The National-Security Crisis in The Gambia and the Impending 2006 Presidential Elections
Ladies and Gentlemen:
The forthcoming 2006 presidential elections in The Gambia is a defining event in our nation’s history. Clearly, it is one of the single most significant political events since independence in 1965, and certainly the most important election since the coup d’etat of 1994. The reasons are several: First, the 2006 presidential election is occurring at a time when the choice before Gambians is between continued insecurity and further decline into the abyss of deepening poverty and gross human rights abuses or a more peaceful and democratic future under a NADD leadership. Second, the 2006 presidential elections, on one hand, provide Gambians a clear choice between a regime that has by most empirical measures failed, and the promise of a new democratic political culture under a NADD leadership, on the other.
It is not an exaggeration to suggest that our homeland is today teetering on collapse and has all the ingredients in place for internal political strife, violence and anarchy. In sum, the importance of The Gambia’s 2006 presidential balloting lies in its potential to circumvent the looming but real prospect of national disintegration and turn the country in a more peaceful direction. In other words, The Gambia’s growing national-security deficit has plunged it into a precarious direction that could result in bloodshed.
Eleven years after the July 1994 coup, The Gambia under Jammeh is trapped in a vicious cycle of growing authoritarianism and harrowing poverty. The state has, for all intents and purposes “failed” and unable to deliver basic social services, justice and/ or security protections for citizens. In fact, the first annual report on the list of potential “failed states” research conducted by the Fund for Peace and Foreign Policy listed The Gambia as a potential candidate among 60 nations on the brink of collapse. Ivory Cost made the top of the list and The Gambia the last spot at 60. Several African countries including DRC, Guinea, Sudan, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Somalia, and Chad also made the top ten.
A “national-security state,” leadership paranoia and intransigence have intensified the current security-deficit of growing militarization and gun-culture in our homeland. The continuing presence of military decrees and bans to limit civilian participation in government has compromised what little democratic pretensions and human rights promises Jammeh and his government(s) made to Gambians following the coup. Without doubt, under Jammeh’s tenure security at all levels has been compromised.
Little wonder extra-judicial killings of civilians are on the rise with no one brought to justice for such horrific crimes. Ironically, Jammeh’s control of the state-security apparatus has not made him nor the country and its civilian population any more secure. Jammeh perceives threats and dangers everywhere, which leaves him paranoid and erratic. He has been known to invent conspiracies, counter-coups and hoax military attacks, which he then uses to eliminate political enemies. Accordingly, The Gambia’s security and human rights deficit together with a poor governance framework have plunged the economy into a crisis of unprecedented proportions.
Under pressure from the IMF, and World Bank, Jammeh has now promised to root out corruption through his highly publicized-“Operation No Compromise.” At its best, “Operation No Compromise” is a lack-luster effort to salvage an already decaying economy and a tainted image of Jammeh himself. At worse, it is a cruel hoax that, in the end, does not deliver but scapegoats the most vulnerable- the poor, retail traders and his political enemies. Poor economic performance coupled with a combination of related factors that include: low agricultural productivity, mismanagement, over-borrowing and spending, a weak currency, rampant inflation, a rising external debt, and endemic corruption, are largely to responsible for the current economic crisis.
Jammeh, therefore, presides over an economy that has failed. It was apparent in 2001 and perhaps as early as 1997 that the Gambian economy was in shambles. Unpredictable policy decisions and weak state capacity negatively impacted economic performance and in the end, precipitated an economic crisis never seen before in The Gambia. Increasingly, some critics express, with growing boldness, deep remorse over the country’s economy and decay in physical infrastructure. They lament the decline in moral standards seen in rising greed, criminality and corruption that the regime seems to have exacerbated.
In the end, Jammeh’s policies have succeeded in undermining the very principles upon which his neo-liberal economic strategy- “Vision 2020” rested, and in doing so, jeopardized the short-term economic recovery and future economic prospects of the Gambian economy. Today, over 65 per cent of the population lives at the cusp of hunger and starvation. The lack of access to basic water and electricity supplies are now more the norm and some communities go for months without both. This has meant suffering and deepening poverty for the bulk of the rural and urban poor. Despite construction of several new high and middle schools, large rural hospitals and the construction of a new television station and university, which are clearly welcome developments, Gambians are worse of economically today than they were in 1993.
