Gambiana

Opinion | Government must take responsibility for equipping and strengthening our security forces

The military is unsuitable, in a democracy, to be used for internal security operations. Deactivating the National Guards hurts Gambia’s emergent democracy.

Why do partisans engage in deliberate falsehood in the face of emerging factual clarifications? Whom do we believe now? Our journalists in print and electronic media or the veritable “newscasters” on Facebook and other social media? 

A pervasive misconception about using force or guns by a private citizen or the military and the police must be cleared. The law allows the use of force or weapon ( licensed or authorised) to kill an assailant in self-defense or defense of property in line with the current security challenges we face as a nation.

However, the State must recognize a rapid move to a more proactive and preemptive posture to ensure that these manageable or insurmountable and security challenges and traumatic incidents do not become a norm. 

President Adama Barrow must be fully aware of his constitutional responsibility to protect the lives and property of all Gambians. Our security must not relent in learning and adapting to changing national security and civic well-being threats. 

The Gambia’s national security strategy must be sustainable politically and financially. The governance of policing and security as experts widely know it as ” sustainable security.”

The professionalism shown by our security forces and the collaboration from all stakeholders and law enforcement officials that led to the successful arrest of bandits is proof that the Gambia Police Force and combined forces have the internal capacity to deal with banditry attacks on our citizens decisively.

The State must commit to re-energising and reorganising the security apparatus and personnel of The Gambia Armed Forces and the Gambia Police Force to enhance their capacity to engage, push back and dismantle the operations of both internal and external extremist and criminal groups waging war against our communities in some parts of the country.

We must draw attention to the justified killing of a human being in defense of life and property. Unlike in the United States, for example, there is the Second Amendment right of the citizens to bear arms. In the Gambia, the right of the citizens to carry weapons ( guns), save cases of licensed gun carriers and local hunters using locally fabricated guns to hunt for games, is surrendered to the State. 

The State, therefore, possesses good reasons to exercise that right, appropriately, on behalf of the citizens when their rights to life and property are in grave danger. 

Consequently, the State must also distinguish between the deployment of soldiers or activate National Guard personnel to “State Active Duty” in response to national security threats on the street, to help enforce and restore public order and security that had broken down with the solving the security challenges to ensure the safety of lives and properties primarily from burglary, armed robbery, and banditry in the country resulting in injuries and alleged killings.

This must be a statutorily imposed duty on law enforcement agents and a right guaranteed to the citizen of the Gambian.  In our view, the State rightly could justify the activation of the National Guards or soldiers across the country provide surveillance and intelligence gathering of the sophisticated method to tackle security challenges, gather information sufficient to prevent a crime that is yet to be committed, intervene in one that is being committed or investigate a crime that has been committed.

A state of public emergency was /is creeping in. Under those circumstances, a decision understandably had to be made between being politically correct and doing nothing, thereby allowing the situation to degenerate, and being statesmanly and protective of lives and property and possibly incurring uninformed public censure courting disapproval of the civilian population. 

However, the military is unsuitable, in a democracy, to be used for internal security, demonstrations, protest, or civil unrest. If an armed and organised insurrection against the government or an armed opposition group waging a campaign to topple the government, the military may be activated to pacify the opposition and save the established order from collapse. 

However, the military must not be used for internal security operations or to disperse peaceful demonstrators or protesters. 

There is a reason for the Gambian people to be averse to “invitations “to the military to help restore public order and prevent banditry and robbery. 

We can all recall that in the Second Republic, following the use of the military in internal security operations, the military was eventually “invited” by the civilians to come and take over security after the killings of  14 unarmed civilian students of the Republic on April  10/11, 2000. Of course, that invitation led to a massacre. The rest is history. 

The Gambia, currently, is facing a battle of survival and continuity as an indissoluble entity. This is a fact. Many may conclude that the military should and must be reported to keep the Gambia intact in these circumstances. 

However, the fact that The Gambia Armed Forces, which ordinarily ought to be preoccupied with the task of protecting The Gambia from external threats, attacks, or sustained armed aggression or invasion, have been enmeshed, not only in seemingly intractable internal security operations but without recording any swift or sweet victory, must tell us all, rulers and the ruled, that whether the Gambia is facing an existential crisis. 

The military cannot realistically be the force that will forever keep the Gambia from breaking down and falling apart. The collective will and desire of our peoples-across their ethnic and nationality divide, socio-economic interests, class divisions, religious groupings, and political pursuits- are the force that can keep us in peace, harmony, and development. 

Moreover, the military cannot sustainably be the force to prevent the Gambia from further descending into the abyss of violent criminality. In the prevailing circumstances, no matter how vast and extensive the military’s internal security operations are, rampant violent crimes across the country may not be curbed. 

Armed robbery, banditry, horrific sexual offences, cult group violence, mob justice, murders, etc., are on the rise. Many military officers and men have become victims of this pervasive violence and insecurity in our country. 

The officers and men in uniform are not immune to the menace of insecurity in the land. In this dire situation, government and governance must be reinvented, the Gambia. Government security must be reconfigured. The security, law enforcement, and criminal justice administration in the Gambia must be reworked. 

More importantly, the socio-economic and political system of the Gambia must be rearranged. Equity, justice, and fairness must be made to reign. Equal opportunities must be guaranteed to all. 

The business of politics must be taken seriously while the politics as business mindset must be jettisoned. Want, poverty, misery, diseases, and illiteracy must be tackled. 

Furthermore, corrupt practices 

must be genuinely fought. In contrast, those found to be engaged in corrupt practices must be brought to justice.

Other lessons include organising combat criminality and banditry that will not be hijacked by “hoodlums “whose nefarious activities taint the peace, stability, culture, and cause of The Gambia. 

However, those lessons are to be taken together in the closet, with my “fellow revolutionaries.”

A better Gambia is possible in our lifetime.

 Moreover, the Policemen whose stations were invaded and set ablaze, and threatened with death could have killed their assailants. This is the prescription of the law. 

Of course, the issue of proportionality comes into play. There must be an equilibrium between the invading force and resisting force in determining the reasonableness of the resisting force, mainly when death occurs. 

There are many justifiable lessons to learn from the rising insecurity challenges and banditry industry in The Gambia. First, the Gambia police force is under-equipped. They are improperly armed with guns and surveillance pieces of equipment and security tools, patrol vehicles, police batons, truncheons, rubber bullets, handcuffs, etc., to combat criminals. 

Once a massive angry crowd confronts the police in demonstrations and protest marches like Faraba Bantang village, they start shooting live weapons. When overwhelmed by the public, they bolt away.

Urgent police reforms are needed. The police system must be restructured. Evidently, the Government must centrally provide sufficient budget funding for the Gambia police force as we enter a year of a political season. 

Good policing requires a commitment to robust training that must be ongoing. This requires funding. Lower police budgets mean fewer police officers keeping our streets and communities safe.

Nevertheless, it is not that defunding the police places tremendous strain on officers. They can be burned out and allow dangerous, violent criminals to win. 

The government must be allowed the Gambia police force under a law of general application that shall provide a national guideline for the structure, composition, and powers of each police duty countrywide. 

Government must take responsibility for the police duties, equipping and strengthening the police. However, the most compelling reason why defunding the police is the wrong idea is that it lets the bad actors in our society put everyone else in harm’s way. 

The Gambia Police Force around the country can only keep us safe from drugs, violence, gangs, domestic abuse, and myriad other threats to the Gambian way of life. No other branch of government or social service agency can do the job in quite the same way.

By Alagi Yorro Jallow

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