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Monday, January 18, 2021

Alex Alhassan Darboe, US-based Gambian realtor and actor

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Who is Alex A. Darboe?

I was born at RVTH with my twin brother Sainey Darboe who was once Editor-in-Chief of this paper. I spent a very interesting childhood at my native Kombo Gunjur before moving to Bakoteh to attend Nusrat high school. In my final year, I won the maiden edition of the Black history essay competition organised by the US embassy across the country. I later moved to the US for higher education after attending University of the Gambia for a semester. I obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Communication from King University, Tennessee. I am currently finishing up a Master’s degree in Communication from Arizona State University. I now run my Real Estate business, work as a television actor, and attend graduate school full time. It is a hectic schedule, but I make it work.

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Despite your father’s fortunes, you grew up in the streets of Gunjur as a poor kid selling watermelons. What happened, and how did that upbringing prepare you for life today?

I would not call it a fortune then. Maybe my father was a bit comfortable financially with boats and fishers that bring in some money. Whatever little money and businesses he had got mismanaged from the stories I heard because I was too young. I hawked almost everything you can imagine on the streets and homes in Gunjur. My mother, Kaddy Sandally Manjang, was a very creative businesswoman. My siblings and I sold everything from water Mellon, bush tea, Palm oil, corn, and whatever we can to make money. I get commissions from my business activities as a child, which provides for my school lunch and other needs. It is a part of my childhood I would never want to change for a billion Dollars. Selling watermelon and other goods as a seven-year-old taught me how to build a business, trade, build brands, and manage finances. And by design or default, this experience built in me a drive and personal initiative I could never have acquired if I grew up rich.

You are from Gunjur, where there is a noticeable high number of intellectuals. What do you ascribe the cerebral nature of the people of Gunjur to?

Gunjur, unlike their less intelligent cousins from Kombo Sukuta, have a lot of intellectuals like late Hatab Bojang, Dr Lamin J Darbo, Dr Amadou scattred Janneh, Sidi Ali Janneh, Imam Muhammad Lamin Touray, among so many I can’t name herein. In the absence of concrete research and evidence, I can’t speculate or ascribe it to anything other than individual drive and hard work. Some oral historians said our ancestors prayed for the natives of this village to be blessed with knowledge, and God answered their prayers. Whatever the truth is, Gunjur has produced a ton of nationally and internationally prominent intellectuals in many endeavors of knowledge and education. Be warned; just like our cousins in Kombo Sukuta, we do produce a lot of fools too. (laughs).

You left The Gambia and resettled in the US. What are some of your early experiences there, and did you experience racism?

Yes. I was the winner of the maiden edition of the Black history essay competition in The Gambia as a high school senior in 2009. It gave me an opportunity to immigrate to the US for further education. I have experienced racism in America, and I have also experienced extreme kindness from white Americans who are like family to me and supported my career in business and acting. The few instances of racism I have experienced in America are not representative of many Americans’ kindness and generosity. I have had the pleasure of meeting so many kind and generous Americans who represent the best of America to me.

You are one of the most successful African Real Estate businessmen in the US. What motivated you to venture into real estate, and how?

I have always been into Real Estate before I left for America. My family, the Darboe Kunda family, owns most of the Real Estate in Gunjur. I also started selling Real Estate as a University student under Dr Ensa Touray at Gambia University. He was a history lecturer and at the time sold Real Estate part-time. I made more money a day than I was making a month as a freelance journalist with TODAY Newspaper for following him, signing documents as a witness, and running errands for him at Physical Planning in Brikama. I got into Real Estate in America because I genuinely want to guide and help people with the most significant investments of their life. I would not pretend to be one of the most successful African Real Estate businessmen in America, but I am working hard to get there. We have more successful Real Estate businessmen like Musa Jallow, Cherno Njie, Ebrima Wadda, Demba Baldeh, among many others that are not well known as me.

What is your assessment of the Real Estate business in The Gambia?

The Real Estate business in The Gambia is a mess. Anybody can wake up any day and set up a Real Estate business. There is no standard, no education, no database or regulatory commission to regulate realtors’ activity. There are a lot of scammers and fake businessmen out there that are preying on their clients. Some folks are selling other people’s leased plots to unsuspecting customers, and these are going to cause a lot of problems down the line after the victims must have spent millions of building villas on these plots only to be caught in years of legal wrangling as the real owners try to take back their lands. I personally know a friend who built a multi-million-dalasi villa only to be evicted from the home when the real owner showed up. The guy who sold it to him is nowhere to be found.

Don’t you think we have reached a saturation point in the sector, especially given the discord and the fact that the average Gambian still cannot afford it even though we have many?

The fact that an average Gambian cannot afford land and homes does not mean Real Estate business folks should go out of business. Real Estate is expensive everywhere in the world. Given the lack of urban and family planning in The Gambia, the Real Estate price woes can only worsen with population explosion and very little planning from both government and private sectors. Our cities are poorly planned. Serekunda and Banjul should not be categorised as cities but rather glorified slums. Banjul as a city should be dismantled completely and rebuilt into a smart, well-planned, tech city that can easily accommodate millions of people and businesses with efficient use of the spaces available in Banjul.

What are you going to do differently to make sure the average Gambian can afford homes?

