ARCHIVE (Re-post): First published on 14th November 2017.
Commodore (Brigadier General) Assan Sarr, former Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) of the Gambia Armed Forces (GAF) is the first Gambian army officer to hold the title of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) of the Gambia Armed Forces (GAF). Sarr had served as head of the Gambia’s Armed Forces from December 2004 until 29th November 2005.
As head of the Gambian Armed Forces, Sarr was holding the title of ‘Chief of Staff’ of the Gambia Armed Forces until February 2005 when he advised the former president and Commander-in-Chief of GAF Yahya Jammeh to revisit the dictates of the 1997 Constitution and the 1985 Gambia Armed Forces Act, and use the CDS portfolio which also applies to most of the armed services within the region and beyond. The former president approved his recommendations, promoted him to the rank of a colonel and appointed him the title of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS).
Although there is a provision of the title of CDS and his/her role and responsibilities under Chapter XIII Part 1 Sections 186, 187, 188 and 189 of the 1997 Constitution of the Republic of The Gambia and the 1985 Armed Forces Act Section 11 Sub- Section 2(a), BUT it (Title of CDS) was NOT institutionalized in the Armed Forces until some months after Brig. General Assan Sarr took over the mantle of leadership of the GAF.
It is evident that Chapter XIII of the 1997 Constitution of The Republic of The Gambia clearly states under Section 186 Part 1 that, there shall be the Armed Forces of The Gambia which shall consist of the Army, the Navy and the Air Force and such other services for which provision is made by an Act of the National Assembly. Under this provision, the Chief of Staff is a senior principal staff officer under the Office of the CDS, ie, Deputy CDS.
Again, in the same Chapter XIII of the 1997 Constitution of the Republic of The Gambia under Section 188, which talked about the Control of the Armed Forces, part 1 stated: “Subject to the authority and directions of the President and of the Armed Forces Council, the Chief of Defence Staff shall be responsible for the operational control and administration of the Armed Forces.”
Also, Section 189 under the 1997 Constitution of the Republic of The Gambia talked about the setting up of the Armed Forces Council, etc, but the title of CDS was not institutionalized in the armed forces until 2005. The former president Yahya Jammeh, who was also the Commander-in-Chief of the Gambia Armed Forces and the military leaders at that time failed to adopt this title until 2005.
It would be recalled that in February 2005, Navy Captain (Lt. Col.) Assan Sarr, while serving as ‘Chief of Staff’ of GAF, was promoted from the rank of a Lt. Col. to a Colonel and was appointed as Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) of the Gambia Armed Forces. It was exactly at this time when the Gambia Armed Forces began to institutionalize the title of CDS and Brig. General. Sarr had served as CDS of GAF until 29th November 2005, when his service was terminated.
Since then, Brig. General Sarr entered into the private business of car dealership and fire prevention and safety until recently when His Excellency President Adama Barrow re-instated and re-deployed him, together with Brigadier General Omar Bun Mbaye, widely known as OB Mbaye and ex-chief of Naval Staff, Rear Admiral Sarjo Fofana, to the Foreign Service as Military Attachés under the Foreign Affairs Ministry.
The trio has been appointed to serve as Defence Attachés in Turkey, Ethiopia and Nigeria.
Brigadier General Assan Sarr, age 51, was born and brought up in Bakau in the Kanifing Municipality. He was enlisted into the Gambia National Army (GNA) on 10th February 1988 and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant on 1st November 1989. He is an engineer by profession and has served a greater part of his military career in the Gambia Navy. Sarr rose through the ranks from a 2nd Lieutenant to a Commodore (Brigadier General). He has successfully undergone junior and senior military courses both at home and abroad.
He is known to be a professional soldier who is hardworking and dedicated to duty. Sarr has greatly uplifted the status of the Gambian Armed Forces during his tenure as CDS. He made a lot of innovations in the army.
Sarr is the only CDS who was removed during Jammeh’s regime without being arrested or re-deployed to the Foreign Service or the Civil Sector.
Brigadier General Omar Bun Mbaye, alias OB Mbaye was born in Banjul in 1963 and was commissioned in the Gambia National Army on 10 August 1990. OB Mbaye underwent professional military training at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in the UK. He has also attended several other pieces of training including junior and senior military courses both at home and abroad, especially in Ghana, Pakistan and the US.
