A major shakeup has taken place within Gambia’s army hierarchy, the Freedom Newspaper can reveal. Battalion commanders and their deputies have been replaced and asked to report to the army headquarters in Banjul. The latest decision has affected some Commissioned officers, believed to be loyal to the former Gambian dictator Yahya Jammeh. No reason was given for the recent changes within the army command.
Among those replaced and transferred to the GAF headquarters include Colonel Essa Tamba, Commander of Fajara barracks. Mr. Tamba, a former close Jammeh aide, defected to neighboring Senegal, during the country’s months long political impasse. He henceforth renounced his loyalty to the former dictator, and rallied support for the new president Adama Barrow. Both him and Sait Njie, the commander of the Yundum Barracks deserted the army during the last days of Jammeh’s presidency.
Mr. Tamba is a former Gendarmerie officer. He has been replaced by Lt. Colonel Yerro Jallow. Mr. Jallow is the new Commander of the Fajara barracks. Major Boto Touray, has been named as Jallow’s Deputy.
Similar changes were effected in other battalions situated in the up country. It is not clear where the recalled officers would be assigned, as the army headquarters is said to be overcrowded with officers.
Meanwhile, the Kanilai garrison has been elevated to the status of a battalion. Former jailed army officer Lt. Colonel Sarju Jarju, is heading the battalion. His deputy is Major Wassa Camara. Both Jarju and Camara have been jailed in the past on treason related charges.
This followed reports that the impoverished nation of the Gambia, has been faced with an external security threat. Former dictator Yahya Jammeh is said to be in constant touch with some of his loyalists remaining in the army. It has been reported that close to 250 Gambian soldiers loyal to Jammeh are currently living in Mauritania. The deserted soldiers and officers were armed at the time of leaving the Gambia.
Mr. Jammeh is living in exile in Equatorial Guinea. A source, who spoke to the Freedom Newspaper said: “Yahya Jammeh is a wounded lion now. He is mad at the government in Banjul. He is determined to render the Gambia ungovernable. This is one guy, that the Barrow government shouldn’t underestimate his capability of undermining the country’s peace and security. He still has loyalists in the army. Mr. Jammeh also left with a whole lot of highly trained soldiers and officers.”
Prior to the recent transfer of the officers from one battalion to the other, GAF sources also intimated that battalion and unit commanders were tasked to collect information about the ethnic background of the men and women serving under their command. The ethnic group identification information collection has created confusion within the army.
One serving senior officer, in a phone conversation with the Freedom Newspaper remarked: “We were asked to provide information to our commanders about our ethnic background; tribe; place of birth and so forth. All battalions in the country were required to furnish the GAF commanders about the ethnic background, affiliation and tribe of the men serving under their command. There is a big confusion here. When has tribe become an issue in the army? This has never happened in the history of our army. Now tribe is becoming a determinant factor for one’s admission into the army. This is a bad precedent as far as tribal diversity and respect for one’s ethnic background is concerned.”
Former Gambian dictator Yahya Jammeh, has been accused of creating a tribal army by favoring his tribesmen to man key positions in the force. The Jolla officers accounts for a significant proportion of the men heading the army, including other security agencies in the country. In a span of twenty two years, Jammeh was able to create an armed forces mainly dominated by his tribesmen.
“I contacted your paper because we believe that this is the only medium relating the Gambian story accurately without any partisan bias or prejudice. For our army commanders to ask us to disclose our tribal or ethnic background amounts to discrimination. We do not know what they are going to do with the information. As we speak, we are all worried. We do not join the army because of our tribes. Why are they asking us to reveal our tribal affiliations? Please help us expose the story to the world,” the officer added.
Army spokesman Omar Bojang could not be reached for comment.