President Adama Barrow has on Monday ordered the National military guard to be on “standby for deployment to assume police duties when needed.” The Gambian President justifies this measure as a means to combat criminality in The Gambia. It is, however, an overreaction to basic security challenges and a return to former Dictator Yahya Jammeh’s use of the Army for zealous policing.
Barrow’s government has often come under sharp criticism for its inability to handle public order and policing in crises. In bringing the Army into public security and policing, President Adama Barrow told Gambians in a speech that he is acting on his “primary duty as President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces,” which is “to keep this country safe,” according to Adama Barrow.
Although the President said he would continue to do everything possible to boost the capacity of The Gambia Police Force and other internal security services, the fact remains that his regime has wasted five years and multiple opportunities to tackle and prevent crime critically. Apart from the “Tubab” sponsored YEP program, Barrow’s government did little to tackle youth unemployment and despair. His regime kept intact Yahya Jammeh’s essential security apparatus and earnestly dragged its feet to implement a genuine national security sector reform.
Adama Barrow’s regime’s ineptitude to implement the National Security sector reform process, combined with the rising crime and impunity, has made many Gambians believe that his government is incapable of handling internal security, public order, and protecting their lives and properties.
Yet, Adama Barrow’s response to this collective belief and the pressure of national and international public opinion is precisely re-using dictator Yahya Jammeh’s policy of bringing the Army into policing matters.
“As a final warning to the criminals and bandits in our midst, I hereby order the National Guard Unit of the Armed Forces to be on standby for deployment, when needed, to assume police duties, as provided for under the National Guard Unit Police Duties Regulations. We must never allow The Gambia to be a haven for criminal acts and banditry,” President Adama said in his public address on Monday.
The Gambian Head of State went further to let Gambians know that he means business. “Let me assure you all that I will discharge my responsibilities, both day and night, without fear, favor, ill-will, or affection,” Barrow warns.
The facts and the fiction
The Gambia is entering two heavily charged quarters with a pre-campaign and a Presidential election in December of this year, followed by Legislative and Local Government elections. President Adama Barrow and his government have had four years to implement good security reforms in the context of the ECOMIG’s presence in the country. They failed.
In 2021, The Gambia should have been a safer place, with a more professional and efficient security apparatus, free from the Yahya Jammeh enablers in uniform. A well-implemented security ecosystem could have handled both internal and external security threats on the people’s goods and their communities.
The obvious truth is the security sector reform process is a calamity entrapped in the hands of people who prefer the status quo. Moreover, the dumped draft constitution means a conducive legal environment that justifies no actual security reform process.
That is why inviting “our development partners, both bilateral and multilateral, to support Government efforts to provide and maintain a secure and safe environment for the upcoming election and the wellbeing of everyone in The Gambia” is another mockery that adds to the precise political sabotage of the transition over the past five years.
President Adama Barrow is indeed right that “We are aware that the country will soon enter into a new electoral cycle. As we all know, free and fair elections can only be held in a secure atmosphere, free from fear and intimidation.”
But Barrow’s invitation of the Army into civilian policing, in a context of a failed transition that followed a post-dictatorship iron rule, is no optimistic signal for free from fear and intimidation elections.
In his speech, President Adama Barrow “calls upon the requisite organs of the State – the Judiciary, Legislature, and the media – to play their roles and complement one another to nib the surging crime rate in the bud.”
But the questions every Gambian has asked over the past years remain “What is the true role this government plays to demobilize the youths from despair and crime?”, “What other solutions President Barrow and his team have in hand to uplift the creativity and mobilize the youths of The Gambia into work and hope for better?”
The truth is only Barrow has answers to these questions, and only Adama Barrow knows what he intends to do in using the Army for policing citizens during a critical election period.