Essa Dampha Surrogate for President Barrow

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With Alagie Manneh

Essa Dampha developed a passion for politics at an early age and has supported several political parties. A native of Faraba, Kombo East, Dampha was born in 1981.He studied in the daaraand proceeded to Arabic school. He taught English and other Arabic Subjects as an unqualified teacher before quitting pedagogy in 2008. He is currently pursuing a degree in Political Science at the University of The Gambia while serving as an aide to President Adama Barrow. In this edition of Bantaba, anchor Alagie Manneh talks to him about politics and politicians and related matters.

You have been known as a PDP and later UDP supporter. Why did you quit UDP for PDOIS?
From 1996 up to 2001, I was supporting UDP. When I came to the Kombos, I found this NADD agenda everywhere. But parties disintegrated. NADD didn’t work and Halifa Sallah was left alone. The MoU of NADD was very comprehensive and quite organised. We went for a convention to select a flag bearer but the UDP leader was agitating for a party-led coalition. He wanted to be the leader by virtue of the fact that his party was the biggest. That’s why NADD failed. They left Halifa alone. That’s how I joined Halifa because he was the man with the truth. He never deviated from the agenda. I had no choice but to stick with Halifa, to align myself to him and to his ideology.

After close to a decade you left the PDOIS, why?
It is not that I left the party. This is a coalition government and I am part of the coalition because of PDOIS. I am the media chairperson for the coalition. We are part of the coalition as PDOIS. After the election, the impasse and everything, some of the coalition partners came out to reject the agreements of the November Convention. Eventually, my party leadership suggested we retreat.We opted to be in the parliament, instead of the executive where we can be fired at anytime. It was only when the MoU was disregarded that the president assumed full executive powers and retained the right to hire and fire. My party leadership went to the National Assembly. But I have my rights as a citizen of the country. Despite all the noise, the president is my president. I cannot joke with this government. I suffered a lot to dislodge Jammeh. That’s where our opinions start to differ. But officially, I never declared that I am not part of the PDOIS. But right now, if President Barrow decides to register his party, I am going to align myself with President Barrow’s party.

One day you were PDP, the other day UDP, next PDOIS and now Barrow. You fit the description of a political prostitute, don’t you?
Politics is dynamic, it has no colour. The party that led The Gambia to independence was the PPP and they ruled for 30 years before being overthrown and banned. It was the dominant party. The UDP emerged and the supporters of the PPP and NCP went to the UDP. When the ban was lifted in 2001, people did not go back to their old parties. They remained with the UDP. They could have said, well it was our indigenous party, let’s go back but it did not happen. It is fluctuation; people move from one party to another. It is their constitutional right.

Don’t you think President Barrow has betrayed the Coalition 2016 stated principles?
No! President Barrow resigned from his party. Now he is an independent man. Those parties that constitute the coalition all have their own party leaders and flag bearers. He sacrificed and resigned from his party and stood as coalition independent candidate. The parties were expected to follow suit with their own sacrifices, for example, to field independent coalition National Assembly candidates [in the parliamentary election]. But [some] party leaders said no, they were not going to accept that, that their parties will die. They said they were going to go with their parties and if anyone wanted to join them to form tactical or whatever alliance they call it…That’s disappointing and a betrayal by the Coalition towards President Barrow. He has nobody. They could have thrown all his reform agenda away. The betrayal did not come from Barrow. Had the coalition stuck with the MoU, President Barrow would not have felt disappointed. The MoU is only a paper but the Constitution is the law of the land. The coalition elders understand all that. That’s why they said they were going to go into the National Assembly election as coalition independent National Assembly candidates so that when they have the quorum,they can amend Section 65 or 63 of the Constitution and make the MoU a government instrument. Three years would have been upheld had they done that.

By aligning yourself with Barrow, are you not in fact betraying the coalition and your role as chairman of Coalition Media Team for West Coast Region?
I am still part of the coalition. I have answered many calls and granted interviews in my role as chairman of the coalition. In fact, if there is somebody in The Gambia, apart from the coalition executive who is always standing by the coalition, it is I. What happened is people want me to be like a tool. That will not happen. Barrow is my president. The truth is I never sold them out. They accused me of aligning myself with Barrow, but is Barrow not the coalition president?

The Barrow administration is haemorraghing trust both in The Gambia and abroad. What is going wrong?
There is a lot of trust and confidence both at the national and international levels. Lots of people have bestowed their trust in this government. There are lots of surveys that happened here and abroad but none of them gave low rate to Barrow in terms of confidence, good governance and others. Some [small] percentage of people in society are the ones making all the noise that Barrow is this and that. But they cannot give any proofs. For example, they accused him of corruption, yet provide no evidence to back that claim. Corruption is an impeachable offence. That’s serious. They cannot go to court and prove their assertions beyond reasonable doubt.

