With Alagie Manneh
Your family hails from Penyem, a village not far from the Senegalese border, are your people originally from Casamance?
Bakary Badjie: When you said my people who do you mean? I came from Penyem. I wasn’t born in Penyem, I was born in Serekunda and my dad actually resettled in Penyem but he is not from Penyem. He was born in Faraba and resettled in Penyem because his uncle discovered that village, he was called Musa Colley. He discovered that village. He moved over to Penyem and later had a family in Serekunda, but three of my elder brothers and sisters were all born in Penyem. They moved to Serekunda Bartez, that’s where I was born, before we moved to Ebo Town.
You are a Jola, and Jola’s have been in the forefront of the fight for independence of separatist state in Casamance, what are your opinions on the Casamance issue?
I do not have any opinion on that issue. The separatist movement in Senegal, they are just in Senegal and I am in The Gambia. I have no connections with them or what they do. What they are fighting for I have no idea what it is, and I think the movement started the same year that I was born. I have no idea what they’re doing and what they intend to do.
Mr Badjie, you made your name as a youth worker but also doubled in politics and was a recognised APRC stalwart, what led to your departure from APRC?
No, I was not an APRC stalwart. I know there is a whole lot of confusion about my connection with APRC. I have worked in the civil society and working in the civil society means that you cannot actively engage in politics. I know people say ‘oh he went to KMC through APRC’, or I’ve heard somebody on the Giss-Giss show say that I was an APRC councilor; there is no truth in that. I was a chairperson of Kanifing Municipal youth committee and at one time the council, through a Nayconf resolution, requested that the area councils should identify somebody from the youth committees to serve as councilors instead of getting them from the political sides. That’s what used to happen. In 2008, the Brikama Area Council, Banjul, KM, CRR, all of them had young people who were not from politics but were chosen from regional or municipal youth committees. I was the chairperson of the Municipal Youth Committee and they wrote inviting the chairperson of the committee to be part of the council as a representative. That’s how I got into the council. I did publish my letter just to clarify that what you people think is different. Now, did I support Yahya Jammeh and APRC? Yes, I did, but I was never a registered member of APRC neither was I involved in anything that has to do with APRC. I am one person who have never attended the July 22nd anniversary; I do not go to Kanilai for any activities. I have nothing to do with APRC as a party, but yes, I supported Yahya Jammeh and APRC and I voted for them, but never held any political position. In fact, I was one time helping to manage their Facebook page. I have done all of that for APRC and that’s where it stops. My council involvement has nothing to do with APRC. Even when I left, the one who came to replace me was a female. She was a female rep in the municipal youth committee. That didn’t go down well with APRC, but I was never an APRC registered member.
What do you hope to achieve as minister of youth and sports?
We intend to achieve a lot. I think the ministry has been doing a good job in the past years even though I still believe that there is still a lot that we can do. There are a lot of transformations that I think the ministry should do. And some of those transformations, for me, are going beyond the usual things the ministry is doing which is focusing on issues of youth empowerment, youth development, youth organisations and general sports. I think the ministry should go beyond those by looking at other areas such as young people in conflict with the law. Criminal justice in general has something to do with youths. Lot of them who are in prison, in juvenile detention centres, they are all young people. I think the ministry should also look into that. The other area is how do we strengthen our capacity development so that we can be able to provide employability opportunities for young people. In terms of young people in fisheries, in agriculture, skills development, engineering. How do we reach out to them and see what kind of support we can provide? The last thing would be about developing the infrastructures that we have. I believe that for us to excel in sports, we should be able to have very good infrastructure at the local level. Moving forward, we want to put in strategies that will enable us raise funds and be able to support these infrastructures at the local level, so that we can develop sports. What is happening right now is more of focusing on the national side, and the national side can never be good unless you have a very strong foundation. The idea is, look at what has been here from the past ministers and permanent secretaries, use the good things and build on it and be able to improve and take the ministry to a higher height. But like I said, these things are not going to be possible unless we have the right investment from the central government and from all stakeholders. We will also be talking to some Cabinet members to see how best we can support the idea of increasing the amount of budgetary allocations that is given to the Ministry of Youth and Sports.
We have reports that you were working with some members of the Gambia Diaspora with regard to helping people wanted by the Jammeh government to flee the country, can you give me instances and what was your motivation?
At the time yes, I did work with people in the Diaspora. It was not anything against anyone, it was that anytime that people are in trouble in the then government, not that they have committed any crime or necessarily convicted criminals or that they have done something that anybody knows. But then, they were people who might be victimised by the system, and some other people might have gone and reported them and they were arrested yes, if I found those kinds of young people who were trying to find ways of living, I did help them. I did it proudly because I thought we shouldn’t have a situation where some people will come after others simply because they said something that the leadership did not like, or being in touch with someone that is in conflict with the leadership. So yes, I did help people to be kind of safe from the injustices that were happening at the time.
You left Gambia with your family to resettle in the US, why?
I didn’t feel it was okay for me to continue staying here. I have that love for the country and I thought I can be able to do something for this Gambia and that’s why I stayed. But then at one time I was just kind of fed-up with everything and said let me go.
