There has been heightened security concerns in the Gambia since the abrupt return of two senior Jammeh soldiers who have been alleged to have committed crimes against Gambian citizens during the dictator’s reign. The two, Umpa Mendy and Captain Lamin Tamba Personal security body guard and commander of the repressive state Guards respectively discretely flew into the country through the airport few days ago. They are among a group of dozen or so security and civilian personnel who fled the country into exile with former Dictator Jammeh who was forced out of power after refusing to peacefully handover power to President – Elect Adama Barrow.
Jammeh negotiated his way out of the country and included several of his most brutal security personnel implicated in many human rights violations including killing, arrest and torture of citizens. These were people the former President trusted and thought would either be harmed or compromise his personal safety if he left them behind when he left for exile to Equatorial Guinea. They therefore consists of the most brutal force that did not only committed crimes on his behalf but also kept him in power at all cost. They were most feared and many have since been named in several fronts in the on going commission of inquiry allegedly committing economic crimes and helped the former president loot national coffers from the central bank. These security personnel formed the group called the “Jugglers” who were the repressive machine of the Jammeh regime for over two decades. Their names and identities are well known to Gambians and to International Human Rights groups who fought the dictator in his dismal years as leader of the country.
Though the return of these two former security officials to the country unnoticed has become a mystery, their unfettered entry through airport security unhindered raises more concerns. It is quite evident that they got a friendly force within the airport security who facilitated their entry from the aircraft through security into town. This is what created the alarm and panic that citizens are openly revolting against since the news broke. Their subsequent arrest and detention at the Yundum Army barracks has since calmed the tension and forced CDS Kinteh and his men to be on the defensive dismissing any fears that they presented a security threat to the State.
However, common sense political and security observers have maintained that there was indeed a grave security lapse on how these rogue elements freely flew into the country without anyone noticing or at least calling attention to the situation. More careful analysis of the situation indicates that the return of these Jammeh aides could not be coincidental or premise on simply a hardship that they encountered at Equatorial Guinea living with Jammeh. It is crystal clear the APRC has been making more political noise in the country of late and they appeared to be more energized on the prospect of Jammeh returning to the country. The idea that a party that had no respect for political pluralism; human rights and dignity of citizens despite all heinous crimes committed by it’s leader and members is brave enough to exercise their political muscles and create tension in the country is not coincidental. It would be naive for Gambia’s security apparatus and the new leadership in Gambia to put anything pass Yahya Jammeh and his rogue elements. The presence of these elements in the country and within the sub-region must therefore be taken seriously and dealt with utmost urgency. Jammeh is capable of doing anything and his quest to remain in power or enjoy his loot at the expense of the nation is not hidden to all.
But the security threat presented by former APRC government elements is not towards the safety and security of President Barrow and senior leaders or overthrow of the State, not with the presence of ECOMIG forces. And certainly not the new geopolitical trend in West Africa where the prospect of military take over of governments would most definitely be met with resistance from regional leaders and forces. The biggest threat of the presence of Jammeh’s repressive loyalists and an emboldened APRC party is inciting ethic clinching within the country. There has already been signs that ethnic division and tribal politics would be the political play card the APRC will engage in to remain relevant politically in the country. The recent incidents at Mamkamang Kunda and Busumba are clear indications that the worst is yet to come if the situation is not handled with political maturity and serious counter security intelligence measures. Another threat that is likely to be engineered by Jammeh’s returnees is mobilization of highly sophisticated organized crimes in the form of insurgency to every now and then disrupt the peace and political freedom in the Gambia. Yahya Jammeh and his criminal elements will hide behind, discretely provide funding and continue to destabilize the country especially during political season. The blame will squarely be directed towards the Barrow government. This is the most dangerous scenario and threat Jammeh and his elements pose to the New Gambia. They will take advantage of the new political freedom and relaxed security measures to elevate their game and begin recruiting extremists to threaten the safety and security of ordinary citizens in the Gambia.
Political history teaches us that it is much easier for a dictatorial regime to suppress freedom of expression; rule of law and free political pluralism than a democratic open system of government. This is simply because the dictator and his elements does not care about respect for human rights, freedom and dignity of citizens. They take the law into their own hands and suppress any form of peaceful political resistance they would regard as threat to national security. In fact, this has been the very play book Jammeh has used for two decades to silence his political opponents and win the support of citizens. They hide behind maintaining the peace and security of the state when that security is only accorded to few elements or sector of society. On the other hand, it is more challenging for a democratic and free society to deal with security, political tension and rogue elements set on disrupting the peace with a hidden agenda. This is because democratic open societies have to respect rule of law, due process and freedom of movement of all citizens. They must treat every situation with caution base on the principle of fairness, respect for citizen rights and political freedom. Thus the reason why the Barrow government is finding it challenging to handle the APRC party which is determined to create as much chaos as they can in the country.
The Barrow government must therefore find a balance between allowing citizens to exercise their fundamental political freedom and civic rights and maintaining reasonable security within the country. There has be sophisticated police, military and national security human intelligence to ensure that any form of organized crimes orchestrated to disrupt the peace is exposed and dealt with at its infancy. The government cannot and must not shy away from arresting and prosecuting citizens through due process of the law if there is reasonable evidence that national security is at stake. It is a difficult balance to strike even in advance nations to allow unfettered movement of citizens with careful reasonable security measures. This is even more important given the young population in the Gambia and level of unemployment in the country. It is much easier for organized criminal elements to penetrate a young and vulnerable population to cause havoc within the society. Yahya Jammeh is certainly capable of financing such security threats in the Gambia especially with the separatists movement in Southern Part of Senegal – the Casamance Region. Jammeh’s biggest political ammunition has always been harnessing the chaos in Senegal and Guinea Bissau to spread his political tentacles. Jammeh therefore must be taken seriously and any former elements from him must be investigated by the state and held responsible for any alleged crimes. President Barrow and his government must actively strategically pursue the extradition of the former dictator which will keep him on his toes, worries and prevent him from engaging in any form of political comeback. The state would make a grave mistake if they take the threat of security loosely and ignore the potentials of the APRC to continue to create political havoc within the country. The rights of any citizen or political party ends where other citizens and parties start.