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Sunday, September 19, 2021

Alagie Mamadi Kurang, presidential aspirant

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The Standard: The name Alagie Mamadi Kurang came into national prominence during the Janneh Commission. Tell us about yourself?

Before the Janneh Commission, I set up Jollof Tutors and I have been running it for 20 years. I believe almost 20,000 students have gone through it. I was born in Niamina Kudang, where I started primary school and then came to St Augustine’s [in Banjul]. I studied economics in Malaysia and studied ACCA chartered accountancy and later worked at a bank.

You regard yourself a social justice advocate, what in your estimation is responsible for the large disparities in socio-economic levels in The Gambia?

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I think the greatest socio-economic disparity is the level of poverty. The fact that our society is, unfortunately, divided between the 1 percent that has everything and the 99 percent that are in a very desperate situation and fighting to get decent meals for their families. What is responsible for this? I think obviously so many different factors, but we all know since 1965, this country has been plagued with massive corruption at institutional level, particularly in the government. And the lack of getting our priorities right, from one government to another is basically one of the main reasons. The socio-economic disparity has resulted to poor health standards and poor educational system.

What was your motivation in setting up Jollof Tutors?

When I set up Jollof Tutors, I wasn’t even thinking of it as a business. I had motivation to make a difference. I saw the problem of access to education, especially higher education. Many young people did not have much to do when they complete grade 12. Something had to be done. In Malaysia, they had a system of democratising professional education whereby anybody who finishes high school or secondary school could enrol for a professional course and with proper guidance could be able to earn himself a decent living after getting a qualification. I was inspired and when I came back, I did part time teaching. But it came to a point where I said part time teaching was not the solution. I had to take the bull by the horns and do something radical. So, I decided to set up Jollof Tutors. The rest is history.

In November 2017, Jollof Tutors failed to meet the quality standards of the National Accreditation and Quality Assurance Authority and was instructed to cease operations. But it did not, and you posted pictures online defying those orders. That was rather unwise, don’t you agree?

The issue has been resolved. I think there was a misunderstanding. It was a philosophical misunderstanding in the sense that Jollof Tutors does not issue any certificates to anybody. It’s simply a tutorial centre, meaning that we provide tutorials as it is now, and our students take external exams which is not under our control. So, our argument was that accreditation should be emphasised where the institution gives certificates of its own to people. We still accept NAAQA as it is, and we have been in touch with them. I don’t think it was necessary, and I don’t want to go into the details in this interview. But yes, it came and passed.

In 2018, as secretary to the Janneh Commission, you wrote a 7-page petition to President Barrow accusing lead counsel Amie Bensouda of shady attempts to negotiate and purchase former president Jammeh’s vehicles. What was your gripe in the matter?

It was an internal memo which was leaked to the media. I think everybody has seen it. At the end of the day what is important is… in retrospect, what is the public verdict on the Janneh Commission? I think that is what is important. An investigation has been summoned into the ex-president’s assets. It has taken place and it has been concluded. A report has been issued. But there are two issues here: has that investigation been as conclusive as it should have been and has the government acted in the best interest of the people as they should have in line with the social contract? It’s a transitional government, and it promised the people that [an] investigation will be conducted, and actions taken. Now, on the side of the commissioners they were sworn to owe allegiance to the country, and to the people, not to any individual. As a secretary, I was also sworn in under that term. Have the commissioners properly discharged those allegiances? Also, has the mandate given to the president been properly discharged? On the side of the commission itself in terms of discharging its responsibilities, I don’t think there are many Gambians who dispute my revelations because the basic theme of my protest at the commission at that time was conflict of interest. I still believe that the commission’s work was seriously hampered by conflicts of interest. But the commission’s report, no matter what, whether you disagree with it like some of us, there is a report and it should have been acted on. The recommendations the president promised would be acted on have not been acted on. Many people believe, including myself, that there was selective justice [in the process],

What exactly was your issue with Ms Bensouda in relation to the financial dealings of Jammeh’s close associate Muhammed Bazzi?

Did I say that there was evidence that implicated a particular person? I said that I’m not a person to discuss personal issues beyond what has already transpired. I don’t have to discuss personal names and personal issues beyond what has already transpired.

Then Justice minister Baa Tambadou said your allegations were unsubstantiated and that you acted beyond the confines of your administrative authority and that was why your position became “untenable” and was asked to step aside. Do you accept those assertions and what evidence do you have to substantiate your claims?

