One thing we are hopeful the current dispensation will accomplish better than the previous one is delivering the goods to the poor rural communities of the Gambia, after all President Barrow rode on the back of their support and sacrifice to get to the State House. Picking up where the PPP government of Sir Dawda left off, in terms of agricultural development and expanding the benefits to include all aspects of national development. The days of bundling packages up and delivering them to the poor without their input are over, it is time to listen to and address their needs as is specific to them. The elitist mentality of “we know what’s good for you so we decide for you” will no longer be the norm. The ‘elites’ and the entire governance structure are the children, the people are the parents, in traditional African terms we know what that means.
In the very recent past, we hear of stories where rural communities had their livelihood in the form of livestock and grains scraped off entirely in the middle of the night never to be traced. With no other sources of income or sustenance, these poor villagers are left to fend for themselves. Amidst all the neglect, they remain true and loyal to their country, time to give back to them their fair share of the proverbial national cake.
What is glaringly evident and not the focus of a lot of discussions surrounding the issue of security is the complete absence of law enforcement personnel and outfits in our rural communities, almost entirely; communities whose citizens are not spared from contributing their hard earned monies into the national coffers out of which these institutions are funded. This is in addition to the lack of basic amenities needed for a decent standard of living; clean water, access to healthcare, food security, etc. and yet they remain good loyal citizens.
Gone are the days when we can rely on good community cohesiveness to not even think about crime. It is a different generation now, and with entrenched poverty and a widening gap between the poor and the rich, who proudly flaunt their ‘wealth’ without care for the conditions of the former; crime will continue to be on the rise unfortunately. What with the very institution that ensured good community relations and served as arbiters in times of conflict being under assault?
When it is said that “It takes a village to raise a child!”, we live that in rural Gambia, or should I say lived? The institution of the village head and heads of kaabilolu (Council of elders) have been stripped off of their traditional roles and politicized to the extent that we are now talking about electing Alkalolu which will further divide the already polarized communities. If the current trend continues, we are headed for gloomier days ahead. Empowering that institution and re-assigning some of the politically assigned functions is one way to go, but more importantly, provide security for rural communities.
How are these communities supposed to have their grievances resolved if the nearest police station is miles away? So unserved that the children and elderly tremble in fear for seeing a uniformed personnel and yet we claim they are citizens being served by their government.
Every community deserves the presence of law enforcement even if it be informal. Within the various security outfits today, there are personnel from all corners of the country, why must they serve in the urban areas and other far flung corners of the country while their own people are left at the mercy of thieves and armed robbers? Yes, crime may be higher and more sophisticated in the cities than in the rural areas, but does that make the villagers any less deserving of our collective protection and service? Why can’t the city dwellers enroll in the service and be the vanguards of the security of their own areas? Policing is better done by those familiar with the area, where the hotspots for trouble are and what sort of crimes to expect.
What is meant here is that the police recruiting process should be reformed such that career days are a regular occurrence in secondary schools across the country where citizens are encouraged to enroll, trained as police officers by the national police force and then deployed back to their communities to police their local areas. Similar requirements should in fact be made for teachers, agricultural field workers, and medical personnel. People will sympathize more with their kin than they would being deployed to areas where they have no affinity to the locals other than executing a task. Of course there is the tendency for corrupt practices and complacency but measures to avert them could also be developed, this is where technocrats can put their expertise to use.
These officers will be quickest at spotting any unusual or clandestine activities within their areas; and with very porous borders, these are very likely and could go unnoticed until it is too late. In the big cities and urban centers, instead of police officers reporting to barracks for non-existent work, they could be mounted on bikes patrolling the streets armed with short range radios for back up calling and basic self-defense gadgets. This will limit the use of motorized vehicles to rapid response emergencies only, thereby cutting on the fuel costs of the department. These officers should also be from the areas they are assigned whereby they wake up in the morning and go to work in the community. Incidents of torture and police brutality will be a thing unheard of if we take into consideration the social dynamics of the country. Unnecessary arrests will be averted because the officer knows who to let off with caution and who to ‘contain’ easing the burden on state resources.
Knowing there are police officers on almost every street corner; hanging out at attaya vous; on 24 hour patrols, will minimize incidences of crime and criminality as well as safe children’s lives from reckless driving. Trained, experienced and skilled police officers can determine what contingencies and best practices need to be put in place to make this strategy effectively work.
Being deployed to far flung corners of the country may be a deterrent to many from joining the force, but being asked to be in charge of protecting and securing your own locality could be a motivating recruiter. The cost associated with rent and other costs that come with being deployed can be cut significantly both at the institutional as well as personal level. This is also more feasible than the numerous check points around the country. A local command center (station) should be located within so many kilometers of each other where officers will report to for daily briefings and assignments. At the end of their shift, they go back to base and give written or recorded reports that could be transcribed into written records from which a crime database could be developed to help law enforcement in their policy formulation and resource allocation.
One of my late father’s favorite admonishments was to say; “Use a corn stalk as a cane until you can lay your hands on a bamboo stick.” Meaning; what you have may not be ideally suited or even undesirable, but hold on to it until you find something better. This is how systems are built to as close to perfection as possible. With all the flaws that this approach will reveal, the technocrats can brainstorm and come up with ways to remedy such flaws, and with time a functional, professional and dedicated force can be built. Watch any western movie and recall the days of the town sheriff and his deputies, that is what gave birth to SWAT and all the law enforcement elites in western democracies. With all their shortcomings and biases, the system is operational and responsive.
We do not need a perfect system to start; let us work with what we have and build on it. We are unique and so our methods should be unique to us. We do not need to tear down our social fabric in order to enforce the law. Sometimes all that is needed is redirection in a compassionate way to have somebody comply with the law. This will be Community Policing at its best.