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Gambia’s Three Major Security Challenges

Gambia is faced with three major crises that warrant the Government’s immediate intervention to avert our little nation being plunged into an intractable predicament.

In my humble opinion, the three most formidable challenges the country is currently confronted with are the looming stalemate over the President’s tenure, the toxic religious and political rhetoric permeating the fabric of society and the caste-related violence.

With December fast approaching, the political temperature is steadily mounting over President Adama Barrow’s tenure,  the country is sharply divided and deadlocked over the issue of whether the President should serve out his constitutionally mandated five-year term or should step down at the end of his three-year tenure as agreed upon by the 2016 Coalition

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The former camp is of the view that the President should comply with the Constitution that gives him a five-year mandate to expire in 2021, and argues that there remains a lot of unfinished business. The President’s supporters cite the ongoing institutional reform process which includes the security reform program, the drafting of a new Constitution, the ongoing TRRC proceedings and the review of a report compiled by the Janneh commission.  They also refer to the much vaunted National Development Plan (NDP) which involves the implementation of numerous mega infrastructural projects. The president’s backers also contend that the Coalition has itself to blame for the members knew well that the Constitution stipulates a five-year mandate. They even caution of a potential constitutional and political crisis should the President be forced to step aside. Remarks by UDP’s party leader Ousainou Darboe that he would legally tackle anyone challenging Barrow’s five-year term further makes prime fodder for the president’s staunch supporters.

On the other hand, the latter camp argues that the President must heed the gentleman-agreement reached with the Coalition for Mr. Barrow campaigned and was voted in office on the basis of three years. Those calling for the President to step down, including the Operation Three Years Jotna group, fires back that the resignation of the President, after serving for three years, would not trigger any crisis, contending that a caretaker leader in the person of the Vice President could serve out the remaining two years. They further argue that Mr. Barrow should not bother simply because whoever succeeds him would be in a position to see through the reforms he has initiated which would entrench continuity.  Members of the Group note that the President’s primary mandate, under the gentleman agreement, is to oversee intuitional reforms and leveling the field for free and fair elections. Amid this cloud of uncertainty, rival groups have been threatening confrontation come December.

Coalition members

In the meantime, there have been heated exchanges and blistering personal attacks involving some religious scholars in respect of issues ranging from observing the classical or orthodox methods of preaching and practicing Islam to the legitimacy of celebrating the birth of the Prophet (peace be upon to him). The most recent uproar concerns the sight of the moon and whether the country should endorse or discard the sighting of the moon in Saudi Arabia. The most worrisome aspect of this simmering religious tension is what is termed as “takfeer,” which considers another person as kafir or infidel.  Public opinion has been divided as to whether the Government should intervene or leave the matter to the nation’s religious scholars to put their house in order. However, as things stand, the national security of the country is at stake for nobody knows where the current escalation would lead to. Some critics argue that the Government is reluctant to act due to political considerations.

Political discourse is no better with surrogates across the political spectrum engaged in character assassination, slandering and gloating. While the role of the social media cannot be overemphasized in fostering democracy and the rule of law, it’s equally wreaking havoc on our society. After all, it’s a double edged weapon.

Caste-related violence has flared up in a number of Sarahule dominated settlements in the provinces with so-called slaves revolting against long-held traditions that make them appear inferior to their “masters”. The violence has claimed casualties and led to the destruction of properties. No official statement has been made by the government so far on the issue.

In the face of all these deepening crises, it doesn’t’ seem that the Government has any appetite, thus far, to tackle them, though each of them is a ticking time-bomb. Critics would argue that the Barrow Administration is reactive rather than being proactive which suggests that no quick fixes should be expected, while others would contend that the President is primarily preoccupied with succeeding himself.

The government needs to take concrete measures to address these delicate and critical crises, hence it shouldn’t let the grass to grow under its feet, considering the urgency and magnitude of these pressing issues. The infamous 2016 political impasse should serve as a learning curve for the country’s leadership to avert further deterioration of the situation which endangers our national security.

Basidia Drammeh is a Gambian resident in Canada. He previously served as Head of Translation Desk at Kuwait’s Al Watan Daily newspaper and a Bilingual Editor for Kuwait Oil Company. Mr. Drammeh, who was born and raised in Brikama, is a keen follower of African politics.

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