By Alagie Manneh
Bakary Badjie was born in Serekunda, but grew up in Ebo Town. He attended Nusrat Senior Secondary School, then went to GTTI, where he studied a law programme. Upon completion, Badjie went into voluntary service and at the same time doing management studies at MDI. He later moved on to do a two-year distance programme at the University of Ghana, studying youth development work, graduating in 2009.
He also took part in sub-series of pogrammes at the University of Antwerp, Belgium, and the University of Connecticut, United States. He returned and worked for the Child Protection Alliance for 12 years as Head of Programmes. During that time, Mr Badjie traveled far and wide across the sub-region and beyond conducting several different trainings for NGOs on child rights and child protection.
In today’s edition of Mayors’ Podium, the 36-year-old politician talks on his desire to be mayor of KMC, his vision, way forward for the ‘new democracy’ and issues underpinning Gambian lives.
Why do you aspire to be mayor for KMC?
I have seen the difficulties that the people of the Municipality are living and being an inhabitant of the Municipality, I believe that our area council should do more than what it is doing right now. We know the reality on the ground; councils are collecting money from people, from businesses, from women sellers and that money is supposed to be ploughed back to the people. I wouldn’t say it is not happening but the reality is that, quite a number of things that the Council should be doing, it’s not doing it.
I one-time served in the Council as a nominated councilor representing youths between 2008-2013 and I came to realise that it’s not that the Council do not have the money to do what they are supposed to do, it is probably the will, the leadership and spending money on things that are not necessary. These are the things that for me have to change and that is the idea behind my candidature.
My candidacy came through consultations and people who, knowing my background and the kind of work that I was doing and my involvement in the council in the past, came up with the idea and once they discussed with me, I took time and consulted my parents and ended up saying ‘yes, I will give it a try’. So my candidature is based on the trust of the people but also on my personal conviction that KMC deserves better.
Why do you think you are the right person for this job?
The work is not magic, it depends on the team you have to work with. For me that is important; how do we have a very straightforward mayor and somebody who understands development and has that kind of exposure locally and internationally, and a person who has been engaged with the communities and understands the plight of the communities to take up the leadership role? And once you are able to have that kind of leadership and have a very strong team in the council; that is the councilors and the head of different departments in the municipality, you should be able to get the job done. For me, it depends on what kind of plans I have and how people receive that information, because Gambian people have been voting based on party lines.
They don’t necessarily look at the competence of the people, but who is this candidate? What does he represent? We are close to it and the election is five months from now, so we are reaching out to all the people, the communities and the endorsement has been great and so we are hopeful we will make it.
Which political party do you think you can work with?
All political parties are registered as legal entities that are allowed to operate, so it depends on how these parties are managed. So, I do not have preference with parties, I am consulting with the team that came up with the idea. At the end of the day I will make up my mind as to which political party I am going to run under. So far we have had discussions with some parties and they want me to run under their ticket. So we are discussing those modalities on how we are going to do it.
One thing is clear; before I even announced my candidacy in July, I took time to develop my manifesto based on my experience in the country and based on the consultations we had. And for me this is the first time in the history of the Gambia that a mayoral candidate is having a manifesto that is out there in the public. It has never happened. No other candidate produced a plan as to how they are going to carry the municipality. I am the only one with a plan. So for me to go under a party it will be ‘ok, this is the programme that I have.’ I am not just running because I want to be mayor; I am running because I have plans. I have a vision, and if I am going under a party, that party should be ready to accept the manifesto that I come with, then we can look at it and adjust it but my vision remains, my manifesto remains and that is what I will go into a party with. If I don’t have a party that agrees, I remain as independent and allow the people to decide.
If you win, what will you do for the people of KM differently out of their tax money?
Lot! First, we need a complete reform of our tax system. We need to be able to map the municipality and know the streets that are in the municipality, what kind of businesses are in the municipality, where are the compounds located? That way we will know how much those businesses and compounds are supposed to pay. This will give us an idea of how much to expect from revenue at the end of the year. A proper mapping system of the municipality.
Secondly, I think we need to revise the way we collect tax. It’s unacceptable that Gambia have refused to embrace the digitalisation that is happening in the world. We have everything computerised in other places. Why do we continue the use of manual system to collect our tax? The Council needs to have a digitalise system for tax collection and reduce the handling of cash, because one thing people are complaining about is corruption. Once you reduce the handling of cash by collectors, then you are able to cut down significantly on corruption.
