Two days ago (9th October 2019), I submitted notice of termination of my contract of appointment as the Special Advisor to the President. My contract of appointment requires both The Gambia Government and myself, to provide a month’s notice for termination of appointment. I submitted this notice accordingly to the Permanent Secretary, Personnel Management Office in Banjul – the relevant government department that authored and signed the contract on behalf of the State, copied to the Secretary-General, Office of the President.
My role as Special Adviser to the President covers many sectors across government, and over the past eight months, I was deeply involved in supporting the Presidency with strategic thinking and informed decision making, specifically on policy matters and governance. My overall responsibilities included designing a strategy to achieve government-wide inter-sectoral coordination, policy harmonisation and performance delivery on key national development priorities. Among others these were the main issues that occupied my time at State House, over the past eight months. I did not do this alone. I was supported by the Team that I head at the DSPD.
I made the decision to resign on my own accord, and on my own terms, following thorough reflection, after having consulted my immediate family, and the leadership of my Party in The Gambia, and in the Diaspora.
When I accepted my appointment of February 11th 2019, I did so with unconditional conviction to serve my country dispassionately, sincerely with loyalty to the President and the State, by facilitate the steering of the rudder of state, towards the proper compass, and in enthroning a culture of administrative efficiency, coordination, policy coherence, delivery on commitments and accountable governance. Of particular personal interest to me was acceleration of the security sector reform processes, which was nearly moribund at my assumption of duties in February this year.
Under the President’s directive, I led the completion of the first ever National Security Policy document, as the Chairperson of both the technical committee as well as the steering Committee on security sector reform, prior to the localisation of the steering committee from my Office to the Ministry of Justice. Working closely with the Office of the National Security, I was actively involved in providing strategic direction for the formulation of a National Security Strategy, and National Security Sector Reform Strategy documents. On the 17th June 2019, exactly a week after the launching of the NSP, I went to Kanilai for a retreat with the drafting team of these two vital documents. Both framework documents were progressing successfully, prior to my withdrawal from the SSR Steering Committee.
Ladies and Gentlemen, SSR is very close to my heart. As a first post-Jammeh minister of internal security, no one knows better than I the urgent need to transform the security sector. When we took over on Feb. 1st 2017, we inherited a security sector that was deeply politicised, and not responsive to the needs of our people. It was therefore necessary to initiate a robust reform process that would create a professionally accountable security sector, loyal only to the Constitution, under democratic civilian control, with full respect for human rights, and the fundamental principles of good governance.
By Devine coincidence, I returned to the Office of the President this year, in the capacity of Special Advisor to the President, to complete the work I began on SSR, then as the Minister of Interior, by leading the completion of a National Security Policy document, and getting it officially launched by the President himself on the 10th June this year, at this very hotel. You will recall that The Gambia Government first launched the SSR project on the 12th September 2017, during my tenure as the Minister of Interior. The policy intent was aimed at positioning The Gambia, to successfully confront the security challenges of the 21st century, and serving the needs of a democratic society. Though I ceased working on SSR matters five months ago, I am convinced that the SSR process will ultimately succeed, inspite of its current slow pace. Failure is not an option.
Fellow Gambians, over the past five months, pursuant to directives from the President, I led efforts at reforming the culture of conducting government affairs at the Office of the President, culminating in the approval by the President, of the creation of a Department of Strategic Policy and Delivery under the Office of the President. Since May this year, this Department directly under my supervision, by virtue of its innovative transformative role, has quickly become the State’s most important nerve center of governance. The DSPD, with the approval of the President, also concretized the idea of a National Economic Council that regularly meets and updates the highest office with timely policy issues impacting national priorities, and also acts as solutions incubator, information sharing on best practices as well as charting the way forward. I am thankful to President Barrow for creating a conducive atmosphere to enable my team and I, to perform our mandate without obstructive tendencies, for his readiness to accept new ideas, and for the generous access to brief him, on important policy and governance national issues daily.
