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Saturday, October 16, 2021

Ebrima Tabora Manneh leader, People’s Alliance Party

Ebrima Tabora Manneh is the son of the late popular chief of Niumi, Alhaji Tabora Manneh. He was born in the small village of Buniadu in Lower Niumi District of North Bank Region, and went to Essau Primary School, and Muslim High School where he graduated in 1988. In 1990, Mr Manneh traveled to the US and did his bachelor’s in accounting and finance. In 2003, after three decades in the US, he decided to come down and work as an auditor for Deloitte & Touché, and subsequently as financial controller for Galp and Petro Gas. In this edition, anchor Alagie Manneh began by asking the party leader of the People’s Alliance Party about some of the lessons he learned from his father.

Ebrima Tabora Manneh: He was quite a motivator to me. He was a mentor; someone I look up to. He taught me the Qur’an and the values of honesty. He taught me to be hard working; to have a good moral character, and to be disciplined. He told me whatever decision you will have to make, make sure it is sincere and honest.

Despite his well-known generosity, you father was accused by many of sheer corruption and the monopolisation of lands in Niumi. Are you proud of his legacy?

I am very proud of his legacy. I know that he was a very good father. He was a responsible father, an educator and businessman. If you ask anyone who knew him, they will tell you that he is one person who kept his words. When it comes to acquiring land, he acquired a lot of lands, but those were lands that were offered to him to buy. He never went to any person and said oh I want to buy your land. For him, he thought that was patriotic to be in your country and be patriotic in your country. So, in a nutshell he was hard working and honest. All my life, I am yet to hear anyone who would say ‘oh I have done business with him and he cheated me’. In fact, the amount of land that he has given to people for free, I can tell you is more than 40 that I have known of. And the number of people who stayed in his properties, rent-free, for more than 20 years, is more than 20 properties. So, I think some people would make that statement out of ignorance, and some out of jealousy. I understand their concern that when you are in an environment and you’re very wealthy, or you acquire lot of properties, obviously people should scrutinise how you acquired those properties.

He was a victim of former president Jammeh’s witch hunting exercise. Upon his release from there, he died and according to the grapevine, he died of shame. Is this true?

When the witch hunting exercise happened, I was called by his driver. Then I was in Banjul. I was told that my father was invited through the Barra police station for a meeting by one Jawo and one Salifu Corr. He went to the police station, and he was told that they need to go to Fort Bullen for a meeting. He proceeded straight to Fort Bullen. I crossed over and went to Fort Bullen in Barra. I found some security people there, I confronted them, and I asked about my father. They said he was inside. The security guy told me he didn’t know why he was there, but that they were told to secure the premises of the Fort Bullen. I demanded to go inside the fort and be kept there with them, but they refused. I went to our house to get some food and fruits. While I was waiting, I saw the witch hunters arrive and a few minutes later, I saw my father in a police vehicle being taken back to the house. But that was after some 6-7 hours at the fort. I was furious. I was angry. I was not happy with the government. I was not happy with the people who arrested him from the station, who told him to go there. And that was Jawo and Salifu. Jawo was a police officer. Salifu Corr was an army officer.

He was accused of being a witch, was he?

In fact, I don’t even believe in witches and, I can tell you with certainty that he was no [witch]. That was just an imagination of the former government. It was wrong. I think there were some people who did not like maybe his influence or were trying to find ways to undermine him. I know some people who have reported or said somethings to Yahya Jammeh. Why Yahya Jammeh reacted that way is beyond me, but I think it was the wrong thing to do. But the state of mind of the former president then, most people knew he was paranoid, that he was fearful. He didn’t want to leave anything to chances. But I think my father was targeted wrongly. He was part of the APRC. He was chief for many years.

Why did you choose to study accounting?

I did account and finance. I was a science student and I wanted to do medicine but for some reason I don’t like the idea of blood. So, I decided to do something else. Business came to mind. But I was talked out of studying business. So, I settled for accountancy and finance. I like numbers. I like calculating.  I used to calculate quickly without calculators. But I like numbers. I like playing with numbers and money.

When and how did you become political?

