• Pa Louis Sambou Jr.

OPINION: Are Foreign Troops on Gambian Territory Staying For Far Too Long For Their Own Good?

OPINION | Are Foreign Troops on Gambian Territory Staying For Far Too Long For Their Own Good, Undoing All The Good They Have Done?

| The Truth About The Rapidly Thinning Boundary Between ECOMIG and Senegalese Government Foreign Policy Interests & Its Implications |

The presence of foreign troops of whatsoever nationality, fold or grade, on any third country is an exceptional phenomenon which is bound to attract a considerable degree of curiosity from ordinary citizens. The fact that this is so in our case is not an exception at all. Besides, one of the benefits of living in an open democratic society is, it avails as of right and constitutional entitlement, the freedom for questions to be asked of matters of public interest which are not fully understood. In light of the active provocation of conflict between The Gambia and MFDC fighters in Senegal’s Casamance regions by the foreign troops in question, it is of paramount importance that hard-hitting questions be asked as to whether these foreign troops are staying far too long for their own good and undoing all the good they have done. When troops present on Gambian soil in order to prevent internal political conflict overtime fundamentally transform to becoming a lightening rod for unprecedented cross border conflict which risks sucking The Gambia into an armed conflict, asking such question is a fairly measured, reasonable and responsible thing to do.

Suffice it to say and as a matter of concrete fact, the subject matter of foreign troops on Gambian soil does not enjoy the benefit of any lawfully recognised privilege of a waiver or any exception as far as the exercise of the constitutional right to free speech goes. In plain speak, the ongoing public discussion regarding the continued presence of foreign troops is one which is squarely permissible by law. The aforementioned is definitely a far much more straightforward nut to crack than the enigma as to why it is that the Gambia government, its agents and PR brigade of self - appointed commissars are so eager to smear and browbeat anyone with an opposing view in their desire to disparagingly shut down any objective discussion on any issue which relates to the subject of the foreign troops on Gambian soil. This is one question which I do not set myself the challenge of finding an answer to. However, it is important to address key facts upon which people can form their own conclusions regarding the wholesome of such an important public interest subject.

Gambia's Defence Minister with Ecomig officials

As most of us would recall, the deployment of foreign troops (ECOMIG) to The Gambia was precipitated by the refusal of former President Jammeh to ensure the peaceful and smooth hand-over of power having lost the December 2016 election to President-elect Adama Barrow. Such deployment, facilitated by the regional bloc (ECOWAS) was mandated by United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 2337 which:

called upon “…the countries in the region and the relevant regional organisation to cooperate with President Barrow in his efforts to realize the transition of power;” and which expressed “…its full support to the ECOWAS in its commitment to ensure, by political means first, the respect of the will of the people of the Gambia as expressed in the results of 1st December elections”.

Factually speaking, the mandate of ECOMIG is derived from this UNSC resolution and evidently, it was limited to them ensuring “the respect of the will of the people of the Gambia as expressed in the results of 1st December elections” by assisting President elect Barrow to “realize the transition of power”. A strict interpretation of such mandate would suggest that, it came to an end upon the official swearing in of President Barrow, in The Gambia or, on a more generous interpretation, once his first term in office came to an end. As the latter has lapsed, on the facts, ECOMIG’s continued stay no longer enjoys the benefit of UNSC resolution 2337, which renders the legality of their presence questionable. Furthermore, even if their continued stay is authorised or mandated under an alternative international agreement, treaty or arrangement, such does not change the position and here is why:

Section 79(1)(c) of the Constitution states:

“The President shall be responsible for - the negotiation and, subject to ratification by the National Assembly, the conclusion of treaties and other international agreements”

On the facts, the National Assembly has not ratified any agreement which extends ECOMIG’s original mandate upon its expiration or which granted or authorised a new mandate for their continued presence as is required by section 79(1)(c) of the Constitution. Therefore, based on the above facts and the Constitution, the continued presence of ECOMIG on Gambian soil is unlawful and a breach of the Constitution and so are any activities which they embark upon. This is a fact and not biased subjective opinion.