Also, there is need to look internally in the council and make the necessary changes. I am not saying staff are not necessary in the council, but council costs on over-heads is too much. You pay a lot of money paying staff that probably if you evaluate them are not effective and not doing much. So we have to look at all those things and make the necessary changes. Once you do that and start having a lot of money, then you can invest back in the people. We should also start using renewable energy. What we call trash here may not be trash in other countries. We used to throw metals and other things, now to see metal is a problem. We can manage these wastes into useful products and sell them. These are the kind of changes that we want.
Furthermore, council pay lots of millions on street light bills. I see no reason why we should continue relying on Nawec for our street lights and then spend close to D30M on street light bills annually when you can transform that and have a solar system on the street and use that money to invest in other areas. We could create recreational parks, football fields, and build more markets for the women and getting more vehicles to collect our refuse and sponsoring young people to go to universities. This is what my administration will do.
Some observers already write you off, saying while you may have the education, you don’t have the hard-core experience to run a big municipality like KMC. What do you make of such observations?
The experience they are talking about is based on my age. Nobody is going to tell you Bakary did not have experience and be able to justify apart from telling you he is young, and for me being young is not a yardstick to measure experience because I bet that I am quite better than many other people who are even vying for the mayor or who are even respected politicians in this country in terms of my work experience.
I started voluntary work as soon as I graduated from school. Now, 12 years working with the Child Protection Alliance and everybody in this country knows CPA, everybody knows the kind of work that CPA does and I was the head of programmes. I was the one writing project proposals, going out to seek for funds from Unicef and bringing that money to implement the projects that we do. I was responsible for quite a number of programmes that took place from here to rural Gambia and supported government on the various reports they draft. So, 12-years of experience at CPA heading programmes unit, which is the most significant unit, is no small job.
The second thing is we are talking about a council. Among all the candidates right now, there is nobody apart from Lai Conteh who has an experience of the council than me. I was in the council from 2008-2013. That alone is experience because I know how they operate. I know the standing orders, all the different units, and committees. None of them has that kind of experience. So for anybody to say he doesn’t have experience is probably lack of knowledge of who I am and what I have passed through and is merely also, based on my age and not experience. I am not new to the council. Three months into my councillorship I was made head of finance. And today if I go into the council and become mayor, nobody is going to teach me how it operates.
Any other candidate who comes in there is going to take time to familarise himself with how it operates. I was also a trainer in the English West African countries for several NGOs on child protection and child rights. And all these councils, from KM up to Basse, I have conducted trainings for them on child friendly budgeting, on community participation. So if you are a trainer for councils, why wouldn’t you be able to head a council? It just doesn’t make sense or people did not know. Maybe they don’t read because my profile is out there on our page.
There are a lot of tribal sentiments in Gambian politics now, are you worried this may affect your candidature?
I know people will tell you tribal sentiment is only on Facebook and it’s not here, but I have gone through many communities and even though people do not want to accept it, it is a reality. Sometimes you go to certain places and people will tell you – I mean I have heard it ‘ah I will never give my vote to a Jola.’ So those things happen. And people will tell you ‘oh, it’s because of the experience they have had in the past’. Last week we were in a meeting in Kotu Quarry and I was talking to a brother in Jola then one lady turned and say ‘ah you are a Jola?’ I said ‘yes.’ And then she said ‘so you are here for us to vote for you?’ For me, I think it’s not a major problem but it’s existing. But it is not in the larger proportion, just small scale and we will need time to put this behind us because some people want to take the whole blame of what Yahya Jammeh did and place it on Jolas, but in reality we are all contributors, all the tribes, to what was happening in the country, not just one tribe. Yes it will happen from time to time, but I don’t see tribalism as a major effect for my campaign.
As a country, how do we remove the ‘ugly face’ of tribalism in our politics?
I think the political leaders need to take their rightful position and denounce it. The reality is, in the political situation in the country, political leaders are idolised, and they are seen as people who can make or unmake everything. So, if today all of these political leaders stand up and denounce tribal politics, and even condemn some of their members that are bent on using tribal lines, then it will stop. But once they allow it to continue, it will be very difficult to eradicate. My view is political leaders need to denounce it as much as possible anywhere they speak and tell their followers this is not The Gambia that we know and surely, this is not The Gambia that we want. People do it because they think it’s in their interest. So, on the political arena, it really exists and people vote or support based on that tribal differences. So it depends on political leaders and how they handle it.
To be continued next Thursday