Now I invite you to listen carefully; I would like to say share this with Gambians: the 10th of next month (November) 2019 will be exactly two years since I left the Ministry of Interior. When I was appointed Interior Minister on February 1st 2017, there were no handing over notes, and no proper strategic direction in terms of policy. The Ministry was not in a good shape. With the help of my team, the Permanent Secretary at the time Mr. Bully Dibba, the rest of the administrative cadre, and my service chiefs at the time, we were able to transform the Ministry and restore respectability in law enforcement as a profession, including their on-the-job self-confidence, while lifting their morale, as well as substantially enhancing their operational efficiency. We were able to achieve this because we worked as a team.
While I provided the strategic vision, our Team adopted a practical approach to achieving strong internal security stability, without prejudice to respect for the personal liberty of citizens. I ordered the arrest of the junglers, and now they are facing trial at the Banjul High Court. Realising at the time that some of the dangerous fugitives had already escaped the jurisdiction, and the appreciation of The Gambia’s geopolitical realities, it was important to have strong security partnership with Senegal, build confidence between our internal security chiefs and operatives for effective common border protection, intelligence sharing and other sensitive policing issues. To achieve this, and with the approval of the President, I initiated contacts with my Senegalese counterpart at the time, Interior Minister Abdoulaye Daoda Diallo and led a powerful delegation comprising the top echelon of my Ministry and satellite agencies, to reinforce security cooperation between our two countries. Following his deployment to another Ministry, I made a quick trip to Dakar to meet his successor the current Interior Minister of Senegal Mr. Aly Ngouye Ndiaye (1) to build trust, and (2) to secure new assurance on our existing bilateral security cooperation.
At home, we curbed crime, restore stability and reigned on criminals, delinquents and maintained law and order. However, our success was limited. The goal to build a reformed internal security apparatus, well equipped, reoriented and highly motivated and one that is second to none in Africa, is yet to be achieved. With changing dynamics of crime and crime syndicates, we need to strengthen our intelligence capabilities, protect our citizens, and also protect our borders. Simply put: we must invest in security, if we want a safe, stable, peaceful and democratic country. I remain committed to ensuring the safety of all Gambians, both in their homes and in the streets.
I want to use this occasion to thank all the men and women in uniform of The Gambia Police Force, The Gambia Immigration Department, The Gambia Prison Service, The Gambi Fire & rescue Services, and the Drug Law Enforcement Agency. 2017, the immediate aftermath of the historic political change was a very difficult year, and with the team we had, we achieved tangible results. I am convinced that the actions we took at the time to restore and to maintain internal security, were necessary. I want to also use this opportunity to express regret if the actions of law enforcement agencies under my ministerial supervision at the time led to unintended consequences (if any). I was the Minister, and the buck stopped at my table, and therefore I will assume full singular responsibility for all my directives translated into actions by security operatives under my leadership. It is unfair, immoral and evil to betray your men and women in uniform for following orders or shifting blame when things go wrong. I had always assured my security chiefs of my political protection and administrative support in the event of any fall-out arising out of my directives as Minister. Having said that, this country should be proud of the many law enforcement officers who sacrifice so much each day for less pay, under very difficult circumstances, and without basic tool kits.
Let me also use this occasion to address the long-standing issue of Foni. Immediately following the impasse, the area that posed serious internal security threat, based on intelligence information at the time, was Foni. This was quite understandable because it was the most formidable strong hold of the former President with staunch revulsion against the new government. The priority of the government at the time was to establish its authority all over the country, restore stability, law and order. As a security minister, I had to make sure this was achieved, and I would not permit any part of Gambian soil to be a law unto itself. Few areas that exhibited signs of civil disobedience at that volatile period were quickly pacified but Foni presented a persistent challenge. With the approval of the President, I ordered the deployment of additional intelligent assets to the area with a view to containing the threat. I also ordered a temporary deployment of armed police units to quell multiple disturbances raging in areas of Foni, including Kanilai. Remember barely 3km away from the border were rebel camps, and with our porous borders and easy movement of people, it was almost impossible to differentiate a normal citizen from a rebel who often move about in civilian clothes. The protection of the state and our citizens was so vital that we could not afford to take chances. I also visited Foni few times as Minster during those sensitive and volatile period, against security advice, because I believed it was necessary to directly engage the communities if we were serious about pacification and reconciliation.