Moving on, one can certainly not do justice to this subject without addressing the specific issue of the hot confrontation in The Gambia on 24 January 2022, between Senegalese troops operating on Gambian soil and MFDC fighters. In the aftermath of the fatal confrontation, the Senegalese President, released a short statement via his personal Twitter and as quoted in numerous news outlets stating that the clash with MFDC occurred whilst the Senegalese personnel were fighting “against timber trafficking south of Bwiam, as part of the ECOWAS mission in The Gambia.” As the ECOMIG mandate under UNSC resolution 2337 did not authorise anything even remotely close to fighting “against timber trafficking”, President Mackey Sall’s statement to that effect was wholly contra factual. Even if he genuinely held the belief which he espoused, the said operation was still unlawful for the same aforementioned reasons why ECOMIG’s continued presence equally is.

It is vital to also state that contradictory reports have since emerged that, contrary to claims by Presidents Sall and Barrow, the skirmish in question erupted when Senegalese troops stationed in The Gambia under the now legally questionable ECOMIG mandate, mounted a planned attack against the respective MFDC position in Casamance resulting in the firefight spilling over into The Gambia upon the retreat of the Senegalese troops back into Gambian territory.

Regardless of which of the versions is an accurate reflection of what truly happened, the fact remains that both versions detail a military operation which cannot be justified under the ECOMIG mandate, international law nor any respectable authority. The Senegalese government is at liberty to direct attacks against any adversary within its jurisdiction and from within Senegalese territory, however, it has no legal authority nor justification to direct military attacks against an internal adversary from within The Gambia, whether under the guise of ECOMIG or under the shady cover of any bilateral agreement with The Gambia government. What is playing out has all the hallmarks of a carefully crafted and deliberate ploy by the Senegalese government to aggressively provoke a situation in order to force a change in The Gambia’s foreign policy on the issue and thereby have The Gambia nation sucked into its 40 years long war with the MFDC. The rhetoric from the Senegalese media as well as the fanciful conspiracy theories being passed as credible ‘intelligence’ and briefed through friendly third parties, would support this view. These tricks, by Senegalese state actors are grossly irresponsible, utterly unacceptable and completely against the security and safety interests of Gambian citizens. Internal Senegalese matters are for Senegalese citizens and the Senegalese government to address within Senegalese territory, The Gambian nation and its citizens have all to lose and nothing absolutely whatsoever to gain by involving themselves in the armed conflict between the Senegalese government and the MFDC.

Now, as far as the version of the officialdom goes, as was reported by Foroyaa Newspaper on 14 March 2018, the governments of The Gambia and Senegal entered into a number of bilateral agreements one of which is “to fight against wood trafficking”. Clearly, it is borne out from the facts that if the operation which gave rise to the hot confrontation between the Senegalese troops and the MFDC pertains to the “fight against wood trafficking”, then it is clearly absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with anything under any valid ECOMIG mandate. The realisation that governments of both countries have not been truthful to their citizens is bad enough, but that is not even the worst part of this episode. On close examination of the statement by the Senegalese President, ECOMIG is being used as a convenient cover for operations whose objectives are purely relevant to political and domestic issues and priorities for the Senegalese government; the bilateral agreement which permits Senegalese personnel to “fight against wood trafficking” from within Gambian territory in particular, shifts the Senegalese Military / MFDC frontline at least in part, from Casamance into The Gambia. I do not for one minute begrudge the Senegalese government for wanting to safeguard their interests even when such is clearly at the expense of The Gambia, besides it is their job to do so. My protest is therefore, directed at the Gambia government, for consistently surrendering if not completely neglecting the legitimate interests of its own citizens as far as the matters under review are concerned.

The legality of the numerous and far from transparent bilateral agreements entered into with the Senegalese government is a relevant and important issue to examine. So far, with the exception of the Extradition Treaty, none of the agreements were ratified by the National Assembly as is mandated by section 79(1)(c) which of course renders the whole bunch of such far from transparent agreements wholly unlawful including that which permits Senegalese personnel to “fight against wood trafficking” from within Gambian territory.

On the facts, at least two of the respective bilateral agreements could be said to be ones which cede aspects of Gambian sovereignty to Senegal: - the agreement which is dubbed ‘hot pursuit’ which permits Senegalese authorities to treat Gambian territory as Senegalese territory when pursuing any suspect who subsequently enters into Gambian territory and the above mentioned bilateral agreement which in part, shifts the Senegalese Army / MFDC fighters’ frontline into The Gambia. For such agreements, there is an express constitutional prohibition unless they are subjected to a referendum. The respective constitutional provision being section 79(2)(a) states as follows:

“The Gambia shall not - enter into any engagement with any other country which causes it to lose its sovereignty without the matter first being put to a referendum and passed by such majority as may be prescribed by an Act of the National assembly”

Clearly, on the facts, in addition to these far from transparent agreements constituting egregious breaches to the Constitution, neither of them is conducive to the public good.