Prior to his removal from the army in 2009, OB Mbaye had served as Commander of the Guards Battalion. He was also the Contingent Commander Darfur in 2005/2006 for the Peace Keeping Force and was Chief of Operation of the Gambia Armed Forces. He is also known to be a very good Parade Commander in the Gambia Armed Forces.
OB Mbaye was arrested and dismissed from the Armed Forces in 2009 when he was accused of being involved in an alleged coup plot against the former president Yahya Jammeh. He was arrested together with seven (7) others and were all sentenced to death, but they later appealed and were sentenced to life imprisonment.
Rear Admiral Sarjo Fofana, ex-Naval Chief of the Gambia Navy, is a trained navigator. He is 54 years old and was born in Jarra Sankuia. He was commissioned in the Gambia National Army on 1st July 1991. Like the others, he too is a professional naval officer and has undergone junior and senior military courses both at home and abroad. He also rose through the ranks up to his latest rank in the Navy.
Sarjo Fofana was also arrested by former president Jammeh. Fofana and former CDS of GAF Lt. General Lang Tombong Tamba were accused of four counts of treasonable offences and were sentenced to serve 20 years in jail. They appealed against this sentence.
On May 6th, 2015, the Supreme Court which comprised a panel of five judges at that time, headed by the former Chief Justice (a Pakistani judge) Ali Nawaz Chowhan, acquitted and discharged Sarjo Fofana upon his appeal. The same panel of judges also acquitted Sarjo Fofana’s co-appellant, Lt. General Lang Tombong Tamba of two out of the four treason-related counts but reaffirmed the other two counts.
When Sarjo Fofana was acquitted and discharged, the former president Yahya Jammeh was not happy and he fired the then Chief Justice Ali Nawaz Chowhan. Sarjo’s acquittal made a good impact as it prompted international pressure on the former president and he had to release many political prisoners including Lang Tombong Tamba and his co-accused persons, OB Mbaye, Kawsu Camara alias Bombardier, Lamin BO Badjie, Modou Gaye, Ngorr Secka, Abdoulie Joof alias Lie Joof, etc and many others, in July of that same year (2015).
Indeed, His Excellency President Adama Barrow has made a very good appointment in the case of these officers. They are professional soldiers and they are not ‘Generals’ by default. They are Generals par excellence.
Justification of Brig. Gen. Assan Sarr’s CDS title and a brief history of the GNA to GAF
The Gambia Armed Forces was established by an Act of Parliament on 24th June 1985. From that period up to 1997, there was a single service setting called Gambia National Army (GNA). During this period, the head of the army was called ‘Commander’ of the Gambia National Army. This was the nomenclature used.
The first Commander of the Gambia National Army was Col. Momodou Ndaw Njie. He was assisted from the inception of the Gambia National Army by the British Army Training Team (BATT). Ndaw Njie served as Commander from 1985 up to the early 90s. He was then re-deployed to the Foreign Service. Then came the late Major Pa Gaye. Pa Gaye is a resident of Tallinding. He replaced Col. Momodou Ndaw Njie briefly but was subsequently replaced by Major Maba Jobe.
Major Jobe was born in Farafenni but resident in Bakau. He served as Commander of the GNA from 1991 to 1992.
In 1992, a group of Nigerian officers and soldiers referred to as NATAG, meaning Nigerian Army Technical Assistance Group (NATAG) came into the country upon invitation by the former first president Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara to take over the Command of the Gambia National Army.
However, when NATAG came, the British Army Training Team (BATT) ceased to function in The Gambia and returned to the UK.
It was also because of this (NATAG) change that Major Maba Jobe was re-deployed to the Foreign Service at the Gambian Embassy in the UK.
The NATAG team, headed by Brigadier General Abubakarr Dada, arrived in The Gambia in May 1992. The initial team was comprised of 10 officers and 32 soldiers. Brigadier General Dada came to The Gambia with the rank of a Colonel from Nigeria and was subsequently promoted to the rank of a Brigadier General.
Dada and his men took over the Command and Control of the entire Gambia National Army except for the 3rd Marine Company from May 1992 up to 22nd July 1994, when former president Yahya Jammeh and his men (Sanna Sabally, Edward Singhateh, Sadibou Hydara, Yankuba Touray, etc) took over the country.
Immediately after the1994 take over, Major Modou Badjie was appointed as Army Commander briefly. He was replaced by Major Baboucarr Jatta who was later promoted to the rank of a Colonel.
