With Alagie Manneh
Basiru Gassama has been a contant in politics and social activism in the coastal Kombo town of Bakau. A former Special Branch agent, he was reportedly relieved of his duties after breaking protocol and approaching former president Sir Dawda Jawara warning him that a coup d’etat was in the offing. Since then Mr Gassama has been dabbling in politics. Famously nicknamed ‘General Kutcha’ by President Yahya Jammeh, Mr Gassama left the APRC and threw his weight behind the UDP in the last parliamentary elections. In today’s edition of Bantaba, guest anchor Alagie Manneh talks to him about his two loves – politics and tourism.
As a former hotel security chief, what is your assessment of the current tourist season?
The all-inclusive package is good. I advocated for it in 2000… if you go back to records of the Daily Observer. They refused until Sunwing became a ghost hotel. The all-inclusive package is more attractive to tourists visiting The Gambia and the sub-region. So in that sense, it’s welcomed and a wise move by the ministry. It will only boost tourism.
But many tour guides and craft vendors are saying the opposite – that it limits the trickle-down effect of tourism.
I assure you guests normally go outside and eat and buy things. Everybody has his or her luck. Sometimes all day they don’t see any business, true, but one day God comes and it’s a happy day for them.
Many people say you are mad, that your two fives don’t make a ten. How do you react to that?
I, together with other well-meaning people of Bakau have been taking care of this town, its people and the cemetery for the past 25-years. It is not the first time people say that I am mad. It is being said out of jealousy and it is the most unfounded and ridiculous allegation against me. But I have tolerance. I have patience because I was advised by my mother to ignore such notions and take everything in good faith. I left the intelligence service on 5 July 1993. And on 22 July 1994 I greeted the revolution… Some black people are jealous. Maybe my IQ is higher than theirs. All those people accusing me of madness, where were they when we were busy shaping this country’s future?
Wasn’t your being mentally-challenged one of the reasons given for removing you from the SB and the police?
That is not true. This is what I am telling you. You are just repeating yourself. Those are unfounded allegations and I could have taken legal actions against them. But I took God and God showed them what I really am. I was staying with Yahya Jammeh in this military camp [Fajara]. Do you know that?
No. Tell me more
Then I was in intelligence, spying on Jammeh. I was on assignment because we had reports that something was cooking at Fajara Barracks. I left the camp on 13 February 1994 and on 22 July 1994, the coup happened. I was staying at the band barracks with my wife, and family just opposite the ‘Depot’ central mosque. I can even give you the date the ‘Depot’ central mosque was opened. It was 11 February 1994. A crazy man can never remember such sensitive dates and events. I don’t mind them; let them talk what they want.
How was your reading of Yahya Jammeh at that time?
He was somebody who doesn’t take nonsense even then. And he was straightforward, too. I think he started to lose grip after ten years in power, when he became pompous.
Exactly what was the reason why you were sacked from the police?
My services were terminated unlawfully. What happened was I was very elusive at the time and I was able to beat the security and physically grip Sir Dawda in a crowd. I wanted to show them the loopholes in the security system. But they insisted there was no loophole and terminated my services. But I was right all along.
During the last National Assembly elections, you abandoned your party, the APRC. Shouldn’t you be the last person to oppose ex-president Jammeh because he took you to Mecca?
That was Allah’s will and not ex-president Jammeh’s. And that money came from the Saudis. If I am called by Prophet Ibrahim, I must go. Some people have millions but they can’t go there because it’s a calling. You go only if you are called. It’s the will of God. Even Jammeh’s presidency was the will of God. It’s the will of God it ended also. And I told them [the APRC] just that when I came from Mecca – to accept defeat.
Your critics said you switched sides because you want employment from this government, but one year on you are still unemployed.
I don’t mind employment. That is the most unfounded allegation ever.
You do. How else would you survive?
If you go around Bakau, especially in New Town and ask the elders and the youths, who are urging me and their consensus is for me to stand as a councillor. I have since told them I am not interested in position. Position is what Allah gives to whom He wills. How many people were vying for presidency in this country? But only Barrow was chosen. That’s why I am telling those people also to support him. Nobody will rule for more than two terms here anymore. We don’t want situations like Libya, Liberia, Uganda or Congo here. We are one people; we marry each other, love and bury each other. So why political differences? That’s why I was keeping quiet for long. For me, after politics my mission is to develop and unite my people. Period.
But you are jobless now. What are you doing now?
Who told you that I am jobless? I am doing work for my community and I am paid pension and at the same time people and my son are helping me. So what?
So you are well off?
Alhamdullilahi Rabil Allah min. Man has to be content. If you are not content then you are greedy, when you are greedy you fail. Have you not seen the fall of Jammeh? If you listen to the Janneh Commission, all those pound sterlings, euros and dollars, where is Jammeh going to take them? And when he accepted defeat, that was the best opportunity for him. Best respect. But selfish people were telling him, ‘they don’t win you, you must not accept defeat.’ This is why I must advise the coalition to be a TEAM. ‘T’ means Together, ‘E’ means Everybody, ‘A’ means Achieve and ‘M’ means More for the development of the country. This is my advice. Collectively, they came to power. God gives them to me and Gambians and I accept them. So what are the critics saying? The talk is too much but it won’t stop me from commending President Barrow. I applaud him for inviting our former statesman and my former boss Sir Dawda to the Independence celebration. I applaud that move as a good sign of unity.