Now, on the facts, it is established and supported with very firm legal authority that, ECOMIG’s continued presence in The Gambia is unlawful and constitutes a breach of the Constitution. The same is also established in the case of every single bilateral agreement entered into with the Senegalese government with the exception of the Extradition Treaty, which Treaty it is important to underline that Senegalese authorities repeatedly violate by apprehending and whisking away Gambian citizens from Gambian soil into Senegal, in complete disregard for the respective extradition process.

To be absolutely clear, the Gambia and Senegalese governments should of course cooperate and work with each other on issues of mutual interest to improve the welfare of their citizens. However, these must be pursued transparently, lawfully and with the consent of citizens, none of which characterises any of the bilateral collaborations between the two respective governments as we speak. It is this deficiency which forms the basis for the increasing worries of most Gambian citizens; the officialdom’s default setting of simply disparagingly dismissing rather than appropriately addressing these concerns is a grossly mistaken one.

I am fairly conscious of the polarising nature of the subject, so the steadfast focus and strong emphasis and reliance on the objective facts rather than opinion is therefore deliberate. It is now for people to form their own conclusions, based on the facts as I have indeed formed my own, in firmly but reasonably holding that:

The instructions of the Constitution at section 79(1)(c) must be adhered to in order to:

- Address the undesirable legal status of ECOMIG’s continued presence in The Gambia, the boundaries of its operational powers and the remit of its jurisdiction;

- Halt the operationalisation of all unlawful bilateral agreements and table them before Parliament for ratification as is required by law.

In the case of the ‘hot pursuit’ agreement and that which in part, shifts the Casamance frontline into The Gambia, I am fairly confident that no reasonable cost / benefit analysis from the point of view of The Gambia’s interest will pass these as being in the interest of The Gambia. Nonetheless, the government must ensure that these bilateral agreements comply with the law and that means appropriately putting them to a referendum as mandated by section 79(2)(a) or in the alternative, simply do away with them.

On the ongoing and widely publicised MFDC / Senegalese government ‘infowars’, I am personally no more interested in commenting on these than I would wish to have Senegalese citizens interfere in internal Gambian political matters. I would however say this: - the venerable profile and platform being accorded to the MFDC leader in The Gambia is one development which I find deeply troubling, but such is an unintended consequence of an even much more damaging Gambia government policy which precipitated the entire undesirable episode. In the interest of stability within our frontiers and the safety and security of our citizens, the Gambia government must very carefully reconsider the adverse consequences of being sucked into such an armed conflict.

So in essence, my position simply advocates an adherence to the law (the Constitution) and the safeguarding of the safety and security interests of Gambian citizens on sovereign Gambian territory both of which on the facts, the government of the Gambia unfortunately currently acts against.

Of course I do not expect everyone to agree with my position, and that is fair enough. However, it is nonetheless comprehensively laid out and so are the objective facts upon which I hold such position. The challenge now for those clinging onto the officialdom as the gospel truth (and in the process smearing and throwing out tropes and idle labels in the direction of anyone and everyone who with good reason refuses to swallow the poisonous line, crooked hook and corrosive sinker) is, for them to:

- substantiate with authority, that ECOMIG’s continued stay in The Gambia is supported under a legal mandate;

- substantiate with authority that the respective bilateral agreements with the Senegalese government are legal;

- show that it is in the interest of The Gambia to invite gun battles into its territory by allowing the Senegalese military to launch and retreat from attacks against the MFDC using Gambian territory; and

- explain why the foreign policy interests of the Senegalese government should take precedence over the safety and security of Gambian citizens on Gambian soil and respect for our Constitution.

As is characteristic of every position I take on every issue, if the facts change or better facts emerge, I will have no hesitation at all in reassessing the confidence which I attribute to my current position. Until then, it remains my firmly held view that the position of the officialdom lacks credibility and is terribly hollow; although high on rhetoric, it is actually extremely low if not completely void of any believable factual substance whatsoever. About time this hugely important subject matter is engaged upon a foundation of facts rather than deception, tropes and idle labels. I am pretty sure that those indulged in these can do far much better.

Author can be contacted on Twitter: @That_Pragmatist or by email: opmail220@gmail.com


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