With Alagie Manneh
In this edition of Bantaba, anchor Alagie Manneh talks to former general and retired diplomat Lamin Bojang who was last week selected as leader of the newly-formed Gambia Action party (GAP). Read the full text of the interview.
Alagie Manneh: You were a general and later served in the Foreign Service for a number of years, yet many Gambians do not know you. Tell us, who is Lamin Satou Bojang?
I was born and brought up in Brufut, Kombo North, West Coast Region.
I attended Brufut primary school, then after passing the Common Entrance Examination, I was admitted at Saint Peter’s High School then later went on and enlisted into the School of Nursing and Midwifery [Gambia College], at the time that was the highest learning institution in the country.
I later graduated as an SRN and after few years of practice I did a higher course in midwifery. In 1994, I quit the health job and enlisted in the military.
In the military, I was the head of the military reception services but at some point I moved from medical to infantry, without regrets.
I served there until I was retired in 2012.
What motivated you to join the Gambia army?
I remember while I was a nurse working at Faji Kunda Health Centre, I used to interact with some friends.
The armed forces was considered to be a young army at the time, and it wished to accommodate people with professions.
With my background, I was lured and developed that passion of becoming a military officer.
People in the military said you were very close to Yahya Jammeh and the First Family, particularly his children. Is that true?
No, that is not true.
In a recent press interview, you claimed you were not involved in any human rights abuses. How did you manage to remain unscathed… in other words, how did you manage to get so close to the fire, yet you were never burnt?
Before I joined the military, like you and I, we all have this home training. Before we enter the wide world, we all have that sense of direction and purpose in life.
That has been my guiding principle. The military is an institution that is composed of exceptionally disciplined men and women, so for me to be in the ranks and be quiet and unknown, that is a very easy thing.
I was contented. I respect my superiors.
I was committed to my job and rejected brutality in all its forms and stood by the voiceless and defenceless. As a health practitioner, I was taught to help people, especially those in need.
You are a young man, what led to your removal from the army to the Foreign Service in 2012?
I wasn’t removed, I was redeployed to the Foreign Service. I guess there was a need for it. I wouldn’t know.
Was I prepared, the answer is no. That was my prime moment.
I have served the army diligently and honestly. During my time in the military, I thought I was contributing immensely in the development of the armed forces.
I was building the army to be people’s army.
My departure, at the time, took a toll on me.
I wasn’t prepared for it. I was discharged at a time when I think I was at my best in the military. My dreams were shattered.
I had done a lot for the military at the time.
I will now try to marry all those efforts so that the armed forces becomes an institution worthy of emulation, so that it becomes an entity for the Gambian people.
I heard a report that you used to drink alcohol, yet you were posted to a mainly teetotal country like Saudi Arabia. Was it difficult to adjust?
I have nothing to do with that kind of lifestyle. I am a devout Muslim.
To post me to Saudi Arabia, was the most blessed thing to have ever happened to me as a Muslim. To associate me with drinking alcohol, those are allegations that I totally refute.
As a journalist, yes, you are entitled to your own feelings, but I desist those kinds of things. Yes, I used to join companies of people that normally have those kind of pleasures but myself, I try to comport myself in a way that I will not be lured into those kinds of things.
You were recalled and reposted to far away Moscow, do you think opening a diplomatic mission in Russia is justifiable for The Gambia given our limited resources as a country?
I think if there is anywhere in the world that we should maintain a diplomatic mission, it should be in Moscow.
The Gambia should maintain a presence in Moscow. Moscow’s relationship with Africa is flourishing now from strength to strength.
In fact, the opening of a mission there has been late. Moscow’s foreign policy is now mainly shifted towards Africa. Russia is a superpower.
It stands by the defenceless nations around the globe. Their foreign policy is non-interference in the internal affairs of other nations. Moscow was present at the Berlin Conference, but they concentrated on other areas.
They stood by some African countries during the wars in Mozambique and other Portuguese colonies. They stood by Africans to liberate them.
Yes, this is the best thing we have done as far as opening diplomatic missions is concerned. Moscow can be sufficient for all our needs being agriculture, health, infrastructure and others.
But what actual, tangible benefits has The Gambia got since opening the embassy in Moscow?
I wouldn’t like to disclose some of the efforts in the making but just to mention a few The Gambia is chosen to have a cluster project, an approach that Moscow has initiated recently.
This approach is meant to use The Gambia as a hub.
In the area of aviation, there are other institutions that chose Gambia to build an academy.
Also, the Federal Bureau of Medical Agency in the Russian Federation has agreed with the Government of The Gambia to build a state-of-the-art hospital in The Gambia.
In the education sector, they are giving us scholarships. We can gain a lot because Russians are opening up.
They are opening their arms to Africans. We knew very little about Russia and if you talk about Russia they say ‘oh it’s a communist country, it’s a cold place’, but this is the best place on earth! This country loves Africa.
On the 23-24 [October, 2019], there is going to be a Russia-Africa summit, the first of its kind, in Socchi. This is going to attract over fifty heads of state from Africa.
The aim is for them to understand that Russia is going to stand by them in their development endeavours.
Your selection as flagbearer for Gambia Action Party was like a bolt from the blue for a lot of Gambians. When did you become political?
I was a member of the armed forces and supposed to be among a group of people who obey the civil authority and for me to be able to execute my functions as a military officer, I needed to understand how governments run.
