Saturday, March 23, 2019

Military-grade weapons in civilian hands are a threat to the peace and stability of the country

Abubakar Jawara, Proprietor of GACH 
When a consignment of imported semiautomatic military-grade rifles was interdicted at the Banjul Port facilities a few months ago, public alarm reached pitched levels, forcing the Inspector General of Police (IGP) to issue a press release reassuring a nervous population still recovering from 22-years of one of Africa's most brutal dictatorship.

The IGP's January 12th press release confirmed that the Gambia Angola China Company, known locally by its acronym CAGH applied for a license to "import single barrel rifles for hunting and recreational purposes in The Gambia."

The IGP claimed that it was during routine security inspection that they discovered that "38 of the guns were not the type authorized" for importation and were thus impounded and an investigation team from the various branches of the security establishment impaneled "to look into the matter as to whether these (presumably the 38 guns) are categories of hunting guns, as claimed by the importer."

By conveniently omitting the total number of guns clearly shown on the "packing list", the IGP is deliberately, and by implication, limiting its investigations to the 38 rifles when the packing list is showing that there were a total of 1,200 semiautomatic rifles and an additional 50 units of pump action BR-18s to allow for conversation of the weapons.

The End User Certificate (EUC) which is issued by the Gambia Police Force headed by the IGP and signed by the importer i.e. CAGH with the company stamped lists the exact same figures of 1,200 BR-32s and 33s and 50 pump action attachments.  Where are all the weapons?

During the National Assembly debate this week, the Interior Minister was asked by a parliamentarian whether "government intends to prosecute the owner of the company called CAGH who imported guns into the country without any authorization."

In response, the minister revealed that the Inspector General of Police approved the license that allowed Mr. Jawara of GACH to import hunting rifles. However, GACH took the liberty of including "two (2) pieces magazine-fed, semiautomatic guns, three (3) cross-fire magazine-fed guns and eight (8) pieces sentient F99T blank pistols"...not covered by the license."

Despite this, the Interior Minister didn't see any contradiction in his claim that an unidentified ballistics expert confirmed that these arms were meant for hunting.  Nothing short of an independent investigation by an outside group will suffice in help shed light on this murky deal that has all the hallmarks of a regional security threat.

The debate revealed two important developments i.e. the National Assembly's Select Committee on Security is investigating the matter and that the same issue is before the courts.  While the former is welcomed, the latter has left us wondering why the matter is in court in the first instance and what is being litigated.

Whatever the case, this issue will not be laid to rest until the Gambian people's concerns are addressed.  Military-grade weapons such as the ones listed in the End User Certificate (BR-32 and BR-33) have no place in our country.  They are a threat to both the military and the civilian population.  Therefore, as we have said in the past, they must be confiscated, publicly destroyed and appropriate legal action taken against all those who have broken the law or committed an administrative error.

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Friday, March 22, 2019

The consignment of arms imported by Abubacarr Jawara are deadly semi-automatic rifles, the pistols are real, not "blanks", as claimed

We are obliged to re-publish this blog post following the Interior Minister's testimony before the National Assembly yesterday when Minister Ebrima Mballow was quoted as saying that GACH imported 38 "hunting guns", a figure far below the 1,200 semiautomatic assault rifles  and the 50 pump action kits listed in the End User Certificate as well as the packing list.  

This matter is so serious that it is no longer a local matter but has taken a sub-regional security dimension.  The Government of Adama Barrow must come clean and soon. 

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Sunday, January 13, 2019

Abubacarr Jawara, GACH

























The recent shipment of deadly arms and ammunition into the country has raised alarms in the country, as well as the sub-region and other agencies whose work it is to monitor the trafficking in arms and humans, regionally and across the globe.

The consignment of a single container of arms that landed at the Banjul port comprised of 252 boxes containing 1,263 pieces of assorted arms and ammunition has caused great concern and has left a country emerging from 22 years of dictatorship on tenterhooks, particularly the security establishment.  This event could not have come at a worse time when the state's institutions are weak and the coalition that formed the transition government in disarray.  The security sector is in no better shape.

