Banka Manneh was the chairman of Gambia Civil Society Associations of Gambia (CSAG), a “consortium” of organisations in ‘The Struggle’ that took the fight to President Yahya Jammeh, literarily. Banka is regarded as a hero in the anti-Jammeh brigade and even served time in a US prison for “aiding and abetting” armed personnel to forcibly dislodge Jammeh from power. In this edition of Bantaba, our guest editor and proprietor, Sheriff Bojang, talks to Mr Manneh about this and related matters.
Could you please tell us who Banka Manneh is?
Banka: I was born in Brufut, Kombo North, Western Region. My father who passed away in 1981 was called Balanka Manneh and my mother’s name is Yaye Jarjusey. I am from a big family of hundreds of brothers, sisters, uncles and aunts in Brufut Manneh Kunda. I attended Pakalinding Primary School in Pakalinding, Jarra West from where I passed the Common Entrance in 1987 and gained entrance to St Augustine’s High School. I grew up in Soma.
I graduated from St Augustine’s in 1992 and proceeded to the Gambia Hotel School. By the time I graduated from the Hotel School in 1994, I was already working at the Atlantic Hotel in Banjul while doing my internship at Kairaba Beach Hotel. I left for the United States in 1995 and have since been living in Atlanta, Georgia. I acquired my Bachelor’s Degree in Information Technology from the American InterContinental University and my MBA from Clayton State University. I started working in corporate America in 1998 mainly in the construction and architecture industry – I was an estimator/pre-construction analyst. I am married with four kids (one from a previous marriage and three from the current one).
What are your general comments on ‘New Gambia’?
The “New Gambia” is exciting and very promising. We are all encouraged by the absence of the abuses that used to characterise the former Gambia. Gambians are finally able to exercise their freedom of expression, speech, and assembly without hindrance. Still a lot of work has to be done in terms of the economy, agriculture, environment, education, health, gender equality, youth empowerment, minority representation, infrastructure, and energy but we are optimistic.
Out of 10, how would you score the Barrow government?
I will give the Barrow government a 6 out of 10. This number will surely get better as improvements are registered in those areas I just alluded to. My standards are very high, so this award of a 6 should be viewed in that context. The former regime’s excesses have been factored in.
There is talk in the grapevine that you want to make a foray into politics?
I do want to continue to participate in the political life of my country just as I have been doing for the last two decades. In what capacity? That is the question that I am currently exploring myself. If you are alluding to running for office, I would have to say I am not ruling anything in or out, but since I am currently in the exploration mode, I cannot give a definitive answer as to whether that will be the case or not. But I will be sure to keep you posted.
Amadou Janneh of Gunjur was your comrade-in-combat in ‘The Struggle’. I have been informed that you explored the possibility of developing this camaraderie post-Jammeh in the form of setting up a political party. What came of the talks?
Amadou and I never talked about developing our camaraderie into setting up a political party post-Jammeh. So there were no talks to report on. He was a comrade-in-combat no doubt and has fought valiantly. He is also a personal friend and brother – an enduring relation I treasure.
Banka, do you want to be president of The Gambia?
I consider being President to be the highest honour any country can bestow on her citizen, it is also a position with immense influence to transform any society, so it would be dishonest of me to claim I do not want to be president. However, whether one becomes a president or not is determined by a myriad of factors, some of which are beyond our control. I would also like to add that my main focus at this juncture is on policy rather than whether I should become president. There are issues I care deeply about and ones I believe can transform The Gambia into a country of our dreams. How to achieve those goals is what drives my motivation and direction at this point. As you can see, my options are wide open and my future course of action will therefore be solely determined by what avenue I consider to be the most effective in achieving those objectives.
Are you a member of any party in The Gambia?
No. Even though I have supported all the current Coalition parties in the past physically, morally, and financially, I am currently not a member of any.
Why would you not consider joining an existing party instead of setting up a new one?
Again, my options are wide option. I am not ruling that too out.?
What is your party going to be called?
If I ever decide to set up one, I will consider a name. ?
Who are the people backing you?
Not sure what you mean by backing me. If this is in regard to a political party, there is no party right now to
Do you have any money? How do you intend to raise it, and how much of it?
