It is necessary for the Government to realize that in certain disturbances, a better and faster solution is obtained through political means than through security measures. Hence the moment these events first erupted in Mankamang Kunda it would have made a more significant impact if the president and relevant authorities are seen and heard appealing for calm and reassuring citizens. This could be followed with televised meetings with the various parties involved in the conflict as well as a visit to the conflict zones and hospitals to assure and console victims. For example the president could have invited the APRC leadership as well as the community leaders of Busumbala and Mankamang Kunda to openly discuss issues. To avert future violence, the Government should have provided a more reinforced escort for the APRC convoy right from Mankamang Kunda.
Coming out of an authoritarian rule for a generation, the Government must realize that it will gain more if it deploys more of its political resources than resorting to security and military measures to handle socio-political crisis in the country. We need to understand that beneath our society lies a certain discomfort. That is, as the ruling party of that dictatorship, APRC is trapped in guilt and shock for losing power while at the same time the rest of the population is filled with indignation at the apparent acts of denial, mockery and insensitive politicking by the APRC. Hence the problem in this country is not security but political.
The second mishandling of the situation is when the Gambia Police Force, acting on the obnoxious Public Order Act announced that permits for political activities by political parties are suspended till further notice because of the violent events in Mankamang Kunda and Busumbala. This is an unacceptable position that is a direct violation of the rights of citizens. The Inspector General of Police cannot seize fundamental rights. The right to political participation is guaranteed by the Gambia Constitution hence no one can abrogate this right because of events in one part of the country.
As a fundamental right of citizens, political activity cannot be suspended countrywide without the declaration of a state of emergency. Hence the action taken by the police is beyond their authority. The police can only institute a curfew to selected areas of the country following incidents that pose continued threat to human life and property. But the incidents in Mankamang Kunda and Busumbala do not warrant a blanket suspension of political activity all over the country.
What we expect from the police is to deploy their full force at public gatherings to provide security and where violence erupts to bring perpetrators to justice after a thorough investigation. In the meantime they must ensure that all other citizens continue to enjoy their full human rights. But by suspending political activity throughout the country it means the police are creating an unnecessary alarm and exaggeration of the event beyond its scope. We require a police force that will act in a manner that creates a sense of security and calm in the country.
Thirdly the militarization of Busumbala and Farato because of this unfortunate incident is heavy-handed and unnecessary. The deployment of combat-ready army personnel in communities should not be a simple and immediate decision. The use of the military in civilian environments must be necessitated by conditions that directly threaten national security and are beyond the capacity of the law enforcement agencies. The armed checkpoints on the highway in Busumbala and Farato do not help in assuring the Gambian public that the Government is capable of ensuring peace and security at all times.
Therefore both the suspension of political activity and the installation of armed checkpoints in the middle of the community indicate a lack of professionalism and efficiency by the Government. This is even more apparent when it emerged that a local journalist had alerted the police earlier that there would be violence in Busumbala yet the police did nothing. As the agency responsible for internal security the police must ensure that they are present at all public processions and gatherings to avert violence.
It is important to remind the Government and all citizens that the Gambia just emerged out of a brutal tyranny during which the State had always employed force and violence on the people. Therefore in this new democratic dispensation the Government would do well to realize that its responses must be carefully considered and on the lines of human rights and the rule of law. The tendency to use the army and tough security decisions that limit human rights must be averted because, instead of calming the situation they could serve to further aggravate it. This will not augur well for dialogue and reconciliation.
We need smart leadership!
For the Gambia, Our Homeland!