Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Foni is NOT enemy territory

Sentry guard post at entrance of  garrison town of  Kanilai 
Recent protests demonstrations by residents in and around the garrison town of Kanilai, home of the former Gambian dictator, have resulted in, at least, one death and several wounded, reportedly as a result of gunfire by ECOWAS troops (referred to as ECOMIG) deployed in The Gambia to secure the country and the coalition government of President Adama Barrow.

Protest leaders say they are opposed to the presence of these troops, particularly the Senegalese contingent.  They want them redeployed elsewhere outside Foni.  They accused the troops of harassing the local population and randomly killing their animals. They, therefore, have come to view ECOMIG as an occupying force which, interestingly, is not the same view they held when Jammeh created the garrison-like environment from Kanfenda to Kanilai, suggesting a reverence to the dictator who had replaced Kukoi Samba Sanyang as a favorite son of Foni the moment Jammeh succeeded in deposing a democratically elected government of Sir Dawda Jawara.  Yaya Jammeh pulled off a coup where Kukoi failed, even when his coup attempt rendered The Gambia a country without a government for a few days.  

A region that has produced two rebel leaders requires careful analysis and sober reflection that will hopefully provide answers and peaceful solution and not bellicosity and aggressive language directed to the people of Foni or any other region for that matter.  Jammeh spent his 22 years in office reinforcing his dictatorial regime as well as sow the seeds of discord and flash-points across the country in the event that he's toppled.  The Kanilai complex is one such result of his handy work but the entire Foni is not.  Jammeh did not enjoy 100% support in his native Kanilai much less the region of Foni.  Therefore, Foni is not a homogeneous region in spite of its Jola majority.

Contiguous Foni stretches well into southern Senegal, with deep ties to our side of the Fonis further complicating a national problem that can quickly take on an international character in a flash.  This reality should serve as a reminder to every politician of the need (i) to appreciate the implication(s) of a mishap in handling any incident like the protests we saw in Kanilai and (ii) to be measured in their public statements.  I think we've all now agreed that what took place in Kanilai was not a riot but a protest which the government has determined to be illegal and have thus arrested and charged 14 persons accordingly.

Government response to the Kanilai protests has been a mixed bag of calls for unity and blusterous rage.  The Interior Minister's statement calmly and rightly called on Gambians to march in unison but quickly went into overdrive in a blusterous rage directed at lawbreakers with threats of being "consumed by the law."  Conflicting reports were being officially disseminated before all the facts were known, causing consternation in certain quarters.
Interior Minister, Mai Ahmad Fatty 

The Alkalo of Kanilai, Alh. Ebou Jammeh, through a close family spokesperson denied the claim that he went into hiding.  He said even if he wanted to flee, his medical condition wouldn't permit him.  Sources close to the Alkalo, challenge Minister Fatty's claim protesters were armed with "local weapons"and no video evidence exists in the public domain to day to support the Mai Fatty version of events.  The type of bullet used by the troops that killed one person is also being contested with one version claiming that it was a rubber bullet and another version said it was a regular bullet.  

Coordination among ministers, especially between Interior and Information, in this case, is absolutely imperative to avoid conflicting information being provided to the public at a time when even ECOWAS recognizes "the fragile situation" that exists in the country which led to extending the ECOMIG mission for 12 months.  In taking note of the fragile nature of the peace, ECOWAS took the wise move of broadening the mandate of the troop to include support for training armed forces and urged member states to contribute additional troops.  

The crucial role played by the mission in keeping The Gambia secure is indisputable.  The decision of whether the troops stay or leave is the exclusive responsible of the Barrow government and not a protester or anyone else for that matter.  The limits of the demonstrators power to influence public policy is not boundless but their right to peaceful dissent is limitless under law.  For starters, there must be an open and frank dialogue between government and the people of Foni where all issues of concern of both sides are aired.  In short, the residents of Foni must be engaged constructively with the ultimate goal of some form of a pacification program for the area as a possible solution to the area's concerns, which may necessarily include a status change for the garrison town of Kanilai.