The Inspection Report from the Turkish port from where the weapons were shipped shows that the 1,263 pieces were shipped, made up of 900 pieces of Crossfire Single Barrel Model BR-32 (Wood Forend), 300 pieces of the BR-33 with crossfire pump action Model BR-0, BR-18 and BR 21 for a total of 60 pieces.  For the pump action, the End User Certificate shows 50 but the Inspection Report from Turkey indicates that there were 60 pieces.

The BR-32 and BR-33 are semi-automatic that can be equipped with the BR-01 and BR-21 Crossfire Pump Action to convert them into fully automatic rifles.  So contrary to the press release issued by the GACH Security company, these riffles are far from being hunting riffles.  In the words of the weapons expert  we consulted, these weapons are "more suited for security detail than hunting boar or chasing predator animals off one's farm."

What is missing from the End User Certificate but is in the Inspection Report are the following: 5 pieces of Crossfire Mezine Fed Shotgun + semi-automatic and 8 pieces Sentetien (or Ententien) F-98T and F-99T pistols. The weapons on video display plaid on online television stations did show pistols as well as riffles which are all semi-automatic that can be converted into fully automatic mode.

In the GACH press release explaining the circumstances surrounding the consignment and what they characterize as "the misunderstanding...at the heart of this whole saga is the free samples... which included Blank Pistols."  The release further claim that these blank pistols utilize a blank ammunition which only makes a loud bang and does not have the ability to cause harm."

The pistols described in the GACH press release may exits but they are certainly not the ones listed in the inspection report confirming all of the items shipped from Turkey.  The pistols shipped were Sentetien or Ententien F-98T and F-99T pistols are real and not "blank pistols", as claimed by the importer.

GACH is also claiming that the BR-32 and BR-33 are "hunting riffles".  The weapons expert we consulted concluded that these type riffles are suited for security details and not for hunting.  We have total confidence in the expert we consulted who is a retired military officer who knows a thing or two about weapons.

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This is the first in a series of blog post about this and related matter concerning our national security

 



Thursday, March 7, 2019

The national security deficit is the single biggest threat to Barrow's transition government - Part I


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Three events occurred last week in Banjul that served as sober reminders to what we've now come to refer to as the national security deficit is the single biggest threat facing the Barrow-led transition government.

First, the long anticipated reaction of the European Union towards the seemingly open-ended mandate of the ECOMIG forces that have been in the country since December, 2016 to guarantee the safety and security of Gambians and members of the Transition Government of Adama Barrow.   

While expressing reluctance to prematurely recommend the withdrawal of the forces from The Gambia, the EU Ambassador to The Gambia, Mr. Attila Lajos, was quoted as saying "the EU does not want to keep external forces in a democratically transforming country for too long." The optics of retaining a foreign force in the country is not reassuring and thus poses a challenge for ECOWAS to device an exit strategy so as not to "give the impression of how fragile the government could be."  Given these facts and according to reports, the EU Ambassador cannot therefore give the assurance to the Barrow government that his organization will support further extension of the ECOMIG mandate beyond the expiry date of August, 2019. 

Second, there were the arrivals of Gambian deportees from Germany that resulted in some altercations involving a returnee and at least one television journalist who ended up being assaulted and her camera destroyed by an angry returnee. Subsequent flights during the week resulted in verbal protests from relatives of deportees when they were given only D200 (equivalent to approx. US$4) as subsistence and transport fare to their respective homes around the country.  The planeloads of deportees that arrived last week are a minute part of the over 5,000 actual and likely migrants scheduled for repatriation from Germany alone to Banjul in the coming months.  Accurate figures for Italy, Spain and other European countries are not available but it is expected to by in the thousands of young Gambians. 

The third and final event of the past week occurred at the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparation Commission's (TRRC) session when an army training officer named Alagie Kanyi implicated several prominent members of the military junta, among others, in the murder of the junta's Finance Minister as well as witness tampering for which Mr. Touray - an influential member of the defunct Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council (AFPRC) - has been initially charged.

