With Alagie Manneh
Since Yahya Jammeh’s ouster in January 2017, Fabakary Tombong Jatta has been the leader of APRC. The former Majority Leader of the National Assembly talks to Anchor Alagie Manneh about the party’s mega rally controversially named Homecoming of Babili Mansa.
Give us a synopsis of your upcoming November 23 political rally
If you remember sometime last December, we had our APRC congress in Bwiam and we prepared our one-year programme. This event is one of those activities we should perform around November, but we are emboldened by the fact that following the Janneh commission’s report, the doubting Thomases were saying that the killer blow for the APRC will be the TRRC. Now, we saw various people go in when those people failed; Sanna Sabally and others were brought in, the Junglers were brought in, Toufah Jallow was brought in. Through this rally, we want to prove to the whole world that all these are allegations and that Gambians don’t believe it. The rally will show APRC – are we dying or are we growing? That would prove it. This rally is going to be one of our biggest rallies in the sense that – you remember last November we had one, we had one again before that in Kotu et cetera but what we intend to do is following this rally, we have other strategic programmes for 2020, which is different mainly from big rallies, that’s our political strategy. So this one, following all what had been said, journalists, Gambians and others will be able to evaluate the power of APRC here in The Gambia. That’s why we have the theme the homecoming of Babili Mansa.
Speaking about the return of Jammeh, why is APRC that prides itself as a responsible party, be making such claims when government and people said Jammeh will never be allowed back in The Gambia?
You see, [government spokesperson] Sankareh only talks on behalf of government, which is a minority. When you talk about Gambians, you must do your statistics and find out, to know. You cannot just go to radios and television saying ‘most Gambians’. Now, what we are saying is that, by the communiqué between President Jammeh, the UN, AU and Ecowas, that made Babili Mansa to leave this country for Equatorial Guinea, one of the conditions there is, following a period of time, he would determine when to come, it will be up to him when to come. That aside, what we are saying is that Babili Mansa is a citizen of The Gambia, and there is no law that prevents any citizen of The Gambia from coming back home. Assuming that all the allegations are right, huh, should that prevent him from coming to The Gambia? For us Gambians, these allegations are unfounded. So, if Babili Mansa’s homecoming is a threat to people, I mean, let it be a threat but he will come.
As far as many Gambians are concerned, Jammeh is not popular with the international community, so what makes you believe the international community will ever honour any kind of agreement to bring Jammeh back?
Anybody who is saying that is dishonest, because it is those very people who made the agreement; who signed the agreement that Jammeh leave on these conditions. They said it. Now, if they fail to do that, may God forbid we have another upheaval in another country, who will trust them to make agreements with them? You should fulfill your agreement, that’s what we are saying. If you are not satisfied with what was written, say so and let’s come to a common agreement. Assuming that that agreement is not there, there is no force in the world that can prevent a citizen of a country from returning to that country, and there is no constitutional provision that can revoke the citizenship of a citizen of The Gambia. It is only when you naturalise, or by registration that it can be revoked for certain reasons, but if you are a Gambian by birth, even if you kill half of The Gambia, your citizenship cannot be revoked. As long as you are a citizen, you have a right to come to The Gambia, people must understand that, but people’s assumption is that… you know some people, they fear Jammeh or the APRC because of their own behaviors in the sense that those allegations they made, the lies that they spread around and the remarks they made, we have passed that stage. We are not out for any vengeance. So, the issue of Jammeh coming back is not for Sankareh to tell the Gambian people whether he is coming back or not. A citizen has a right… let me tell you, I had a meeting with the UN system, and for that matter, the man who negotiated this, Ibn Chambers. One of my discussions with him was the issue of the agreement between the UN, AU, Ecowas with President Jammeh, and we expressed our disappointment, that a UN body like that could go out and make an agreement that they would not ensure its fulfillment. That’s one thing, but that is beside the point. If Jammeh is a foreigner, and he committed these things, then it is now left to The Gambia government to determine whether that person will be allowed into The Gambia or not, but as a citizen, no force, no law can prevent him from coming to The Gambia, if he chooses to come back.
Don’t you think it is time APRC forget about Jammeh, choose a new leader, and move on?
I think people are not democratic-minded. For you to be a leader in The Gambia, it is determined by the Gambian people. If Gambians decide that they don’t want President Jammeh to be their leader again, how can he become a leader? Equally, if Gambians decide that they want President Jammeh back, who are you to say he will not come back? Secondly, we APRC, as a party, whether Yaya Jammeh is leader or president or not, we cannot forget him simply because he brought this country from the 18th Century to the 21st Century, from darkness to brightness. His relics are immortalised. What he did for this country, you can name them. People here who are opposed to Jammeh, will never talk about the good he did, only the bad but every genuine Gambian whether you love him or dislike him, he has done extremely well for this country. Yes, every government has its own weaknesses and limitations; we are not angels you know. Even this government has it; America, UK, everywhere we have it. But the good of Jammeh cannot be wronged. Even if he’s not coming back to politics, we will make him our supreme leader of the party because it is him that we are proud of because of his achievements.
We have heard that this coming rally is going to be another mass mobilisation of supporters, mainly from your base in the Fonis, is that true?
Foni by population is small. The voting population in Foni is about thirty something thousand. When we are bringing in nearly hundred thousand people, how can all those people come from Foni? Some of them are saying that we bring them from the Casamance region. Now let them close the borders. If they cannot trace people who are coming in and out of The Gambia, then we should watch our security. The interesting thing is, all the people you would see there, all the vehicles and these things, we don’t have the money, we don’t give them a dime for transport.
