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The Daily Costs of the Lack of Security Sector Reforms

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Dr. Ousman Gajigo, Economist formerly with ADB

By Dr. Ousman Gajigo

We have all recently been reading about the increasing spate of crimes happening in the country. While clearly disconcerting, itshould not surprising. It is the inevitable consequences of our country’s leadership failing in their duty to undertake real security sector reform despite the expectations of citizens and the willingness of the development partners to provide the needed assistance. The only obstacle to security sector reforms has been the inability or unwillingness of President AdamaBarrow regime to do its duty. 

In discussion our security situation, it is important to dispense with a few issues. First, just as one does not have to be an economics expert to know when the economy is not doing well, it is also not necessary to be a security expert to know that our current security situation is critical. All one requires is the simple ability to see what is right in front of your eyes. It is also important to recognize what happens in one branch of the security sector has implications for other branches as well for they are all intricately linked. 

To assess the security situation in the country, we must ask ourselves what the country’s biggest security priority is. Does our biggest challenge in The Gambia have to do with internal law enforcement or immigration or external threat? Anyone with an ounce of sense knows that the biggest security challenge in The Gambia today has to do with crimes being committedlocally. This should be the centerpiece of any national security policy and strategy. Endless stakeholder and validation workshops, pompous launching ceremonies are just empty shows for unserious leaders. None of the empty pronouncements have been matched by meaningful actions on the grounds. This should be obvious to every citizen. To show this concretely, let’s examine at the Gambian security sector in terms of size, composition and government’s resource allocations. 

By around 2016, the size and composition of the security personnel in The Gambia was about as follows: Military: 6900; Police: 6600; and the rest (immigration, prison, drug enforcement, etc.): 5500. The relative composition of the security personnel remains largely the same today. In other words, there has been no relative increase in police or relative reduction in the size of the military since Adama Barrow came to power over 7 years ago. If we had a government that isserious about security sector reform, one of the most basic actswould have involved changing the relative composition of the security personnel to better match the security needs of the country. 

Without resources, no security branch can carry out its functions. Specifically, the government needs to ensure appropriate resource allocation in the annual budget. In other words, prioritizing internal law enforcement should entail police officers who are not only well trained but properly paid and equipped. Unfortunately, this has not happened. And the evidence is there for anyone to see in our budget.

In the 2024 budget, the amount allocated to salaries for police was D 395 million for a police force that is currently about 7000. This comes out to an average monthly salary of less than D5000 before taxes are deducted. It is also important to note that salaries in most institutions are top heavy and therefore the average figure is usually biased upwards. This means that the average police officer you see on the street has a salary of much less than D5000. The combined allowance for transportation and housing is a tiny addition to the above amount.

Which average family man or woman can survive in today’s Gambia on such a low salary? Will an officer with that kind of salary have the required focus on doing their security job when their salary cannot even cover their basic food consumption? Instead, they will be focusing on what other side activities they can do to meet their basic needs. Hence, the ubiquitous checkpoints, where the focus is less about traffic regulation or security, but more about supplementing their meager incomes. 

To make matters worse, the government continues to increase recruitments. So the security sector continues to get bloatedbecause of lack of prioritizing the right branches, which ends upspreading thinly the already small amount of budget allocation. These continued recruitments are being done not only among the police but also for the military, immigration and other security branches. 

Doing efficient police work requires more than just adequate salaries. Having proper equipment are highly important. Among these are transportation and communications. Again, let’s look at the 2024 budget. The allocation in 2024 for vehicles for police for actual law enforcement work is zero (0). Yes, you read that right: zero butut was allocated to police for patrol vehicles in the 2024 budget. In fact, over the past 3 years, a total of only D5 million was allocation for law enforcement vehicles in the Gambian budget. Five police officers with a vehicle can do far more effective law enforcement work than 20 officers on foot. 

In fact, the average military barrack has more vehicles than any major police station today in The Gambia. Today, the police stations in Brufut, Brusubi, Sukuta and many other locations in our major urban centers have no patrol vehicles. This means that even if a crime occurs within a kilometer of a police stations, the officers would not be able to respond to it. How can anyone competent leader believe that this is an acceptable situation after 7 years in power?

As a result of this obvious disregard for internal law enforcement, the law-and-order situation in the country continues to deteriorate. Citizens are increasingly feeling less insecure in their houses. And given the high-profile crimes against tourists and other foreign visitors, we are likely to see this trend having a negative effect on the tourism sector. Recently, a British resident who spends a significant amount of the year in The Gambia told a friend mine about selling his house and returning home due to increasing insecurity.

In addition to crimes increasing, we are also observing the emergence of trends detrimental to democracy. In particular, it is becoming quite obvious that the top ranks of security services are now more focused on satisfying political connections than doing their basic jobs. Political gatherings have been disrupted for no good reasons. It was also not a coincidence that right after Adama Barrow made disturbing statements about critics of his regimes, we observed violations of citizens’ rights. Madi Jobarteh and others have been arrested on the flimsiest of grounds simply because they have been thorns on the Barrow regime on social media. The baseless of charges against Madi Jobarteh has now been recognized by Amnesty International. 

The most glaring failure of the lack of security reform is AdamaBarrow’s own security arrangement. Here we are in the 8th year of his regime and the president of the country is still dependent on foreign military for his own security. This is a national embarrassment. One can understand the presence of ECOMIG during the first few years. But how in the world are ECOMIG forces still in the country guarding the president in the 8th year of Barrow’s rule and still no firm dateline for their departure? If this is not clear enough evidence of failure of the Adama Barrow regime in security sector reform, I don’t know what is.

The difference between we the ordinary citizens and AdamaBarrow is that we do not have ECOMIG soldiers to hide behind. We are therefore left to deal with the consequences largely on our own. So when your home is burglarized and you cannot count on any police officers coming to your rescue; or when you report a crime and it is not properly investigated; or you are incessantly stopped in endless traffic checkpoints by officers who are interested in collecting money for themselves rather than enforcing traffic regulations; or you wonder why we still have military checkpoints in a democracy years after the removal of a dictator; or fear being teargassed for simply exercising your right to assemble; or you fail to see any meaningful growth in the tourism sector, please do not blame the average police officer or a soldier. They are as much a victim as you and I. The blame lies completely under the feet of AdamaBarrow, the commander in chief. He knows he has failed in this important national duty, which is why he is the only president in Africa who uses foreign soldiers to guard him even after years in power. He has all the power to make the necessary changes but he can’t or won’t.

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