I think you should have asked Baa Tambadou to bring evidence to substantiate what he was saying. He gave a lot of press statements-press statements upon press statements until the time he left. As a justice minister, I think there were bigger responsibilities that should have been discharged. If you are a justice minister, you should have been fully in touch [with issues]. He should have taken more responsibility. The American government was able to pick up from the bits and pieces of the Janneh Commission and issued legal rulings against certain interested parties. What about the attorney general under whose feet the whole investigation was conducted? There have been a lot of press conferences by the then AG but, I think the average Gambian now realises there are bigger issues. People are now asking – where is the money from the sale of the assets? How much of the assets were sold? When I left, there were sales of assets for example, tractors. People need to know how many of these tractors were there? Those were some of the things we should be pursuing the AG to answer, [instead] of a summarised press conferences about a major investigation.

Were you surprised that the recommendations of the Janneh Commission were not fully implemented?

I’m not surprised. You must look at the pattern, the trends of things happening. If you have a commission in which professionalism is questionable during the investigation, obviously it gives the executive room for manouevre. I’m not saying that that is justification for the executive to ignore the recommendations of the commission. But obviously I am not satisfied, and I think all Gambians have questions. 

Your announcement to enter politics and lead the country was unexpected for a lot of Gambians. When did you become political?

I think every human being is political. Politics is part of human nature. An oustass once told me even humans were created out of politics… obviously, when a country goes through certain kinds of transformations, everybody becomes political. I don’t think you will find many Gambians today who will tell you they are not political. I have an awareness. I have been with students for 20 years. We discuss issues in class. So, when a country goes through this transformation, and a dictatorship goes away, it’s called a democratic dividend. And when it’s a dividend, every citizen has a right to the share of the dividend, and that share of the dividend comes through principles of democracy. Many people said if we don’t want to be represented by parliamentarians, ministers and presidents who are not up to the task, then professionals need to join politics. So, I think it’s quite understandable that we are seeing so many professionals joining politics, including me.

Why didn’t you team up with the PDOIS or other established parties instead of setting up on your own?

I have not been a member of any of the parties before. I have my independent opinions. I feel that by doing what I am doing right now, I can add more value to the national discourse. I don’t think there’s anything wrong about coming out and showing your independent stance on issues and asking people to give you the mandate to run the country.

Why do you think Gambians will vote for you, an unknown quantity, in political terms?

“An unknown quantity in political terms?” I don’t know what you mean by that. A newcomer is a better word. I think the situation in this country is such that people require a fresh start. People have seen a dictatorship for 22 years and were ready to accept anything. They brought in a new coalition president with a coalition agenda. If the coalition agenda was carried out, according to the social contract, I don’t think there would have been many issues by now. Most of us would have been part of the system, we would have joined one of the parties because we would have said this is great because these people have conducted and carried out the coalition agenda in the interest of the country not in the interest of their parties. You would not have been asking me questions about why I didn’t join the other parties. The transitional agenda was set aside from the word go and taken over by personal and political agenda. So, what are we to do if we have the interest of the country? I am not looking for a position. I have never looked for a ministerial or any other position in this country. There are even people I have mentored who have gone on to take political positions. I never did. There was a time in Jammeh’s time when it was stylish; everybody could go in and get yourself fit in and get in,  and in the coalition government also. Even when I left the Janneh Commission, I could have joined other parties because I was being solicited. I think Gambians are looking for a fresh start. They are looking for somebody who has not been tainted by this system. People are looking for somebody who has a track record. Twenty-two years of my life I dedicated to training Gambians. I have never stood before any of the 20,000 or so students and asked them which part of the country they came from? I think Gambians are looking for somebody like me to lead this country into the next decade.

The downfall of Jammeh engendered hope but many Gambians have lost faith in the so-called New Gambia. What went wrong?  

You must look at the agenda to find out where the Barrow government got it wrong. The agenda was a transitional government. There were a number of decisions that were very unfortunate. I used to tell my friends if Barrow gets distracted to abandon the three years in favour of five years, the transition would be compromised. Barrow was a newcomer in administration, and being a newcomer, he was looking for directions on what to do. And people came, and possibly told him do this and that and you will get a good transitional agenda… Possibly, he was being told, you have to set up a commission to review the 1997 Constitution and get some of the very people who drafted some of those laws, to come and write new laws. I think that was a mistake. I think what should have happened was a piece-by-piece change of the 1997 Constitution into a 2020 Constitution. That would have saved money, and it would have saved time… but he was advised, perhaps by the Justice minister to set up a grand style constitutional review commission, a grand style Janneh Commission, a grand style TRRC. Where is the justice? All these were grave mistakes. Expensive grave mistakes.

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