Fatoumata Jallow-Tambajang Former Vice President of The Gambia

By Dembo Fatty Fatoumata Jallow-Tambajang was born on 22 October 1949 in Brikama. She was educated in The Gambia, Senegal and France. She got a BA in French at the University of Nice Sophia Antipolis. She served as a former chairwoman of the Gambia National Women’s Council and an adviser to President Jawara. From 1994 to 1995 she served as Secretary of State for Health and Social Welfare. She went on to work for the UNDP including five years in war-torn Mano River region. In 2001, while working in the Great Lakes region, she was the victim of a rebel hostage situation. Tambajang was the chairwoman of Coalition 2016, the alliance of political parties that ousted Jammeh in the 2016 presidential election. She granted an interview to the Guardian of London which some believed contributed to Jammeh’s decision not to step down. On 23 January 2017 following Barrow’s inauguration, Tambajang was named his vice president. However, after her selection, it was suggested that she was constitutionally ineligible to take on the role because the states that the Veep must meet the same age requirement as the president, establishing a maximum age of 65 at the time of entering the office – whereas Tambajang was reported to be 67. In February, she was appointed Minister of Women’s Affairs, with oversight of the Vice President’s Office. Section 62 was amended by National Assembly of the Gambia on 25 July with the presidential age limit being removed. Her appointment as vice president was confirmed by the president on 8 September and after finalisation of her appointment, she was expected to be sworn-in. President Barrow announced officially appointing her as vice president on 9 November. She served in the capacity from February 2017 to June 2018. Tambajang was awarded ‘New African Woman of the Year Award’ by New African Woman Magazine in April 2017. In March 2017, Tambajang joined the Crans Montana African Women’s Forum Honorary Committee. During a cabinet reshuffle on 29 June 2018, she was redeployed to the Foreign Service, an offer she turned down. In this edition of Bantaba, anchor Omar Wally talks to her about her life in politics and related matters.   Your role in forming and brining the coalition leaders together led to Jammeh’s downfall. How did it all start? I must first thank God Almighty for giving me the mission. I realised after working for many years in the UN system and being confronted with difficult political crises affecting the country, I decided to leave my UN career after 22 years to come back to the country to help my people. It started fifteen years ago, at the time I was doing a lot of ground work engaging a number of stakeholders in our society particularly women and youth. I engaged political leaders through visiting them in their homes and talking to them and writing to them. God helped us with the support of the political leaders who were also geared to nation unity. On 16 October 2016 after various exhaustive consultations at YMCA and Kairaba Hotel, we – the seven parties, three independent candidates including the first female presidential candidate Dr Isatou Touray – agreed. They agreed and embraced it as an agenda. My success story for bringing them together really motivated me as a core chair of coalition to really allow them say things they had in mind openly, to engage and convince each other that The Gambia is bigger than all of us; to engage ourselves understand that if we had allowed Yahya Jammeh to win in 2016, we will all envisage a catastrophe including the disappearance of many political leaders. There were coalitions before the Coalition 2016. However the 2016 one brought all leaders together. Initially it was impossible to have them under one umbrella, what made this one different? The success is the fact that there was an independent mediator whom all the political parties respect and with whom I have good relations. The Gambia is small; I have interacted with them in my professional life within and outside UN. When it comes to respect, people consider me in this country as a mother, they also realised that I had no political ambition than bringing them together. My agenda is The Gambia and I have no political party or interest, so that neutrality element, respect and trust by the political leaders made this happen. No one can claim that he made the coalition to happen, the sub-region and region also supported the course of the coalition. These are some of the overarching elements that make it successful. You said you were neutral but back in 2015, you were in the UDP. I have never been part of the UDP. Initially I supported them because of the united front. Like Ousainu Darboe said at UDP congress in 1996, they had a coalition and I supported the national front. The reason why they saw me more with UDP was the crises around UDP, but I used to go to every party. I consulted and accompanied many of them including the female candidate. So seeing me with UDP doesn’t make me a member. Initially I helped in preparing the manifesto of UDP with late Sidia Sagnia. I was there out as a national leader who really wanted to move the political process forward. But there is nowhere anybody can see my membership card inscription as a member of the UDP. It’s my constitutional right to be in any party, I think one has to look at the