He joined the Gambia Civil Aviation Authority in 1999 as a terminal floor supervisor and is currently manager of Banjul International Airport. He talks with Standard editor Sainey Darboe about youth matters.
The Standard: What does your job as the chairperson of National Youth Council entail?
Working as the chairperson of NYC is like being the chairman of board of directors of NYC. It was established by an act of parliament and said it should be composed of chairperson, female representative, director of Youth and Sports and regional youth committee. So they are called council and have a secretariat that carries out the functions of the council. As chairperson my role is to ensure that it operates within the laws and to see to it that the secretariat and all the structures attached to it work to the fulfillment of the desires of young people as envisaged in the National Youth Policy. The NYC’s objectives are to facilitate the participation of young people in decision-making process, encourage youth development and cultural awareness, facilitate networking among youth organisations and the contribution of youths to national development endeavours.
There has been a mass exodus of the youthful population of this country to Europe through the risky journey across Sahara and Mediterranean. Isn’t this solidly indicative of the failure of youth policies?
Well, first you have to see what policies we have on youths. Most policies are silent about youths. Youths are just part of other categories. They are not mentioned per se. For example, if you look at the Programme for Accelerated Growth and Development (PAGE) and want to do a quick census of how many times youths got mentioned, it is four. Youths are considered under the pillar of employment creation. Most policies do not talk specifically about youths. They assume youths as part of other categories. If you talk about education, it is assumed to be about youths. We are advocating for clarity because if you want to tackle the issue of youths with the Ministry of Youths I will find it very difficult to move because I will go to the generalised level that is available in the documents. If you go to the national budget, the allocation to youths falls under ‘Others’ which is about 6% of the total budget and a lot of other stuff are packed under those ‘others’. I doubt even if the allocation to youths is 1%. May be it is 0.1%. We may not even get the whole percent from the national budget. When you go to agriculture they say it is youth that are in agriculture, so that sort of generalisation makes it difficult to measure whether the policies have failed or succeeded.
So what have you been doing to address that anomaly?
Well, we are on advocacy. All those things I have told you I was able to know because we are reading those documents. We are advocating for change. One misconception people have about the NYC is that it is for service delivery. This is not the case. Our function is to enhance and support those delivering services to young people. It is the government that has the primary responsibility to deliver services to young people and if someone’s functions are described in such generic terms, not specifically mentioned, it will be difficult to advocate for change of policy. For example, Gamworks, of which I am a board member representing youth, runs a project called Community-based Infrastructure and Livelihood Improvement Project (CILIP) in which there are programs for communities. The project document that is sent out does not accept the registration certificate NYC offers and most of the young people and organsations are registered by the NYC but are asked to register at the Attorney General chambers. If you do not accept the certificate of NYC then you are sending every young person away except those already registered with AG chambers. Perhaps some may not meet the criteria to register with AG chambers we are ready to support and prepare them until they are able to register with AG chambers.
Your appointment as NYC chairman was greeted with much enthusiasm by many in the country. Have you lived up to expectations and how?
That is a very difficult question. I cannot answer it. I served the council from 2011 and my term finished in 2013. I wrote back to the ministry and said ‘my term is over please look for another chairperson’. The ministry asked me to stay for another term. I don’t know what that indicates but for me that indicates satisfaction and I am satisfied. Youth activism has a lot of dimensions like social justice and capacity building and I focus on the latter. I prepare young people for opportunities to take their rightful stands in society. I can count a lot of individuals and organisations whose development I have participated in and today they are very successful. Leaders make leaders not followers which makes you a great leader and I thank Allah that I am able to contribute to the success of those leaders. Since I started working with the council and the team whatever we do we are told it is the first of its kind or better than any before it. Just look at the organising of Nayconf in Basse. It was very successful thanks to the organising committee even though I took all the credit. We are also professionalising youth work. We may not have as many organisations as before but all those we have are very vibrant and I am happy to participate in that process.
But of recent you seemed to have plunged yourself into the murky waters of politics with your visit to Kanilai with a group of youths where you spoke?
I am not a politician. I am not an APRC member or any other political party. We need to understand that there is partisan politics and there is developmental politics. There is no political party in this country that has my name as a member or sympathiser. I work for national development and I can say that anywhere. Let me explain what happened at Kanilai: all the young people of this country came together to assist the president at his farm in Kanilai. As the chairperson of the NYC, the matter was brought to my desk and I agreed to support it. I went down with them to Kanilai which constitutes mentoring and coaching. After the process the president requested a meeting with us and as the chairman of young people I went with them. It provided us an opportunity to tell the president some of the challenges we faced as youths.
So, that is not partisan politics. In fact, the National Youth Council Act does not allow us to go into partisan politics.
Then where does your political allegiance lie?
As for my political allegiance if the polling booths can talk they will tell you but I wouldn’t be the one to say it .You know what that means – I wouldn’t tell you that so don’t pursue it. Maybe you can ask the IEC who have the polling booths (Laughs).
What challenges do you face in your work?
