- Following his re-election to the Gambian presidency, Yahya Jammeh has started on a large-scale sacking operation of political and civilian senior staff in the Banjul administration. With even the loyal intelligence chief being fired, Gambian civil servants are uncertain who will be next in line.
Gambian President Jammeh recently succeeded in his third term bid to power. He had an edge over his contenders in the September 2006 presidential election, which according to observers was not free from intimidation and harassment of opposition supporters.
It seems the victory has given President Jammeh - a soldier-turned-civilian leader - the leverage to continue his usual hiring and firing spree in the country. A month after his re-election, Mr Jammeh dissolved and reconstituted his cabinet. This process left at least seven ministers and some government heads out of job.
Knowing that the director of The Gambia's most feared intelligence agency has accomplished his mission to set the stage for his re-election, President Jammeh decided to show him the back door.
Mr Harry Sambou - who took over the directorial post heading the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) nine months ago - had his services terminated at the weekend, official sources that begged for cover confirmed.
He is replaced by his deputy, Momodou Hydara, who has formerly worked with the Gambian embassy in Morocco.
President Jammeh also fired seven other civil servants - directors and permanent secretaries. And as usual, The Gambia government maintains tight-lipped about the reasons responsible for the mass sackings.
But what is certain is that top officials in both the civil and public service in The Gambia are living in a state of fear. Critics believe that Mr Jammeh appoints most officials to top positions because he is in a hurry to use them so that they execute his personal mission for him. And guess what happens upon accomplishing that mission? Firing, arrest and detention become their reward.
A desperate top civil servant, who wanted to remain anonymous, said: "We have been terrorised by President Jammeh's frequent hiring and firing. You can never know when it will happen but we always expect it any time. Imagine that you went to represent the government in a function and found your termination letter waiting for you on your table."
Since Mr Jammeh came to power through the barrel of a gun in 1994, he fired over seven directors of the feared NIA. Until the early 1990s, police had been playing the intelligence role. But President Jammeh empowered the institution through promulgating a decree in 1995 and changed its name from National Security Service to National Intelligence Agency.
Because they have created a state of fear among people of all classes, in particular, the opponents of the regime, the sacked NIA officials usually get nothing from the Gambian public other than curses. They are also put under strict surveillance to the extent that their friends and associates abandon them for security reasons.
Harry Sambou had had his services terminated at the NIA and Ministry of Health in the past. He was an official of the National Electoral Commission at the time of his appointment in March, when there was allegation by the government that it had foiled a coup d'état at an "advanced stage."
Mr Sambou's appointment had attracted widespread criticisms in the country, with Mr Jammeh's critics accusing him for being bias in his appointment of security heads who all belong to his minority Jola people, which constitutes less than 10 percent of the population. Currently, President Jammeh's tribesmen are the chiefs of police, army and other sensitive security positions.
Certainly, Mr Jammeh has a purpose for bringing Mr Sambou on board. It is been alleged that the Gambian President had got proofs that the sacked NIA boss had earlier said a lot of damaging things about his government.
Before he became NIA director, a lot of intelligence gathering was done about Mr Sambou. He was accused of tampering his intelligence file as soon as he became NIA director.
Mr Sambou replaced Mr Daba Marena, who was believed to have been executed alongside four other security officers implicated in the 21 March purported coup.
Limping with a divided security, the regime depends on it intelligence to the fullest. This is evidenced by the powers vested on the NIA - an institution whose presence is felt in all security units, government departments, ministries and every sector of Gambian society. The institution is answerable only to the President's office and enjoys huge budget allocation and incentives.
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