OUR SECURITY FORCES AND SO CALLED JAMMEH ENABLERS
WRITTEN BY YAYA DUWA SANYANG
The theme of my discussion would centre on two prepositions. 1. National peace and tranquility should be the paramount concern for all Gambians. Collateral to this is that we should all take a deep breath and support our security forces as they are the last bastion to guarantee that collective peace. 2. Working for the Yaya AJJ Jammeh (AJJ) regime should not be viewed as a crime. The term “Jammeh enabler” being bandied around into common derogative usage is a misnomer. Collateral is that those culpable for specific transgressions during period of engagement under AJJ should be accountable for such actions; otherwise the label is discriminatory and arbitrarily applied to smear.
I worked as a civil servant during the first republic and also under the AJJ regime between 1994 and 1996. I resigned on my own. Since then I have not drawn benefit or income from the Government of the Gambia in any way.
The Gambia is a young and fragile democracy. In my view we would need to transition (change regime) one or two more times to allow our institutions to begin to calcify. It may take a bit longer considering our small society that went through 22 years of barbarity. But our new found freedoms and the re-establishment of the rule of law seems to be waking up demons.
The Gambian Armed forces (police and army) have been the power base of AJJ. We all know that. What is perhaps less known is the extent to which the security forces were used as weapons by AJJ. This has made the security institutions both perpetrators and victims of terror. Listening to junior army officers confessing to killing their own colleagues; people they personally know very well in cold blood makes ones skin crawl. But what happened to those officers if any who refused to participate. I am not in any way advocating that those who committed these crimes should not be fully accountable. Our sympathy should be with the victims and their families and not the perpetrators. Care should be taken least we throw away the baby with the bathwater.
For the last two years the police and army have come under massive strain. These national institutions are being battered to the core from various corners. The revelations of the TRRC are perhaps the most horrific. The addictive habit of being close to power and the influence that brings literally varnished with AJJ. The dwindling access to resources may be even more devastating. The police and army are perhaps the lowest paid government workers. These very people are required to risk body, sweat and blood if need be to defend/protect us all.
The Gambia urban environment and society has changed from the simple community of yester years where almost everyone knows everyone. It is now a complex urban jungle where the haves and have-nots mingle in the streets and markets. Youth unemployment could be upwards of 60%. The back way vent is being closed. Wanton violent criminality may be on the rise. Our underfunded and demoralised security forces need support from all of us to maintain peace in this new jungle. Those who doubt the power of crime, live near a police station.
The right to protest is inalienable. The right to disturb the peace and tranquillity of the nation is against the law. Even in mature democracies all protests required police permit. This is not to deny any body the right to peaceful assemble and public airing of concerns. The permit is to allow police and security forces to determine how to deploy and support such assembles to ensure they remain peaceful and order is maintained. Without the permit system and checks, any protest could turn chaotic. Rule of law could break down. There is clear need for better monitoring of security forces activities during control of peaceful demonstrations to ensure they do not overstep their limits according to the law. But to throw blame and insult on to the police for every fracas that happens is not in our national interest.
As a society we may all have to take a deep breath and reflect. The peace and tranquility of the state should be paramount over all else. The army and police like the judiciary and the legislature are crucial to that formula. Those who fight demons should take caution in case they turn into demons according to Weber. If you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares back into you. The demon of AJJ is dead but unfortunately not buried. Let’s support our security forces to recover and rebuild confidence in themselves to serve the new democratic dispensation. There are bad and nastic criminals in our society like all countries. Like a pressure cooker these may have been put into check through terror and brute force during AJJ era. Once released and faced with a battered and demoralise security apparatus; forces could be unreleased that would be hard to tame easily.