A lot of people have made offers to finance my political party should I decide to set one up but I have told them to wait until I decide what to do.
You spent six months in a Florida jail after being found guilty by a court in Minnesota for “aiding and abetting in the preparation of an attempted coup” in The Gambia on 30 December 2015. You were also fined US$200 and are on a three-year probation. Under law, you are a convicted felon. How proud are you of such a record?
Nelson Mandela was a “convicted felon”. George Washington was committing a treasonable offence when he led a band of rebels against the British to secure America’s independence. The saying “one man’s felon is another’s freedom fighter” comes to mind, do you agree? The question should be: coup against whom and for what?
You purchased two pistols and one rifle to equip co-conspirators participating in the coup, what exactly did you do in addition to “aiding and abetting” the coup plotters?
A whole lot of other stuff I don’t want to discuss right now. Be rest assured that story will be told soon by God’s grace.
Banka, you espouse to be a democrat but there is nothing democratic about an armed and violent overthrow of a democratically elected government. How do you square this circle?
The answer for that question lies in the phrase “democratically elected government.” Was Yahya Jammeh’s government a “democratically elected government or was it a dictatorship that was also killing, torturing, humiliating, disappearing, pillaging
our resources, and firing innocent citizens, not to mention raping our young girls? You are entitled to your opinion but don’t you think the answer here is too obvious especially in light of all the revelations finally coming out?
Ultimately, people died, fine young men indeed. One of them, Lt Col Lamin Sanneh, you publicly admitted to introducing to the plotters, do you feel guilty for his death in particular? Do you feel like you have blood on your hands?
Those fine gentlemen knew the risk they were taking. This was not a case of someone going out there and recruiting them. Being patriots, they got moved by the abuses being meted
out against their country and they decided to do something about it. The loss of their lives is regrettable but that was a risk they were willing to take. We will be forever indebted to them
for their sacrifice, we will make sure they are never forgotten and the ideals they fought for are fully realised.
What went wrong for the attackers on 30 December at State House?
I was not at the State House that night so I can’t tell you. But I also don’t want discuss those matters at this point. Sorry.
Some analysts including security analysts, in The Gambia and abroad, said the plot was “amateurish” and the attackers embarked on a “suicide mission”. Do you agree?
I do not want to discuss those issues at this point. You would have to catch me later on that and any related issues of that
You stated in an interview that as the plans for the attempted coup got traction, you were left out of the loop by the financier. How did that come to pass?
You would have to catch me later on December 30 matters.
Veteran politician and political scientist Lamin Waa Juwara told this newspaper two weeks ago that the Barrow government has neglected Kombos in cabinet and other high-level appointments. As a native of Kombo, do you share that view?
Waa has raised an important point, one that is of concern to all Kombonkas. However, I am interested to find out why he kept quiet on this matter during the Jammeh days even though the neglect he is lamenting was even more pronounced back then. Yes, Kombo is underrepresented in key positions of this government and was in the two governments before it.
You had a very public fall-out with Nderry M’bai of the so-called Freedom newspaper, what was that about?
Haha! Who didn’t have a public fallout with Pa? Didn’t you?
What was the cause of the fallout?
[ Just laughs].
Your credentials stated that you were or are still the chairman of the Gambia Civil Society Associations of Gambia (CSAG). What is it and what did you do? Mr Demba Baldeh recently sent a piece to this newspaper in which he named 11 people of the Gambia Democracy Fund as having “saved” The Gambia. Your name or that of CSAG was not mentioned, so what was your association doing, while others were busy ‘saving’ Gambia?
CSAG was a consortium of several organisations and it had served its purpose during the struggle. The organisation was involved in many initiatives key among which were the taking of the case of the death row inmates to the Ecowas Court, the campaign to deny Jammeh Ecowas chairmanship, campaign to free political prisoners, and organising protests. GDF on the other hand was a fundraising arm of the struggle. Those 11 people were the custodians of the funds.
To say a brave Brufut man is the height of oxymoron, but you are one true nyancho. Thank you for your time.
Thanks Brikamanko, I am humbled.