With Omar Wally
Dudu Kassa Jaata was born in Bakau and attended Bakau primary and Latrikunda secondary school and later joined the Fajara Gulf Club as a caddy. Later in the 1970s, he joined the ruling PPP. After the party was banned following the 1994 coup, Kassa joined the UDP becoming a youth leader. In 2012, when UDP boycotted parliamentary election, Kassa contested as an independent candidate for Bakau Constituency and lost. In August 2013, Kassa went into exile in Senegal. In 2016, he returned home and abandoned the UDP for GDC but left after the party lost in the polls. In this edition of Bantaba, anchor Omar Wally speaks to Dudu Kassa Jaata about his long and chequered political journey and related issues.
The Standard: You use to support the PPP when most people in Bakau were supporting the NCP. Why?
I never supported the NCP because the NCP leader Sheriff Dibba came from the PPP.
Why did you become such a vocal opponent of the AFPRC/APRC after the 1994 coup?
Because Jammeh overthrew a legitimate government which was the people’s choice. That was why I opposed Jammeh.
For 30 years Jawara failed to develop The Gambia; the PPP did not build a university or any high school and only managed to put up one hospital in Bansang and the roads were bad. And there was nepotism. Was that not justification for the coup?
To be candid, Jawara did well for The Gambia. The educational standard was up to standard and everybody enjoyed and things were cheap. Although roads were bad, but [they were being considered in the] five-year development plans. There was no nepotism. Jammeh overthrew Jawara and used nepotism as a pretext to justify his coup. Jammeh was corrupt and tribalism and nepotism [thrived] under him as well.
But Kassa, you must agree that there was corruption during Jawara’s time.
Yes, there was corruption during Jawara’s regime, I agree.
So opposed Jammeh simply because he stopped the party for you?
You should say Jammeh came to take his share of the national cake. Jammeh said Jawara overstayed but Jammeh wanted to stay even more than Jawara because he was talking about kingship. Jammeh did not do anything for this country.
That is not a fair statement. Even the birds knew he did something.
That is not what I’m saying. Jammeh was an economic prostitute and everybody knows that. Yes, he did some development but those were plans from Jawara’s regime.
That’s a common refrain. But if they were Jawara’s plans, why didn’t Jawara implement his plans?
Okay, Jammeh did good things but he did bad things as well. But I will not support a leader who doesn’t respect his own people.
When the PPP was banned, why didn’t you join another party, for example, PDOIS, instead of UDP?
PDOIS was not my choice. I never oppose them but there weren’t my choice because of the way they do their politics. In politics, you have to respect people. When you go to a village or town, you need to have a guardian. But what they do is, they will come to a bantaba, fix their microphones [and start a meeting]. That is not Gambian politics.
So to you the PDOIS politicians do not respect the people?
What I’m saying is the way they do their politics, Gambians don’t like it.
You claimed to be a very popular politician but you lost the 2012 parliamentary election in Bakau. How?
No, I did not lose the parliamentary election, IEC made a game. I won my opponent Kalifa Jammeh all over in Bakau and in the area he won, that area was where they made supplementary registration few days before the election. IEC brought [outside] people to come and register in Bakau.
That is a very serious allegation.
That is not a serious allegation, I have proofs.
If you have proofs, why didn’t you go to court and challenge the result at the time?
Before I did all that, [Yahya] Jammeh’s men came for me and they wanted to arrest and kill me.
Why would Jammeh want to kill you?
I don’t know, Jammeh knows better, but I believe I was disturbing him.
You couldn’t even win a parliamentary seat, how could you be a headache to Jammeh at the apogee off his power?
No, no, my brother I was a political activist. I disturbed Jammeh a lot. Anything he does I, listened to him and counter him on all what he had said.
You claimed to have been arrested 27 times and tortured. Why?
Because Dudu Kasa Jaata is a prominent politician, who always attacked Jammeh. Direct.
You were famously arrested and viciously tortured for penning a newspaper article attacking Jammeh, what prompted that writing?
Whenever Jammeh does something and people were afraid to talk about it, I always come out and say, Jammeh you don’t own anybody. In that article, I wrote about the reality on the ground. It was about The Gambia under the microscope, about Jammeh’s economic prostitution. He was a certified thief.
When you were detained at the NIA, your relative and neighbour the late Sukuta Jammeh, was a head of unit at NIA, did he help you?
No, no. Sukuta Jammeh, Foday Barry, Tijan Bah, Salmina Drammeh, Baba Saho, Bamba Manneh, Abdoulie Kujabi and late Kebba Ceesay… a lot of them died, they arrested me, undressed me, electrified my private part and [administered] other forms of torture. They did that several times. Even now, sometimes I suffer from the side effects. Even now, I’m feeling the pain especially at this time of the year.
And despite all this, you became an even more vocal opponent of Jammeh up to the extent of insulting his mother publicly on the BBC. Did you have a death wish?
I normally say, I know Jammeh very well; his mother was living in an incomplete house in Bakau, so I will not fear Jammeh. If Jammeh can give us millions of dalasis when before he took over he did not have D500 in his account, is that possible?
You know those who tortured you, have you forgiven them?
Never! I will never forgive them. Some of them have passed away namely, Sukuta Jammeh, Kebba Ceesay, but Salimina Drammeh, Baba Saho, Foday Barry and Tijan Bah are all around and I will never forgive them. I know all of them.
As a victim are you demanding compensation from the government?
I am the Number 1 victim. I am claiming compensation from Barrow’s government. I should be compensated and respected.