realities of the life. What we need today is not to be more politically ambitious but rather what the country needs. And with my ability and experience in the UN, it was worthwhile for me to come and work with United Front. What is your assessment of Barrow’s government, you were in and now out? The administration is going comparatively very well because of what we inherited. You are talking about 22 years of dictatorship, all the resources were depleted by the dictator, his administration and allies. When we came to government we didn’t find anything in the coffers, so we had to run and find money budget support from EU, World Bank, the United Nations System and other allies like US, African Union came on board to help us. The first thing we did in the midst of all the difficulties and challenges was to develop a very sound national development programme covering 2018 to 2021. It is a product of participation from civil society, media, government and the international partners. What we found as a plan was PAGE. The government was able to champion the national development very successfully in Brussels. President Barrow who God has chosen to be our leader was able to come home with 1.4 euros to implement the plan. Is going to take a while. We need to be tolerant and patient given the formidable difficult environment we were coming from. Now the way forward has also started to be implemented. For instance, the Ministry of Finance has been able to sustain the partnership with the international donor community in terms of budget support and assessing the economy. Presently, we have got some economic growth and the growth is pegged on the reform agenda. Critics say the government kept on belabouring ‘we inherited a bankrupt economy’ and blamed Jammeh for their under-performance. But Jammeh has been out for nearly two years. One has to look at the context of the environment to be able to critically access the successes and challenges of a system. I don’t run away from difficulties or challenges the government has, I have been part of them and still part of the government because I’m in the coalition. This is a coalition government but one has to critically look at one fundamental thing. When we took over, the brain drain, many of our intellectuals went abroad because of the persecution they suffered. Some went for economic reasons and others for political prosecution, we had a capacity deficit. The driving force of any development of governance particularly democratic governance is a responsibility to engage every stakeholder and it is a challenging one. If you are to grade President Barrow over 100, how much will you give him? I will give him really fairly well. How much 50 % or 60%? Well I will give Barrow 60% given the challenges inherited and given the situation we are in. We have the resources but the capacity is not there. The issue of peace and stability. At the beginning we had a lot of crises that he had to deal with at every moment. It was sleepless nights for him and many of us. We had to make sure there is social cohesion. The Faraba incident, the Busumbula youths, the doctors… it was sporadic. Today is here and tomorrow is there. Barrow is a very peaceful man regardless of where I’m. I’m a believer and want to speak the truth because that is what is going to last and is what I’m going to find in my grave. We have a leader that we need to support, he is coming from the private sector, he was not a public servant, and he has never worked in the public service. You have to give him that credit in putting that cabinet of people from different disciplines. Ensuring that within one year his government is able to stabilise the economy, because it was in shambles. And stabilise the country; we had various factions. APRC was still active and the need for us to have the resources that required implementing the plan at different levels. The private sector was not vibrant when we took over because they were frustrated, taxes were very high, no incentives for private sector growth to create employment. The civil society and the media were disgruntled so you had to really rekindle that notion of citizenship.   How did you become the vice president, I was made to understand that your intention was to be foreign minister? No, I have never had the intention to be a foreign minister. His Excellency never offered me the position. I never asked him for the position. And I never had any ambition to be anywhere. My focus was for him to have a good cabinet and I supported him in the process. He consulted all the political leaders and offered positions to all of them. Political leaders are more important than me. For me it is not the position that matters. If it was the position, I would have gone back to the UN or another system to work because I have what is required. I’m not complete as a human being but I would have gone for better jobs. If positions didn’t matter to you, why then did you cling on to the vice president position for many months when you knew your age didn’t allow you? Yet you refused to step aside. You could have said, since I’m overaged and succeeded in removing Jammeh, that is enough for me. But you stayed and The Gambia was without a full time vice president. It is good you ask me the question. I have many times consulted the president to tell him because of the pressure and my ambition to support him in any