E.U Attila Lajos Ends His Stay In Gall Moon, Bids Farewell To Barrow
Ambassador Attila Lajos is ending his diplomatic tour of duty in The Gambia. His commitment to ensure that the transition after Yahya Jammeh’s dictatorship serves the purpose of democracy, the rule of law and good governance has dramatically cooled the enthusiastic relationship Ambassador Lajos has had with President Adama Barrow after he took power, in 2017.
Under Ambassador Attila Lajos purview, the European Union provided technical assistance for drafting the National Security Policy, released funds for the ECOMIG mission and actively took part in some other forms of support to the regime of President Adama Barrow.
The Security Sector Reform, a taste of unfinished business
The Security sector reform is one particular aspect of the EU partnership with The Gambia that seemed dear to Ambassador Attila Lajos. And where he felt like the reform process was dragging, he would not beat about the bush as many Gambia government officials would wish. The art of omitting to use diplomatic language where Ambassador Lajos needed clarity for his audience was a specificity this European diplomat mastered to the core.
In July 2019, Ambassador Attila Lajos publicly expressed his frustration at observing that there was no progress in reforming the security sector. “The Gambia is changing, but almost three years have passed, yet to date, there has been no visible reform of the security sector“. He also advocated for a greater implication of the civil society and civil authorities in the process. “The Security sector reform should not be restricted to the leaders of security forces nor to the government, it got to be visible nationwide”, Attila Lajos said addressing National Assembly members on defense and security analysis as well as legislative and budget scrutiny.
The whispers from State House and some government buildings, in reaction to the comments of Attila Lajos, did not stop him from directly pinning President Adama Barrow’s government as responsible for the slow pace of the Security Sector reform. “Without strong political engagement from key decision makers, Security Sector Reform will fail, regardless of the resources and technical expertise invested in it. We expected tangible results to make sure that by the time the ECOMIG troops leave, the sector would have been reformed. But as we speak, for the average Gambian, there is no tangible result”, he said.
Ambassador Lajos was particularly frustrated with the episodic ceremonies where officials of the Gambia government would just mention the SSR and move on. “Security Sector Reform is a process and not an event. The executive must commit to a time-bounded framework to deliver reform which can mitigate the challenges and obstacles that will inevitably arise; this must include a clear indication, based on available financial and institutional data as to how Government will rationalize the sector over the years to come” he said.
The Gambia national Security policy has since come out from a painful delivery thanks to EU’s strong commitment. Yet its implementation continue to gather dust in the shelves of The Gambia government. There is still a risk that with the rejection of the draft Constitution, the Security policy could stay much longer a wish politicians will use a political theme to campaign in 2021 presidential election.
A jagged relationship with the Barrow Administration
In public, Ambassador Lajos, officials of The Gambia government and some religious leaders in The Gambia entertained some kind of very civil rapport. But behind the scenes, the road binding the collaboration between the EU head of delegation in The Gambia and his host country was very bumpy. Ambassador Lajos’ propensity to often speak out to the Gambian media, in unambiguous terms about issues of interest to the EU, has on several occasion sparked discontent in some quarters of The Gambia government. One episode of such is a bitter undiplomatic letter a minister of the Government of President Adama Barrow wrote to Ambassador Attila Lajos over a very trivial issue the EU diplomat mentioned to Gambian authorities.
The episode of June 2020 when Ambassador Lajos was wrongly accused of promoting gay rights is the turnaround in the perception some clerics have over the EU diplomat. In his defense, Attila Lajos said “The European Union always accepted what The Gambia decided. As like when The Gambia informed the Human rights council last year about having no intention to decriminalize homosexuality and that’s it. Have you heard any comments from the European Union or from me on that basis?” he queried.
The relationship with President Adama Barrow’s government went sour when Ambassador Attila Lajos and some of his colleagues accredited in Banjul urged Gambian Members of The Parliament to vote to adopt the draft Constitution that was finally rejected a month ago. President Adama Barrow snubbed the European Union, the United States and United Kingdom as well as German diplomats who wanted to meet him about the draft Constitution. Attila Lajos never shied away from this issue that irritated Barrow and his government. “What we lobbied for was in fact to let the people to decide because after all this is the Constitution of the land and the Draft should be decided by the people” Attila Lajos said.
Attila Lajos is ending his mission but the European Union’s delegation in The Gambia will remain. A lot of dossiers continue to cement the partnership between the EU and the government of The Gambia. According to EU, the total financial support for funding the ECOMIG mandate in The Gambia, from February 2017 to March 2020, amounted to EUR30, 292,120.00. Since then, the government of The Gambia and Ecowas did not approached the European Union with a funding request.
In his last encounter this Monday at State House with President Adama Barrow, Attila Lajos toured all these issues, likewise the stalled security and constitutional reform processes along the EU support to other programs and projects of The Gambia government. After nearly five years as the EU delegate resident in The Gambia, Ambassador Attila Lajos assured that despite the series of hurdles, EU will continue to support Gambia’s transition.