By Mustapha K. Darboe
Gambia’s president on Tuesday launched a reform project meant to transform the small nation’s politicized security sector, after decades of use by its autocratic ruler to suppress his opponents.
Adama Barrow said the 18-month reform project, with support from the UN, European Union, and the West African regional bloc ECOWAS, will bring the service sectors up to date with the country’s current democracy.
“The security sector has been mainly used to entrench the former regime, and some elements were largely used by the regime to carry out atrocities against the people they were supposed to protect,” he added.
Former President Yahya Jammeh ruled Gambia for 22 years until his fall in December 2016, during which he was accused of extra-judicial killings and disappearances using the security apparatus, especially his National Intelligence Agency, to intimidate the population.
The country’s interior minister, Mai Fatty, said relations between the security forces and the population are still marked by mistrust.
“Today, some of these [security] institutions remain in the eyes of the people entities that lack the trust and respect of the citizenry even where minor restructuring and reassignment is being carried out,” he said.
“This mistrust runs deep, and hence a call from some quarters for a total overhaul of the primary security institutions.”
Vabal Kazaku Gayflor, the ECOWAS ambassador to Gambia, said if the reform is implemented properly, “it would serve as a template for non-violent situational security sector reforms in Africa”.
Muhammed Ibn Chambas, the West Africa representative of the United Nations secretary general, cautioned that the “recommendations for change may not always be palatable for many in the system”.
Gambia underwent a difficult political transition which nearly saw the country descend into armed conflict, thus exposing its security volatility.