Opinion

OPINION: GAMBIA URGENTLY NEEDS THE 700 MILLION DALASIS PAID TO ECOMIG TO FIGHT THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC

by Samsudeen Sarr

I just finished watching another interview given by the Gambia Defense Minister Honorable Shiekh Omar Faye to the Fatu Network where he clarified what can be accepted as the official reason for removing Chief of Defense Staff (CDS) General Massaneh Kinteh from office. I must commend Mr. Omar Wally for bringing the subject up. According to Honorable Faye, Gen. Kinteh was more or less removed to avoid his overstay in the position. I know that most conventional armies including Senegal have, as part of their terms and conditions of appointments, term limits for CDS positions. As important as that policy is, I think Faye should have brought along the document for better enlightenment on when it was enacted because as far as I can recollect nothing like that was in the Gambian armed Forces (GAF). Besides, as congenial as the reason is, the government could have prevented all the negative speculations by publicly sharing the understandable reason. But I don’t want to push it any further than that. Unless the Barrow government comes out with a different version I will take the minister’s as the ultimate purpose of removing and redeploying Kinteh’s. The rewarding appointments fits the narrative.
Mr. Wally should try to invite Gen. Kinteh to bolster Faye’s assertion, closing the gossip pipeline once and for all.
Anyway, what bothers me most is the ineffectual attitude of the government towards the Coronavirus Pandemic. Telling us that the health minister has all the answers was laughable.
In fact I want to believe that the concern expressed by myriad of Gambians especially Mr. Tombong Saidy on his Facebook page last Saturday, March 14, 2020, illustrating progressive pointers to the Barrow government on what ought to be done in the Gambia about the pervasive virus was what awoken them from their indifference to the crisis. In his short but powerful message Mr. Saidy lamented over the gravity of the deadly virus globally and underscored how media outlets and concerned government agencies all over the world were not only sensitizing their nationals but were aggressively battling the pandemic like a war time mission when the Gambians were still kept in the dark as if nothing was happening beyond our borders.
Mr. Saidy went further to recommend the need for the government to consider shutting down our airspace and borders like the whole world was doing and adopt more stringent measure of monitoring and if necessary quarantining potentially infected visitors from abroad.
I briefly commented below the text saying that we have to ask for clearance from Senegal or from President Mackey Sall, our de facto head of state for permissible remedies.
Then a couple of days ago I watched the iconic PDOIS politician Honorable Sedia Jatta frustratingly confronting his colleagues, members of the national assembly, articulating similar sentiments, asking why they were even in the house dealing with relatively trivial matters when they should all be at their constituencies addressing the health needs of their people, in the wake of the pandemic. He grieved over why after Senegal had closed their air space the Gambia government was still allowing flights into the country essentially using the Gambia as a corridor by Senegalese immigrants transiting mainly from Europe on their way back home. Hon. Jatta, perhaps from recognizing the disease as posing the most existential threat to human civilization since the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic reported to have killed roughly 50 million people worldwide including over 600, 000 Americans suggested the urgent employment of members of our security forces, especially the army. The world over, nations are falling back to the effective employment of their national armies thanks to their disciplinary modus operandi of working together in fighting and winning wars. American has now invoked war time production measures to combat the spreading killer virus, warning everybody that the worse scenario is yet to come. New York has warned all residents on non-essential duties to stay at home.
Obviously the internal and external pressures exerted on the Gambia government to act before it was too late contribute in getting them started.
However, the feeble and ineffective actions adopted by the Barrow government has already resulted in a dismal failure to quarantine the first passengers of a flight from Europe to the Gambia. Reports on the initiative of the government to isolate these first group of passengers in the county by a Gambia Experience flight simply exposed the unpreparedness of the government for primetime. This could further be confirmed in a video footage trending online showing a chaotic scene at Yundum Airport this morning with arriving passengers resisting government officials trying to forcefully move them to an isolation area.
I don’t blame them after looking at how unprofessional and ill prepared the agents were.
An effective quarantine method applied everywhere require vigorous endeavor of complementary forces properly drilled into perfecting their duties that will not in the process compromise the health of the participants.
Italy has been reported to have lost 11 doctors exposed to the virus while attending infected patients, one of whom was blamed for not suiting up properly.
The Gambia government’s approach doesn’t show any compliance to the basic protocol in quarantining potential carriers. The operation should involve the bus drivers transporting them from the airport to the disembarkation location, the luggage carriers, the immigration officials, the medical personnel, government officials and any additional security agents, all wearing protective gears and well trained for the job; yes, the medical personnel will conduct preliminary body temperature test of the arriving guests, the immigrations officials processing their documents; the security personal escorting them safely to the lodging place; and the government officials providing logistical supplies and making sure that the place is healthy, habitable and comfortable for patients in the given period. The vehicle or buses will need disinfection after dropping off visitors.
