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  • Writer's picturePa 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 lega