I heard that you are about to embark on a nationwide campaign to convince Gambians to allow Barrow to serve for five years. Is it true?
No, no, no, there are no such plans. What I can tell you is that the president should embark on a nationwide tour, and that is a constitutional mandate. I know in mid-November he will embark on that tour. But I heard a group called Gambia for Five Years and Peace Building or something, perhaps you are referring to that group. That group did call some meetings with elders, community leaders and other people, sensitising them on why Barrow should go for five years, the constitutional requirement and mandate. I heard about that. But that was not initiated by President Barrow or I.

So President Barrow is in no way the originator or supportive of this move?
The president did not put together this group or called on any group to go and campaign for or on his behalf on this five-year issue. The president made his assertions very clear, he is staying for five years in order to fulfill his programs.

What is your opinion of BYM?
The Barrow Youth Movement? This is a group of young people who have been around now for some three years. I know their many haters of today – those who are waging war on them – they were in their good books before. They even encouraged them to go further. I can attest to that. But this is an NGO, some sort of a philanthropic movement, whose aim and objective is to complement government’s efforts. Why did they name themselves Barrow? Sometime ago I had an interaction with some of their executive members and they told me they were once arguing on what name to give this group but the idea came about to name it after the president. By then the president was the independent president, and an umbrella for every Gambian. At the beginning of this regime, things were tough and tense, with tribal sentiments and all that. So, they realised that they needed to see Barrow as a reference, because he is an independent who belonged to nobody.

The conventional wisdom is, BYM will be changed into a political party, don’t you agree?
That’s what I wanted to clarify here.The Barrow Fan Club is a political party in the waiting, I can attest to that. Barrow Fan Club is here to complement President Barrow’s political agenda, to give political support to Barrow. BYM is strictly to enhance President Barrow’s development agenda.

So why is GDC, for example, calling on the IEC to stop BYM?
You know, you are free to say Barrow, you must step down today. That’s your right but will it translate into reality? People have been calling for APRC to be banned, but have they been banned? So for Mamma Kandeh to be saying… you know, Mamma Kandeh should be very much conversant with the laws of the land. For somebody who wants to be president, at least he ought to know how people do things. These people never even organised one political rally. When you are acting on BYM platform, you are a development-oriented person; when you are acting on the Barrow Fan Club platform, you are a politician. Maybe Kandeh is worried with the trend with which people are embracing the BYM. Kandeh himself is doing it; giving money to people, building boreholes. He knows the influence that holds.

December is almost here, what do you make of the ‘3 Years Jotna’planned protest?
I want to assure all Gambians to stay calm, let no one worry. Let the tourists come as usual, and let everybody do what they do. The Gambia is a peaceful country. No one can instigate violence here and it works. Nothing will happen in December. Nothing. Those who are agitating for the three years, yes, it’s their right but they have to limit themselves to the laws of the land. The law gives you right to manifest and show your anger on certain things in your country. That’s your right. But to say we are going to remove a democratically-elected government, that is another thing. That is not a manifestation, that is a treasonable offence. If you are embarking on that, the law will take its course. You cannot seek protection of the Constitution you are fighting against. You want Section 25 to protect you, you have freedom to go out, yet you are fighting against Section 63. Which is which?

Given his track record, many Gambians feel Barrow doesn’t have what it takes to lead The Gambia to the promised land?
Maybe they have ulterior motives. They are trying for him to go down because they want to satisfy somebody or their party. Let’s talk facts here; the situation in this country, has it change or not? As a journalist, can you tell me if it has changed or it remains the same?A big changed happened. People will tell you that we Gambians fought for it, but we have been electing presidents for so and where has that taken us? Why can’t we enjoy this freedom of expression? Somebody you elected, gives you dividends.Be happy. Thank that person.He is very good for The Gambia. The emergence of Barrow coincided with a very fortunate moment for The Gambia. Look at the TRRC, and then look at how many people whose lands used to be forcibly taken in the former government and now. Look at electricity before and now. Even the blind man knows there is tremendous improvement. We will be opening colleges soon, we will launch road projects, healthcare improvement, tremendous efforts are being taken. Look at the education system, people are free to exercise their civil rights and responsibilities. There are no more executive interferences, constitutional reforms, SSR, the judiciary which is now full of Gambians. Cross-cutting developments. Barrow even increased salaries.

Thank you sir.