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Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Fabou Sanneh Ex-UDP strongman, now NPP executive member

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Tell us about yourself

My name is Burama Sanneh. I was born in Batteling village, Kiang West but grew up in Brikama. I am commonly called Fabou as shortened form of my name. My parents are from Kiang. I started my primary education there and my family later moved to Brikama. I went to Armitage High School and Gambia Hotel Training School. I did a City & Guilds course on hotel accommodation, operation and services and worked in various hotels for ten years. I also worked with MRC for eight years. Later, I travelled to the US and now I am back as a politician.

You became a popular youth leader in Brikama, what was the focus of your activism?

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I used to play football, and did field and track. I played for almost all the schools I attended. I became very prominent in football and played for teams in Brikama. When I retired from playing, I went into football management because I have the desire to help youths. I am not claiming to be the first in Brikama to introduce youth academy but I remember having many tourists who followed me when I went to play my first division games at the stadium. The tourists started supporting me and in turn I supported the youths. A team was named after me. I also helped Berewuleng, one of the popular football clubs in Brikama. I have been part of youth activities because I think this is the best way to help most of them, guide them and help prevent them from engaging in bad habits such as smoking, stealing or things that will not help them build their future.

How did you make your foray into politics?

As a student, I spoke for people when things were not going rightly. During the PPP era, I felt there were things that were not right. I followed Pa Norman of the NCP very much. I attended his nightly programmes. One day I went to him and told him I enjoyed his nightly broadcasts and that I could contribute. There was a nightly event near Bundung Bantaba. He asked for me. I was shy but I stepped out from the crowd. Once I came out, he gave me the platform and after speaking, people were impressed. That was the 1992 elections, and it was the first time I voted. It was the first time I addressed a political gathering. In 1994 Yahya Jammeh took over. At the time, I was opposed to Jawara but I did not welcome the military takeover and wrote articles condemning it. The military’s activities became unacceptable and I grew stronger in my opposition to the system. In 1996, UDP was registered as a political party. I wasn’t invited by anybody. As soon as I heard about the registration, I immediately jumped on the wagon and started politicking.

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Why did you join the UDP instead of arguably a more enlightened party like PDOIS?

I attended most of PDOIS’ political activities but I wasn’t impressed with their way of mobilising local support. I think they don’t want to play the traditional politics Africans are known for – drumming, entertaining people – and I think if you seriously want to engage grassroots politics, you have to go by the political system or way of doing things. So I thought PDOIS would not have the numbers to change any government, but when UDP came, I thought they were the solution and that was why I joined.

In the years that followed, what were the highlights of your participation in the struggle to remove Jammeh?

That’s a very interesting question. I opposed Jammeh with everything I had; the little resources, my energy, time and family. I have never voted outside Kiang other than the 1992 elections. In 1996, I went home to Kiang. Thank God, from 1996 to 2006, UDP always wins in Kiang West. In 2010, I left this country for the US and in 2011, the UDP lost to APRC! I thought I was a very good contributor at the time. In 2010 I was issued a visa to the US and when the UDP party leader got the information from the current deputy speaker of the National Assembly, that Fabou is traveling to US, he became concerned. He invited me to his home and we had a very fruitful discussion during which he tried to convince me to stay because the party needed me. But at the time, I was working with the MRC which was retrenching staff. I decided to work on a Plan B in case I got retrenched. When Pa Ousainu tried to convince me, I said I prayed that when I get to the US I would be able to help the party more. And that’s what happened. I continued the advocacy for UDP. Every Thursday I did a political programme with the online Kibaro newspaper. I continued doing this until 2016 when there was a mass interest in politics because of Jammeh’s utterances and his doings. We capitalised on this and I became very popular and were able to effect change.

Eventually, you left the UDP, why?

I left UDP for many reasons, but I will just outline a few. My problems with UDP started after the anti-Jammeh struggle, when we fought and sacrificed everything and people like Solo Sandeng paid the ultimate price. It was also at a time when our entire executive was incarcerated. We decided to identify a candidate for UDP for 2016. This was a little bit tense because at the time, there was no prominent person within the party’s rank as far as local people are concerned that they can look up to because of that person’s political activities for the party and said, hey, that is the outright candidate for us. We did consultations here and there, and formed sub-committees. I was fortunate to be the chairman of the diaspora sub-committee to liaise with the team in The Gambia to identify a candidate for the party. When we reached out to people, immediately, there was none. In fact, we asked Dembo ‘By Force’ [Bojang] as the national president to announce that the party is looking for candidates and this was all over the electronic and print media. At the time, we had [Momodou] Bou Jarju, my friend. Mr Darboe from Sibanor also wrote. Some names were given to me for consultation. Madi Jobarteh was one of them. Then he was all the way in Holland. I was consulted by some of his friends that he can be contacted for a possible candidacy. I contacted him but unfortunately, he declined. And he did not get back to me to decline. He declined on his Facebook page that the UDP should not identify him as a candidate and instead follow Dr Isatou Touray. Yes. I have everything in record. It was then that our Adama Barrow was identified to us by Dembo ‘By Force’ and Aji Yam Secka. They suggested we look at Adama and convince him. We successfully convinced Adama to write to apply as a candidate. But during the course of this, a note came purportedly from our party leader in Mile 2, instructing that we should not select Adama and instead settle for Dr Isatou Touray. I thought initially this wasn’t true, that somebody was trying to fool us because the party leader I knew, who groomed us… and being a member of a political party has a reason and that is why we have membership cards. As long as we have members that apply, why do we have to look outside? I disagreed and said this is not what the party leader said. But a group convinced us that the note came from the party leader. I belonged to the group that said no, over our dead bodies would we allow an outsider to lead us. We maintained that Adama was going to be our candidate. I was a little bit disappointed that the party leader would overlook all his party militants for an outsider. The problem within the ranks of the party started there. We felt we couldn’t just stand idly by and allow the party leader to belittle all of us by choosing a candidate from outside. We thought we were being used. After 20 years of struggle in the UDP, you should be motivated. But to tell us after 20 years none among us was good enough to step in was hard to take. It was then that people started insulting each other and branches emerged…