But if you have any political intelligence as you claim, you would know that the ruling Coalition is fraught with division?
Only some people are engaged in that but they know very well that we are not interested in cheap popularity. What we are interested in is all hands on deck, support the change for a period of five years, because three years is an insult to the entire Gambian people and the Constitution. They talk about the constitution everywhere but is three years constitutional? Three years is an insult to Gambians. Did they go for a referendum to know the minds of all Gambians? This is why they formed NADD here. Everybody wanted to show that they are intelligent but NADD failed woefully. Instead of forming a coalition like this one, they formed an alliance. That is why Hamat Bah and Kemeseng lost cheap by-elections. Let these people come together and work for national unity because the position is already given to Barrow. Hearts need to be together.
When you left the APRC and went to join the Coalition, it was rumored you weren’t received with open arms.
Those who are saying that are only misleading themselves. Have you seen my activities in Talinding and in other places? Since I joined them, I have no regrets. They have shown me nothing but love and that the country comes first.
Mr Bass, you described yourself as a top political strategist and politician, yet you stood for elective offices several times and each time you were defeated. Surely you overrate your political acumen.
[Laughs] I am one of the most popular politicians you will ever find in Bakau, and by extension The Gambia. I am the first politician to say no to [trading of] insults in my political rallies. Ask anybody. When I stood with NADD. When Ousman ‘Rambo’ Jatta stood for NADD, I stood for APRC. They were always afraid of me. Here was UDP. I went for by-election in 2005. This is why I want to tell Gambians politics is football; you either win or lose. But I must say I am proud of my popularity and what I brought to Bakau and to my country, even if some might argue it is not much.
Knowing how formidable the UDP was in Bakau at the time, you seriously knew you did not stand a chance.
I am the first politician to hold a meeting at [Bakau] Bantaba and bantankoto [Wasulung Kunda]. At that time no one dared go there because of the strong opposition [UDP]. And they were very united, the opposition. But I did and I was not afraid. At that time I was with the APRC and knowing how the people of Bakau hated the APRC.
What has been your achievements in politics?
Today more than 500 youths from Bakau are in Europe and other developed places around the world and doing quite well for themselves and their families.
Are you claiming credit for that?
It is Allah, but [it came] through me. I have been in the hotel industry for many, many years. I helped many youths. They are good youths. Sometimes they help me clean the cemetery, our last place of rest, and some people think I was crazy while doing that. I am proud of being decorated with a national honour by my country. I am proud of achieving all the certificates of merit that I have shown you today that I received from the government. And these, after they accused me of madness!
Rambo Jatta, who was your political foe, then ally, then foe again, is being rumoured to be wanting to contest for the KMC mayoral office. Will he, being your fellow Bakau native, have your vote?
You know that Rambo and I are not in one political circle now. I have not been APRC since Yahya refused to step down. I know that he doesn’t love the country. I am not an egoist. I informed Yahya during a rally in Bakau as I walked alongside him that whoever wins, wins. For Rambo, he came and joined the APRC with a slogan ‘if you cannot beat the system, join it.’ What slogan is that? In my intelligent view, it was a clandestine initiative. I can’t say anymore however.
You critics say you are a political prostitute; that you only go where the wind blows you.
No, no, no. I don’t accept that. I don’t accept that. I was APRC since 1994 until God changed regimes, then I changed my allegiance, and swore loyalty to the [new] head of state. Simple. I will never be a political prostitute. I am not one of those people who jump from here to there for [personal] interest. I know very well that not everywhere that glitters is golden. Many people who are talking today do not know what happened in the past. In life you must have critics, otherwise you can never rectify yourself.
Why would you say APRC, the party you supported for 22-years should be banned instead of being reformed?
Jammeh came to power unconstitutionally and went on to ban opposition GPP, NCP, PPP and others. And when Jammeh lost elections, some corrupt people put some bad laws in our Constitution in order to prolong Jammeh’s stay in power. Those people should have faced treason charges, but let’s forgive and forget about them because we are a peaceful people. But they know very well what they did could have led to severe security issues and chaos in the country.
What do you think should happen to former president Jammeh? Should he be extradited to face justice here?
Jammeh was a good leader in the first 5-10-years of his rule. Then bad and selfish people started misleading him, until he became pompous and pomposity is only for Allah. Jammeh also had no regard or respect for those who support him, especially Mandikas who form the majority. Mandinkas never hated Jammeh. Take me, for example, I supported this party for two decades. I would like to call on all Gambians to come together and work towards national development. I know there is great potential in this country and we can only reap its fruit through hard work and harmony. I wish this nation lasting peace. Peace means development.
I can see you are missing a finger. How did it come about?
That’s nature. Sometimes you people ask too many questions. Must you know all things? All I can say is that it happens only in nature.
On that note thank you for your time.
You are welcome.