By Mathew K. Jallow, Madison, Wisconsin
To some, the issue about the future of the military and the NIA in The Gambia may be a sensitive subject replete with risks and blind turns, but for a significant number of Gambians, simple logic and a dose of pragmatism trump the baseless fears that border on the ridiculous. In the aftermath of Yahya Jammeh’s tragic rule, some efforts undertaken to craft The Gambia’s future, and decisions around this theme, were neither very well thought out, nor informed by thoughtful professionalism. And discussions of issues on moving forward aside, there is a moral dimension to the failure of judgment that underpins the political commentaries trending on social media. The issues that continue to dominate social media relate to the fates of the National Assembly, AFPRC, Army and NIA; institutions that for more than two decades, spearheaded the political tyranny in The Gambia. Coalition decisions around these institutions, motivated by convenience and fears of destabilizing social order, bends towards permitting these institutions to remain legally active in The Gambia’s political life, a Coalition inclination that is completely at variance with the broader public opinions.
Short-selling Gambians on issues of significant legal and moral dimensions, poses certain risks, not the least of which is the financial cost and the diversion of considerable resources from pressing national needs, to maintaining a redundant military and NIA. The greatest casualty of deferring to what is socially convenient, is the absolute failure of the application of the rule of law as the primary instrument of guaranteeing sustained social order. And yesterday, as hundreds of Gambia’s young converged on the National Assembly, which by detachment and indifference, is complicit in brutal crimes against innocent Gambians, they demonstrate the groundswell of public opinion tilted towards the dissolution of the law-making body, for their criminal dereliction of duty and failure to protect The Gambia’s Constitution.
Banning the AFPRC for life, and prohibiting the Assembly members from ever contesting elected office, may seem harsh at first glance, but it is an appropriate remedy for the crimes of omission committed by members of the law-making body against the Gambian people. And as the military’s political party, the AFPRC and its ancillary killing group, the Jugglers, were more directly involved in some of the most gruesome killings, terrorism and diffusion of fear and terror all around the country, their sanction is a foregone conclusion.
The extra-judicial assassination group, the Jugglers and the conversion of religious denominations into arms of state of terror, by the regime, is grounds for dissolving and banning the AFPRC from existence. Additionally, there is universal consensus on the future or lack thereof, of the sitting National Assembly, a tool of mass oppression by the military regime, the AFPRC party.
But, the fates of the National Assembly and the AFPRC, are different considerations from that of the military and NIA, two institutions about which there are diverse opinions, primarily based on the convenient optics of owning a military, on one side, and pragmatism, based on the extraordinary cost of maintaining a military. In between the empty pride of owning a military, and the high cost of maintaining it, a moral dimension based on the military’s terrible human rights record, over two decades, takes center stage in justifying the arguments against maintaining the military. The questions surrounding the Gambian military and National Intelligence Agency (NIA), as institutions of oppression, with sad histories of politically motivated assassinations, trafficking in arms, drugs distribution, and arms of state terror, cannot be ignored as water under the bridge. Both the National Assembly and the AFPRC, may tangentially be implicated in state crimes against Gambians, but it is the military and NIA that are more directly defamed and implicated in mass killings, disappearances and tortures of hundreds of Gambians and non-Gambian alike.
The prison deaths from malnutrition, forced disappearances, hunger and tortures of political and apolitical citizens, disqualify this military regime and the NIA from ever existing on Gambian soil. Besides, the more military and NIA criminals walk the streets free, the more the resentment against them and calls for their apprehension to face justice, will grow louder.
The first duty of any government is the protection of its citizens, and The Gambia must demonstrate adherence to the rule of law, and not the rule by man. President Barrow does have discretion of executive power to dismantle these institutions, but tampering with and subverting the course of justice is not one of them. The greatest error of administrative judgement that the Coalition is making is letting thugs from the military regime walk the streets free from criminal prosecution. And that aside, the Coalition cannot justify reenergizing the military and the NIA, even with their revamp proposal.
With ECOWAS forestalling any more forceful takeover of governments, and Senegal underwriting The Gambia’s security, the costly maintenance of a military is one thing that The Gambia can strike out of its list of financial concerns. A redundant military is more expensive than Education or Agriculture, at a time when prioritizing the education of our children and resurrecting the agriculture sector are most urgent.
The formation of a National Guard, with responsibility for highway patrol, border security, forestry and environment protection, maintenance of civil order, construction and civil engineering, among other duties, is a perfect substitution for a military with little work to do.
As for the NIA, which exists primarily as a tool of political repression, its redundancy cannot be overstated. The criminal investigation capability of the NIA can be surrendered to the defunct Criminal Investigation Department of the police, where it rightfully belongs. As in the case of the military, cost and savings from dissolving the NIA, can be diverted to more productive use in the developing the tourism sector and provide drugs and equipment supplies for our wretched health clinics, among other areas of dire need.