General Alagie Martin and the Gambia’s Security Sector Reform
About two weeks ago, it was reported that the government has launched the National Security Policy (NSP). This was the culmination of a long exercise where all government officials involved confused process for results.The current state of security affairs, the identity of Barrow’s security advisor and Gambia’s track record of implementing policies all give clear indications that the current attempt at security sector reforms in the country is nothing but a charade.
The Gambia National Army (GNA) still remains the same size it has been under Gambia. The top officers who had all their formative years and professional growth under Jammeh, including the current Chief of Defense Staff (CDS), are the same officers leading the army. Key officers who admitted to carrying out gross human right abuses still hold leadership positions. The military continues to mannumerous checkpoints, where the rights of Gambian citizens are frequently abused. Please forgive me if I refuse to buy into the government’s fiction that the launch of the NSP represents a new dawn.
President Barrow’s national security advisor is retired Colonel Momodou Badjie. This former senior army officer has been implicated in human rights abuses under the Jammeh dictatorship during testimony by others at the TRRC. Beyond being tainted, this individual is an inappropriate candidate for the position of national security adviser for the simple reason that he does not have the right experience. The Gambia’s main security challenge is internal security. The right individual for the national security advisor position would be one whose professional experience centered on that. A retired army officer is therefore the wrong person, much more someone with a record of working closely under Jammeh.
The launching of a sector policy as if it was an actual accomplishment demonstrates complete ignorance about the track record of such documents in leading to any useful development outcome for the country. The reality is that The Gambia has an implementation problem since documents are easy to produce. Officials can be counted upon to take part in the consultation and validation processes, which all officials clamor to participate in since the venues are usually fancy hotels. The actual drafting of the policy documents is done by consultants that are paid by UNDP. This was exactly the case with the NSP. Officials rarely write and contribute any substance to the documents, even when the drafts are sent to them for review. Once the validation workshop is finalized, the documents are forgotten for another five years. This is why there is often no relationship between the actual activities of the various sector and the policies.
It cannot be over-emphasized that what matters for the success of a sector is not the policy document but the personnel. This fact continues to elude all the three governments we have had in The Gambia since independence. You can have an excellent sector policy document that superbly addresses all sector priorities and their action plans. This will lead to no improvements on the ground when the country does not have the right personnel in the relevant government units to implement them. On the other hand, when qualified professionals are in place, the absence of a policy document is hardly consequential. After all, “personnel is policy”.
Few things demonstrate the government’s obliviousness about the centrality of having the right personnel in place than the case of General Alagie Martin, who recently had a memorable appearance at the TRRC.This provided one of the strongest indications that the current attempt at security sector reform is a meaningless exercise and that the NSP process has been a waste of resources. General Martin is one of the most senior officers in the GNA. From the very first moments of his testimony, General Martin demonstrated that the military is led by highly incompetent officers. A man with Martin’s mental capacity can undergo a million training sessions and a competent professional would never be produced.Unfortunately, General Martin is the rule rather than the exception. There is no hope of reforming the military when someone like Martin is a recruit, much more a leader.
General Martin’s despicable performance at the TRRC shows that he is an individual with no moral bearing, who cannot take any responsibility for past wrongs and can therefore show no remorse for the numerous torture sessions he led. Even with the benefit of hindsight, he cannot seem to describe what seems blatantly obvious to anyone, and seems constitutionally incapable of the slightest bit of introspection. He had no apparent problems in repeatedly contradicting himself during his testimony either because of a remarkably weak working memory or because his incoherent mind is devoid of any logical structure.His feeble and wholly unconvincing attempts at seeking forgiveness fell flat because there were not only blatantly insincere but transparent attempts at regurgitating phrases that he believes would be sufficient to allow him to return to his military duties with only the slightest bit of inconvenience. No reasonable individual watched that testimony and concluded that General Martin was sincere.
Putting all of this information in context, recall that General Martin declared that he is one of the senior officers leading the reforms in the military and therefore should be allowed to keep his current job. This is truly mind-blowing.Just consider this: General Martin couldn’t be made to understand that severely and “mercilessly” beating a detainee is torture despite TRRC’s lead Counsel Faal giving him countless opportunities to do so. This means that General Martin would not have a problem today with giving an order or himself carrying out human rights violations if the order came from the top today. How can someone so confused about such a basic human right issue be allowed to lead a security unit, much more to be given a significant responsibility in undertaking security sector reform? How can someone who was such a close and trusted confidant of Jammeh, who served as the eyes and ears of the dictator himself be allowed to even remain in the military?
It appears that the military is hastily trying to cover itself as media reports this week are showing that General Martin has been sent on leave. But this is too little too late. The real failure of responsibility goes well beyond General Martin. The CDS, General Masanneh Kinteh, is General Martin’s commanding officer.What does it say about the professional judgement and the competence of CDS General Kinteh for him to decide that it is a good idea for General Martin to retain his current position, and be playing some role in the reform of the security sector in the country? After all, General Martin’s lead role in the torturing of detainees was well known before his testimony in the front of the TRRC.
The problem with CDS Kinteh goes even deeper than that unfortunately. It should not be surprising that CDS Kinteh had no problem with the likes of General Martin continuing to remain in the military. Both General Martin and General Kinteh rose through the ranks of the GNA during the 22-year reign of Jammeh. Considering the centrality of the military in Jammeh’s hold on power, what does the professional rise of these two Generals say about Yahya Jammeh’s trust in them and their loyalty to him in return? More importantly, how likely is that either of these two General have any chance of meaningfully reforming the military as an institution and changing its course? General Kinteh may not be directly and personally tied to any torture sessions so far, but only a willfully obtuse person would believe that he was not aware of them given his seniority in the military during Jammeh’s rule.General Martin and General Kinteh were part and parcel of the problem and continue to be, and therefore their presence in the military will no break from the past.
The failure of responsibility extends to other areas of the government as well. Let’s contrast the fate of the so-called “Junglers” with that of General Martin. Everyone is also aware of the murderous record of these Junglers. The government has decided to lock up the Junglers and detained them well beyond what is legally permissible. But even though we have been aware of the similarly atrocious record of General Martin, he has continued to serve comfortably in his senior position. What does that say about the competency of our Attorney General, Mr. Tambedou, and his respect for his professional responsibilities? Incidentally, Mr. Tambedou is the Chairman of the National Security Steering Committee for the security sector reform.Enough said.
Nobody should be fooled into thinking that there would be any real security reform in the country because of the NSP. To carry out reforms of any, one needs to properly diagnose the problem. In addition, a proper reform needs to be overseen by capable individuals. It also means that at a minimum, one needs to jettison the officers who were responsible for creating or directly contributing to the mess we found ourselves in. It also means a re-thinking of the decision to continue to have a military in the first place. Somehow, it is as if the Barrow administration is simply content to go through the motions instead of having a real security sector reform.
Ousman Gajigo is an economist. He has held positions with the African Development Bank, the UN, the World Bank and Columbia University. He holds a PhD in development economics. He is currently an international consultant and also runs a farm in The Gambia.