Yankuba Touray played a key role in transforming the military junta into the formidable civilian political machine the APRC party became as its chief propagandist and youth mobilizer.  Based on the last presidential elections' results that it narrowly lost to a coalition of seven political parties, the APRC is Gambia's second biggest political party.  Despite the absence of Yaya Jammeh, the APRC is very well funded with a national structure that remains largely intact with the former dictator as its titular head and therefore a formidable political force to reckoned with.

These events have national security implications that will be explored in our second installment of this blog post.

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Sunday, March 3, 2019

Intent to create a "Gambia Infrastructure Fund" announced by the government of Adama Barrow


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REPUBLIC OF                        THE GAMBIA

      MINISTRY OF INFORMATION AND
     COMMUNICATION INFRASTRUCTURE
      GRTS BUILDING, MDI ROAD, KANIFING, THE GAMBIA, WEST AFRICA.
OFFICE OF THE GOVERNMENT SPOKESPERSON

                                                                                                       
PRESS RELEASE FROM THE OFFICE OF THE GOVERNMENT SPOKESPERSON
Dated: 2nd March 2019

To Modernize Gambia, Barrow Government Proposes to Set Up ‘Gambia Infrastructure Fund’ (GIF)
The Gambia Government notes with concern that despite modest infrastructural developments since independence in 1965, the country faces major constrains in its overall infrastructural landscape and compared to our neighbours, some places in The Gambia are in dire need of major infrastructural face lifts. This general state of dilapidated and decrepit infrastructure or lack thereof, speaks volumes to the senseless waste of scarce resources, institutional malfeasance, corruption and poor planning.

While millions of US dollars were lavishly wasted on ceremonies, random acts of kindness and white elephant projects, majority of Gambians continued to endure abject poverty, poor educational facilities and a dysfunctional healthcare system.

Against this depressing background of decades of decay, poverty and underdevelopment, President Adama Barrow proposes to launch an independent institution through an Act of Parliament to be called The Gambia Infrastructure Fund (GIF).

To be headed by a Chief Executive Officer, GIF will be responsible for the strategic financing of a well-planned and bankable infrastructure with a view to remarkably transform the economy through large scale household poverty reduction.
As a new institution, President Barrow envisages that GIF complements the public sector role in development by providing strategic leadership in the creation and delivery of infrastructure masterplans, the development of strategic bankable infrastructural facilities and the provision of appropriate financing to support delivery of landmark projects. The proposed GIF will manage three core areas of responsibility for development:
1.     Gambia Infrastructure Trust Fund (GITF) – This will manage the trust fund capitalized by domestic and foreign individuals, institutional and fund investors, using market-based mechanisms. The proposed GIF may not place any financial liability (explicit or contingent) on the government.
2.     Planning Function –Which will develop infrastructure master plans and designs, and further manage and/or coordinate construction, operation and maintenance of ensuing infrastructure through public—private partnerships.
3.     Compliance Function– To provide institutional and regulatory leadership required to sustainably manage infrastructure master plans and projects.
When fully operational, GIF will invest in three economic hubs geographically spread across the country, interconnected by backbone infrastructure corridors, to engineer economic growth through large scale job creation and poverty reduction in all regions.
As a first step, The Gambia Government is to establish an Interim Steering Committee (ISC) to prepare the ground for rolling out GIF within a year.
Consistent with the ethics of transparency and democratic accountability and determined to transform the lives of Gambians across the spectrum, President Adama Barrow is therefore, very pleased to announce these plans and will keep the public informed every step of the way in the weeks and months to come as certain milestones are achieved.



EGSankareh
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Ebrima G. Sankareh
The Gambia Government Spokesperson

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Managing a potentially explosive deportee problem

Barrow, Darboe - EU visit 
We warned, on numerous occasions, the explosive nature of the
deportee scenario unfolding since the first batch of Gambians expelled from Europe and America began to land in handcuffs at Yundum Airport. 