other situation in any position other than the vice presidency. I even suggested some names for vice president position and he is a living witness. But people don’t know me. He told me as far as he and the country are concerned, I have worked hard for the country, I deserved to be vice president not because as a person but because of my background and experience. He made this statement when he was swearing me in. He did not take me because I was the chair of the coalition. He said he selected me because of the trust, my expertise and my contribution to the coalition. So it was Barrow who insisted that you must be vice president? He insisted and believed that it was his conviction that I was the right candidate to support him at the time. As a law-abiding citizen, why didn’t you tell him you appreciated all that but your age didn’t allow you to be vice president? You can oversee, constitutionally, a position and that is why it is important for people to know their constitution, because that is what governs the country. You can oversee while amendments or whatever happens like when somebody dies in a position an eligible person can oversee. But the constitutional amendment, let us be frank as professionals today, is it me who is benefiting from the amendment? If it was not changed, will Honourable Ousainu Darboe be vice president? Will we have competent lawyers in the commission like Sourahata Janneh and others? We look beyond the person; let us try as Gambians to look for what is in the best interest of the country and more fundamentally, we all know that this is a constitution that is a one man constitution. It was prepared by former President Jammeh in his own interest. For 65 years we have been a signatory to the universal human rights and many other human rights instruments. Article 16 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights says there should never be discrimination against age, gender, race and religion, so this is discriminatory putting an age, and worldwide there is no country in world that has an age limit in their constitution. What is needed is the competence and loyalty of an individual and this is the way forward. But similar things happened in southern Africa when Rupiah Banda became president of Zambia in 2008. A few years into his presidency, a law was passed banning people above 70 years to run for office. The main opposition leader Michael Sata was 71, three years younger than President Banda. That was meant to target Sata, so it was not The Gambia alone. Moreover, you said the law was Jammeh’s law but you will agree that there are good and bad laws in Jammeh’s law? Yes, I do agree. Some of the laws are good regardless of where I come from. I want to be straightforward and truthful. And I want to remain professional. I want this country to remember me as somebody who supports Gambia as an agenda not anything. In the world, The Gambia has to move as part of United Nations, when I said UN, it is the world at large. You have the UN General Assembly which our country participates in… of course you learn globally but we have to ensure that we go by democracy. The reason for our change is to have democratic governance where everybody will have sense of belonging and participation and every law speaks to the human rights of the person of individual and collective.   Do you feel betrayed after putting all these efforts together to get Jammeh out, seventeen months in the position you were removed as vice president? Not really, I don’t think that way. All my life has been a life of a believer. I believe that what God has written for me is what I’m living now until I return to Him. Every stage God has defined for me. I was happy to have served and supported President Barrow 100 per cent. I’m sure that if you talk to Barrow, he will never tell you that I never gave him the support he needed. I have been a 100 per cent loyalist and loyal to my country. What is important for me to remember or for me to bring here is the fact that I swore on the Holy Qur’an, that I’m going to be loyal to serve my country, support my president and the people of The Gambia. That is what I did. The president has a lot of respect for me; he said it in my presence and at many forums. I worked with the man and he still has confidence in me. That is what is important. If I had left because of violating the constitution, I would have been embarrassed, but I never felt betrayed. I leave everything in God’s hands. He created me and gave me what is meant for me. Because I’m a believer and God is testing me and the only way I translate is God wants me to be closer to Him. I have been close to God and closer to Him more than ever. I will never have any grudge against President Barrow, which is evidence in my participations in many of the programmes, like TRRC. If as you say he has trust and confidence in you, why did you turn down the offer in the Foreign Service when you were removed? Yes, I felt I needed time to think about it and I felt that I had worked with the UN. The important reason is the fact that I worked with UN and my level was beyond ambassador. We have to be realistic, I don’t feel I’m not a person that has sense of entitlement… I was beyond an ambassador I cannot go back to the UN mission as ambassador. For me it was a demotion. To be continued]]>

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