One of the challenges we face is the perception of people that anybody that works for the government is a politician. We are not politicians. It is the National Youth Act that mandated the forming of the National Youth Council, so if I head that and you think I should be stoned that’s left to you. The other challenge is resources. As a council, the resources are not coming as required. There is a lot that is expected of us to do but very little resources are coming to us. The NYC subvention is one million dalasis annually although I am told it will be increased to 1.5 million dalasis this year. That’s where we pay our staff and do all the things that we are doing. Many organisations think we are mainstream government and the policy says the NYC is autonomous.
What do you reckon accounts for the exceeding number of young people embarking on perilous ‘back way’ journey to Europe?
Young people leave for many reasons. There are political and social factors. Politically, there is the perception that if you are able to enter Europe you apply for asylum to talk about what happens here – the human rights issues and all those things. They believe that the human rights issue and other stories, whether right or wrong, can get them asylum. In peace and conflict studies they say ‘for every conflict there is a human need’. The actions of humans are dictated by their desire to satisfy their human needs. We all have needs and if they think they can concoct stories and get asylum they will move because there is something there. They are all looking for greener pastures. On the economic front, you realise that people go to high school and university and graduate only to be paid D4,000 which all ends up going into transport. At the end of the month, the corner shop man is asking you for the loan you owe him and the salaries are not growing. The needs and prices of commodities are growing and the salaries are not growing so they feel it is better for them to go to Europe and work for a few hours and be able to save more than they get here. You see people go to Europe for a few years and come back here to build a mansion. You work here all your life and it is difficult for you to build a mansion. That is one of the reasons that people resign from their jobs and spend over hundred thousand dalasis to go back way which they could have used to establish a business here. It is not only the unemployed ones who are going but even the employed people and businessmen as well. There are social factors like social programmes and the expectations to satisfy the needs of our parents. If there is someone in Europe who can provide that, he gets all the praises and if the wife happens to be in the compound she will get more respect. So they sing the praises of the person in Europe. No matter how much you try in the community you don’t seem to have the deserved respect and this increases the tendency of people to leave. The future is bright but there are dark spots. These youths that are now leaving, some will come with good morals and some bad morals. Some will come with so much money to this society which they will think has been denied them and they will come with vengeance. We have to be preparing for a conflict. We have to prepare a soft landing for those that will come back. I have seen some that are deported or come back by themselves at the airport. I have seen them with new attitudes which they did not have here. They go through experiences on the road that make them different persons. Their socialisation process is not complete. They are no longer Gambian, so they have an identity crisis. It is manifesting in the check-downs (yutals) and you can see people kissing in the streets. All the youth organisations are doing well and they are trying to address and prepare for that landing. Those who are gone are gone and we should try to keep those who are here and we need to prepare for those who are coming back.
Which brings me to the next question. What is your assessment of the human rights situation in The Gambia?
My assessment of the human rights situation in The Gambia is that it is still moderate and we have a lot of room to improve. I did training on governance and know that not many people are aware of their rights and not many duty-bearers know their obligations. When you look at the human rights situation, it leaves a lot to be desired. There is room for improvement.
You are wearing too many caps, GCCA, NYC and Peace Ambassadors. Which one is priority for you?
I do my job with all those places well. At the end of the day it is about leadership and that depends on how I lead myself. You cannot be a good leader to other people when you cannot lead yourself and control your emotions. I am very focused and I don’t waste my time sitting at vous drinking ‘attaya’ and watching football or other trivial things. In fact, it was just recently that I got to know Manchester United and Manchester City are different teams. I thought they were all one because I don’t even have time for football. At the end of the day, it depends on how you use your time and I think I have been able to do all of them well.
You belong to the much-maligned Ahmadiyaa Muslim sect. What informs your choice of religion if I may ask?
That is the most difficult question I have ever been asked. I am an Ahmadi because I read and know from the little I know about Islam that we are expecting a Mahdi – a reformer that would come to reform this generation. Signs have been mentioned by this reformer and I see that happening now. I was born into a family that accepted that Mahdi before I was born and the holy Qur’an talks about the coming of the Mahdi. If people adhere to his teachings those who claim to worship Allah will not kill in the name of Islam. He made prophesies like the eclipse of the moon and the sun in the Ramadan which has happened twice. So I believe in the Mahdi for that and other reasons.
Have you faced discrimination based on your faith?
Yes I have been discriminated against in several places. People call me and say ‘you are too good to be an Ahmadi’. For me that is discrimination. I have heard people say ‘be careful of him he is Ahmadi’. Even at the last Nayconf some people were saying ‘be careful of him. He is an Ahamadi and they can pretend to be very good and then ruin you initiative’. That is all discrimination. But the holy prophet had to deal with more discrimination than I do. Who I am today is based on what I pledge to take as a Qudamul Ahmadiyaa, Ahmadiyaa youth. We pledged to spend our time for the progress of our nation and continuation of the work of Khulafat Ahmadiyaa. That is what being Ahmadiyaa taught me to do and that is my source of inspiration.
Thanks for your time.]]>