If there is any one whose candidature in the forthcoming parliamentary election defines the Gambia’s change agenda, it is Mustapha Kah, Independent Candidate for Jeshwang Constituency. Mustapha is not the typical candidate that is contesting in this election. He is the man of the people whose vision for Jeshwang is to serve as a voice for their concerns and help to build a common future that would place Jeshwang in the center of the country’s national development.
Mustapha’s candidacy is defined by radical ideas wrapped in competence, discipline, action, charisma, honour, integrity and commitment to the people of Jeshwang. He brings a wealth of knowledge to the contest for parliament seats that is unmatched by other candidates. “I am the most competent person in this election race,” he said. “All my life I have served the people. I have been involved in community work and I intend to scale that up once elected into office,” he added.
In 2015, he was selected to be part of President Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative. In just one week as a Young African Leadership Initiative (YALI) participant at the Accra Regional Learning Center, Mustapha Kah, fondly called Elder Mustapha or the Osagyefo, a title he jokingly claims was given to him by the Ga King of Jamestown Accra, had already established himself as one of the vociferous leaders of the pioneering cohort. “I will always say what is in my mind as long as I believe I am right, it doesn’t matter who I am talking to”, he said to a group of participants at a certain occasion.
And believe him when he says it, he does exactly that whenever he feels strongly about anything. That sounds cocky, right? But he has always done that within the limits of mutual respect. He had challenged the views of and expressed respect for many speakers that came to give a talk to the YALI fellows, though in a rational way. No wonder it was later revealed he is passionately a debater.
He founded the debating organization, Debate Gambia, in 2014 and served as its president until last month when he handed over power. Although still a young organization, Mustapha is proud of his brainchild. “The society is young. It’s just one year old. But despite that we have already won international accolades” he boasted with a self-assured smile.
Mustapha’s passion to establish a national debate organization was fueled by the fact that he himself has participated in many debating competitions and indeed won some.
“About debating, it’s something I have done since my childhood days. I have won many debating championships back home. In 2010 I reached the finals of our university debating championship which is organized in collaboration with the American Embassy in The Gambia”.
Mustapha has been given many international honors including an outstanding leadership award by the University of The Gambia Debate Association. In 2015, he received a citation of honour from the Pan African Universities Debating Championship for his outstanding work to promote debate on the African continent.
But he modestly admitted, “And I must hasten to say that I have been more successful as a debate coach than a debater”. So, he took up the job of coaching the Gambian University debating team.
“In 2015, I took up adjudicating and was lucky to adjudicate among others in the Ghana Open Debate which featured debaters from across West Africa” Only into his third week as a YALI fellow, Mustapha was appointed to the Equity Committee of the Pan African Universities Debating Championship to be held in Ghana in December 2015.
Mustapha’s candidacy is fueled by the fact he was born and raised in Jeshwang. He has seen the problems of his people first hand and in many cases, has been part of the solutions too. Whenever disaster like flood and rains hit the area, he is always among the first to come out and help resolve the situation. He also set up a debate committee in the area aimed at training young minds in public speaking and debating. “I have greatly benefitted from debating and public speaking. I have imparted the knowledge on young people so that they can have the same benefits from public speaking and debating,” he said.
But Mustapha is more than a debater. He is a self-professed youth activist, a lawyer and a community volunteer. He worked for the ministry of basic and secondary education in The Gambia as legal adviser, and does similar service for Global Hands Gambia pro bono.
As a YALI fellow, Mustapha believes the training he has received will be an integral ingredient of role of a National Assembly Member if elected into office. “YALI has been very inspiring to me. It has given me the opportunity to meet the brightest minds in West Africa and share my stories with them. One of the most important things I have learned so far is ‘Sharing Fire’ by Marc Hardy. I’m sure that I’m a better leader because of this initiative”.
For the first time in Gambia’s history, Debate Gambia under the leadership of Mustapha in 2016 organized the first national debate championship dubbed Masters Round Debate Championship. It was the most successful debate tournament in the country’s history and was dubbed Masters Round Debate Championship.
Mustapha has charisma. He is able to rally people to a common cause. This he has demonstrated numerous times. “My debating experiences will help me to bring policy changes in parliament. Without public speaking skills, no parliamentarian can function properly and I am glad Allah has blessed me with advocacy skills,” he proudly told us.
Mustapha knows the problems of his people first hand and his approachable personality is beyond question. “Since the campaign started, people have always approached me about their problems. And I have always tried to help in any way I can. They always have the confidence to meet be and discuss their problems with me. To me that is a sign of the trust that they have for me,” he observed.
Mustapha who is a fellow of President Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative is aware that young people are confronting serious issues which need to be dealt with. “Our constituency is being devastated by the ‘Back Way problem.’ Unfortunately, no tangible solution is being offered by the other candidates. I am the only candidate who thinks that the right way to solve the problem is through entrepreneurship.
“Once elected, I intend to work with young people to ensure that they are given the skills to live productive lives. Our youths are the biggest chunk of our population and we must equip them to be able to contribute efficiently and effectively to national development,” he noted.
One of the best things that I want to be remembered for is inspiring young people to be able to support themselves and their families and find the right path to national development,” he articulated. “I hold double degrees in law and political science and I am pursuing an ongoing Master of Arts in Diplomacy and International Affairs. I think our young people can follow the right course of action, but only if they are guided. I am sure I am the right candidate to inspire all young people to take their destiny in their hands and ensure that they play their role in the development of the country,” he noted.
As a candidate supported by women, Mustapha believes that women should be supported. We must think of ways of supporting our women and girls. We can’t continue to isolate them in national development,” he concluded.