- Security in the Gambia has worsened over the past four years. More than half (53%) of citizens say they felt unsafe while walking in their neighbourhood at least once during the year preceding the survey, and 42% feared crime in their home – both significantly larger proportions than in 2018. o Poor citizens are far more likely to be affected by such insecurity than their better off counterparts.
- About one in nine citizens (11%) say they requested police assistance during the previous year. Five times as many (55%) report encountering the police in other situations, such as at checkpoints, during identity checks or traffic stops, or during an investigation. o Among citizens who asked for help from the police, 41% say it was difficult to get the assistance they needed, and 24% say they had to pay a bribe. o Among those who encountered the police in other situations, 19% say they had to pay a bribe to avoid problems.
- Almost half (45%) of Gambians say “most” or “all” police officials are corrupt.
- More than half (52%) of Gambians say they trust the police “somewhat” or “a lot,” a 7-percentage-point decrease compared to 2021 (59%).
- Four in 10 citizens (41%) say the police “often” or “always” stop drivers without good reason. About one-third also complain that the police routinely use excessive force during protests (36%) and in dealing with criminal suspects (33%), while two in 10 (20%) believe they frequently engage in criminal activities.
- Only about three in 10 citizens (29%) say the police “often” or “always” operate in a professional manner and respect all citizens’ rights. o But 83% consider it likely that the police will take reports of gender-based violence seriously.
- Almost three-fourths (73%) of citizens give negative assessments of the government’s performance on reducing crime. Only a quarter (24%) say it is doing a “fairly” or “very” good job, down 30 percentage points since 2018.
As armed robbery, shootings, and a bank heist make headlines in the Gambia, crime is becoming a top-of-mind issue for many citizens (Point, 2021). In a country heavily reliant on tourism, crime/security now ranks fifth among the most important problems that Gambians want their government to address, up from 10th place in 2018 (Afrobarometer, 2023). GlobalEconomy.com’s (2022) Security Threats Index ranks the Gambia 81st out of 177 countries.
The government’s “Zero Crime” campaign and security-sector reforms, launched in 2017, have received mixed reviews of their efficacy both in fighting crime and in professionalising a police force with a history of human-rights abuses, political repression, and corruption (Barchet & Birchinger, 2022; Drammeh, 2022; Faye, 2023). Reports of police misconduct continue to make headlines as well, with officers rarely facing reprimands or punishment for employing excessive force during public protests and other gatherings (Point, 2022a, 2023a, 2023b). Both the Gambia Center for Victims of Human Rights Violations and the National Human Rights Commission (2022) have condemned the use of excessive force by the police, urging adherence to human-rights protocols (Point, 2022b; Amnesty International, 2022).
This dispatch reports on a special survey module included in the Afrobarometer Round 9 (2021/2023) questionnaire to explore Africans’ experiences and assessments of police professionalism.
Survey findings show that more Gambians are experiencing insecurity in their neighbourhoods and homes, and ratings of the government’s performance on reducing crime have plummeted.
Among citizens who encountered the police during the previous year, a substantial minority report that it was difficult to obtain assistance, and bribe-paying was not uncommon.
Many also complain of unprofessional police conduct, saying officers often use excessive force, stop drivers without good reason, and fail to respect citizens’ rights.