Whilst in the Gambia on a business trip I was fortunate enough to witness the 52nd Independence celebration and the official inauguration of the people’s President H.E Adama Barrow. The day was an outstanding day in our 52 years history and admirable by the foreign dignitaries and diplomats who attended the making of history.
Immediately after the occasion, I was talking to two diplomats who were invitees of the Ministry of Foreign affairs, and they could not believe how quickly the scenery of the country has transformed into a vibrant free society as they should to know it. As Gambians, we were able to show to the whole world that we are resilient people who are capable of overcoming 22 years of Jammeh’s tyrannical rule of tribal divide and incitement of hatred among us.
The day was one of its kinds in the entire civilized world and worth to be treasured.
Gambia is still in celebratory mood, deservedly so everyone is at liberty to celebrate the taste of liberation and freedom; because for far too long Gambians have been denied their self-identity and sense of belonging.
As a Counterterrorism Analyst, I take security and safeguarding very seriously and see the security of a country as the foundation base of any nation or state to be able to have control of its sovereignty. Without security, for instance, Gambians cannot realize their dreams of a secure, prosperous; stable, free society; and economic security that is badly needed at this moment in time.
Therefore while in the country I took it upon myself to investigate and see for myself how secure our borders and strategic locations in the Gambia are, and I was amazed to find out that there are major lapses as far the country’s security is concerned.
I found out that all major borders of the Gambia are unmanned by security forces and agencies at night time which means people enter the country and out of the borders freely without being screened properly in order to determine who they are.
With regards to the daytime, most of the borders are fairly manned but checks carried out by the security agencies (including Immigration, Police and the Custom) are not up to scratch or robust enough to detect through their nets any would-be criminal.
However, at the Yundum International Airport, checks carried out there are up to international standard but more can still be done to strengthen the security checks to make it more robust to withstand any infiltration by a would-be criminal(s).
In addition, airport management has to get rid of the culture of whom you know go through without proper checks at both immigration and custom and ensure that everyone despite your background, political affiliations; family ties, wealth; and prestige should all be subjected to same security checks and controls.
Moreover, with regards to the country’s vast coastline and the river Gambia, I found out that the Coast Guards and the Navy of the Gambia do not regularly carry out patrols like they used to during the Jammeh’s era.
To me, this raises eyebrows and indeed should be a major concern for every Gambian because criminal gangs and anyone wishing to do us harm can exploit the lack of security at sea to smuggle in weapons, drugs; and illegally fish in our sovereign waters without being traced.
Furthermore, I was quite shocked to see for myself how easily foreign nationals without going through to the immigration processes and following the due processes of the laws of the Gambia with regard to naturalization, which is the case in every country of the globe, are able to acquire a Gambian passport by paying huge amounts of money to the highest bidders.
This puts our country’s security at stake because criminals are illegitimately getting hold of our documents and committing all sorts of crimes across the globe and claiming to be Gambians when legally they are not because the documents are obtained fraudulently and I have come across many of these cases in the United Kingdom.
Also, I was astonished to still see government officials, security forces, and agencies vehicles in traffic with tinted glasses and most of them with no number plates on for easy identification by the general public in the event of an emergency.
It must be said that I am really troubled by these events for the following reasons:
Firstly, the New Gambia is still faced with soft security threats within the state and this coupled with the presence of still violent dissident APRC members and militiamen, who are aspiring to target the Coalition Government and its supporters.
Secondly, the West African region has for the past decade faced increased threats posed by Islamist terrorist groups and extremist groups.
We have also and recently seen the terror attack that took place on our doorsteps in Mali in November of 2015, were African jihadist group attacked a luxury Radisson Blu Hotel in Mali’s capital Bamako which left at least 21 innocent people dead and 170 people taken hostage. Also, the recent arrest of a member of the jihadi group that claims responsibility for the Mali terror attack, by the Senegal’s counterterrorism officers in Dakar.
Thirdly, The Gambia Army Forces (GAF) is meant to be the custodian of the security of our beloved Gambia but they have woefully failed in their duties.
One could say they have boycotted their duties in keeping the Gambia and her people secure, safeguard the security and integrity of our sovereign country, and as a consequence, the Gambia was bailed out by foreign troops namely ECOMIG forces.
However, it must be understood that the Allied Forces (ECOMIG) are not there to secure our borders but instead to ensure that there is stability and normality during the transition period of the new government, and honestly they have been doing a marvelous job in keeping the Government and its people safe from soft security threats posed by ex-President Jammeh’s militiamen and affiliates.
Therefore, in order for Gambians, the tourists and diplomats to be safe, the country’s borders and coastline needs to be secured. To be secure and stable I would employ the new Interior Minister in the name of Hon. Mai Ahmad Fatty who so far shown he deserve every patriotic Gambian praise and applaud for his swift action of reforming certain institutions namely the criminal justice and prisons system, to see through the complete overhaul of the security apparatus including GAF structures and operations, Immigration system and operations, and Customs operation.
The government should also work closely with civil society organizations to counter extreme views floating online and within society that divides communities and weakens the social fabric of our beloved Gambia.
In addition, extremism and terrorism is a worldwide challenge. Although in the Gambia, we are fortunate not to have problems with neither extremism nor terrorism, I pray to Allah the Almighty that we do not experience such toxic ideologies and barbaric acts.
However, we should not be complacent about our security instead the government should have measures in place as to how to counter extremism ideologies and views as to whenever the need arises and work in partnership with allies countries and international partners on prevention and counterterrorism, border security and cyber crime.
To prevent or counter the soft threats posed by Jammeh’s militiamen and affiliates within the state, the government should ban all government officials and security institutions vehicles from having tinted glasses and ensure that all such vehicles are numbered so enable ordinary citizen to easily identify them because without this the security of country would continue to be under threat from both internally and externally elements.
To protect the nation from both internal and external threats I urge the government to use professional and respected counterintelligence services or secret police for this task.
Lamin Gagigo is a UK based Gambian Attorney with an LLB (Hons) Law with Criminology and LLM Public International Law