Dr. Omar Janneh
When you hope for a bit of positive publicity for the Barrow government, it refuses to come. On January 10, 2019 – 3 days after the start of the TRRC proceedings (http://www.trrc.gm/), The Gambia’s police and customs officers accidentally or otherwise intercepted a container loaded with 1263 pieces of firearms which were shipped from Turkey into the country by GACH (Gambia-China Angola Global Trading. As humans, whether we vocalise it or not, we judge. Here is what I am thinking: This Company and its CEO seem dodgy, but do read on and make up your own mind; it is your right to do so too). After 22 years of brutal dictatorship and a government that seems incapable of finding its coordinates, it is concerning that a business is issued a licence to import firearms into the country. A basic search reveals the following about GACH and Mr. Abubacarr Jawara, the CEO/Proprietor of GACH Group and Factory; I have taken the liberty to add some accompanying queries to each of the points below:
- It is a registered Certified Construction Company, which also deals in the sale of a variety of vehicles. Was it Alieu Conteh or could it be GACH that donated the vehicles to President Barrow which he then used to corrupt the NAMs even before they properly assumed “office”? Who certified the GACH Construction Company?
- It has a gun importation licence, which was issued on September 28, 2018 by the Office of the Inspector General of Police to import single barrel rifles for hunting and recreational purposes. Apart from much else that is in circulation, what we also know is that of the guns imported by GACH, 38 were not the type authorised for importation. However, the spokesperson for GACH said that those 38 were included in the consignment as samples should client(s) (GACH and Gambians?) want to buy them. On the face of it, it is thus clear that the intent to order by GACH and sell those types of dangerous firearms exists as per the press statement by GACH Security Ltd. That press statement thus makes it clear that GACH was not going to ship back those 38 supposedly “blank samples” of firearms should the market not exist for them in The Gambia. Let us consider this for a bit: With over 2 decades of irresponsible deforestation, resulting in the disappearance of all of the trees and what may have been left of the forest cover, is it not clear that any animal that we may have left in the country may be seriously endangered and or on the verge of becoming extinct? This then begs the questions: what types of animals/birds, if any, would anyone want to hunt with the imported guns? What kind of irresponsible tourist would visit The Gambia and think of hunting animals in the country. Clearly such a tourist would not be visiting again, because there would be nothing left for them to hunt next time.
- It is a registered private security company (GACH Security Ltd) for protecting businesses and private households. Well, I hope the imported guns are never intended for protecting businesses and households. If they are, since when have we needed armed security guards (-who are they and training have they received and by whom?) to protect households and businesses? Are we saying that the Barrow administration has failed in its capacity to protect the citizens and businesses so much so that we need armed private security firms to protect homes and businesses and that individuals can also buy firearms and potentially take the law into their own hands when they feel like it?
- It mines the black sand in Kombo Sanyang for export to China. What environmental destruction and at what benefit to the country is the result of this mindless activity? What efforts are being taken by the government to repair the damage caused by the export of some of The Gambia to China? Do we know the value of the black sand to us? How long would the export of the black sand to China go on for?
- It produces tomato paste and mineral water. I hope these are produced to good standards (-and that they are not contaminated) fit for human consumption. If the quality of the products can be assured, where are they assured, by whom and can they be trusted? We hope that the Factory is taking its environmental responsibilities seriously.
Clearly, the business interests of GACH are wide and varied and there is much more about Mr. Jawara and his associates which I shall deliberately leave out of this analysis for a later date. I think it is enough to make some general points that further questions and concerns remain about the operations of Mr. Jawara, his associates and his businesses. It is my view that a country that is not sophisticated and agile enough to monitor its own performance should not flirt with a business with a dodgy name and with such a wide portfolio of business activities. Indeed issuing such a business the licence to import firearms into a country, not at any time, but not especially when it is trying to come out of a brutal dictatorship is nothing short of reckless. When and if the dust settles and evidence suggests that Mr. Jawara and his associates are the type of company President Barrow and his household keep, then we must seriously look at ourselves in the mirror and wonder if President Barrow is the kind of leader who should be permitted to stay on as President of The Gambia beyond the 3 years he agreed with his Coalition Partners.
