Excellency, the President and Commander-in-Chief of The Gambia Armed Forces, Mr. Adama Barrow

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen

In my capacity as Chair of the Security Sector Reform Steering Committee, I am honoured to welcome all of you to this historic event. The launching of the National Security Policy for The Gambia, the first of its kind in our country, is a clear demonstration of the commitment of this Government to an ambitious reform agenda that seeks to align our governance architecture with modern democratic practice.

The National Security Policy is the overarching policy framework for a comprehensive national security reform process that aims to maintain, safeguard and defend the National Core Values which will ensure the safety, security, and prosperity of The Gambia as an independent, peaceful, safe and stable country. It is the foundation of all other security policies, strategies and plans from which all the national security services shall derive their doctrines. These include the security sector reform strategy, the national defence strategy, the national police and law enforcement strategy, etc.

But the launching of this National Security Policy today also provides us with an opportunity to reflect on the past and for teasing out lessons for the future. Indeed, the 1st of December 2016 created a unique window of opportunity that must be seized to transform our country into a modern democratic State. Too many things, sometimes good and sometimes bad, have occurred in our country over the past two decades and The Gambia Armed Forces, for one reason or another, found itself at the center of those events. But let me make this clear, The Gambia Armed Forces are our armed forces, the peoples’ armed forces, they are not enemies of the people. Yes there have been failings in the past when some of them did not to live up to our expectations and we cannot deny this obvious fact. Naturally, this has created mistrust between the armed forces and the people that it seeks to protect and serve. Indeed, this has been acknowledged on several occasions.

But the reality is that every society, every community, every organisation, professional or otherwise, has bad elements and so this is not unique to our armed forces. The fact remains that an absolute majority of the members of our armed forces are hard-working, honest, and dedicated professional men and women who on a daily basis put their lives at risk so that the rest of us and our families can live in a peaceful, safe and secure environment. It is because of them that we can go to sleep at night with our families not having to worry about our safety or the safety of our loved ones, and we must show gratitude to them for this. They deserve our respect. Moreover, and notwithstanding what one may think about the desirability or justifications, our armed forces have had, over the past two decades, the most attempts at trying to remove former President Jammeh from power. Many of them died as a result, while others were jailed, maimed or went into exile. At face value, it illustrates their collective disapproval of former President Jammeh’s methods.

We must therefore continue to build upon the modest successes of this renewed civil-military relationship since the change of government in order to inspire confidence and trust by the people. The Gambia Armed Forces must be willing therefore, to do what is necessary to shed its past image as an instrument of oppression. Respect, after all, is also earned, and not demanded. So, you the men and women in uniform, you must regard yourselves as the guardians of our new found democracy and our freedom, and this responsibility and expectation has only increased in the new Gambia. Your time, your services, your skills and your professionalism are needed now more than ever before, and you will continue to fly our national flag with the honour, pride and dignity expected of true patriots.

Therefore, we want a Gambia Armed Forces for all Gambians and not just some. We must learn from the mistakes of the past and remove all vestiges of factionalism, regionalism or other forms of patronage. This is a Gambia for all and not just a few. It must not matter whether you are a Mandinka, Fula, Wolof, Jola or Sarahulay.

Finally, allow me to dispel some misconceptions about the Security Sector Reform process. This exercise is not all about reducing the size or number of our security personnel. That is perhaps at the bottom of our priority list and when it occurs, we want to assure everyone that it will be done with the requisite care, fairness, sensitivity and professionalism, and that no one will be targeted on account of their ethnicity, tribe, religion or region. Our fixation is not on the size but on the quality. The armed forces that we want will be moulded in the best of military traditions with ranks that are reflective of a professional army and proportionate to the size that we need as a country.

So we must get this process right and very quickly as well, because if we do not succeed in our security sector reform process, we risk undermining everything else that we have built and are still building over the past two years. Most, if not all, will not count for much if we do not succeed in this endeavour. The Security Sector Reform process is therefore perhaps the most important of all reform processes in the country and we must devote the resources, both human and material, necessary to achieve our objectives. It holds the key to not only peace, but sustainable peace in our country.

In conclusion, allow me to thank the National Security Advisor, Ambassador Momodou Badjie, for his hard work, dedication and commitment to this process. We must however give him the support he desperately needs to achieve some measure of progress in his endeavours. Let me also thank the United Nations security sector reform expert General Kellie Conteh who has been of tremendous assistance to the Office of National Security and to me since I became Chair of the Steering Committee.

Finally, I would like to extend special gratitude to our brothers and sisters from Senegal and the sub-region in Ecomig. Their presence here in The Gambia demonstrates the continued commitment of ECOWAS to peace and stability in our country. The Ecomig forces are here for us, at our invitation, as our guests, and we should treat them as such at all times. But again, the reality is that they will have to leave us someday soon, hence the urgency of taking maximum advantage of their presence in the country to carry out the much needed reforms in the security sector. We will forever be grateful to them for their individual and collective sacrifices, the sacrifices of their individual families, and to their respective governments for availing us their services in our country’s darkest hour of need.

I thank you all.

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