|Director General, Ousman Sowe|
The statement may be reassuring, not because of the content of the message but because of the messenger who delivered the message. Ousman Sowe who became the head honcho of the intelligence agency after Jammeh went into involuntary exile last year, is a product of the agency whose existence under the ex-dictator was two-fold (i) secure the state, and (ii) ensure the survival of the regime of Yaya Jammeh.
While some countries use intelligence as tool to pursue military and economic supremacy, the Gambia, since December 2016, places higher premium on "human security and human rights and freedoms as enshrined in the constitution."
As a long serving intelligence officer, primarily in the external affairs department which he eventually headed as Director, a source familiar with his career at the NIA described him in one word - "clean"- meaning that he was never involved in the human rights abuses of the Jammeh era. This should come as a welcome relief to reformers as well as human rights activists who'd like to see a thorough house cleaning in the intelligence, military and civil services.
The national security challenges, according to the Director General, in 2018 are not different in any significant way than last year. He told the audience that government should pay attention to social media activities which "could affect policy thinking, cause social unease and affect security arrangements in 2018."
It is unclear, in the absence of context, what Mr. Sowe meant apart from underscoring the importance of social media in public policy formulation. But, he also thinks that "2018 will be stretched and stressed by differing opinions that may cause social unease and affect security,' which, in our view, is the nature of democracy - always messy. The government must adjust to the new realities by taking appropriate measures to secure the public order without compromising the personal and inherent freedoms of Gambians.
Putting on his foreign intelligence hat on, the Director General of the SIS told his august audience that economic activities will pick up in 2018 with more projects to be implemented. He concluded his forecast of the economy in 2018 by cautioning the authorities thus : "We, in the intelligence and security community can caution that all that glitters is not gold hence the need to identify the genuine from the fake investor." He added that economic "development could be affected by lethargy, slowness and flat footedness."
Finally, Mr. Sowe promised Gambians with these words: "While our operational techniques of covert collection of information are secret , the rest of our intelligence activities will be open and participatory so as to earn the confidence and full support of the public." "That might not have been the case before," he continued, "but in any democracy, it is essential that intelligence services behave in an ethical and lawful manner."