In my simple mind for a professional Gambian outfit to evolve a number contributing factors may need to come together. First the executive needs to resolutely and firmly affirm that the security forces have full support in carrying out their duties as last defender of our collective security. Transgressions of the code of conduct would be punished. But no one would be allowed to take the law into their hand. The use of legitimate force is the sole prerogative of our security forces. I did not hear these assurances after the Faraba, and other incidents. If people are laying their lives on the line for society then they require our collective support. The security forces need to be better resourced. Second the army high command and IGP must not only give a new face to the Gambian security forces but must be seen to build public confidence. It should not require the TRRC or MOJ for the army and police to get rid of elements who committed atrocities during the AJJ era. These people should have been removed from service by the high command and IGP without waiting for TRRC or MOJ action. Thirdly the public including the media need to understand that the security forces are national institutions. They have been misused and abused by AJJ. They need time to reform and restructure. Denigrating them constantly is not in our collective interest.
SO CALLED JAMMEH ENABLERS
The term “Jammeh enabler” has been making the rounds. It is not clear if it has been defined with clarity. A loose definition seems to be those you supported and helped AJJ maintain his brutal rule over the country. Considering that AJJ had close to 100 different ministers during his term. There could have been more than 300 PSs, Directors and MDs of parastatals. Add in the ambassadors, policy and army officers we could easily count 1000 people. What of the head chiefs who terrorise their own citizens for AJJ. The majority of NAMs who voted to alter and change the constitution as AJJ dictates. It does not make any sense to label all these people as “Jammeh enablers”. If not then where does one draw the line?
Well-meaning writers are bandying the word with connotations of undesirable people who allowed AJJ to raves and plunder our nation. I think this is at best not helpful and at worst plain wrong. Not all Gambians could have abandoned the country even if they disagree with AJJ and what he was doing. Not all have the opportunity and wherewithal to jump ship or bus of state. Let me be personal here. When I left my government/World Bank Project job to get a foot hold in the international arena, I had to work in war turn areas of Sudan, Liberia and many other countries. It took years in most difficult work environment before I was able to regularly live with my family. I know many colleagues who went through similar ordeals. To expect all to take that kind of plunge is unrealistic and unfair.
It cannot be wrong to stay in the Gambia and work as a minister or in civil service, to build ones career and support ones family no matter who is President. Life did not stop for all Gambians because AJJ was president. One does not have to partake in his atrocities. What is critical for me is actions one takes while in the service of AJJ. Everybody should be accountable for any action one takes in the line of duty or not that deliberately puts another person in harms way. Other than that simply serving under AJJ cannot be viewed as a crime.
In the first few years of the AJJ era it was common for colleagues to send negative reports (false or true it would not matter) about others if you want to be appointed to their post. Some of those reporters and job seekers later fell under the AJJ terror. Only God knows how many people had sought jobs from AJJ through dubious means. People from nowhere were appointed as Ministers, ambassadors and head of national institutions based on one criteria – AJJ’s whims and wishes informed by false reporting. There were many NIA operatives who reported on their brothers, sisters and neighbours. So many Gambians fell under the spell of AJJ. It does not make sense to label all of them AJJ enablers. It is time to let the water flow under the bridge.
We cannot single out a few people and apply the label “Jammeh enablers”. We castigate them for no other reason than they served under AJJ and have been chosen to serve by the current president. None can deny the president has the prerogative to choose his team. His choice would not be informed solely by qualification or even competence if that can be measured. Many other factors would inform such choices – trust, ethnic and geographic balance to name a few.
Where there is evidence that an individual has committed a crime and did something that deliberately put another person in harm’s way in support of AJJ; there are proper channels to make them accountable. But to cherry pick and choose a few among all those who served AJJ, for castigation and public lynching cannot be helpful.
Those who politically supported AJJ or even were part of his regime in my view should not come to harm for that simple reason alone. But for such people, especially those who served as close and senior level advisers, to now turn around to whitewash their roles during the AJJ regime would also be an insult to the population particularly those who suffered atrocities. Yes I was in the regime but helped some people and/or advised AJJ against some actions or even to claim ignorance for what was in the public domain would callous. We all know what happens to people who work for AJJ and do not fall in line.
The Gambia belongs to us all and sometimes we do not necessarily have to repeatedly relive the past. Our main focus should be on the future.
Yaya Duwa Sanyang comes from Kwinella Village. I worked for the Ministry of Health in Gambia till 1996 as Project Director of World Bank Health Sector Reform programme. Since then I have worked for various UN agencies at country, regional and head office levels. Formally retired from the UN end 2018.