By Madi Jobarteh
The presence of men armed with AK47 rifles with no uniforms on our streets is indeed a new threat to national security in case the Director General of National Intelligence Agency has not noticed. The Gambia is not a narco-state or engulfed in a civil war neither fighting an insurgency or terrorism. Hence it is utterly unjustified that law enforcement officers of the Gambia could carry assault rifles openly without uniforms while facing ordinary citizens protesting the death of another citizen.
In the first-place assault rifles must not be in the hands of law enforcement agents when they are engaging the civilian population. AK47 is a combat rifle that must not be used ever again by our police as a first instance weapon in controlling crowds. There was no evidence that angry demonstrators in Serre Kunda on July 24 were armed especially with assault rifles so as to warrant a similar response from the police.
Secondly even if the police were to use these weapons in a faceoff with an armed civilian population those officers must be inside their police uniforms. One of the purposes of police putting on uniforms is to ensure identification, legitimacy and accountability. Every Gambian is required to recognise the uniform of the Gambia Police Force. Hence to deploy men without uniforms is to undermine the identification, legitimacy and accountability of those officers in the eyes of the people and therefore undermine the cooperation of the public towards those armed men.
Thirdly the presence of men without uniforms and bearing arms in such situations as a demonstration threatens peace. This is because where such men were to unlawfully use their weapons it will be difficult to identify the shooters. Even where the use of that gun was lawful it has the potential to generate a negative and violent reaction from the demonstrators as they might mistaken the officer to be a criminal. Therefore, this would have endangered the life of that officer just because he was not in a uniform.
Therefore, it is pertinent that we ask why the Anti-Crime Unit command decided to hand weapons to its men knowing fully well that they were not in uniform? What is their objective? If indeed those officers were CID officers as claimed by the Police PRO, I wish to put it to the PRO that CID officers expected to be undercover agents or operate in counter-insurgency scenarios. For that matter it is unjustified to arm CID officers in such public situations.
What we know is that the practice of law enforcement agents bearing such arms openly and in public and without uniforms happens mainly under authoritarian and criminal regimes. They do so because they wish to generate chaos with an objective to shoot to kill identified persons or implicate certain people. Such regimes also employ these tactics in order to create an unpleasant situation that they will now use to justify the creation of more draconian laws or adoption of more oppressive measures against the people. Is this the objective of the Barrow Government?
We all recall how in April 2000 after killing 14 schoolchildren the Jammeh Regime came to say that shooting came out from the protesting students. It appears by then the regime had not fully mastered the gimmicks of notorious regimes in full otherwise they would have planted gunmen inside the students and take their pictures so they can show that as evidence. This is why it is so dangerous to see today, in 2019 after defeating that Dictatorship that this Government would put armed men without uniforms on the streets!
When all is considered it will be clear that this country urgently needs a security sector reform otherwise the peace and security of this country is fast eroding. Since the launch of the security sector program several weeks ago, may we ask the Minister of Justice what is happening so far? The events of July 24 in Brikama and Serre Kunda clearly point to the urgent need for these reforms.
One will find more justification for these reforms when you read the Faraba Commission Report. In that report it was categorically recommended that the IGP should vet all PIU officers and those found to have been involved in torture to be removed. Has the IGP done that? We know that some of the PIU officers deployed in Brikama and Serre Kunda on that fateful day are notorious torturers and killers since 2000! Why are they still in our uniforms?
The Anti-Crime Unit is notorious for torture. The evidence is overwhelming, yet the Gambia Government continues to close its eyes to malpractices that characterised the country under Yaya Jammeh. Those of us monitoring this Unit have reports that the detention conditions at the ACU headquarters are subhuman while various other abuses continue to take place there. The death of Ousman Darboe is a case in point which must be thoroughly investigated.
After 22 years of indiscriminate killing of Gambians by the Gambia Government under Yaya Jammeh, we must not ever again allow a single Gambian to die at the hands of Gambian armed and security forces. So far, we have registered the death of several Gambians at the hands of security forces in Kanilai, Faraba and now Serre Kunda. This is unacceptable and there must be accountability.
Meantime the practice of Gambian law enforcement officers appearing with guns and without uniforms in public must also be investigated and those responsible held accountable.
For The Gambia Our Homeland