Did you seek political asylum in the US and what was the basis of your case?
I did not seek political asylum. I had connections working outside with some organisations that were working in the areas of women and children’s rights. In 2015 when I visited the US, I kind of got a temporary offer of appointment through an organisation and in 2016, I decided to go.
You then decided to come down after the defeat of Jammeh, and contested for KMC mayorship, what gave you the audacity that you could win such a race?
It wasn’t a race. It was a group of people that reached out to me to say they were kind of forming a youth movement that was interested in going into politics. It was around May in 2017. They have identified some young people that they want to put up as candidates. They wanted me to come and run for mayorship. That was because I have been in the council from 2008-2013. That connection with the council is the reason why they asked me to come. It took time for me to think about it and I consulted my family and at one time my mom said no but then later on, she approved it and I went. My coming was precipitated by that suggestion from people but of course, I was interested in politics and at one time, I knew I was going to end in that area. I came back purposely to be able to utilise my ideas and knowledge to transform the council and to be able to deliver… As a mayor, you have an upper hand to decide what should happen with the resources that the council generates. That was what the motivation was.
In the end you lost, why did you lose, and what political lessons have you learned?
Primarily, I think the reason why I lost was because I decided to go independent. Gambians by our nature vote based on not what you present but who you represent and who you are. Things were tough, the coalition government just came into power and UDP had the upper hand in terms of support base then. The second reason was, and which came out, that I was Jola and people were like ‘Jola ahh, Jolayaa kanyangtaleh. So I had multiple reasons but my reasons are manifested; that if you are representing a party as a mayor you have to do their bidding, if you don’t do their bidding you will be kicked out and we’ve seen the Sheriffo Sonko issue how it panned out in the end and all of the chairmen would have to fall in line otherwise they can’t do much. That’s one of the reasons. I also feared that the Council will be politicised. I did say this after the mayoral election; IEC also played a role, that’s not the reason why I lost but it’s one of the reasons why the results went the way they are. There were lots of things that were happening; registration of voter’s cards, even in the night of elections, IEC was still registering voter’s cards at the Kanifing office. During elections some people were handed over voter’s cards. I had ballot boxes in Ebo Town, Jeshwang and Bundung and people were not able to put their marbles through. Joe Colley said at the time those were challenges they have. He said entry points were a bit tight.
These are serious allegations; do you have any evidence to back these claims?
They are not allegations; they are the truth. After the elections, media houses were not interested in following up but I had an interview with Kebba Camara of Paradise FM at the time, and I told him these. I am not saying that’s the reason I lost, I am just saying that I would have lost any way but maybe not the 5000 votes that we got.
Later on, you threw your political weight behind President Barrow after meeting him at State House. Why do you prefer to join Barrow than say Halifa Sallah, Ousainu Darboe or Mamma Kandeh?
All of these parties, well, except for PDOIS, made all kinds of efforts to try and get me into their parties. The membership of PDOIS did try, but not the leadership. All the other parties have reached out and made some kind of offers. But in the end, I didn’t just go anywhere. For me, I joined politics because there was a group of people who asked me to come… Now, throwing weight behind President Barrow wasn’t really an issue; it was a meeting that we had last year. What came out of the meeting was that we believe he has a mandate of five years and must serve that. But people sensationalised the whole thing. I was the very one who said that statement and what I said was clear; our support for President Barrow was unconditional. Again, Gambians have this mentality that politics is about what you get from it. I have always said to those who said to me in the run-up to the mayoral election ‘if we come what’s in it for us,’? I have always said to them no, we do not have anything to offer. We can’t promise positions or monies, but we have ideas. That was the kind of mindset that people had. People said all kinds of things but we issued a press statement to clarify what we said, why we are supporting the president, and why we think the 3YJ was not a tenable campaign.
Did you lobby for your appointment, or were you promised a job when you met Barrow?
I did not lobby for anything. Anybody who understands how government works, would know that presidents do not know everyone. For a president to have a good team, he is going to use the people that he knows, but sometimes some other people might also recommend people to him for appointment. If we are truthful, sometime last year, even before the meeting people were talking about it on Facebook. When Barrow made his first change in 2018, people were saying President Barrow, if you want a good minister of youth and sports get Bakary. Those suggestions were online and people saw it. Did he change anything? No he did not. After those issues, people continued to advocate. My name has been to him since the mayoral election. We didn’t meet him because people were saying that I should be minister; we met him because we had a belief… we all know what happened with the ministry of youth and sports with all those NYC confusions, maybe that’s the reason why the president feels this is the right time to change ministers. We went to President Barrow in October of 2019, he didn’t make the appointment until October of 2020, one year after, and somebody now wants to link something that happened a year ago saying ‘oh the condition was meet us and we appoint you’. I don’t think we would delay for one year, if it was a bargain. If somebody accuses me of whatever they want to accuse me, I am fine with that, but let them look inwards and ask their political leaders, the ones they support, what are they looking for? If they have the answers, then they apply that to me.
Mr Badjie, what is your political base?
