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Thursday, October 21, 2021

Dr Ebrahim Jagne, secretary general & leader, All Peoples Party

You hailed from Bansang, a once thriving local trade centre for groundnut, rice and fish. Would you say Bansang is still a thriving trade centre?

Absolutely. I was born in Bansang, but left very early in my life. When I went to Armitage, I was a teenager, and used to frequently go to Bansang to visit my aunt, who is incidentally the mother of Justice Hassan Jallow, my first cousin. I was really amazed how Bansang was. At that time, as a teenager at Armitage school, comparing Bansang and George Town, George Town was more thriving than Bansang. But I would say Bansang has overtaken George Town in terms of trade and prosperity in getting more people. I was very impressed. The highway is better, and the market area is beautiful. Bansang is a thriving town. 

You are the son of a former school principal and lecturer, Alhaji Mamour Jagne. What memories do you have of him?

My father was my star. He had lots of characters to emulate. He had integrity. Many people thought he was an Islamic scholar, he wasn’t. He went to Boys High School and then to Armitage where after five or so years, he was made school principal. He had lots of people who loved him. Most people in former president Jawara’s government, the likes of Sheriff Ceesay, Yahya Ceesay and lots of other people still in government were his students. He was a man who lived with a lot of dignity.

In 1993, you left for the US and did your PhD in health science, but later returned and started an NGO called Health Care Organisation for Africa. How did that metamorphose into Lamin Health Centre?

I left The Gambia in 1973 but before that, I was in Taiwan. I was able to go to Taiwan to study agriculture and rice cultivation and I became their expert. Then I decided I wanted to study medicine. At that time, we didn’t have the UTG so I went to Spain. During my period in Spain, I came to realise who I was, questioning everything. During that time, I was able to read books like Frantz Fanon’s the Wretched of the Earth; I was able to read books written by Cheikh Anta Diop, the African Origin of Civilisation. I was able to read Patrice Lumumba’s book and books by Kwame Nkrumah. Eventually, I left Spain, and went to United States. In the US, I was able to struggle my way to medical school and was able to complete my medical degree at Emory University. Then I decided I wanted to do more, and I specialised in emergency medicine. When I finished, I got employed by the Saudi government and I was there for a year because the Gulf War had started. So, I came back and worked at the Royal Victoria Teaching Hospital, now EFSTH. In 1993, I decided that I needed to go back to the US to complete a PhD I already started. I decided that Lamin needed a health centre, but at the time, the PPP government said no to that because according to them, there was already a health centre in Banjulinding. So, in 1993, when I founded the NGO, I decided to talk to the villagers, and they said to me you are welcome to open the clinic. I returned to the States and, between 1993 and July 1994, I recruited American volunteer nurses and doctors and brought them to the clinic. We opened the clinic on 20 July 1994, and on 22 July Jammeh took over the country. And I remember the American embassy calling me and asking about the whereabouts of the American volunteers.

Running an NGO is not for the faint-hearted as it requires lots of money. Where did you get the money to open the clinic?

When I came back, even my family members said to me you must be rich to be able to do all these things you are doing. I put together the youths of Lamin and brought them to the clinic and they were trained by the volunteers. When they trained and certified them, they started working for the clinic. Of course, the volunteers brought in lots of supplies. But when I decided to start this idea, I sent a 40ft container from the US to The Gambia. We were able to sustain ourselves from the D25 we collected from the gates. It was difficult but we were able to do it from 94′ to 2006.

You are an expert in medicine, what in your view is responsible for the proliferation of fake medicines across the country, and what should be done to curb the menace?

In every country, there are standards to control things be it food that we eat, medication, petroleum, and other goods. In The Gambia, they have good regulations and standards in the books but they are not implemented. If they are implemented, they are corrupted by bribery. It’s the corruption we have in this country, and it is widespread. Even the Narr shops used to sell paracetamol to us. That’s quite dangerous.

Is the Medicine Control Agency of the Gambia doing a good job in regulating these issues? 

From what I’m seeing, probably [no]. [They are not doing] what we all expect. There are still fake medications coming into this country. We all know it. We have seen reports in the media. Some of these fake drugs have a risk of causing diseases, kidney diseases. From my understanding, kidney failure is on the rise in The Gambia. It’s possible these are the culprits.

The health care system in The Gambia has been in dire straits for far too long. It has led to many Gambians believing that our hospitals are in peril if not a deathtrap. What should we do for us to have that quality health care system?

Most often than not, they say ‘it’s expensive, we don’t have the money’, but that’s just an excuse. The problem in this country is that our governments don’t prioritise things in the right order. we have a river that could irrigate our banks throughout the year. We can produce enough rice, potato, onions, coos and sell it to other countries outside The Gambia and retain foreign exchange. Then, we can invest that in our health system. All these ambulances that the government is giving, if you transport someone to the hospital and they don’t have the medicine or staff, what’s the use? Ambulances must be equipped so that you can have drip going on, monitor for the heart and you can have medications in the ambulance to resuscitate the patient.

Ramou Njie, a top doctor and hepatologist gave a coruscating review of the country’s health system, saying it is bloated with its many directors who are scattered in buildings. Do you feel there is a need to re-structure or perhaps even streamline the health ministry?

I agree. If you have too many administrators, then you going to create… those admins are much more paid than the doctors and nurses. You must treat the doctors and nurses very well. So, I seem to agree [that we must streamline the health ministry]. She must have the facts to say that.

