The Chronicle Gambia

Crime in the Smiling Coast

Every day in The Gambia, crimes of various natures are being conducted by citizens and foreigners as well. According to the Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC), a joint venture between the United States Department of State and the private sector, the following can be noted: “The U.S. Department of State has assessed Banjul as being a high-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. Crimes of opportunity (e.g. pickpocketing, purse snatching, and theft of valuables from vehicles, assault, and residential burglary) are the crimes U.S. citizens most frequently encounter in The Gambia, and are often preventable. Violent crime is rare. Burglaries are common. Over the past few years, reports of residential crimes have increased. Avoid walking alone, including on beaches, in tourist areas, and after dark. Vendors colloquially referred to as “bumsters” (local young men offering services ranging from tour guide to sexual partner) often approach Westerners walking along the beach or in the Senegambia tourist area, as do common street criminals looking for a potential victim. Change direction or depart the area if you notice suspicious people, groups, or activity…As tourism is one of The Gambia’s most important industries, the government puts great effort in providing for the safety/security of visitors.

A security checks vehicles at a security checkpoint in the touristic area of Senegambia

This effort is mainly visible in heavily trafficked tourist areas. Officially, Gambian police attribute much of the criminal activity to third-country nationals. High unemployment and underemployment has contributed to the rise in crime rates.  Review OSAC’s report…Credit/ATM card fraud and related scams remain concerns in Banjul, although the issue is less prevalent than in other West African cities. Major hotels accept credit cards, but few other establishments do. Skimming is the primary means of credit fraud, and is often undetected until fraudulent charges appear on statements…The Casamance region of Senegal, south of The Gambia, has had a long history of political violence.  Travelers should use caution and consult with Senegal’s most recent advisories and information on the Safety and Security section on the country information page…Cybercrime is not a major concern in Banjul. Use of computers and level of sophistication with computing technologies is generally low among the local population. Still, U.S. private-sector employees and organizations should implement cybersecurity best practices and make every attempt to password protect personal and organizational information systems…Vehicle accidents are the most prevalent danger posed to U.S. travelers in Banjul. Risk of vehicle accidents increases at night. Poor traffic markers, limited lighting, poor road conditions – especially during the rainy season, which leads to flooding – and pedestrians walking in the road alongside vehicles are the norm. Road conditions outside of Banjul can be even more dangerous…Drivers in The Gambia are aggressive, unpredictable, and largely untrained. Vehicles may be in poor working condition. Drunk driving accidents occur regularly, particularly during late-night hours as bars and nightclubs often stay open until 0500 or 0600…Police checkpoints occur at random, particularly in tourist areas. Authorities may require travelers to produce identification at checkpoints, and police staffing the checkpoints frequently ask for “tea money,” tips, or gifts. Military checkpoints at land and regional borders and at other locations are common throughout the country; however, these rarely delay or otherwise impede travelers. Though checkpoints are less common and less intrusive under the current government, always stop at them, present requested documents, and submit to a vehicle search if ordered…Entering and leaving.