Now you are an executive member of the NPP, what are your strategies to defeat Darboe in the 2021 presidential election given that his party is the biggest in the country?

Let me clarify first, as to those who are trying to insinuate that the UDP is the biggest political party in the country. I don’t know what basis they make such an assumption because UDP has not contested 2016 elections as a party, it was the coalition and Adama Barrow was the leader of that coalition. And he is now the leader of the NPP. So I don’t know by virtue one would say UDP is the biggest political party in the country. If you say they are the biggest opposition to President Barrow, I would agree. And now, the NPP got all the seasoned politicians, I mean the cream of UDP’s political activists have all left UDP for the NPP. Let’s look at this fact for example, all our regional chairmen across the country are from UDP.

So what’s your strategy to defeat the UDP?

We have valued Gambians. We respect Gambians, our norms, values, tradition and religion. This is going to be the first thing on our political platforms and respect for Gambians that they have a right to their choice. We would encourage development as the president is doing. We would not also encourage this idea of going after people’s parents and insulting them. As opposed to UDP which has eight WhatsApp groups as their tools to fight people that share different opinions with them. Our slogan is going to be yiriwaa. We have been yearning for peace, stability, democracy and the rule of law. This is the agenda of the NPP. We are going to reach out to every hamlet in this country. This is why we are going to win.

Tell us the difference between Darboe and Barrow as people and as political leaders

Darboe, from 1996 to 2016 in my judgement, has been an exceptional leader. He was listening, he was accommodating, he was respectful of his colleagues. But after the change of government, he became a completely different person, totally different from the person I knew for 22 years. He became short-tempered, coercive, flip-flopping, everyday. But I think it is those around him who should be blamed, especially when he assumed the office of minister of foreign affairs. I don’t know what changed but he immediately constituted a new think tank for UDP that excluded all of us that worked with him for 22 years, when things were tough, when Jammeh was killing our colleagues. Kanyiba Kanyi was my classmate in Armitage High School and was killed by the APRC government. He died in the UDP crusade like Solo Sandeng and Lang Marong. These were people who worked with us and sacrificed their families and their lives, and now that the dictatorship is gone, he thinks we were no longer useful. To us, that was a serious betrayal. President Barrow gave Darboe every opportunity to help him constitute his government, but Ousainu went on to choose four people from his native Bansang, a small community. When we complained, he said no, you don’t have to regionalise this issue. They left LRR and Kiang West out and truly these were the settlements resisting dictatorship for 22 years. Adama was willing to consider those he worked with, while Ousainu was looking for new people to consolidate his desire for presidency.

What tangible reasons can you give us to show us that NPP can match the juggernaut that is the UDP because surely you cannot use the two by-election victories in places where the UDP never wins or doesn’t even contest as yardstick of your party’s popularity?

UDP under Jammeh had never had zero votes in any polling station, even in Kanilai UDP would have votes there. But in Kerr Jarga, we have seen this not in only one polling station but three. This is telling you that the political landscape has changed against the UDP. The incumbent, in this case Barrow, always has the upper hand because he is delivering the needs of the people.

The NBR and LRR are generally regarded as bastions of the UDP while URR is seen as a stronghold of the NPP. Which party dominates the crucial West Coast Region?

The Gambia’s political history tells us since the emergence of UDP that Kiang, Baddibu and Jarra have been the backbones of the UDP against Jammeh and it is going to be the same for Barrow. In 1996, these places were the basis of support for the UDP. But it changed gradually and from 2001, Baddibdu, Kiang and Jarra started shifting. From 2006, UDP was not able to win any constituency in NBR. We lost everything to Jammeh. The kind of noise you hear now against President Barrow is all coming from the Baddibunkas, Kiangkas and Jarrankas. The 2021 election, UDP will come out with only 15 percent of the votes. NPP is going to win a landslide. Although I am young, I have been in politics for almost 30 years now.

You left your work in the US to come and dedicate your life and work to President Barrow, what is your ultimate political ambition? 

My ultimate political ambition is to see the continuation of the freedom Gambians are enjoying today. My desire for committing everything, is to see a free atmosphere in the Gambia where people have the liberty and protection to say their minds. And when Barrow came, the proliferation of those rights and freedoms continued unabated with many radio stations and newspapers everywhere. This is what I want to see. This is what President Adama Barrow is prepared to do. That’s why I came home and became a part of the reconciliation process.

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