However from what I saw and know now nothing remotely resembling the above stated measures were in place but instead the first batch according to witnesses were paraded in an annoying and time-wasting manner before being dumped in an inhabitable hotel. The people they were told to have been assigned to meet them never showed up or probably deliberately avoided them for their personal safety. It is like government is not really taking the whole situation seriously. That is indeed what happens when people entrusted with major responsibilities don’t have a clue about what they are doing.
That said, I still want to maintain my inflexible position that Gambia cannot do much without Senegal freeing us to manage our own affairs. Like many disappointed Gambians, I was also not thrilled about President Adama Barrow’s initial reactions towards the emergence of the pandemic. He should have expressed his concern to President Mackey Sall about his untimely invitation to meet him in Dakar for a relatively insignificant political meeting after the Senegalese president a day before appeared on TV wearing protective mask and announcing the first case of an infected French man in Senegal. Rather than counseling Sall to postpone it for a better day when the virus is contained, Barrow showing blind loyalty and having none of his advisers to warn him against the trip, risked it to Dakar taking along over forty senior members of his government who sheepishly followed him for the juicy per diem paychecks. I can bet that none of them warned him about the danger. I don’t know about the rest of you folks, but frankly speaking, thank God and the Coronavirus for grounding our per diem hunters abusing their office privileges to amass personal wealth at the detriment of poor Gambians.
It is said that a week before President Sall summoned President Barrow to meet him in Senegal “ASAP”, the Foroya Newspaper had reported a Senegalese minister cancelling an official visit to the Gambia because of the virus alarm. If that is true then how smart were members of our government in going to Dakar under even worse conditions?
The Dakar conference, dubbed the “Presidential council Meeting” organized in what they said was a biannual thing, accordingly aimed at reciprocating the first one held in Banjul in 2018 to consolidate stronger bilateral ties between our two countries but above all to also find a way of resolving the border-shut down crisis that I know will never be fairly implemented; and for whatever they were promised at the meeting, I know for sure that the situation will continue to favor Senegal and not the Gambia.
I think there was a communique after the meeting earmarking March 29, 2020 to be the day of normalizing our border problem, a chronic abnormality since 1989. Normalizing the situation means respecting cross border business, allowing free movement of both people and goods.
Well, I can understand the non-commercially-allowed free-movement of people across our borders that has in fact never ceased; but when it comes to goods, Senegal will never tolerate the way their goods flow into the Gambia to proportionally flow into their country. If you doubt it, wait until March 29, 2020 and try to take a bag of sugar from the Gambia as charity to your aunt in Senegal and see what will happen, much more if you wanted to sell a dozen bags in Kaulack. You will be lynched by their border law enforcement agents.
However that is not even what bothers me most in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic.
The comprehensive preventive measures necessary in the Gambia right now must include Mr. Tombong Saidy’s recommendations calling for the closure of all entry points across our land, airspace and sea routes, allowing only the delivery of essential goods such as medical, food and fuel supplies. That is exactly what every nation is doing right now all over the world.
Well trained and properly equipped professionals composed of medics, security personnel and government agencies will work at all entry points at least to monitor the body temperature of visitors and if found abnormally high among non-Gambians will be denied entry. Gambians will of course be quarantined in habitable places if diagnosed with symptoms or coming from high risk areas.
But the million dollar question is will Mackey Sall allow the Gambians to be monitoring the 1500-plus-Senegalese troops stationed in the Gambia, rotating frequently to give chance to their fellow-fortune seekers at home receiving fat salaries paid by the Europeans or France to keep the nation’s peace where there was no war until now. The Gambia has no control over the movement of these troops in and out of the country? We cannot also use them in this kind of war that we can only fight effectively by us.
According to the European representative in the Gambia, to maintain the foreign “peacekeeping” forces they were providing funds in excess of D700,000000.00 per annum. The investment was for them to come and wage war in the Gambia to “save” us from a “bad” government. The government left peacefully without a war but the combatants stayed scaring the Barrow government for three years now with the possibility of an outbreak of a war if they should leave prematurely. It is all nonsense.
But with the Coronavirus being globally viewed as a bigger war to be fought, why not send these useless troops back to their infected countries to help there, and divert the 700 million dalasis for the immediate needs of Gambians to purchase very essential medical equipment? We need tents for combat-like fields hospitals, hazmat suits, ventilators, desensitizers, and adequate testing kits since we only have the MRC lab for testing. And from what I heard today, the MRC is overwhelmed with backlog of samples and can no longer keep up with the volume and are now contemplating to send patients to Dakar.
For lacking proper testing means, it is possible that even Barrow and his ministers who visited Dakar after the virus appeared there are carrying it. People can be infected and may never know while spreading it everywhere.
If France is now funding ECOMIG with so much money and wants us to believe that they have the interest of the Gambian people at heart, than we need the money to fight the virus more than paying it to the useless forces doing nothing in the country other than intimidating us.
The GAF can do a better job but they need the resources and the motivation to deploy them in the frontline. It is now or never. If the Gambians cannot trust their own security forces in this trying times, then we might as well disband them and surrender everything to Senegal once and for all.

Till my next piece, thanks for reading.

Samsudeen Sarr

New York City

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