We are re-publishing one of our numerous blog posts we wrote in March, 2018 on the subject as we witness, in real time, incidents after incidents on display, as young, frustrated and highly aggrieved Gambian deportees being returned involuntarily.  The situation is explosive because they are returning to a country that is still ill-prepared to successfully reintegrate these young men into Gambian society. 
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Gambia's foreign minister, Ousainou Darboe, has recently come under fire for his perceived mishandling of the return of the deportees and returnees from the United States and Europe.  He was criticized for his ministry's lack of plan of action, to include airport reception, of deportees recently repatriated from the United States. 

The absence of staff of his ministry at the airport to receive several dozens deportees from the U.S. was cited as his failure to carry out his responsibility as the minister responsible for Gambians living abroad and his general lack of interest in the deportees welfare, a claim he vehemently denied as malicious during a parliamentary session last week and on national television.

The minister explained his ministry's absence at the airport was a result of lack of notification of his ministry from the Americans which was immediately contradicted by the American Ambassador to The Gambia who said in a press statement and subsequent press interviews that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was notified "well in advance...of the charter flight,...and the Gambian government authorized the flight's landing clearance and arranged for the appropriate personnel to be on hand for its arrival." 

It is therefore safe to deduct that the appropriate personnel being referred to by the U.S. Ambassador are principally made up of immigration and customs personnel since the foreign minister's statement before the National Assembly admitted that no foreign ministry staff was on hand to receive the deportees.       

An airport reception party composed of Foreign Affairs and Interior Ministry personnel should, as a matter of courtesy and duty, be present at every occasion to receive deportees and returnees but the problem is much more complex and too serious that it poses an existential threat to the country, and the mitigating measures are sometimes outside the control of receiving countries and The Gambia is one of those countries more vulnerable than many African countries.

The handling (or mishandling) of the airport reception by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs led to Gambian refugees in camps, their relatives, as well as ordinary Gambians and political pundits to kick up a storm against the foreign minister and other officials which, in our view, was dispassionately harsh when one considers the mundane task of airport reception as being the easiest part of the deportee/returnee problem the country is likely to face in the future.  Tens of thousands of Gambians returnees and deportees are expected to be repatriated in the coming months from Europe and America.

Gambia, the smallest country on the African continent, defied all statistical probabilities by contributing a proportionally higher percentage of economic and political refugees to Europe via Libya and the Mediterranean than larger contributing countries to the current refugee crisis.  The human wave towards Europe in the last decade has been the largest human migration since WWII and The Gambia has been a significant contributor to it. 

In addition to its small size, Gambia's is among the least prepared to absorb the deportees and returnees because it is emerging from over two decades of one of Africa's most brutal dictatorship that has weakened the country's institutions and devastated a once thriving economy rendering its employment generating capacity ineffectual.  Self-employment becomes a viable option as a result. 

As Europe and America ramp up its deportation orders, the pressure will mount on the Barrow administration to create an environment conducive to a successful resettlement program that will include jobs and self-employment opportunities.  The communities can play a crucial role by serving as a social safety net but that role will not play a prominent role in our policy tool box as the foreign minister envisaged in his response to National Assembly members. 

A successful resettlement program must go beyond providing stipend to every deportee and returnee to include vocational and skills training programs to prepare them for private sector as well as self-employment opportunities. 

As local hostilities toward immigrants in general and "illegals" in particular grow in intensify, The Gambia should expect to receive a large number of its citizens from Europe and America in the years ahead as nationals in Europe and America demand to have their respective "countries back."  And as right-wing nationalists gain larger share of political power, they will exert more pressure on their electorates and liberal colleagues for stricter immigration laws.  Contributing countries like The Gambia should expect more deportees and returnees into the foreseeable future.

In fact, things would have been worse if the European Union had its way.   The EU initial plan was to mass deport Africans migrants by issuing them with laissez passez, effectively determining who is Gambian and who is Nigerian.  When the African leaders, led by Macky Sall of Senegal vehemently objected, the EU backtracked and came up with the $2 billion Trust Fund as additional aid package to help resettle the returnees.