Mr. Alhagie Mamour Jobe was appointed to the role of IGP on July 9, 2018. Upon assuming office, Mr. Jobe talked of his commitment to combat crime in The Gambia. However, if Mr. Jobe thinks that his Office issuing GACH Security Ltd the licence to import firearms less than 3 months after assuming office does constitute his commitment to combating crime, then we also have a dangerous and clueless IGP heading the Police Department. Reacting to the confiscated firearms, Mr. Jobe released a press statement which tried to clarify some points about the impounded firearms and he also made the effort to assure the general public that national security was not being compromised. Unfortunately his statement does not give me any comfort at all because it is not rocket science to know that due diligence is needed before issuing a firearms importation licence to any business, especially to a company with such a wide portfolio of business activities. The variety of GACH’s business interests suggests that they (presumably) import all kinds of different things into the country, so a random consignment of firearms could be in any of their regular shipments into Banjul. This should have crossed the mind of the IGP and the minds of those around him – team work is important. It seems that the Office of the IGP did not do any background checks on GACH Security Ltd. Let us take a closer look at this excerpt from the IGP’s press release and some of the conversations/questions it triggers in my head every time I think about it:
“These guns are impounded by the Police and an investigation panel, consisting of personnel of the Gambia Police Force, State Intelligence Service and Gambia Armed Forces have been instituted to look into the circumstances surrounding the matter as to whether these are categories of hunting guns as claimed by the importer.”
If the Police, State Intelligence Service (SIS) and The Gambia Armed Forces know their job, they should not need any investigation to determine, e.g., whether the firearms are hunting rifles or not. Well, knowing, as GACH Security Ltd claim they do in their press release, that The Gambia is coming out of a trying period and that security is a concern, one wonders what financial return – given GACH’s other potentially profitable business interests – is worth their while to import firearms into the country? Although GACH Security Ltd offered their apologies for the alarm their importation of the firearms caused, I refuse to accept or swallow their apology. Therefore, I say to GACH Security Ltd kiss my smelly boots and try not to pull the wool my/over our eyes. Their explanation that the 38 free blank pistols were included in the shipment for possible future orders for recreational purposes and should farmers need them to scare animals from their crops is hot air – pure trash. Again, I think it is totally irresponsible for the Office of the IGP to issue the importation license of firearms to GACH Security Ltd for the “purpose of meeting the demand and scarcity of well-regulated hunting guns in The Gambia”. This is also trash; and one has to be super naïve to fall for this rubbish. Again, with such a wide portfolio of business activities, would it not be interesting to know what evidence GACH Security Ltd produced to show that there is demand for the type of firearms they imported and how they assured the Office of the IGP that it can regulate the hunting guns in the country? However, we already seem to have some answers to this query. There is some evidence that the assortment of guns impounded by GACH Security Ltd cannot be used for hunting and recreational purposes. A report culled from Mr. Sidi Sanneh’s blog mentions that the firearms were “more suited for security detail than for hunting boar or chasing predator animals off farm animals.” This is in sharp contrast to the very lousy position GACH Security Ltd holds which is that the pistols can cause no harm. Other questions that are on my mind in regards to this serious saga include:
- Is it routine practice that the security agents stationed at the Banjul seaport would conduct thorough checks for the purpose of verification of items imported into the country?
- Since the issuance of the importation of firearms and ammunition licence to GACH Security Ltd, have they imported and received any consignment of goods and was any such consignment subjected to routine checks for verification of the imported items?
- Are the assigned Police, SIS and The Gambia Armed Forces honest and principled enough to resist kickbacks and investigate this matter with the diligence it deserves without fear or favour?
- Can we trust a security sector that the Barrow government failed to purge or reform to be tasked the responsibility to investigate a matter of such sensitivity, significance and with the trustworthiness it deserves?
- Do the police have the capacity to investigate this matter thoroughly when it is the same police that issued the licence at a time when the nation did not need firearms in the country – as if we ever needed them in the first place?
- Would it not have been better to have this matter looked into by an independent investigative panel – after all, President Barrow loves Commission of inquires or an investigative panel? The reason is that the Barrow government has failed to reform the security sector, so I think that to task that sector to investigate a company they issued the firearms importation licence to seems a clumsy way of going about investigating this matter. Is it not the case that many of the people in the Police, SIS and The Gambia Armed Forces may be Jammeh loyalists? Put into context, could the importation of these firearms explain why many individuals loyal to Jammeh would say that Jammeh would be back in The Gambia or is that too far-fetched an extrapolation to make out of this serious sage? Anyhow, I do not think there is anyone who can authoritatively confirm that no shipment of firearms made it out of the Banjul seaport into the communities. Perhaps we do not want to think about that at all.
- What does the Interior Minister, Ebrima Mballow and the government of President Barrow know about the issuance of firearms importation licence to GACH Security Ltd?
- Why have the Interior Minister and the Government of President Barrow remained mute over this very serious matter to do with the security of the country. If they continue to say nothing, we shall come up with some tangible theories for their silence. If they choose to say anything at all, they must resist the temptation to spin because they are quite simply awful at it.
