OPINION: On appraisal of ECOMIG and Gambia’s lasting national security

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

I will start by confessing my doubt over the effectiveness of my last article entitled, Reform the faulty SOP to stop the killings finally, where my central theme was about an attempt to persuade the Gambia government to rectify the flawed operating procedure of arming Gambian security units with combat rifles and live rounds on community policing and crowd control that have periodically resulted in avoidable-civilian deaths. However, in the light of the subsequent developments of charging the police officers involved in the Faraba-banta incident, it is apparent that my solicitation for the authorities to spare them on the regrettable episode was ignored. I will therefore no longer stretch my dissension to avoid being misread as negating the conventional wisdom over the issue; nonetheless, from the same vantage point, I still think charging the police officers of murder and even convicting them is tantamount to settling for an impromptu fix to a rather complex technical breakdown.  

No matter what, I am afraid we have to be cognizant of the fact that peaceful demonstrations as far as their global reputation denote have not always been necessarily as peaceful and orderly as their honest organizers always intend them to be. They have in fact culminated into adverse unintended ramifications as extreme as unseating well entrenched governments reminiscent of the Tunisian, Egyptian and Burkinafaso cases-2010, 2011 & 2014 respectively- or in other incidents demonstrations degenerating into bloody civil war rendering well-built nations ungovernable and totally destitute, like the current situation in Syria and Libyan. Hence, while they are generally considered legitimate and benign, I have from a national security point of view frequently registered my apprehension over their impulsive convening, because of their proneness to fermenting delinquent pandemonium, especially when the participants display blatant obsession of settling eccentric scores with the establishment. In other words, demonstrations have come with certain undesirable elements concealing mischievous intentions aimed at exacerbating any inflammable opportunity; these characters hardly understand or care anything about the-genuine-remedy-seeking crowd trying to honestly address their economic, political or social concerns.

And with the rapid mobilizing effect of cyberspace and other expedient-communication instruments, “peaceful demonstrations” whether sanctioned by governments or not, will continue to happen in our experiment to consolidate durable democracy; notwithstanding, it is still fair to say that no matter how well we may trivialize its destabilizing effect to society, we must never fall short of adequately preparing our security forces for the ONE DEMONSTRATION that could, someday, unpredictably get out of hand. The critical question therefore is how to get our security forces appropriately drilled for those peaceful demonstrations that could unexpectedly pose existential threat to our national security? To answer that, I don’t think we need to look too far with Senegal having everything we need in terms of training and equipment. I think they will be more than willing to help if we asked. They have done it for The Gambia in the 80’s when the country was more calamitous.

From a scientifically-endorsed-merit index, Senegal has been credited for having the best crowd or riot-controlling security institution in the Sub-region, regardless of their negligible setbacks from time to time for manhandling disruptive demonstrators. They could not have possibly achieved such status in the Sub-region if they had depended exclusively on assault weapons for community policing like habitual in the Gambia. 

By the way, military doctrine teaches that unless there is a declaration of a state of emergency by a head of state with Martial Law now in effect, due perhaps to a general disruptive situation beyond police control which require the deployment of the armed forces in the streets to enforce law and order, assault rifles such as AK-47s must never be allowed out of the barracks.

Such tenet, I must admit, will be hard to honor in our current security arrangement given the presence of ECOMIG as a full combat force with their role and tenure not clearly defined to the Gambian public. I am told that the EU and France shoulder the main responsibility of funding their presence in the Gambia. But how long they will stay and whether or not the French and EU support will continue after the coalition government or the current Senegalese government leave office should be food for thought to every concerned Gambian. That said, I also think Gambians need to know whether in the event of a major internal crisis in the country His Excellency President Adama Barrow is empowered with the authority to declare a state of emergency and deploy ECOMIG into our communities. I want to still know how feasible that will be with the Gambia

Armed Forces still officially insulated to fulfill such roles.

I read somewhere that the foreign forces-ECOMIG- were recently deployed to quell some minor civil disobedience in Brikama. The details were sketchy, so I will desist from commenting on that; though I believe we should be mindful of where and how to use them in solving our internal security problems.  

Admittedly, my greatest concern is for the ECOMIG forces to someday unceremoniously or suddenly depart Gambia without a reliable replacement force-preferably a Gambian force-to satisfactorily take over their position and keep the nation peaceful and secured. That’s the kind of predicament we encountered in 1989 when the Senegalese security forces in their huge numbers without warning left the Gambia with no requisite replacement forces, exposing the people and the government to the most dangerous security void that most scholars attest, laid the groundwork for the 1994 coup de tat. The Confederation forces were not only bigger in numbers than ECOMIG but were far more equipped and better integrated with the Gambia Armed forces.

While it is now evident that Coups are unacceptable and unsustainable in our modern times, we also cannot but acknowledge the pervasive threat of arm rebellions attributed to most contemporary civil wars or arm conflicts scorching the African continent and beyond.

In the end these senseless wars sometimes veiled in ethnic, regional or religious facade all boil down to criminal gangs and war lords seizing control and transforming civilized societies into fragmented lawless entities compounded by fervent tenacity not to ever allow normalcy to prevail again.

It is therefore imperative for the Gambia to urgently start assembling a dependable security force, small but very capable for the effective replacement ECOMIG when they leave the country in the near or distant future. It will be a selection of proficient men and women from all ranks in the Gambia Armed forces based purely on merit. They will essentially be tested on a comprehensive military-course outline prepared by external and internal examiners with the successful candidates integrated in the ECOMIG force for orientation and closer cooperation. It will be just like how it used to be in the Senegambia Confederation Army. Except that this time around, the process will be gradual with a clear objective to minimize and eventually stop the foreign troops coming in and out on a rotational calendar as if the Gambians shouldn’t be part of the force in their own country. From the look of things, and based on my previous experience with foreign forces contracted to secure our country, I don’t believe ECOMIG commanders will ever come up with a timetable for the smooth termination of their mission in The Gambia.

Anyway approval will also be sought for the integrated Gambian troops to not only enjoy equal pay and benefits provided to their counterparts by France and the EU but they will also be kitted with the same uniforms, badges and logos.

While the program continues on a timetable drawn to achieve the desired forces in strength and competency, the Government on a parallel venture could explore the prospect of engaging Senegal to help provide our police force with the vital Gendarmerie-kind-of training, distinguished for its excellence and professionalism.

If the Senegalese could currently be providing security for the presidency at the state house-on French sponsorship-there is no reason why they wouldn’t accept the extension of the bilateral program nationwide with the same assistance from France. But we will have to ask first. Senegalese governments past and present have always exhibited their interest in having our two nations forge closer ties especially in the area of security. With a solid and enduring treaty signed, the two countries could be guaranteed a better security arrangement even in the absence of ECOMIG. Without the right security in place nothing done is guaranteed to stay and everything built could quickly fall apart.

From 1981 to 1989, Senegal provided the best internal and external security for the Gambia. It’s the indisputable fact.  And like I mentioned above, after their unceremonious departure in September 1989 morale in the Gambia Armed Forces quickly spiraled downhill and never came back up even with the Gambia government’s pointless effort to replace them with Nigerian military commanders and troop. Five years after their departure the coup happened. At the time the Nigerian forces were here in charge of the entire Armed forces, a reality we hardly want to reflect upon.

ECOMIG, I must further emphasize, shouldn’t work for us; we should instead work with them so as to prepare us for their replacement some day. It’s the answer for a durable peace and security in the Gambia.

As usual, I cannot conclude without again apologizing to my readers who may find my article offensive in any way or form.

Long live the Gambia!

Peace for all!

Samsudeen Sarr