Despite the existence of the Trust Fund and the abandonment of the mass deportation idea, the resettlement program is still a controversial one in the Gambia with questions raised about the lack of transparency in both what has been agreed to between the EU and The Gambia and also between bilateral partners and the government.  Claims have been made and threats issued by a section of the refugee communities across Europe that the government was readily willing to sign off on the deportation orders instead of taking a stronger stance that would guarantee their stay in Europe.

There is clearly a segment of the returnees who are disgruntled enough to be a destabilizing force should they return to a country that is still in transition and lacks the wherewithal to effectively manage a successful resettlement program. 

Prospective deportees currently resident in refugee camps have been reported to have burnt down shelters they are housed arson in anger that they are being deported and recordings have surfaced in social media uttering threatening remarks against the state.  These developments can easily be dispelled as empty threats and marks of frustration with no consequence to national security.   

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Wednesday, February 6, 2019

State of Gambian agriculture from OJ's standpoint

This blog post was first published in December, 2017
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Patcharr Rice fields
Hon. Omar Jallow, affectionately referred to by his initials O.J. is Gambia's agriculture minister who had previously served in the same position for over a decade during the Jawara administration.  He is, therefore, as qualified as any to assess a sector of the country's economy that is the single largest contributor to GDP and provides employment to 70% of the country's 2 million inhabitants.

Despite its absolute importance to Gambia's economic well being, and the former dictator professed  commitment to promoting it, the agriculture sector has suffered discernibly in the last two decades.

Faced with steady decline in agricultural production, particularly as it relates to the main cash crop, due to inappropriate policies.  Agricultural land has been expropriated from communities by the former dictator in an agrarian with devastating effect that denied access to communal lands across the country, causing disruptions to an otherwise traditional tenure system, negatively impacting production.
Although exogenous factors have contributed to the general decline in agricultural production, the constant human disruptions by the former regime in the name of food self-sufficiency have contributed to the decline.  According to the agriculture minister, government is in the process of returning communal land to its rightful owners.

In the last two decades, the role of government has increased in agricultural production while its role in extension services in support of the farmer has declined. with the obliteration of the Extension and Crop Protection Services, leaving the Gambian farmer to his or her own devises.  It is encouraging that the agriculture minister recognizes the problem and he's in the process of restoring these very vital support services to the farming communities.

The Cooperative Societies of farmers that formed the Cooperative Union empowered farmers and gave them ownership, stake and control of a very vital aspect of their lives have been disbanded.  Through their societies - owned and operated on behalf of farmers - local farmers were able to channel their agricultural input requirements and ultimate distribution in preparation for the next farming season.

The Cooperative Societies also served as buying points as well as agent for agricultural credit extended to farmers.  The reintroduction of cooperative societies will put the farmer back in the driver seat while focusing government's role more in providing extension/support services.  It will also expedite the process of the private investor partnership with local communities to replace government whose energy should refocus on providing extension services to the sector.

For a very long time, lip-service has been paid to agricultural diversification with a disproportionate time focused on a single cash crop.  The economic value of clinging on to groundnut at the expense of other economic crops like cotton, sunflower seeds and cashew, is increasingly questionable.

Adding value through processing of our agricultural products has also fallen short, more out of lack of a secure and friendly investment climate under Jammeh, despite several government pronouncements and false starts under Jammeh.  The current political environment lends itself to new private investment policy initiatives that will attract serious investors in agri-processing. 

The horticultural sub-sector fell victim of the 1994 Jammeh-led coup d'etat with the expulsion of owners of Radville Farms, the leading exporter of vegetable produce to the U.K. market, as well as to Jammeh's clandestine mining operations and land grabbing binge in the Kombos that saw horticultural land expropriated.  Operators of Radville Farms, at the time of being expelled, were employers to 100,000 Gambians.  It is gratifying to learn that efforts are underway for the company to resume business in The Gambia.
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