When then Chairman Yahya Jammeh took power in The Gambia, there were several attempts to oust him less than a year into his rule.
Jammeh knew he had to find a way to protect himself. He recruited people outside of the military, had them enlisted into the army, fed them well and paid them handsomely.
Jammeh promoted many of his loyalists to senior positions in the army, making any attempt to militarily oust him suicidal.
At least a dozen of such attempts failed, including one hatched in the United States.
Most of the coups are followed by a bloodbath and an even more repression from the strongman.
Jammeh structured the military in a manner that leaders of his presidential guard and those closest to him are of higher ranking and more powerful than the army’s chief.
Jammeh was defeated in an election last year, meaning serious changes in the military was a out to happen.
So many of his trusted men will be losing their jobs or see themselves demoted and losing their influence and power in the army.
Jammeh tried to resist his removal from power and his loyalists could not match the firepower of West African troops, forcing him to flee.
Changes have been made in the army. Several commanders removed, the powerful elites presidential guards disbanded and the army’s roster being vetted.
The manner in which the transition occurred made some in the Gambia’s divided army feel undervalued, seeing the West African forces in the country as an invading force.
That’s just a political position by Jammeh’s loyalists. Gambia’s army’s inaction to force Jammeh to step aside, saying it does not want to involve itself in political disagreements is, for the most part, responsible for new President Adama Barrow’s authorization for regional troops to flush Jammeh out of power.
Although some senior soldiers may not be loyal to Jammeh, they are loyal to the positions that Jammeh has given them without merit.
This has made them fight for him and the fear of losing their prestigious position is causing some of the residual frustration and anger we are seeing in the army.
“Some of the people were at positions they were comfortable with and change would not be seen to be in their favor,” said Gambia’s Defense Chief, Lt. Gen. Masanneh Kinteh.
At least 300 Gambian soldiers are reported to be camping in three West African nations, in contact with senior military officers loyal to Jammeh, plotting to attack the country.
The army has denied that all 300 are from its roster. It says less than 100 troops deserted since Jammeh’s removal but not ruling out the possibility of Jammeh having hired mercenaries.
No less than five soldiers were arrested last month in an apparent crackdown on mutineers by the army.
The army is presenting it as an isolated incident but it is taking any reported threats seriously.
The Gambia has been engaging its neighbors to neutralize any external armed opposition and to have a handful of soldiers accused of human rights abuses and crimes against the state repatriated.
No one should, however, expect that an entrenched regime would be uprooted without any opposition.
The realities are grounded and it must be faced from a holistic approach that will not descend the country into chaos and scare investors away.