AD317: Gambians trust the armed forces but are split over the presence of ECOMIG

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Sait Matty Jaw

In August 2017, as part of a broader reform agenda, Gambian President Adama Barrow launched a security sector reform (SSR) process to overhaul the country’s security institutions in line with democratic norms and practices. The reform initiative is premised on the notion that the Gambia’s security institutions, particularly the military, were politicized and “polluted” under former President Yahya Jammeh (Jaw, 2018; Jawo, 2018).

A few months into the process, an SSR assessment report flagged many gaps and malfunctions within the state security apparatus, including inadequate legal and policy frameworks and a lack of civilian oversight to direct security-sector governance (Foroyaa, 2018).

While the Gambia is working on a legal and policy framework to strengthen security governance, the continued presence of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Military Intervention in Gambia, known as ECOMIG, has also been a source of controversy.

ECOMIG, composed of about 500 troops from Senegal, Nigeria, and Ghana, was deployed to help restore order and democracy following Jammeh’s initial refusal to leave office despite his defeat in the December 2016 presidential election (Point, 2017). The force was tasked with training and assisting the army and police in protecting the country from external threats and maintaining internal security, respectively. ECOMIG and the police have also been providing close protection for President Barrow (European Asylum Support Office, 2017). After repeated extensions (Africa-EU Partnership, 2018), the ECOMIG mandate was expected to end in August 2019 (Freedom Newspaper, 2019), but Barrow has announced that the security force would remain stationed in the Gambia throughout the country’s transition to a full democracy in 2021 (Fatu Network, 2018).

While some observers have questioned whether the Gambia Armed Forces are prepared to keep the nation safe, particularly from former members of Jammeh’s hit squad who are feared to be planning to destabilize the country, others have seen Barrow’s call to extend ECOMIG’s mandate as evidence of his insecurity and lack of trust in the nation’s military (Jaw, 2017). Analysts perceive a brewing discontent among the armed forces and are calling for the president to build a stronger relationship of trust with the Gambian military (News 24, 2018).
Afrobarometer’s first national survey in the Gambia reveals that citizens are divided as to whether ECOMIG should stay or leave. While a majority trust the armed forces and believe they protect the country from external and internal security threats, citizens express high levels of insecurity in their neighbourhoods and at political events.