of Parliament on June 24, 1985, The Gambia Armed Forces (GAF) had a single setting called Gambia National Army (GNA) until 1997, first headed by a commander, Col. Momodou Ndaw Njie.

A marathon of appointments and firings of the Army and Defense Chiefs in the second republic ensued until the Dec. 1, 2016 change of government. Now, the coalition transition government has the task of reforming this important national institution, to among other things, make it more professional in carrying out its duties under a democratic government.

“I think it [the transition] is a period that has been very instructive. Presently, we are endeavouring to make sure that the armed forces is subordinate and accountable to civil authority. To make sure that we focus on our professional skills of building an institution; an armed forces that is capable of meeting its constitutional mandate of securing the territorial integrity of this country,” Gen. Cham said.

Nigerian Army Technical Assistance Group (NATAG) came into the country in 1992, invited by then President Jawara to take over the Command of the Gambia National Army. Before this, the British Army Training Team (BATT) were in charge of trainings in the Army. From May 1992 to 22nd July 1994, NATAG took over the Command and Control of the entire Gambia National Army except the 3rd Marine Company.

When Jammeh led a group of young Lieutenants to take over the government in 1994, Major Modou Badjie (now national security adviser), was appointed Army Commander, but soon to be replaced by Major Baboucarr Jatta who was later promoted to the rank of a Colonel.

In 1996, Yahya Jammeh introduced Decrees 87 and 88, transforming the 3rd Marine Company of the Gambia National Army into the Gambia Navy and the Tactical Support Group of The Gambia Police Force to the Gambia National Guard (now Republican National Guard). These Decrees (87 and 88) institutionalized The Gambia Armed Forces into three services: The Army, the Navy and National Guard (National Republican Guard).

“Col. Baboucarr Jatta became Chief of Staff of the Gambia Armed Forces (GAF) from 1996 to 2004. So, the title of the head of the Army being referred to as ‘Chief of Staff’ was used from 1996 to 2004,” security analyst and exiled journalist, Assan Sallah explained, adding that as stated in the 1997 Constitution of The Gambia, the institutionalization of the title of Chief of Defense Staff (CDS) was not honoured until 2005.

In this interview, Brigadier General Momodou Cham, Commander, Gambia National Army tells journalist Sanna Camara how the reforms are ongoing within the army.

Sanna: What has it been like for you since the change of government?

Gen Cham: I think we are witnessing a departure from the old order, in which the army and the military were used as instruments in politics. Now, the current democratization process is insisting that there should be complete independence of national institutions – the judiciary, the army and the civil service, must disengage from partisan politics, and focus on the role they are assigned and paid for as per the constitution. This has been the reason why we have scaled back the armed forces from the public space. 

Sanna: What do you think of this?

Gen Cham: I believe this is the right thing to do. The Armed Forces is a national institution which is charged with the responsibility of securing the territorial integrity of this country. We recruit from all over the country and it is open to every Gambian citizen. We should not be seen to be partisan in the political arena. So, I think it [the transition] is a period that has been very instructive.

Sanna: What specific steps and programmes is the Army currently implementing?

Gen Cham: Presently, we are endeavouring to make sure that the Armed Forces is subordinate and accountable to civil authority. To make sure that we focus on our professional skills of building an institution, an Armed Forces, that is capable of meeting its constitutional mandate of securing the territorial integrity of this country.

Sanna: How is that process going so far?  

Gen Cham: What we have done since the new dispensation, is to recall everybody back to their respective barracks. Presently, we are trying to restructure the Armed Forces – we created two new battalions in Kanilai (the Fonis) and three battalions deployed in Basse, to enforce the two existing battalions at Yundum.

At Farafenni, we have a sub unit deployment in Njongone, Lamen Koto and other towns within the Northern borders. Their role is basically to train, to try and understand their duties as soldiers and also to secure and give protection to the people. We are slightly going into what we call “people security”, making sure that the Armed Forces is relevant to the needs of this county and are trained and educated to better understand and appreciate the role of the Army.

Sanna: So basically, the reform is on course?

Gen Cham: Yes, reform is on course internally. Of course, we also have the security sector reform which is at the national level. We are cooperating with them and making sure that we wait for whatever recommendations and policies we are going to put forward… but internally, yes, we are reforming. We are trying to build individual capacity of our soldiers, reform them into different small units, sections, platoons, companies and battalions; give them areas of responsibilities within the country to better understand themselves, their equipment and weapons; their capacity for logistic and supply systems…

Sanna: Thank you very much sir.

Gen Cham: You welcome.    

Author: Sanna Camara