- Does President Barrow, the Barrow household and anyone in the Barrow administration, including his many advisers keep company with Jawara? Has President Barrow or anyone on his behalf ever met Mr. Jawara or his associates since becoming President – if so, where, when and on how many occasions did any such meeting occur?
To me at least, the Barrow government does not have the imagination, intuitive capacity and agility to lead The Gambia. I have never known so many “investors” being interested in meeting the leader of a poor country such as they do of ours. It seems that one does not need much to present one’s business credentials to President Barrow. I think some of the “investors” must know that there is a piece of cake called The Gambia which is up for grabs and that with its lousy leadership anyone, literally anyone has a fair chance to claim a slice of whatever is left of the country’s resources. The leadership does not seem to read anything (if you need to know more about that, please read this piece by Dr. Ousman Gajigo) or have the capacity to read into anything and it seems that one can sign any deal with them without any background checks. Thereafter, one seems free to do anything one wants – including environmental damage- without being subjected to regular and rigorous checks which can be conducted in the country by sufficiently trained, principled and honest individuals. For example, we recently witnessed a protest in Kombo Sanyang over the fishmeal factory (Nissim Fish and Fish Production Company), which the protestors claimed was destroying the tourism sector, their health and livelihoods. This suggests that the government has not learnt anything from the incident in Faraba Banta. Indeed, I wonder how issuing a licence to import firearms helps address some of these potentially explosive issues that seem to be of regular occurrence in the country.
I do not think it is unreasonable to revoke GACH Security Ltd’s licence to import firearms on the basis of what happened. Besides, I think that regardless of the outcome of the investigations, GACH Security Ltd must not be permitted to apply for any such licence in the future. Further measures should be that the Office of the IGP must not be permitted to issue firearms importation licence to any business for the foreseeable future without the full implementation of the much needed security reforms. In the meantime, President Barrow and his Interior Minister should whisper in the ears of the IGP these words: “Don’t issue anyone/business the licence to import firearms into the country” instead of wasting his time telling the youths during the opening of Youth Connekt that they must not allow anyone to make them turn against government. By the way, if you see nauseating gloom on the faces of President Barrow, Mr. Mballow and other close associates of President who have regular contacts with dodgy businessmen, it may be because this story, if investigated thoroughly, may prove to be particularly poisonous and they know it.
We cannot conclude this article without addressing the need for our solicitors and lawyers to take their societal responsibilities seriously. Although the laws of The Gambia permit the control and export of arms and ammunition (The Arms and Ammunition Act CAP 21.01 of 1924), it is important that we do so in line with our responsibilities to society and our environment. Our environment is very, very fragile and needs protecting by no other but us. It is almost certain that a lawyer/solicitor was involved in the preparation of the firearms licence for GACH Security Ltd. The solicitor/lawyer may have decided to put the need to feather their nest before the security concerns of the country, which s/he cannot claim to be totally oblivious to. The lives (human or otherwise) the imported guns may destroy in the country or elsewhere are sacrosanct; these lives must only be snatched by the natural forces of nature, and not by a trigger. Moving forward, I think we all need to give this issue a bit more thought before we commit to applying for a firearms and ammunition licence on our own or on behalf of client(s). Our law makers [The National Assembly members (NAMs)] must also consider reviewing the 1924 law that permits the importation of firearms into The Gambia. The Gambia today is vastly different to what she was in 1924 or 1953. It seems it was in 1953 when the Act was last amended, thus it seems to need reviewing. Given what we have been through over the last 22 years, it is my view that the time has definitely come to change the law because the current law is a threat to national security as it has permitted the control and importation of lethal weapons and ammunition into the country. Since we also know more now than we know then, this law does not address our environmental responsibilities; whatever wildlife we have now need protecting, not hunted and killed for any reason. Therefore, the NAMs must seek to review and revise this Act so that it not only reflects the times we live in now, but also serves our national interests well.
Finally, it is sometimes not too difficult to tell the character of an individual by the type of company they keep. The fact that the firearms appear to have been shipped from Turkey is a concern because I thought Turkey is our friend. So how should the Barrow government engage Turkey or Turkey businessmen in the future? I think issuing an importation licence to GACH Security Ltd with an already seemingly large portfolio of business interests was a terrible mistake. The Barrow government must quickly learn lessons from this and make the necessary security sector reforms to avoid this happening again. We seem to be lucky to impound this consignment of firearms this time around, but we are unclear what and if any consignment may have slipped. Without the necessary safeguards that are overdue, it is unclear to me how lucky we may be in the future. We remain hopeful that there may be some hope for #Neveragain, but we can only make it a reality if the leadership is imaginative, clued-up, agile and dynamic.