My political base were people running as independent but like I said, when this started in 2017… it was a movement of young people that wanted to enter politics and bring some change…
Poll after poll, and survey after survey have indicated that Barrow is not a favourite of young people in The Gambia, the cohort you claim to represent. What are you going to do to make him appealing in the eyes of the young people?
For President Barrow to be appealing in the eyes of young people of The Gambia is something he can do for himself. He is the president of the Republic, and he has the power to make things that people would appreciate him for. He has everything at his disposal to do the things that will convince people that he probably deserves a second chance. But for me, as a minister, I know I have a responsibility to work for everyone in this country be it a supporter of the president or not and I’m going to do that to ensure the ministry is there for everyone. Now, ministers are politicians, there is no mincing of words. I am going to help the president. If I have an opportunity to reach out to young people, I will do that. I will tell them the good things that he is doing and of course we have challenges and those challenges will be highlighted. For people to support him, that will be up to them. Moving on, we will do our best… and like I told you, there are a lot of things that have been happening at the ministerial level that probably wasn’t communicated out there. We are ready as a team to ensure we change that. For me, politics is not the primary reason I am here; I am here because I want to change the ministry and make it a more responsive ministry that will invest in sports and empower the youths.
Many who know you said they found it absurd that you would accept to join the twilight of an unpopular president like Barrow, what are you going to do if Barrow fails to win the election in four hundred days?
I do not know what unpopularity means and how they gauged that popularity. Did President Barrow win based on him as a person, no, he won because there was a coalition that came together. Between 2017 to date, a lot of things have happened. He has not been tested in the polls, so how did people come to that conclusion that he is unpopular? Was there any opinion poll that was done to come up with figures? No. How do Gambians vote? Put up structures, put something there and convince people. I was in Basse. I saw the amount of reception the president got from people in CRR and URR. Will another politician get that kind of crowd? I am not sure. Is he popular in Serekunda or Kombo? Maybe not, but Serekunda is not the base of politics in this country. There are whole lots of things happening and we have a year plus to go. Until we go to the next election, to say President Barrow is not popular, based on what people say on Facebook, probably is misleading. That’s what I think.
Political strategist Pa Njie Girigara said NPP will come out first in the upcoming election, PDOIS second and UDP last, do you agree?
I am not able to say anything on that. I know that NPP is gaining popularity. I also know that it’s pulling people from their parties. Even UDP’s national president is no longer with them, is with NPP. Their regional chairpersons and deputy chairpersons have moved. If you lose some of your people to a political party, that party is not small. Maybe people need to look at political dynamics and understand how people support. I can tell you Barrow has support and NPP has a base.
Others said your inclusion in the Cabinet is good because it heeded the ethnic quarter factor as the only Jola in Cabinet. What do you make of that?
[Smiles] I agree. I think a Cabinet is supposed to be diverse, it’s supposed to have a representation of not just the tribes but the geographical differences that we have in this country. The diversity in us is not bad. Sometimes people think promoting this tribe is bad, it’s not. We all come from different tribes and regions and our background matters. If we appreciate diversity and use it to our advantage then it is good. But if we want to bring division because we belong to different tribes, that’s where the problem is. For a long time, I think Barrow has done the right thing to ensure you have all sides in Cabinet. I mean, it’s the reality; people look at that and they talk about it. If you don’t involve tribes or have a government dominated by one tribe, there tends to be some issues that will rise and we’ve seen those things happen here. When people feel isolated, they take a back seat and then you create trouble. It’s not just about me, I think any other person who was included in the government who is from Jolas, or whatever, it would have been a good way to do it. That’s how I believe government should be run.
Are you disappointed that the draft constitution failed to pass?
Yes, I am disappointed that the draft failed to pass. Did I agree on everything that’s in the draft? No. I think there are things that are in the draft that shouldn’t have been there and if it fails, it’s because maybe the CRC has probably not heeded to people’s concerns. It’s not just the political side, there were a lot of things that people didn’t like and they’ve made suggestions. You cannot have a constitution that captures everything but there are key things, fundamental issues such as the presidential term limit. Considering counting a past term? I have seen people make that argument. I am not a lawyer but I don’t think it’s valid. That’s not valid. I was just making reference to Macky Sall because Senegal used to have a seven-year term for president but in 2016 he made proposed changes to the constitution because Senegal used to have a seven-year term for president. He said he was going to serve five years. He went to the Supreme Court and the court ruled that he was elected on a seven-year term and he needs to serve that seven-year term and not five. Laws in general are supposed to take effect from the time they are passed. You can have a law and make it retroactive to apply to something that has already passed at the time that the law was not in place. I found that absurd. We all know there was politics on both sides, that there were camps within. There are lots of clauses that are controversial in that constitution. Even the idea that, for an executive president to nominate minsters and it goes to parliament for parliament to approve it when parliament wants absolute independence that president should not nominate anybody into parliament… There are lots of things that shouldn’t have happened. If you are talking about true independence, executive should remain executive and the president be free to choose who he or she wants to work with. Parliament should remain parliament. The judiciary which is supposed to be the adjudicator between the two, then you can have this person nominate and that person approve and they become the judges. I think multiple things happened in that constitution. I am hoping they would find ways to review, make changes to those clauses and bring them back to parliament. If they can do that, that will be great.