The Economic Community of West African STATES (ECOWAS) continues to maintain a soft diplomatic pressure on The Gambia sending a clear signal to President Adama Barrow that his government must accelerate and complete the reform agenda born out of the removal of Dictator Yahya Jammeh. In closing its heads of states’ summit in Niger, the West African body has extended, to a few more months, the stay of ECOMIG in Banjul while warning that the troop’s military mandate will soon evolve to only policing.
The stay of ECOWAS military stabilization Mission in The Gambia (ECOMIG) legally ended since June 30th after series of extensions. Gambian authorities have since scrambled for yet another prolongation of the term of these West African troops that have been present in the Gambia since January 2017. Essentially, the ECOMIG mission and its code name “Operation Restore Democracy” in The Gambia was to help secure President Adama Barrow’s regime and create an enabling environment for him to clear the mess and chaotic legacy scolding the country’s Security apparatus as a result of Yahya Jammeh’s rule. In Niamey, President Adama Barrow told his ECOWAS pairs that he is making progress in that direction. “Our Security Sector Reform is at an advanced stage and, for the first time, an audit exercise has been conducted in the army and a policy developed. The reform process remains sensitive, noting that the previous government had molded the security apparatus of the country to serve as a repressive mechanism“, President Adama Barrow said.
In practice, the much awaited birth of the darling baby National security sector reform process continues to suffer a painful labor at the maternity and desks of policy and political decision makers in Banjul. The national security policy process is yet to be implemented after overcoming series of spectacular hurdles. The Chronicle has learnt that some of the delays have to do with a write-up of the rules of implementation by expert legal minds who must anticipate any potential legal trap that could tamper with the process. Meanwhile time is the toughest adversary of the slow pace dictating the national security sector reform process. ECOWAS and President Adama Barrow are well aware of this reality.
It is a known fact that the West African body cannot sustain and entertain an ad vitam aeternam stay of ECOMIG in The Gambia while in the other hand, President Adama Barrow seems not to be in a hurry to see the ECOWAS troops leave The Gambia. And his argument for this preemption was clearly stated in Niamey on Tuesday. “A range of uncertainties, including right sizing and profiling the Armed Forces, matters of disarmament and demobilization of troops remain complicated matters to address. As the reform process is ongoing, Government and its partners need to work with caution in order to complete the process successfully. For these reasons, the presence of ECOMIG in the country will be a stabilizing factor, while providing, at the same time, the required capacity building support for the viable implementation of the sector reforms“, President Adama Barrow argued.
While Barrow’s plea has been favorably granted by his pairs to extend the term of ECOMIG “to provide support particularly for the ongoing security sector reform in the country“, the duration attached to this extension looks short in view of the gloomy table painted by Gambia’s President while asking for more time to his pairs. For a mandate that expired since June 30th, ECOWAS has decided to only add six more months 6 months to the stay of ECOMIG troops in The Gambia. Technically this means that in effect, only three more months have been added to the request of President Adama Barrow with effect from the Niamey meeting. Of course there is always room for diplomatic maneuver to push further the mandate of the ECOWAS Mission in The Gambia. But the prospect is becoming much tighter and thinner.
In the corridors of the Niamey meeting and behind the curiosity of the media, ECOWAS heads of states fully subscribed to the recent conclusions of the body’s Mediation and Security Council in recommending that President Adama Barrow, his government and “all stakeholders in The Gambia work along with the IEC in the ongoing electoral reforms and that the outcomes of the reform processes are implemented scrupulously“. This message to The Gambia government corroborates another appeal earlier made by the African Union’s Peace and Security Council at its 942nd meeting held on 28 August 2020 urging the “Government of The Gambia to implement the validated national documents such as the National Security Policy, National Security Strategy and Security Sector Reform Strategy and ratify all legal instruments relating to Human Rights in order to consolidate the current national efforts aimed at safeguarding security and rights of the citizens“.
The African Union Peace and Security Council went further to underline that “The Government of The Gambia, in preparation for the holding of the upcoming national election in 2021, should embrace and implement the AU instruments relating to elections, democracy and good governance, with a view to preparing the ground for holding credible, free and transparent elections“.
ECOWAS message to The Gambia from the Niamey meeting could not be clearer. To the need to protect the fragile democracy in The Gambia, ECOWAS agrees to the extension of the mandate of ECOMIG. Yet, The Gambia must speed to implement all the reforms that entrench democracy as the ECOMIG troops will soon evolve into a simple police mission.