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Political Party, Do You Have A National Security Strategy?

I’ve read through the manifestos of some political parties in The Gambia and while many touch on security, I’m yet to see any that delves deeply into what realistic strategies they have for our national security landscape. I take note that such strategies may be protected material that is not readily accessible to non-political party members like me, and so I may not be privy to their existence at all. However, I hope that all political parties have some form of national security strategy or policy that is saved somewhere, and ready to be implemented from day one in power.

By strategy, I don’t mean using words like “promote” without saying how you will promote, or “develop”, or “build” without saying how you will develop or build in a “plan” elsewhere. A lot of what I see is heavy on vision but light on actual strategy or plan.

So by strategy, I don’t mean a document that is long on platitudes and short on specifics, rather, I mean a comprehensive security sector reform strategy that will REALISTICALLY encompass all critical sectors of government such as the economy, environment, youth unemployment, agriculture, culture and tradition etc. Ultimately, the people want safety and security, first and foremost, and this desire is what gave rise to the paradigm of human security as the genesis of modern security sector reforms.

Why should all political parties have a national security strategy?

  1. Given our context and recent history, political parties should have their own strategies, plans, policies and programs that they’re prepared to implement from day one considering how the change we’ve all yearned for has long since been torpedoed. And these policies and strategies cannot be the same as that of the governing “party” even though similarities (not plagiarism) may occur here and there. Therefore, we should expect that all political parties have a comprehensive security strategy just as they have strategies or “policies” for other critical sectors of government. And that’s not just because these sectors are interlinked with security, but also because it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to implement any meaningful strategies when the people do not feel safe and secure.
  2. One does not have to be a security expert to note the various fault-lines in The Gambian sociopolitical and security landscape. From tribalism, climate change, land issues, to political and religious differences, we have widening chasms that we cannot just wish away with time. And as soothing as hope may be, it is not a strategy. In fact, we’ve already seen foreshocks that led to the loss of lives around various communities in The Gambia with the latest being the reported death of a man in Sambang over land tussles. It’s therefore critical that any strategy to address our various challenges (health, unemployment etc.) take into account the attendant national security implications of such a strategy, and establish the necessary linkages. A national security strategy should be “considered” in all manifestos or some other planning document, unless one wants to bank on the same security roadmap that the Barrow team has in place.
  3. Any political party that comes to power will have to contend with the same challenges that obtain in the security landscape today. Dictators usually surround themselves with individuals they think will be loyal to them regardless of competence or qualifications. If these individuals are from the same region or of the same ethnicity with the dictator, any reform is likely to affect that particular region or ethnic group. Ergo, failing to devise a strategy on tackling these challenges will be a serious miscalculation and a disservice to the nation, given the various chasms that are slowly but surely widening with each passing day. We cannot continue to outsource our security to others. That is unsustainable and not in our interest long term. And no, I don’t think any political party should wait for the recommendations of the TRRC before coming up with a comprehensive security sector strategy. To my mind, that will be a bit too presumptuous, if not lazy thinking, given the scope of the TRRC mandate and the broad nature of security sector reform. Given our unique sociopolitical dynamics, geographic realities, the polarity of our security forces along tribal and regional lines, the prevailing mindsets that loyalty to the person of the president takes precedence over loyalty to the nation, tackling our security sector requires an innovative and Gambiacentric approach, and not the tired and conventional approach we embarked on post dictatorship. And that is because while our challenges may be similar to those of other nations, our history, needs and realities are unlike those of any other nation.

To ensure a transformative security sector reform strategy that responds to the realities of the security challenges faced by The Gambia today, and likely to be faced tomorrow, the strategy must first of all examine our security needs as a nation and people, and ask difficult but fundamental questions that will frame the strategic direction of our national security posture.

These questions include the necessary inquisition of whom or what we intend to secure (fields of security), what our security challenges are, how do we address these challenges, the types of personnel and equipment required, efficacy and affordability. These questions are necessary because, formulation of a security strategy goes way beyond the process of realigning the existing security sector landscape, while parroting clichés like “right sizing” and claiming “milestones” that bear little or no impact on the posture of our security services.

Security sector reform efforts must be realistic, befitting, flexible and financially viable (how you intend to pay for the strategy/plans being one of them). Importantly, the strategy must take into account the impediments to its implementation and plan for every identified eventuality.

It is also important to note that security reforms go way beyond simplistic conclusions of “we need an army or we don’t need an army,” especially when such conclusion is devoid of any informed analysis. Critically, a national security strategy MUST anticipate real obstacles to its implementation, and devise realistic and achievable PLANS on how to overcome these obstacles.

The strategy must not only be forward-looking, it must realistically account for future security challenges we may face as a nation, in order to ensure threats, whether internal or external, man-made or natural, from friendly or enemy nations, near peer or pacing, can all be either minimized, contained, eliminated or neutralized where possible.

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