There is nothing I can do differently because I am not actively running a business here. A poor government and people cannot practise capitalism when it comes to Real Estate. It is the government’s job to come up with subsidies, policies, and initiatives to make lands and homes affordable for average Gambians. Other than courtesy and uncommon kindness, no business person wants to lose money on their investments because they simply want to be seen to be kind. Most business people are capitalists who want to make the most profit from their investments.

Are you rich now?

Being rich and wealthy is a state of mind and perception. I used to be materially poor, and I can’t say that I am poor now because I am not. I am grateful to God for blessing me intellectually, spiritually, and materially. I have had a lot of help from my friends and family, and I am grateful for that. I did not get here by just my hard work, but with the help of so many people that believed in me and supported me. You won’t see me bragging about my net worth and riches here or anywhere anymore. I used to do that before but not anymore. Maybe I am finally growing up now (laughs).

Some people said you are an extrovert?

If people say that so confidently, they maybe right. I love this life brother. I can’t kill myself. This life is short and we must live fully and enjoy it fully. I try to make all the money I can, I save all I can, I give away all I can and I enjoy all I can. Dead men have no use for mansions and money in the bank they can’t enjoy.

You have always been writing for anyone who cared to read about The Gambia’s political and institutional dysfunctions. Can you expound a little on that?

This country is still not yet out of the woods. The seat of power and our institutions that must drive change are fundamentally dysfunctional. We took out a dictator, and his replacement (Barrow) is not bringing the much-needed change and maybe even the transformation that we needed like yesterday. We needed a transformational leader after Jammeh, and President Adama Barrow is just not that.

Mr Darboe, you are a serious thinker; what do you ascribe the shocking demise of the Jammeh regime to, and how far have we come under Barrow?

I think Jammeh got so comfortable and started thinking delusionally that he could rule for a billion years. I think insulting Mandinkas, the mass arrest of top government officials, imams, and the very painful killing of Solo Sandeng dug his presidency’s grave. Jammeh is smart and could easily have been one of Africa’s best leaders if he stayed humble, got himself good advisers, he really listened to, and never killed and tortured. Other than the killings and torture sprees under Jammeh, his regime was better than 30 years of Jawara’s so-called democracy and thirty years of underdevelopment. It is so sad that it took a dictator like Jammeh to get us our first-ever university, medical school, a network of roads across the country. These developments under Jammeh were only plans under Jawara for 30 years. Very sad if you ask me.

How far have we come under Barrow?

I think Barrow has been a massive disappointment for most of us who thought his coming would bring the change and transformation The Gambia needed. We experienced what communication scholars call “expectation violation.” Our expectations were violated hugely. However, we must be objective in our assessment of his government. He is doing a terrific job revitalizing the economy and infrastructure in rural Gambia. And recently, the appointment of Professor Kah as ambassador to Geneva, the appointment of Dr Jainaba as DSPD director-general, the appointment of Bakary Badjie as a minister, and Betty Marong’s appointment as director of finance at Nawec is creating a perception that he is making a course correction by bringing in smart Gambians from the diaspora to effect the much-needed change. I applaud the appointment of these competent Gambians from the diaspora.

In one of your Facebook comments, you seem to tip Barrow as a potential winner in the coming presidential election because he is “winning in perception and in reality”, what should the UDP and others do to tame Barrow and his NPP?

I want to be honest with you. I am a UDP supporter, and I have been as a child even though I can publicly be critical of my own party out of frustration. My father, Nfansu Matida Darboe, was UDP chairman for Kombo South for years. But sometimes, I get worried that Barrow is winning and will win in 2021 if UDP does not get their campaign and communication machinery together. Barrow is controlling the narrative about the revitalization of infrastructure and economy in rural areas, OIC projects, and airport renovations. UDP is not countering this narrative by educating the public. An average Gambian thinks the government is doing them a favor by providing electricity, water, and building roads. Without a counter education from UDP to educate the masses that these are their rights and money, not Barrow’s favor, they are more likely to lose hundreds of thousands of votes to Barrow’s aggressive and propagandistic political communication machinery.

You described President Barrow’s advisers as brain dead thugs. Yet, they managed to inspire NPP to victory in the Niamina and Kerr Jarga polls. Some political observers said that was the litmus test that Barrow and his NPP should not be underestimated?

Yes, most of Barrow’s advisers are brain-dead thugs, but you have to understand that Hamat Bah and Dou Sanno were the chief masterminds behind the victory in Kerr Jarga and elsewhere. While they may be loudmouths, self-centered, and even politically unethical and propagandistic, they are not stupid. I think UDP made a strategic communication mistake of over-involvement in that poll. They should have stayed away, but their heavy involvement created a perception that it was UDP vs. NPP and Lawyer Darboe vs. Barrow. And in the end, Barrow won. This is not good about public perception and the reality of Barrow sweeping those polls.

Why did you say Darboe will be imperiling the UDP with his desire to lead the party in next year’s polls?

I think, this late in the game, Darboe has more chance of winning Barrow than any support any newcomer can muster in less than a year if he steps down as a flag bearer for UDP. One person that shows promise of the transformational and innovative leader the Gambia needs from within UDP is Talib Bensouda. I have seen the initiatives and projects he has been rolling out within KMC, and they are very impressive.

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