The Gambia by land is relatively easy…Taxis and buses are often in poor condition, and often lack working headlights and brake lights, seat belts and other safety equipment. Taxi and bus drivers may make sudden maneuvers without signaling. Use taxis rather than public transportation due to safety concerns and do not allow anyone on the street to direct you into a taxi. Make taxi arrangements in advance and through your hotel, if possible. Avoid sharing taxis with strangers due to increased risk of theft and robbery…The U.S. Department of State has assessed Banjul as being a low-threat location for terrorism directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. There are no known indigenous terrorist organizations, The Gambia is not a known base of support for terrorists, and Gambians generally do not sympathize with terrorists or their activities…Regional terror attacks in West Africa have not directly affected The Gambia. However, there exists a real and growing threat of terrorism regionally, as demonstrated by recent attacks within the region. West African countries remain vulnerable to terrorist activities due to porous borders, regional instability, and the presence of African-based terrorist groups including those associated with al-Qa’ida and ISIS in West Africa. The governments of The Gambia and Senegal each arrested “extremist” religious leaders in 2015 to stem the rise of religious extremism in the area…The U.S. Department of State has assessed Banjul as being a medium-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. The Gambia’s President Adama Barrow took office in 2016 in an election widely considered free and fair…the Barrow administration has ushered in a democratically elected government, released political prisoners, and begun the process to overhaul laws and procedures to make practices more consistent with international norms…There is moderate risk from civil unrest in Banjul. Public protests, demonstrations, and strikes have become more common, as Gambians no longer fear government retaliation or persecution, and desire to exercise their freedoms of speech and expression…Pirated movies and merchandise are readily available on the street for purchase…Consensual, same-sex sexual relations are illegal in The Gambia. Prison terms can range from five years to life. Antidiscrimination laws do not protect LGBTI individuals, and there is strong societal discrimination against LGBTI individuals. Gambian authorities have called on landlords and owners of bars, restaurants, and hotels to monitor activities that happen in their environments. The Criminal Code was amended in 2014 to include Section (144A) entitled, “Aggravated Homosexuality,” which sets out seven specific categories of offenses, including being “a serial offender,” for which a person is “liable on conviction to imprisonment for life.” Authorities have reportedly arrested several people under this law…Although gender-based violence is illegal, many women experience domestic violence. Rape, including spousal, familial, and relationship rape, is a widespread problem. Police generally consider spousal and familial rape to be a domestic issue outside their jurisdiction. …As a coastal country, The Gambia serves as an access and transit point for drugs into and through Africa. However, there have been few reports of drug-related crimes. Demand for illegal drugs increases during the tourist season due to the influx of travelers. Drug peddlers thrive in tourist areas. Refrain from engaging drug peddlers in any conversation and do not purchase, possess, or use illegal drugs while in The Gambia…Several large drug seizures over the past few years highlight The Gambia’s coordinated anti-drug campaign. Authorities arrest and prosecute those found with drugs in their possession. Foreigners arrested for drug violations can expect prosecution. If convicted, they face a minimum of two years in prison.

The Gambia has strict laws regarding the use and possession of dangerous weapons. “Military style” firearms are illegal. The police can license hunting weapons. Violators are subject to arrest and incarceration. Read the State Department’s webpage on customs and import restrictions for information on what you cannot take into or out of other countries…Except for checkpoints and traffic police, there is limited visibility of police presence in Banjul and the surrounding areas. Police do not have the ability to respond quickly to crises. They lack training, equipment, and resources such as radios and vehicles (with fuel). Most Gambian police are not armed. The Gambia Police Force is a reactionary force and cannot maintain large-scale or long-term proactive operations. When contacted, police are normally helpful to visitors, though will sometimes request “tea money” or a tip…The Gambian Police Force (GPF) is responsible for investigating most crimes. The Drug Law Enforcement Agency, The Gambia (DLEAG) enforces drug laws. The Gambia Armed Forces (GAF) may assist in maintaining law and order when there is a deteriorating security situation beyond the control of the police. The Gambia Immigration Department (GID) and Gambia Revenue Authority (GRE) Enforcement Office handle immigration and customs issues respectively”.

The Judiciary, notably the Courts in The Gambia, is seeing its fair share of cases being judged daily. However, what kind of rehabilitation metric are we getting as an outcome since taxpayers need to feel safe and secure in society. The data collections, surveys and statistics methodologies in The Gambia still have lots of room for improvement. The institutions such as the prisons are in great need of rehabilitation and their management should be free from any political affiliation. Recently, with the Truth Reconciliation and Reparations Committee (TRRC) Hearings, the Mile 2 Prison located in Banjul was being scrutinized and the findings were atrocious. Offenders, meant to be rehabilitated and reinstated into society, were seen to be no more than subjective political prisoners being abused and mistreated inhumanely by the various institutions and their members supposed to set them back on the right course.

The Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) has made recommendations to His Excellency the President so that our Legislations could reflect the needs of society and its citizens at large. Anarchy can be avoided when crime rates are shown to be at their lowest in our communities. We should hope that the new laws will provide for “Neighborhood Watch Programs” that are accordingly subsidized to tackle the day to day operations of the criminals, known to the residents, in their respective neighborhoods around the nation.

Looking forward and seeking to lay the foundation for the future generations would also entail applying ourselves in preventive measures. Civic education should be our first and foremost priority in the Gambian educational system. Leaders should organize seminars, conferences and workshops to share their valuable knowledge and expertise. They should engage with the youths and empower them accordingly so that the proper values and principles can be promoted and instilled.

Let us keep in mind that every crime committed tarnishes our image and brand as a nation. Visitors and friends of The Gambia as well as the citizens of this vibrant up and coming nation deserve the healthier and stable democracy that many fought and sacrificed for to achieve the 3rd Republic of The Gambia.

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