Your cousin Ousman Rambo Jatta used to be an equally vocal opponent of APRC but he jumped ship. Did the APRC reached out to you to join them?
Oh yes! They came several times but I denounced them. I’m the only politician in this country who the APRC approached several times and I turned them down because I know APRC will never last and Jammeh will one day go.
Who were the people used by Jammeh to persuade you to join them?
In 2001, Jammeh sent one Ajata Badjie living in Bakau, that he [Jammeh] wanted to talk to me.
Apart from Ajata Badjie who approached you and what did they offer you?
Lie Conteh, former mayor of KMC; Yankuba Touray, former minister; Baba Jobe and others. They wanted me to switch over to the APRC. They offered me money, a pick-up vehicle and compounds but I turned down the offers.
What made you to eventually go into exile in Senegal?
I found out Jammeh assigned some people from Burkina Faso to silence me once and forever. Not the NIA, Burkina Faso!
You are a husband with three wives and many children, how were you able to take care of your family while you were in exile?
Things were very difficult. I went through Casamance. Things were not as I expected. I thank my wives.
You returned in the run-up to the election and joined the GDC. Why did you abandon UDP, the party you suffered so much for?
When I was in exile, nobody from the UDP went to visit my family. While in exile Bamba Manneh, Ousainou Darbo and I had a conference call and during our telephone conversation Ousainou said someone told him that I went into exile because I wanted to go to Europe. But Ousainou forgot that I was in England but came to The Gambia when NADD was formed. Saying such things annoyed me.
Was that enough justification to abandon the party you sacrificed so much for?
They should have visited my family while I was in exile, but for four years, three months and two weeks, there was nobody from the UDP who took care of my family.
UDP for GDC. Now the country is led by a president who was an executive member of the UDP. Do you regret your action?
Well I am not even in GDC now. I joined GDC because my nephew Yusupha Jaiteh who is the GDC vice president did a lot for me when I was in exile. That was why when I came, I joined the GDC because I was angry. Yusupha Jaiteh approached me and I needed to give him support.
You could have thanked him but stay with your party.
I was disappointed with the UDP and our party leader. I worked very hard for UDP more than anyone. When Lamin Waa Juwara was attacking Darboe, I was defending Darboe.
Did you regret joining GDC?
In fact I was not supposed to have joined GDC. My aim and ambition was to come and form my own party. That was my intention.
Kassa, you look like those fickle politicians; here one day, there another day. You don’t appear to have political principles.
No, no, I’m a man of principles. I’m someone who stands by his words. GDC is not even my type, which is why I left GDC and I am now focusing on something else. Everybody goes into politics for their own interest, but I have no interest, I fight for my country.
What exactly did Yusupha Jaiteh give you that made you to join the GDC when you supposedly turned down the millions offered by the APRC?
Yusupha is my nephew. We did a lot together. The reason why I did not join APRC, was that I knew it was not going to last. The way Yahya Jammeh was ruling us was not going to last. Jammeh was arrogant to Gambians with all the killings and disappearances and many other nasty things. That is why I did not join and I will never join APRC because I don’t want to be dirty.
Was joining the GDC your biggest political mistake?
Yes. It could be like that. It could be a political mistake, problems are opportunities for correction. At that time I was so angry. If I had come earlier I would have registered my own political party. It could be my biggest political mistake, because I was not supposed to have joined another political party; I should have gone on with my own.
What position were you given in GDC?
I was the third man in GDC, after Kandeh and Jaiteh, I was next.
Is it true that you went back to UDP?
Yes! Before parliamentary election, I met Darboe, we discussed and I’m back in the UDP.
Have they welcomed you back fully?
Well, I’m a politician, they know what I can do.
Did they really welcome you back with open arms because they could say you betrayed the party in its hour of need?
They welcomed me overwhelmingly because I went with Ousainou Darboe. I never betrayed my party; I was betrayed by my party members.
Don’t you think you would have been the shoo-in candidate for UDP for Bakau constituency, if you hand not abandoned the party because they later chose someone as MP who was relatively unknown in the party?
Well this is the desire of the Almighty Allah. Lawyer Darboe contested for many times but President Barrow contested once and won. My Creator is the only One Who knows how I’m going to end.
What is your next political move?
I’m doing something; it will come up.
You plan to form a political party?
Yes, of course it could be. In no distant time.
You had publicly falling out with Ousman Rambo Jatta, during which he claimed that he was not related to you. Are you related?
Yes, of course. He made a political mistake by saying such. Rambo is my younger brother, the same family. Maybe he was scared because at the time he joined APRC. I did not feel [bad] it when he said that. I put Rambo into politics.
Rambo once said you have never paid tax in your life, all you do is carry a newspaper under your arms going around?
Oh [laughs]. He could say that but I always pay tax.
Do you think he made a mistake by joining the APRC?
Well that is his decision. I told him clearly when he joined APRC, I told him to count me out, because I will never support Yahya Jammeh. I know Yahya Jammeh more than anybody. I took Jammeh to [the late Rtd] Col Sam Sillah [of Cape Point, Bakau]. He crawled and he saluted me.
What do you think of Barrow’s government?
Gambians should give him time, the government is new and young and Barrow is doing well. Let Barrow not allow anybody to undermine him. He should not allow nepotism and corruption because people are watching.
What next for Kassa?
I’m hoping to be something in this country.
Something like what, President?
It could be, Barrow becomes President, it was a surprise.
Any final words?
Let us pray for the success of Barrow and the government. And when his mandate is finished he can step aside. Gambians can look for who will be the next president. We want to be a peaceful country. Let us stop tribal politics.