Let me point out certain facts:
- Some young persons as young as 14 and 15 were arrested while participating at civil disturbances and detained. This very fact was unknown to me at the time. When it was brought to my attention by Hon. Fabakary Tombong Jatta, and verified by operatives, I immediately ordered for their processing and release from detention, or where charged be brought before the courts. I maintained an informal line of communication with Hon. Fabakary Jatta who appeared at the time to be the liaison.
- The death of Haruna Jatta on the 3rd June 2017 was unfortunate and deeply regrettable. Without prejudice to the principle of collective responsibility in cabinet, security operatives under my Ministry were not involved in circumstances that resulted to the unfortunate consequence. The armed forces belong to the Ministry of Defense, and not the Ministry of Interior. So those soldiers were not under my Ministry or subject to my control and supervision at the time. My Ministry got involved after the incident to contain the crises and to restore law and order in the area. This will always invariably involve some arrests, detention and prosecution of those suspected of crimes. A
- And now to the famous “traditional weapons” referred to in my speech on that fateful night. Remember I was in Monrovia attending an Ecowas Conference, and I cut short my trip to return home that same day, and was briefed that evening. The information I shared with the nation on television about the crises was intelligence provided to me by relevant institutions, and I had no reasons or other means at the time to disbelieve joint services intelligence brief of the State. An ulawful demand for the total withdrawal of security forces from Foni, accompanied by riotous conduct at the time, was provocative.
- With hindsight, I do believe we could have better than we did, inspite of the complex security circumstances at the time. For this reason, I hereby, unreservedly apologise to the people of Foni for any unfortunate experience they may have encountered during those volatile period, on my on behalf and that of my operatives at the time. The apology repeated here, was first made during my maiden appearance at the National Assembly in 2017.
And now to the reasons for my resignation. I made a personal commitment when I was appointed, that any day I do not feel challenged, I will leave. I no longer feel challenged, and also I do not feel being useful as Special Adviser to the President, and so there is no need to continue on.
RELATIONS WITH PRESIDENT BARROW
President Barrow and I have been friends for over three decades. Politics did not bring us together. At the personal level, we have had very long mutually respectable relationship. Among all my friends, he is among very few privileged to be involved in my domestic affairs, including even in my marriage. To get to that level, there has to be strong trust. So as my friend, and at the personal level, I will always cherish that historic relationship, and he knows that. I feel comfortable at his house, and even today his wives will cook the dish I prefer if they know am visiting for lunch or dinner. At the official level, he was my boss, and still is upto next month, and we both understand that it’s the principle that matters on official affairs. The country is bigger tha both the President and myself. On matters of State, each of us will look at what each of us believe is the national interest. The same applies to politics. Seven years ago, I availed President Barrow the opportunity to lead GMC but his reply was emphatic and immediate, that he is UDP and that’s where he will stay. He saw his political opportunities in UDP and not GMC, inspite of our friendship. I respected his position, we continued with our friendship. So if I too find that my political fortunes do not lie with working with President Barrow, am sure he too will respect my position like I respected his own seven years ago. Those are matters of principle, and we will continue as before.
THE WAY FORWARD
I will remain very relevant in national politics. Let me go further to confidently say that I am the next President of The Gambia after Barrow. I will also state that my ambition for the presidency has never influenced my professionalism at work, and I do not take political considerations in the performance of my duties. As a lawyer, maintaining confidentiality is a cardinal principle that cannot be compromised. What happens at State House in the course of my duties stays at State House. The president trusts me and that was why he brought me closer where I have been subjected to tonnes of privileged information. I will never betray that trust, no matter what.
I will reinvigorate my Party to become very viable. I will continue to be available to the president if he believes I could be helpful in any way, and I will continue to share my views with him on national matters. After all I am first and foremost a Gambian, and he is my President. He needs every Gambian on board to help him move the national agenda.
I will also be operating out of my Law Firm to serve diverse national and international clientele, including on matters of government relations, negotiations, international transactions and more.