Until July 22nd 1994 when Gambia’s President the then skinny and malnourished Lt Yahya Jammeh staged a military coup, the Gambia Armed Forces were admired for their professionalism and complete non-interference in party politics. This was also matched by their strictest adherence to internal rules of selection into the forces.
However much of that have now changed and the National Army is run much like a militia force, at least according to one former GNA member who now resides in Italy after he fled the Gambia and used the “back way” to reach Europe….a phenomenon where desperate young Gambians brave the Sahara desert to travel to Libya before they join inflatable boats to cross the Atlantic into Europe.
Our source who spoke to The Fatu Radio’s popular Today Show Program, is part of a growing young serving members of the different security services in the Gambia to abandon their post in search of greener pastures in Europe using the “back way” syndrome.
A militia army
Our source who called our popular program, said he was enlisted in the army some five years ago. However, contrary to the believe that he was joining a profession army, he said was shocked to discover that the army is more of a militia being directed on the whims of Gambia’s iron fist dictator Yahya Jammeh. “Fatou” he said, “I have to tell you that there is no professionalism in that army. Promotions are based on who serves well on dictator Jammeh’s farms, who attends to his personal errands, who looks after his cattle and other ruminants well.”
In some cases according to our source, promotion is based on physical body build-up of soldiers whom the dictator himself spots in the crowd during parades and or other military activities.
Tribalism and competition to carry out illegal orders
But of all the things that attract promotion to higher ranks in the army is the issue of tribalism according to our source. He said in most cases, names are submitted to the force headquarters from the State House for promotion to positions in the army. He said “when such a list of names from State House are issued to force headquarters, our seniors don’t even question anything…they just go ahead and effect the promotions even when you don’t merit it.”
Interestingly according to our source, most of the people who are normally promoted are from the dictator’s own tribe. “Fatu in the army it is now an acceptable trend that if you are not from Jammeh’s own tribe you have to show unquestioned loyalty on a continuous bases to carry out illegal orders,” the former army officer said adding “even there especially if you are a Fula or Mandingka, you are constantly screened, your family background investigated and spied on by the dictator’s henchmen before they give you a deserved promotion.”
The army he said is deeply divided. “Immediately after the training of each in-take, the dictator personally selects his mainly tribesmen to be effectively stationed at the State House. Members of other minority tribes are also selected by the dictator to be posted at his office,” the former officer said. He said the rest of the others particularly the Fulas and Mandingkas are posted in frontlines where the dictator believes the danger could come from. He added: “in effect, I can say that we are being used as death traps for the dictator but what he fails to realize is that the soldiers he is sending to the frontline as death traps are the most trained. The irony though is that the dictator is not even aware of the dangers of the risks he is putting the country and his personal security in.”
Dictator’s mother is allocated quota in security services selection
In a rather shocking revelation, the former officer who is on AWOAL, (a term used by soldiers to describe those who abandoned their post without permission) told the Fatu Radio Today’s Program that the dictator’s mother, Aja Asombie Bojang is allocated a quota whenever there is recruit selection by the army, police, the NIA and the Fire Services.
In a revelation which left many callers angry to the pitch, the former army officer said many of those recommended by the dictator’s mother are from the Southern Senegalese Province of Cassamance. This revelation has confirmed what many believed to be true that Gambia’s armed forces are stuffed with the dictator’s tribesmen from Southern Senegal.
In a remark that confirmed gun running among some GNA members, the former soldier told the Fatu Radio that on one instance, a large group of Cassamance nationals who were trained by the Gambian Army ran away with huge stash of arms after the completion of their training. He added: “in several instances, it is these Cassamance imbedded folks in the GNA who will sneak into Cassamance, commit crimes including hit and run mission against the Senegalese army and then retire back into the Gambia.”
He said the dictator’s mother continues to wheel immense powers in the army especially when it is time to promotions. She also sometimes interferes in selecting and posting Jola soldiers to either the State House, Kanilai and or other strategic places he said
Regular soldiers in the frontline are given guns without bullets
Another interesting revelation made by the former soldier on the Fatu Radio is the fact that most of the regular soldiers who are posted on duty during the day at strategic frontline locations only have empty guns. He said: “you will be shocked to know that all the barracks in the Gambia are not properly armed. The dictator moved all the weapons to the State House. Also all of us who are in the infantry are only given empty guns without bullets. Fatou I can tell you that what you are only used for camouflage just to scare the ordinary people.”
He said, “I want to inform you that the only people who have guns and bullets are those of the dictator’s closed protection group of his mainly tribesmen. But the good thing is that most of these people are not even well trained. They don’t also understand the practical rudiments of what an everyday regular army does.”
The former soldier finally called on his colleagues in the army to do the right thing and get the country rid of what he called “the cancer and evil of our times in dictator Jammeh.”