OPINION: The need to revamp the Gambia Armed Forces!!!

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

One key sector that needed immediate reform at the advent of the New Gambia in 2017 under the leadership of President Adama Barrow was the security sector. This is because security is a key element in the country’s democratic transition. And being one of the most affected institutions by Jammeh’s 22 years of authoritarian brutality, despite its significance in the democratization process, it is quite commendable that the Security Sector Reform (SSR) project was launched. Following the launching was appointments of a National Security Adviser, a deputy National Security Adviser and a Director at the Office of the National Security Adviser. However, aside some sporadic developments here and there since the launch, which included the drafting of a policy document, there has been less visible and concrete reforms in this sector.

To begin with the Gambia Armed Forces (GAF), it has virtually been dormant since the coming of the ECOMIG forces in 2017 to stabilize the political climate in wake of an impasse. And since there have been appointments, dismissals here and reinstatements and promotions there. In fact, two weeks ago, President Adama Barrow effected a minor but significant reshuffle, in which he removed the former Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) Lt. Gen. Masanneh N. Kinteh and replaced him with his (Kinteh’s) former deputy, Major General Yakuba A. Drammeh. The former Army Commander Brigadier General Mamat O. Cham has also been appointed as Deputy CDS. Masanneh Kinteh is now appointed as Ambassador to China.

What the army actually needs, go beyond mere appointments and replacements at the command echelon. As part of the reforms process, that institution needs serious capacity building. This should go along with some institutional re-arrangements and this must include the regularisation of some of the appointments and positions or ranking. For example, the GAF Act of 1985, and the 1997 Constitution do not mention the nomenclature of the deputy CDS; instead, the 1997 Constitution stated that the most senior officer under the Office of the CDS is the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces. Chapter XIII of the 1997 Constitution of The Republic of The Gambia clearly states under Section 186 Part 1 that there shall be the Armed Forces of The Gambia which shall consist of the Army, the Navy and the Air Force and such other services for which provision is made by an Act of the National Assembly. Under this provision, the Chief of Staff is a senior principal staff officer under the Office of the CDS. And that is what is referred to as Deputy CDS. This nomenclature was introduced during the Jammeh era after the 2006 abortive coup.

It is only sensible that government do away with Jammeh’s style of operation. Hence, Brig. General Mamat O. Cham’s designation should be Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces, instead of being referred to a Deputy CDS, as the terminology ‘deputy CDS’ is a position that does not exist in the 1997 Constitution. It is necessary to adopt what is stated in our reference materials.

Another important move towards the reform process in the armed forces, is to appoint an Army Commander and a Commander of the Gambia National Guard (GNG). There is not yet an official appointment of a new Army Commander to fill Brig. General Cham’s previous designation and there is no one officially appointed as Commander of the Gambia National Guard, also referred to as Republican National Guard.

Most of the officers of the Gambia Armed Forces were promoted during former President Jammeh’s regime without getting the necessary training and background. Many other officers were promoted to various officer ranks without any criteria, negating the Terms and Conditions of Service for soldiers and officers. The Terms and Conditions of Services clearly state the requirements to be fulfilled before being promoted to any officer rank.

For example, Saul Badjie who was a Staff Sergeant in 2007, got promoted to Major in 2008. And from that time onwards, he gained promotion almost every few months, until he became a Major General. This was wrong and Saul Badjie was unfit to be an officer at the time because he had no education, no military courses and except a junior officer course he did in Libya.

However, in a professional army, NCOs cannot be promoted beyond a Major in the Officer Core. They (NCOs) are promoted under a Quarter-Master Commissioning, which is basically to aid and handle logistic support positions.

Although, it is important to understand that in the military setup, any rank beyond a Colonel and the appointments of the Service Chiefs and Chief of Intelligence, have political inclination and are at the prerogative of the Commander-In-Chief of the armed forces. Therefore, the former president Jammeh could have used his prerogative promote to any rank, those who were with the rank of a Colonel, but not junior officers being promoted directly without any background.