When you declared your intent to enter politics, you said it was because The Gambia needed a technocrat to step up and lead. The Gambia needed technocrats to step up when dictatorship was here. Why didn’t you enter politics then and lead, where were you?

The APP government is going to have technocrats at the helm who are not greedy or there to fill their pockets. What transpired in 1998/99, Jammeh came to the clinic and was impressed. He wanted to give us air conditioner, but I refused. He said he will give us a generator. Again, I said no and then he offered an ambulance and I welcomed that because we needed it. After six months or so, I got the Lamin APRC youth group who came to me and said Dr, you are a very important person in the community and that the President was coming here and had asked we place a chair for you next to him but I refused. First off, I was not impressed by what he was doing or what was going on in the country. Lo and behold, I started getting phone calls in the middle of the night and I noticed people were following me. This was around 2002. I thought to myself, Gambians are disappearing, and I may have said something that he [Jammeh] didn’t like. So, I decided to leave the country. But for the last five years, I have been thinking of politics – not because Jammeh is gone – in fact, long before Jammeh left this has been on my mind.

What made you to gravitate towards the APP instead of the other established parties like the PDOIS or UDP?

I came to realise that am not satisfied with the manifestos. I’m not satisfied with what I have seen in Gambian politics. We believe in clean politics. We don’t go around to pay people or give them bags of rice or sugar, because that is temporary measure. Our objective is system change in The Gambia. The Gambians, ourselves, we need to change our mentality and move from individualism to nationalism. Don’t think of yourself; think of the country. Think like an African. We are the only people who can get ourselves out of the situation that we are in. I have always been saying for many times now, that what happened to The Gambia is what I call the ‘imperial foreign aid syndrome’. The Gambian must change his mentality. The political parties have not been saying what they need to be saying, and that’s why the APP was born.

When Gumbo Ali Touray stepped down as secretary general and party leader of the APP, he cited ‘compelling’ and family reasons for his decision. Was the APP leadership told what those ‘compelling’ reasons were? 

We are all humans. We all have difficulties in life and sometimes it is difficult. Family’s number one, no matter what you do. When he told me, I said am not very happy about it, but I have no right to ask him to give details. He is still the national president of the party. We are united and working in harmony.

The APP is among opposition political parties that recently came together to discuss the possibility of forming an alliance to remove President Adama Barrow at the polls in the wake of the NPP’s alliance with the APRC. Are you hopeful of a successful alliance?

There is one thing in common; that is the Barrow regime must be gone. Barrow must go because there is lack of integrity, and there’s corruption, we know it. There’s nepotism and the country is going backwards. But more than that, we need a system change, a system change with the right government and having technocrats at the top of the affairs of the government. We believe we are going to have a consensus.

Who will lead the alliance should you have consensus?

Well, he must meet a certain criterion. We are going into the election with the 1997 constitution. It clearly says who can be a political party leader, the education, and other factors. We are looking for someone who has integrity, someone who honors his words. And we are going to make sure the person signs a legal document to make sure if he wins, he doesn’t turn around and say I am going my own way like the current president Barrow did.

Some commentators said in the wake of the NPP-APRC alliance, only a formidable alliance the like of which you are experimenting with now can defeat Barrow. What do you say to that?

I subscribe to that belief. I strongly believe that. We are going to have as a flagbearer someone who has integrity. There is a set of criteria this person must meet because we don’t want to have another Barrow running the government.

What are your views on the APRC-NPP alliance?

It’s sad. It’s disappointing. It’s a moral and political betrayal of the Gambian people. Political betrayal because you have the TRRC going on, that’s still not complete. The president who should have been the referee, now joined hands with the same people of the past government who committed atrocities in The Gambia. He is now bedfellows with them. So, what is going to happen to people who are yearning to have their day in court and for justice to be served? It’s beyond my imagination. I couldn’t have imagined the Barrow government asking the APRC to join them and form a coalition. I think they have failed. This is not a good arrangement. It’s not going to work. Going into the election, with this lingering problem of the TRRC and the marriage between NPP and APRC is detrimental to Barrow. He doesn’t see it, and he wouldn’t see it because he doesn’t understand it.

Why do you think corruption has become endemic in The Gambia?  

There’s nepotism, there’s corruption. Couple of weeks ago I was talking to a real estate agent, and he said ‘Dr, do you see all these big buildings here in the Kombos? They are not built by those in the diaspora; they are owned by people in The Gambia government’. When we have a grant for a project, the first thing that happens is that those who are supposed to manage it will start creating per diems and traveling unnecessarily and organising all these so-called seminars and workshops. The KMC corruption scandal didn’t surprise me. Even during Jammeh’s time ghost employees were found in Brikama and that’s rampant. Listen, you work for the government, you leave government work, your name is still in the books for another one year and someone is putting that money in his pockets. He is signing it. The health minister himself went to parliament and told them how they gave him those ghost workers. They are the ghost employees. This country is sick. There’s the post-traumatic stress disorder in The Gambia. This country is sick.

It was reported that when the EU’s disaster relief package came, victims of disaster who are resident in Ballanghar and are supporters of the APP were denied these packages because they planted APP flags in their homes. Can you substantiate this or not?

Yes, we got a report and we investigated. We got a report that a militant of the APP, Ebou Touray planted our flag in his home. We are told that the chief, I don’t know him, but they called him Ali J Touray, who is supposed to be controlling and managing the distribution, didn’t give Ebou Touray on the basis that he has an APP flag planted in his home. That is the information we got. We’ve written to protest that. It’s not right. They should not have brought politics into aid package initiatives. It’s wrong and hopefully it doesn’t happen again.  

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