The inability of security forces to deflect and counter threats to the state and its citizens has posed one of the primary challenges to the Gambia National Army after the coming of the President Barrow government in January, 2017.

In many cases, the armed forces themselves have threatened citizen well-being, often intervening and commandeering power. In the more than two decades since the end of the Cold War, some West African countries have undergone a process of democratization. Ghana and Nigeria, for example, have made strides in transforming their civil-military relations and improving the quality of their security sectors. In contrast, the Gambia national army, have grappled with the imbalance.

The Gambian National Army have been especially notorious for the past twenty-two years for brutalizing civilians, one of the most obvious reform measurers is to get rid of the jugglers and all those soldiers’ loyalists to former President Yahya Jammeh from the Gambia national army who were guilty of serious abuses meted out to its citizen.

After more than two decade of former President Yahya Jammeh’s rule, Gambian national army began building a new army by cleaning the old bad element within the army. Although members of the Gambian national armies of former government, were promoted to the various ranks based on their loyalty to the former President Yahya Jammeh and not on merits bases though. The current CDS of the Gambia national army, Masanneh N. Kinteh should constitute a vetting panel to vet soldiers’ base on their qualification and turning away anyone known to have engaged in abuses or being part of the juggler assassination team. But the process of vetting the soldiers should be one of priorities of the CDS Kinteh and his team. Any officer wanting for committing a notorious crime should be subjected to criminal charges.

As CDS Kinteh’s main emphasizes, training is important for changing the outlooks and conduct of military personnel in the Gambia. CDS Masanneh N. Kinteh discussed range of series reforms during his recently interview with Kerr Fatou TV show aired on GRTS, which including restructuring, changes in command methods, and training in technical and moral subjects within the army. Army instructors from the British and Turkey army were one time in the country to offered training to the Gambia national army. While essential, training on its own can have only a limited impact in transforming the orientation of overwhelmingly national security forces in the Gambia.

The fragility of democratic institutions enables military leaders to remain extremely influential in politics, undermining institutions and weakening the mechanisms of governance that underpin state-society relations. The dominance of the military closes off space for political participation and impedes political processes, with undesirable consequences for development, economic growth, and social cohesion. It also increases the risk of power contestations becoming violent.

The reforms have improved civil-military relations, but the security forces need to adapt further to confront new challenges such as trafficking, piracy, and religious extremism that have the potential to destabilize tracts of the sub-region. Keeping the armed forces out of politics and ensuring that adequate checks and balances are put in place will help protect citizens at a time when new security threats are emerging. Certain security threats to the sub-region have been more pronounced within a specific conflict system, wherein cross-border connections based on shared ethnic, linguistic, cultural, and religious ties can facilitate the spread of conflict among neighbors, as in the case of the Gambia and Senegal.

The tendency of conflicts to cluster around a specific system strengthens the case for a regional rather than a country-by-country approach to combating security threats. Such an approach may involve designing interventions that mitigate drivers of conflict, particularly as they relate to border communities or on warmongers and perpetrators from neighboring southern province of Cassamance MFDC rebel group.

The social engagement and involvement by civil society groups, women’s organizations and other social actors can be vital in countering possible abuses and atrocities committed by military as some of them were used during Jammeh’s era to commit crimes and innocent killing against its citizen. These civil society groups can put pressure on security forces to correct shortcomings and take more energetic action. In South Africa in late 1990s, women’s organizations were invited to participate in a public review of the country’s defense structures and policies. In the process they helped exposes problems ranging from the environmental impact of military activities to sexual harassment of women by army personnel.

The strategy of divide and rule-control contributed to the ethnicization of the military. In the Gambia, members of a particular ethnic group dominated sections of the military corps during the Jammeh’s regime, which risked delegitimizing them. The practice split the forces both along ethnic and regional lines as well as between the different ranks of the officer corps. The co-opting the senior leadership of the security forces while ignoring the rank and file undermined the integrity of the institutions and resulted in a breakdown in hierarchy within the Gambia National Army. The people charged by the state with providing security, especially the military and police, have perpetrated abuses and used excessive force against civilians. The human rights and fundamental freedoms of citizens have been violated with impunity, through detentions, arbitrary arrests, even murder.

The sense of injustice is compounded by the failure of the state to hold law enforcement officials and military personnel accountable when they violate citizens’ rights. The sense of prejudice that arises from such situations is exacerbated and reinforced by official complacency of misdemeanors, which perpetuates the resulting social exclusion. In most cases, justice systems have remained largely dysfunctional and the rule of law weak during Jammeh’s era. Few citizens have confidence in the impartiality and independence of the administration of justice. The neglect of due process robbed institutions of their legitimacy and credibility, while the proliferation of regulatory rules and administration created new opportunities for corruption and further weakened state-society linkages of which president Barrow new government need to take into consideration though.

By Seedy S. Fofanah, former lecturer at the University of The Gambia