 Accordingly, during the Jammeh era, officers like Major General Saul Badjie, Brigadier General Umpa Mendy, Brigadier General Ansumana Tamba, etc; were seen to handle command positions which are only supposed to be manned by Regular Combat Commissioned Officers or in some cases, direct short service commissioned officers.

As a matter of fact, the two most senior officers in the army currently, being the newly appointed CDS, Major General Yakuba A. Drammeh and Lt. General (Retired) Masanneh N. Kinteh, the immediate -past CDS, were both commissioned in 1990 and 1994 respectively. Lt. Gen. Masanneh N. Kinteh was commissioned on 9th December 1994. He became a 2nd Lieutenant on 9th December 1994, whilst Yakuba A. Drammeh was commissioned on 1st September 1990 and he became a 2nd Lieutenant on 29th March 1991. This shows that all the other senior officers of the armed forces were commissioned after 1994 and that this was during Jammeh’s regime when the army had lost its glory.

The immediate-past CDS Lt. Gen. Masanneh N. Kinteh was quoted last Tuesday, during the handing over ceremony held at the Armed Forces Headquarters in Banjul as saying he had worked hard to transform the Gambia Armed Forces to a “highly transformed, motivated, non-political and non-tribally inclined army, that is fully equipped and prepared to execute the constitutional roles and contribute to national development.”

Despite these achievements as mentioned, Lt. Gen. Kinteh, should have also revoked the last promotion of all the soldiers and officers who were promoted during the political impasse after the election when Jammeh refused to step down.  Kinteh should have referred them back to their original ranks. This is because that promotion was basically meant to buy the officers’ loyalty, but it was not done in line with the principles and guidelines of the service; hence Jammeh had already lost the election and rejected the results, thereby refusing to step down. He did that on purpose to have the backing of the army to remain in power.

It would be recalled that former president Jammeh, on 8th December 2016, decorated 27 senior officers from the rank of Captain to Major; 14 senior officers from the rank of Major to Lt. Col, and eight (8) senior officers from the rank of Lt. Col to Colonel.

This promotion was followed by another decoration of junior officers held at the Joint Officers’ Mess in Kotu.

Downsizing the army

During the First Republic under the late Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara, The Gambia’s Defence Policy was to have a small but well-equipped, highly trained and motivated army, although motivation was lacking somehow.

However, this purpose was defeated during the Jammeh era, when there was an ongoing mass recruitment for the armed and security forces, in order to establish a police state, thus promoting and appointing without any regards to respective administrative guidelines and principles.

Regarding claims of having certain non-Gambians in the armed forces, this issue should be verified and sorted out immediately. Non-Gambians should not serve in the army unless they become citizens by registration and naturalization.

Therefore, downsizing the army might be necessary, but it should depend on our existing threats and existence.

Creation of an Aviation Wing

As part of the SSR, the Gambia Armed Forces should think of creating an Aviation Wing, that will be equipped with helicopter gunships or platforms, to handle search and rescue missions, medical evacuation when necessary, rapid response and counter-insurgency operations, etc. This will help to boost our army to another level.

Finally, as the dust has now settled since the country’s political impasse in 2017, it is high time The Gambia Government stopped requesting the extension of the mandate of the ECOMIG forces, and develop the trust and confidence in its own armed and security forces, to fully handle their constitutional roles. No country can claim to have full sovereignty when their security is controlled by foreign forces. As a result of the perpetual presence of ECOMIG forces, Gambia has lost a high degree of credibility as an independent state. 

Thus, it is not in our interest that foreign security apparatus are made in charge of our internal security matters. What the priorities, as far as the SSR is concerned, are building the capacities of the soldiers and officers, increase further training, re-organize the army, ensure that officers meet up to their respective ranks and positions or be redeployed to other services.

Note: The author, Assan Sallah is a Gambian journalist living in Germany. He was news editor and security affairs reporter at the Daily Observer.

Author: Assan Sallah