The Gambia After Jammeh: Managing The Challenges Of Transition

The Gambia After Jammeh: Managing The Challenges Of Transition

By Dr Ebrima Ceesay, UK

Former President Yahya Jammeh having finally left The Gambia for Equatorial Guinea, a semblance of normality has returned to the country. The crucial question is now: “how do we stabilize The Gambia and promote both genuine reconciliation and national reconstruction?”

Reconciliation, justice and order are critical aspects of peace-building in a post-conflict situation. In the context of the Gambia, there is a need to reconcile adversaries, disarm (or retire) untrustworthy Gambia National Army (GNA) soldiers, restore the rule of law and deal with the perpetrators of crimes and human rights abuses.  Post-Jammeh Gambia faces a number of security issues which if not addressed adequately and in proper fashion, could potentially damage and destabilize the country’s political viability, stability, prosperity and chances of achieving sustainable peace. For a country that has suffered twenty-two years of poor governance, it is imperative that both the multi-faceted security challenges and the lack of properly-functioning institutions are addressed as a matter of urgency. The rebuilding of The Gambia is not going to be easy and it will require our collective support.

In this Gambia’s post-Jammeh transition, there are several challenges to the country’s security and economic development as well as the political transition itself. The security situation in the country requires immediate attention otherwise the country could well be prone to further military coups. Until all the security services, including the former president’s State House Militia are brought under total state or civilian control, it will be difficult to make progress in other areas. Coping with the legacy of Jammeh’s authoritarian rule will be one of the most challenging transition tasks in order to ensure The Gambia’s re-democratization. The militarization of The Gambia under Jammeh resulting in a proliferation of weaponry and arms within the country poses a potential long-term barrier to the rule of law and national security. Indeed, in my view, it is the most pressing problem confronting the new government.

For two decades, the militarization of both politics and the Gambian state has meant that most people have been unwilling or unable to participate in the decision-making process. Military officials assumed key civilian positions and military value systems have dominated the political process. Since 1994, we have seen the systematic militarization of the state and the politicization of the military. Therefore, robust strategies for managing the challenges of a post-Jammeh transition are crucial.

It is vital that the Gambian armed forces are brought under total civilian control in President Barrow’s democratic government. While military coups are for the main part, going out of style, members of the GNA have previously staged a coup and it is possible that other members of it will attempt to seize power again. Unless corrective measures are taken, countries like The Gambia can enter the vicious cycle of coup following coup. Civil-military scholars argue that once a country has suffered a military coup, then there is a greater chance of more in the future. One successful coup so easily leads to the next. Power is indeed sweet. In the post-Jammeh era the relationship between the armed forces and their civilian political masters is significant and the right balance needs to be struck. Civilians should be the policy makers and soldiers the ones who execute these policies.

How do we avert future coups in The Gambia?  It is imperative that there is cooperation between The Gambia and Senegal and I suggest that a common security and defence policy between two countries is essential. The two countries should be encouraged to sign a bilateral defence and cooperation agreement. These two neighboring countries have had longstanding historical, geographic and cultural relations and it is therefore vital that these good-neighbourly relations are maintained in the transition period and beyond. The notion of absolute sovereignty in many respects has become an outdated concept. Gambians should recognize that we now live in an increasingly inter-dependent world where we must all strive to work in harmony.

Both The Gambia and Senegal have to engage in the enterprise of turning the border that separates them into a benign space of trans-national development and stability. Some scholars in the field of diplomatic studies have argued that the concept of total national sovereignty is obsolete and outdated in today’s world when we are embracing globalization and pluralism. We live in an interrelated and interconnected and interdependent world and the idea of nations acting independently and autonomously on the world stage is becoming more and more untenable.

The Gambia’s territorial integrity and political independence are inviolable. State sovereignty will continue to reside in the hands of The Gambian people and its Government and yet the institution of state sovereignty is nevertheless developing and changing. There is a rich and still growing body of academic literature on the foreign policies of small and weak states and the wave of newly independent states during the 1960s did give rise to a wealth of literature on the subject.

As new concepts of sovereignty emerge, adaptations will be made. It would be a mistake if the new government of President Barrow declined to enter into a defence agreement with Senegal because of misguided national pride and misplaced fears about the possible erosion of Gambian sovereignty or even possible annexation by Senegal. Cooperation in the defence of these two countries will not undermine The Gambia’s independence but will rather ensure its longevity.

Pragmatism rather than ideology or misplaced pride should dictate our foreign policy in the post-Jammeh era. Small and weak states are in a tricky and precarious position and they need to navigate the complicated waters of international relations. The Gambia’s unique geography, being surrounded on three sides by Senegal, has meant that good relations between the two countries are essential and that policies should be dictated by independence, pragmatism and moderation. A close strategic relationship with Senegal need not be a threat to either country’s independence.  Indeed, it will offer The Gambia in particular, a safer and more stable future. The Gambia’s foreign policy must be shaped by our geopolitical reality. Senegal and The Gambia should be encouraged to sign (and hold to) a Memorandum of Understanding on defence cooperation, in order to strengthen bilateral defence relations between the two countries and their security forces.

Since 1994 former President Jammeh conducted a foreign policy characterized by hostility, insensitivity and intolerance towards neighbours. The Gambia’s post-Jammeh foreign policy must derive from the country’s survival instinct. Foreign Policy scholars have argued that in the contemporary international system, it is vital that small and weak states develop effective survival instincts. Jeffrey A. Lefebvre, a reputable scholar of small state foreign policy, has offered three guiding principles which should always be followed by small and weak states to ensure longevity and survival. The three golden rules to follow are as follows:

“Rule number one:  acquire a great-power patron (protector).

Rule number two: avoid alienating your patron.

Rule number three: avoid making enemies.”

Under the new president Adama Barrow, The Gambia should be flexible in conducting its foreign policy. As the leader of a small and militarily weak nation, President Barrow must concentrate on making friends rather than enemies. He must demonstrate his independence and pragmatism by adopting positions on regional and global issues that do not run counter to the interests of The Gambia’s friendly neighbours.  Essentially, the Gambia has to manoeuvre comfortably in three critical arenas.

  • Senegalo-Gambian relations at the Senegambia Permanent Secretariat.
  1. ECOWAS and the African Union (AU).
  2. Global institutions and organizations such as the African Development Bank, World Bank, The International Monetary Fund, Organization of Islamic Cooperation and United Nations.

The diplomacy of pragmatism is essential in a post-Jammeh Gambia and our foreign policy should not be dictated by emotional or nationalistic rhetoric: this would be short-sighted and counterproductive rather than pragmatic. It is in our power to have a foreign policy that is based not only on doctrine and principles but also largely on a pragmatic approach.

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