One of your National Assembly members told The Standard that the APRC will remain seated on the fence as far as the 3 years or five years is concerned. Is it your stance that Barrow should be here for five years and even beyond?
At the onset, we said that these elections were rigged, if you remember, and that we were waiting for the Supreme Court to determine. Nobody wants to listen to the court case, they only wanted us to go out
. Now the Coalition made an agreement, which I now understand was not even signed but we were never part of that agreement. When we were voting, if Yaya Jammeh had won, we were going to vote for five years. Alright. They made that agreement, so it is their responsibility to sort it out. Our concern actually is, we will not sit back to see the achievements of the APRC and Yahya Jammeh being destroyed. That’s why all the things that happened to us, have you seen us in the streets? No. We don’t want to destroy what we have created. People have a right to peaceful demonstration, let them go about their peaceful demonstration but for APRC, we will not sit back to see anybody, being violent or doing anything to destroy what has been in this country and to make lives of Gambians miserable. If you go for instance, to the National Assembly to break it down, we will get up and will come out in our numbers. We can crush any force.
Do you think Barrow should be a gentleman and honour the gentleman’s agreement?
I cannot say Barrow step down. What I do know is, if I make a pledge, I will try to fulfill the pledge. If that is true that he made that pledge, if he reneges on it, you can only
tell him you are not gentlemanly. But you cannot say it is illegal, especially for a document that wasn’t signed. In addition, the Coalition no longer exists. I saw political parties going all on their own putting up candidates in the parliamentary election that followed immediately after President Barrow’s coming to power. I spoke to my people and I said the beginning of the disintegration of the Coalition has started and Barrow would have a problem. That is what we are seeing. How can you be in government, you are president, political parties are controlling your parliament, and you don’t belong to any of those political parties? Is that not ironical? The problem of The Gambia is not about Barrow or Ousainu, it’s the entire Coalition put together. They failed the Gambian people, all aspiring to be leaders of this country.
This homecoming of Jammeh that you are talking about, where are you getting this from? Are you in secret talks with the Barrow government to bring Jammeh back?
No, we don’t engage in secret meetings. We have a right to engage government, to engage UN institutions and political parties, openly. Look, we are not controlled by the social media or comments by the people, we have programs, that’s what we go by.
You have always blamed Darboe for all the Coalition government’s numerous mishaps, and when he was sacked, you were quoted as saying that now Barrow can focus on developing the country. It has been a while now since Darboe got his marching orders, what notable positive changes have you seen in Barrow’s government?
If you remember, Ousainu said anybody who talks about three years; he will take you to court. Now, if UDP is making an announcement that Barrow should go for three years, then Ousainu should have allowed his deputy or spokesperson to make that announcement because he had already spoken to Gambians. Their agreement now, from what I heard from the radio, is that Ousainu spoke as an individual. That is untenable. Ousainu as leader of the party cannot speak as an individual, on policy issues. As I am talking to you now, whatever I tell you is the policy issue of APRC. I don’t have personal opinions. So, we must be honest to ourselves and to the people. If you make an error, let’s correct it but you want to change something that is not correct. People are no longer sleeping. We have heard President Barrow say that his mentor is Ousainu Darboe, his godfather is Ousainu Darboe and that he President Barrow has no political experience and so he left everything to Ousainu. If you look at the appointments in the system, mostly it was all done by Ousainu. So if there is failure, is Ousainu. If the system is good, transparent and democratic, Ousainu gets the credit. If it fails, after being a political party leader for 20 years, then you have something to show, because they were there until they were driven. Ousainu sat down even with all the differences with Barrow, until he was sacked. For me, yes, he has damaged his credibility.
Why does APRC have reservations about Justice Minister Ba Tambadou?
Ba Tambadou did millions of things. Ba Tambadou as Attorney General and legal adviser to the executive allowed for the sale of President Jammeh’s properties even before the commission was ready. Ba Tambadou made a comment thanking the security forces for making the most attempts on Yahya Jammeh’s government. Ba Tambadou on receiving the report of the commission, which was a report awaiting government’s white paper… he held that report and said ‘it is now proven to Gambians that Yahya Jammeh and his cohorts stole billions of dalasis’. He has done a lot of things. When Yankuba Touray was sent to the Attorney General for contempt, before his arrival the Attorney General said he was going to teach him a lesson. What did he do? He charged the man with murder. Can’t we Gambians see who Ba Tambadou is? He makes himself the champion of morality, democracy and rule of law, yet he was the one caught in this passport scandal. We are gathering our facts, and when we are ready, we will call a big press conference.
You always classify the Haruna Jatta incident as a case of human rights abuse, but compared to the scale under Jammeh, is this not just an isolated incident that could have been avoided had the people not protested?
The concern actually is, see Gambians as equals. For us, the deaths that happened, during our reign, we regretted it, and condemned it. Our contention is, people are coming to tell them that it’s Yahya Jammeh who ordered it, and there is no credible evidence to prove that. No evidence. Allegations of rape… You have never told anybody in the world, even your parents. You want us to say that a lady said President Jammeh had raped her and people should believe it just because that lady has said it. She cannot bring evidence or one witness. The benefit of the doubt goes to the accused. We know there are a group of people who are conspiring against Yahya Jammeh. They want to tarnish his image. We are not saying that it did not happen. Our problem is, we want the Commission and the TRRC to bring out the realities of our time and we will be able to learn from it, reconcile and avoid a repetition, but it’s not for them to come and cook lies and make people believe that. When Haruna Jatta was killed, did we say it was Barrow who killed him? Our regret in that is the government investigated other things, why did they not investigate that?
Thank you for speaking to The Standard