Today, a combination of both active and “retired” military officers, some unscrupulous civil-servants and business-persons and torn-coat “intellectuals” now constitute a new social “class” that has bankrupted the country while the poor go hungry daily. Therefore, Gambians are today witnessing and victims of unprecedented human rights violations and a country teetering on economic collapse and national disintegration similar to what occurred in Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Another continuing challenge to The Gambia’s national-security is the “culture of impunity” and the “culture of silence” in which government-security agents and quasi-government groups take the law into their hands with official sanction or silence. The cultures of impunity and of silence are pervasive, in part because the citizenry accept government atrocities as a matter of life. A conservative political culture mixed with fatalistic tendencies deriving partly from conservative Sunni Islam, have conspired to ensure citizen compliance. Thus, a façade of peace prevails, which the population appears to cherish rather than challenge. In doing so, maintaining “peace” is used as ideological ammunition by a repressive regime to quell dissent even though both state-sponsored abuse and citizen insecurity are on the increase.
Ultimately though, the greatest threat to The Gambia’s national-security lies within the army itself. Internal factionalism, poor discipline and training, and growing discontent within it could result in overt and deadly conflicts. These conflicts are then likely to spill-over into society and could lead to national disintegration. Add to this the brewing tensions between a growing refuge and immigrant population, on one hand, and an underclass urban Gambian youth population, on the other. These growing tensions could erupt in political violence. And precisely because of the absence of government and societal governance institutions and mechanism to curb these tensions, a failed state syndrome now exists in The Gambia which could push it over the precipice.
In sum, under Jammeh’s leadership there is what I term a “triple crisis” of governance. The first is the lack of accountability and the rule of law as evidenced in pervasive corruption, criminal violence, and personalization of power and human rights abuses. The second crisis is economic. It stems in part from a failure to implement prudent economic policies. The third crisis can be seen in the deteriorating living conditions and well-being for the bulk of Gambians. These crises constitute a serious national-security deficit. They are the net effect of eleven years of military and quasi-military misrule and all directly impact national and personal security immensely. It is these characteristics that precisely define a failed state syndrome. Together, they constitute the greatest challenge to The Gambia’s continued existence as a country.
Therefore, good leadership in conjunction with a sound governance policy framework are essential ingredients to maintaining national-security and building a democracy. This is more the reason why we should do all we can to ensure NADD’s victory in 2006. Because in the end, the nature and quality of governance under a NADD leadership and the types of policies it chooses, will be important in shaping the security apparatus and the economy.
The formation of NADD in January 2005 as well as growing international and domestic pressures on Jammeh bode well for the future of democracy and security in The Gambia. Yet, a lot remains to be done before the 2006 presidential elections. In addition to the issue of a standard-bearer, a level playing field must be put in place as well as new registration of voters. Additionally, a non-partisan and reconfigured IEC to allow for NADD representation, media access for NADD, franchise for Gambians living abroad, the presence of international observers and most importantly, financial support from the Diaspora could make all the difference in 2006.
Furthermore, the AU must be dissuaded from holding its summit in The Gambia in 2006, shortly before the elections. Otherwise, this would be sending the wrong signals and constitutes tacit approval of Jammeh’s abysmal human rights record. Accordingly, intense international pressure from the Commonwealth, Britain, the EU, Japan and the US must be focused on the AU to cancel its planned summit. These development partners, together with NADD, Senegal and Nigeria must also insist on free and fair elections in 2006 without violence and intimidation. The continuing presence of extremely punitive Media laws, removal from the national assembly of four national assembly members and what many believe to be the politically motivated assassination of Deyda Hydara may signal a more repressive and violent future heading into the 2006 presidential elections.
While all hope is not lost in returning The Gambia to the functioning democracy which it once was, there are indeed troubling dark clouds on the horizon with potential negative effects. The 2006 Presidential elections and a NADD victory are crucial in averting the looming but real threat to The Gambia. Free and fair elections, ladies and gentlemen, offer us the best hope for peaceful change in The Gambia, the alternative could spell disaster. As the saying goes, “if you make peaceful change impossible, you make violent change inevitable.”
In conclusion, I wish to commend STGDP-Minnesota for this wonderful contribution and their productive collaboration with STGDP-Atlanta. I encourage all NADD and other Gambian Organizations in the US and Europe to strengthen contacts with each other, work together more to harmonize fundraising and other activities. Because in STGDP we have what may, in fact, be the makings of an international Gambian Organization that would give Diaspora Gambians considerable political and economic leverage.