From the onset I wish to urge the CDS Masanneh Kinteh to dismount the barriers placed on the trans-Gambian highway in front of the Yundum Barracks gate every morning. What is the purpose of mounting barriers on the highway during rush hour? What is the security significance of this checkpoint where the soldiers do nothing other than wave the vehicles to continue after already slowing them down unnecessarily?
During the Jammeh era, we had seen how at each barracks massive barriers are placed on the highway. Citizens are continuous forced to disembark from their vehicles only for some hard-faced soldiers to search them. This is harassment that is typical of
dictatorship. The military are not in charge of internal security neither do they have any immigration or traffic control functions. Yet in the Gambia, for 22 years it was routine for soldiers to subject citizens to searches and delays. This is a direct infringement on fundamental freedoms that must not continue.
The CDS must reposition, refocus and reorient the Gambian military to understand their role better and refrain from carrying out the same colonialist and Jammeh-era attitudes. In fact by placing a checkpoint in front of a barracks the GNA is therefore causing unknown persons to assemble or slow down before the barracks that means exposing the military to insecurity, espionage and attacks.
A professional and modern army must not allow unknown persons to assemble in front of the barracks. The army should rather be making people move faster away from the barracks for its own security as well as the safety of civilians. It therefore beats my imagination why our military leaders create checkpoints in front of barracks that would slow the traffic hence allow many people to be around the vicinity of the barracks.
To give context to this matter it is important that we recall Thomas Sankara of Blessed Memory who noted that a soldier without political education is a virtual criminal. Upon becoming president of Burkina Faso in 1984, Sankara noticed that African countries inherited a military, which was created by the colonialists themselves purposely to serve and protect European interests against African people. Even when Africans gained independence, the military for the most part continued to act with force and violence towards their own citizens. The political ruling class, both civilian and military governments continue to use the military just as the colonialists used them as tools of oppression and fear in our society.
The use of the Gambia Army as a tool of oppression and fear was a key feature of Yaya Jammeh and the APRC Regime. Not only was the GNA used as a recruitment ground for killers and torturers, but also the rank and file and officers of the force were used as propaganda machinery, fear factors and slave labour for the dictator. In essence Yaya Jammeh entrenched the misuse of the military just like how the colonialists intended it to be.
Now that we gained liberation on December 1, the system change must not only stop at the public sector but also must extend to the security and defense sector. Given the way and manner the security and armed services were utilized by Jammeh it is important that the Gambia Government embarks on a major security sector review in order to transform the army into a truly people’s protection force and not keep it as an oppressive force.
For that matter we expect that CDS Kinteh, who was a direct participant, witness and beneficiary in the life of the Gambia National Army under the dictatorship to be seen to transform our military towards progressive change. For example, it is high time that the CDS considers relocating all of our barracks and military installations out of our communities.
From Fajara to Yundum, Farafeni, Kalaji, Kudang to Basse including Corporal Lamin Sanneh shooting range in Brikama, the location of these military barracks is inappropriate. These installations may have been created at a time when there was no well-informed planning capacity and limited population growth, but now that communities have enlarged around Barracks it is urgent and necessary that these barracks be moved away. In fact Jammeh created some of these barracks purposely for political objectives.
Military barracks contain arms depots that contain all sorts of arms and ammunition. In the event of explosions, unimaginable loss of life is the result. The nature of the military itself is such that soldiers must not be usual sights within communities. Rather barracks and military activity must be outside of civilian territory.
Another issue is the fact that many soldiers do not live in barracks when they are supposed to; rather they live in the community and commuting to work everyday. This must stop. The CDS must ensure that all soldiers live and work in the barracks. We must bear in mind that since threats or attacks could happen at any time, we therefore need an army that is combat ready. This means soldiers must be in the barracks in case of the need for immediate combat or deployment. But having soldiers live away from the barracks reduces their combat readiness, slows down deployment and effective response and therefore poses a direct threat to national security.
Pres. Barrow has launched an initiative for a security sector review a few weeks ago. We hope that these issues and others will be highly considered in order to ensure that Gambia Armed Forces is indeed a professional, modern and people’s army.
For that matter I urge CDS Kinteh to remove all military barriers and checkpoints from our highways. The army has no power or authority to mount checkpoints on our highways especially when there is no war or state of emergency situation. The time has come to break that culture of unwarranted control and oppression that had been prevalent for so long in this country.
God Bless The Gambia