I think in 2016 I thought about politics because I was frustrated with the situation of The Gambia. I mean the way The Gambia was being governed; I wasn’t satisfied with it. Even prior to that I wasn’t serious about politics. I have never engaged in politics, and I have never spoken in any political platform even though I was raised in a political environment. During the time of the PPP, my father was really involved in politics with the former president, the then vice president Saikou Sabally, the OJs, I knew all of them. I just used to keep to myself and do my business. But like our learned people say, loving your country is part of faith. Any patriotic citizen should love their country and they should do whatever they can for the development and improvement and welfare of their country and their citizens. But really, I have seen the country of my birth, the country that I love more than any country in the world, failing. From 2017, we all thought the country will now develop, well governed and democratic. But after a few years, I was disappointed in terms of the governance of the country and in terms of the trajectory of the current government. I have seen how the average Gambian is suffering because part of my work is dealing with the average people. When I sell my goods, I deal with people. After the experience that I have in the US, after being there for 30 years, we have failed in all sectors and, it’s out of that anger, that frustration, that disappointment with the current government, and the way that they are administering, I asked myself what should I do? So, I had discussions with people, and this has been on for four years or something. Some friends of mine have always encouraged me and said ‘you know what, we trust you. We have faith in your integrity and character, and we think you should go for it.’ And that’s how I made my foray into Gambian politics.

The IEC rejected the registration of your party, PAP, for failing to meet some of its standards. What is the issue and has it been resolved now?

We engaged the IEC and told them of our interest to join politics. They advised us to get the party’s constitution, the manifesto, and the logo and emblem and to collect 10,000 voters from all regions of the country. The fee of a million dalasi was also requested. We did everything and delivered all the documents to them in June. A few days later, they wrote and said they have received everything but that the 10,000 signatures we delivered are part of those votes which are now null and void. Now we must go again and collect the new voter cards. I was shocked but not surprised. It’s like something tells me something is not right. I had a conversation with someone, and it wasn’t really encouraging. I think if you go to a government institution, they should encourage you but when they try to discourage you, then it’s something else. Some people [there at the IEC] tried to tell me that it might be late to get what we want to get.

Seriously, why should Gambians vote for an unknown quantity like yourself instead of people with proven pedigrees like Mamma Kandeh or BB Dabo?

In a nutshell I would say honesty, integrity, love of country. If I have it my way, The Gambia will be the best country in the world. I am not a politician. I love this country. I wish the best for this country. I think our party is the best party to finding a solution to the country’s problems.

One policy priority of your government is the creation of 5 new millionaires per year who will be from all regions and involve in all sectors of the economy. Do you sincerely believe that is attainable and how?

Oh yes, it’s very attainable. I am a businessman and it’s very easy. Do you know that there are people in this country who make D100,000 a month? Do you know there are those who make D500,000 a month? There are people who make 5 million dalasis a month in the Gambia. Gambians will be shocked as to the thing we can accomplish. I have been in the business environment most of my life. I know what the average Gambian worker is going through. And I can tell you, there’s no Gambian – from the ministers down – whose salary can sustain him for even two weeks.

When you announced your intention to enter politics and lead the country, you gave an inglorious review of the Barrow administration saying The Gambia continues to sink under it. You and President Barrow are very close buddies who attended the same school in Banjul. Did you try to advise him to put the country on a corrective course? 

I’m a realist. President Barrow and I, we knew each other from a long time. We go way back to our school days. He was going to Crab Island Secondary School then. He was with my cousin, Lamin Darboe. So, they were close, and I was like their younger brother. From Crab Island, Barrow came to Muslim High, and we did form three together. We went unto form five. So, when in 2016 they said they chose President Barrow as flagbearer, I was thrilled. I told people that is my brother. He is a good man, I told them. I did the little that I could for them. I met him when they won and tried to advise him. I told him to do something to improve this country to a point he will leave a legacy.  I could have flattered him but telling him to stay on the job or that everybody likes him, but that’s not my nature. I told him to work sincerely for what is best for the country. Even though he is my brother, the Gambia today is failing. It is failing, and it is sinking. The Gambians are finding it very difficult in terms of their livelihoods. Something must change. A lot of those surrounding Barrow are in there for themselves. There is rampant corruption in this country, and we must face the fact. You cannot pay somebody 30,000 dalasis and they have a five million dalasis property. The country is going through hell. And I don’t know how anyone can sleep, soundly, and think that the Gambia is progressing. I think there’s a lot of detachment with the average Gambian. The government must know its priorities. We have a lot of misplaced priorities. Even our electricity, we are dependent. We are not an independent country. We are dependent on people for our security. What do we have that we can claim ownership of in our country? It’s a shame. Let them go and visit the hospitals and see what people are going through. They don’t even have drapes. I have tried to meet him before forming my party, but it was futile, and I decided that I don’t need to waste my time. I respect him as a brother and president, but this is about The Gambia.

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