The Majority Leader and National Assembly Member for Serrekunda East had earlier told this paper that, unlike the ruling ARPC regime, the former regime was hailed as democratic because the leadership was dancing to the tune of the West.
OJ, who was a prominent cabinet minister in the former regime, now leading the party in opposition, said it was his government’s diplomacy, rather than puppetry, that earned them the reputation.
“Attacking Jawara as a puppet of the West or an incompetent leader is an irresponsible statement that I don’t even want to talk about,” he told The Standard.
He added further: “Of course, we were of course friends with European countries and America, but at the same time with other countries like China, and Russia. So we don’t subscribe to a diplomacy that is riddled with casting insults on other powers and blaming them for your own internal problems.”
The opposition leader highlighted Jawara’s pioneering role in the mainstreaming of human rights in the business of African Union and Commonwealth, leading to the creation of human rights commissions in both establishments.
“The Gambia under Jawara was one of the most respected governments in the world,” OJ said. “Jawara respected human rights, rule of law and governance. It was only in The Gambia when the whole of Africa was either having a military dictatorship or one party system that we were having a multi party election under a genuine democracy. In 1992 elections, we lost eleven of our strongest seats in parliament because of the transparent and free nature of our elections.”
With The Gambia celebrating 50 years of independence last week Wednesday, OJ, who now leads the party that took the country to independence, has offered his views on the journey so far.
“For me, before thanking Sir Dawda Jawara who was the leader, I will thank the people who elected him, supported and stood by him and of course his colleague politicians, in the struggle for independence,” he told The Standard
OJ went on to pay tribute to early anti-colonial crusaders, who, he acknowledged, laid the foundation which his party built on.
He said: “We remember them and pray for them because without their efforts, this country would not have been what it is today. Jawara is the father of the nation – one needs not like him to admit that. He was the first prime minister and the first president and he is a major contributor to building the modern day independent Gambia. Although many sceptics at the time believed that The Gambia, because of its size and economy, could not stand as a state and there were discussions for Gambia to be part of Senegal, fortunately, the PPP under the leadership of Sir Dawda rejected that notion and said ‘independence now’.”
OJ has also disputed claims that his government had failed to develop the country, criticising APRC instead, for destroying the development projects of his government.
“Before 1994, The Gambia was one of the bread baskets of the West Coast. You had markets here for Mali, Sierra Leone, Guinea Bissau, and Guinea et cetera. I was also privileged to be in a minister of agriculture under Jawara for five years and during those years, the production level of all sectors of agriculture had been growing on a very steady scale. And this growth in agricultural production was aiding our export capacity which in effect boosted our foreign exchange earnings. Then, the dalasi became an international currency that could be converted anywhere in the world.
“We used to export the biggest amount of fish that it became our second most important commodity in accruing foreign exchange. But now the fishing industry is dead. We used to also export horticultural produce – 90 tones every Thursday and today it is dead. We used to export the biggest tones of cotton after Mali and Burkina faso and now that industry is dead.”
He continued: “It was the PPP that established all these parastatals. We had one of the best bus corporations in West Africa, covering every hamlet in this country. During our time, all the major importers were Gambians as opposed to now when all of them are foreigners. Jawara was tolerant and you can go and tell him the truth and he will accept it in good faith. That is why he has succeeded. If the Jawara government was not overthrown by soldiers, he would have made The Gambia what he would call the ‘Singapore of West Africa’.]]>