Major Modou Badjie was then re-deployed to the Civil Service Sector and appointed as Commissioner (Governor) of Lower River Region (LRR), whilst Col. Baboucarr Jatta took over as ‘Commander’ of GNA from 1994 – 1996.
In the same year 1996, the former government of Yahya Jammeh introduced Decree 87 and Decree 88 of 1996. These Decrees transformed the 3rd Marine Company of the Gambia National Army to the Gambia Navy and the Tactical Support Group of The Gambia Police Force to the Gambia National Guard (now Republican National Guard).
Officers like Commodore (Brig. Gen) Assan Sarr; ex-Army Captain Ebou Jallow, who is now based in the US, and others were part of the 3rd Marine Company which metamorphosed to the Gambia Navy.
These Decrees (87 and 88) institutionalized The Gambia Armed Forces with the 3 services of the Army, Navy and National Guard (National Republican Guard).
However, it was during this period that Col. Baboucarr Jatta became ‘Chief of Staff’ of the Gambia Armed Forces (GAF) from 1996 -2004. So, the title of the head of the Army being referred to as ‘Chief of Staff’ was used from 1996 to 2004.
This means that the former president Jammeh and the military leaders at that time failed to institutionalize the title of ‘CDS’ as stated in the 1997 Constitution of The Gambia until 2005 when Commodore Assan Sarr was appointed.
Col. Baboucarr Jatta was retired in early November 2004 together with his deputy Momodou Badjie and Camp Commandant Major Momodou Kanteh. Baboucarr Jatta was briefly replaced by Lt. Col. Vincent Jatta. Jatta was Chief of Staff for a little more than a month and in the following month, he was removed and replaced by Lt. Col. Assan Sarr in 2004.
Sarr also became Chief of Staff of the armed forces until February 2005 when he was promoted to the rank of a Colonel and appointed as Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) as stated in the Constitution. This was the time when the former government institutionalized the title of CDS.
Sarr served as CDS until November 29, 2005, when his service was terminated. He was replaced by the late Colonel Ndure Cham.
Col. Cham served as CDS from November 29, 2005 until March 21st, 2006, when he was alleged to have staged a coup plot against the regime of ex-president Jammeh.
He was replaced by Lt. General Lang Tombong Tamba, who served as CDS from March 2006 until October 2009. While he was CDS, Lang Tombong Tamba was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General in 2007. He later got promoted to the rank of Major General and then to Lieutenant General in July 2009. He was the first Gambian soldier to hold this title.
Tamba was removed in October 2009 and later he was arrested together with OB Mbaye and 6 others. They were accused of an alleged coup against former President Yahya Jammeh.
After his removal, Tamba was replaced by Lt. General Masanneh Kinteh, who served as CDS from 2009 to 2012. Kinteh was also replaced by Lt. General Ousman Bargie, who occupied that position from 2012 until 27 February 2017, when Lt. General Masanneh Kinteh bounced back.
Kinteh was re-deployed to the Foreign Service in Cuba following his removal in 2012.
Some of the major achievements of former CDS Brig. Gen. Assan Sarr
As earlier mentioned, Brig. Gen. Assan Sarr did a tremendous job for the Armed Forces during his time as CDS. He was very much concerned about uplifting the status of the Gambia Armed Forces. He brought in new innovations, fought for their welfare, tried to end the military brutality saga, promote and encourage professionalism, etc.
- During the period from 2004 to 2005, Sarr was able to convene a Board that reviewed the Terms and Conditions of Services for both officers and soldiers of the Gambia Armed Forces.
- He also convened another Board to identify officers for Quarter Master Commissioning.
- He institutionalized the armed forces and promotes cooperation within armed and security services including the Customs and Excise.
- He was the first CDS to initiate a nationwide tour of all military and security installations, with a view to identifying their shortcomings and difficulties affecting their operational readiness.
- He was able to twin the Gambia Armed Forces with the Gibraltar Regiment that normally visits The Gambia on annual basis for peace keeping and operational training for GAF. However, this opportunity stopped when the former president Yahya Jammeh withdrew The Gambia from the Commonwealth.
- He also advocated for salary increment for all soldiers (members of the armed forces) across the board but the former president did not approve this instead he terminated his service.
Congratulations once again to these gallant officers and I wish you good luck in your new assignments. You have served your nation with distinction and may God give you the strength to continue to do more for our beloved nation The Gambia.