I started attending National Assembly sittings when I was in college.
I was a student president.
The National Assembly used to invite student leaders to attend sittings. At that time, I did not develop passion for politics. But yes, for my selection, it was a surprise.
Batchilly has given the genesis of my interaction with him, if you follow the other interviews he had with other journalists.
I know The Gambia inside out. Alhamdulillah I operated at places where things matter. That has given me an understanding of what The Gambia needs.
It culminated into a liking that is… not a politician in a sense but somebody who would want to share his views and thoughts with people in those kinds of positions.
Exactly how did you join party politics and, of all the parties, why GAP?
When this guy came with this idea that he wanted to register a political party, it was only my advice that they came to seek, and I gave them my honest opinion.
I did not know that I was being eyed.
My involvement into politics does not mean that I am aspiring to become a politician.
If politics is what is going to send me to the oval office, then I am a politician, but I am using politics as a path, because we don’t need politicians or seasoned politicians to lead The Gambia.
In my view, we need leaders because we have a leadership vacuum, but that vacuum needs to be filled by people who are smart, intelligent, love and are loyal to the Gambian people.
If I can describe myself as somebody who possesses such character or such trade, I don’t think I am at a wrong place.
General Bojang, instead of GAP, why didn’t you join the UDP because I was informed that most of the members of your immediate and larger family in Brufut are supporters of Ousainu Darboe?
I am not sure if that assertion is accurate.
I don’t know any of my family members who are UDP members.
We have a very big kabilo and we are respected people well known in politics.
Just because of the fact that my family members belong to a certain political party, should I also join that party? I have never stood on a political platform.
I guess my family members are expressing their freedom.
It has nothing to do with me.
I cannot join UDP because it is not the party that I can devote myself to.
I am not close to their leadership, never have I been approached by any UDP member.
Do you really think that you stand any chance of winning a presidential election?
Yes, I do.
I do stand the chance to win election.
I have a track record in the nursing, military and diplomatic fields.
That is for everybody to see.
I wouldn’t brag, but this is politics and I need to speak for myself for people to know me.
Yes, I stand a chance and time will tell.
Why would Gambians vote for you, an unknown quantity in political terms, when you have people with proven pedigrees like Ousainu Darboe and Halifa Sallah?
Gambians would vote for me because I am participating in politics.
Gambians will vote for me because of my background.
Gambians will vote for me because I have a track record.
Gambians will vote for me not because I am a newcomer, Gambians would vote for me because of the hope and expectation.
Gambians will vote for me because we have a manifesto to liberate The Gambia and develop it. Gambians would vote for me because we have surrounded ourselves with darlings of Gambian politics.
Gambians would vote for me by virtue of the fact that we see The Gambia and Gambian people. Gambians would vote for me because I belong to a group of people who have opened their arms to every Gambian. Gambians would vote for me because we want to change the landscape of politics.
Will Gambia Action Party be interested in joining any other party to form a coalition or an alliance in 2021 presidential election?
Our support base is very solid. Now, if there are other political parties that share the same ideology, the same views and approach us… because honestly, this is not about fame, this is not about enriching oneself… I know the length and breadth and the problems of The Gambia.
Security and health and others are a problem. These are unique areas we want to focus on.
If there are political parties whose ideology and manifestos are similar to our own, why not? We will give them an opportunity. There are political parties that we are in consultation with but it does not necessarily mean that we are counting on coalition.
No. We want to go alone.
If other parties want to join us, of course we will open our arms.
You said GAP is “surrounded by the darlings of Gambian politics”, and is supported by “powerful people” and “a philanthropist”. Who are these “powerful people” and this “philanthropist”?
Just wait until I come over to The Gambia, then you will see what I am talking about. We have strategised.
I can tell you people are behind us who know politics; people are behind us who are dedicated and love The Gambia.
We have university lecturers behind us, we have teachers behind us, we have farmers behind us, we have doctors behind us, we have intellectuals behind us, and we have the youth across the country.
What we have done will amaze people when we are out. We are going to be the next government of the Republic of The Gambia.
It is a truism that to whom much is given, much is expected. What interests these “powerful people” and “philanthropist” have to support and give money to GAP?
Nobody is going to associate with us with conditions attached.
We are dedicated Gambians who love Gambia, undiluted. Those people that are associating with us, are like us. They think like us and they want to do their thing with us.
Put your mouth where your money is! No conditions attached. That makes our work very easy. I am sure you are leading to maybe they will say give me this thing, when this thing happens. No, that is not the Gambia Action Party.
We are associating with people who love The Gambia.
The Gambians that are associating with us are true Gambians; they see The Gambia and are ready to commit their resources in whatever thing we are doing.
Those big people are only giving us their support because they have confidence in us and they trust us. People are giving us their resources without conditions.
These people have no conditions attached to their support. They are genuine Gambians and philanthropists.
For the sake of transparency, will you disclose how GAP gets its money, and from whom?
What I will disclose as a requirement is the source of our money.
That will be disclosed. It is a requirement.
We will not dupe Gambians.
We will not be part of those people who would dupe Gambians. I want to emphasise this with the strongest word of emphasis that we at GAP are contented with what we have. When the time comes, we will disclose it.
The founder of GAP, Batchilly, has been getting a lot of bad press for dodgy financial activities, and that is probably the reason why he was not selected.Are you in fact not just a kind of a proxy – with him being a puppet master and you the puppet?
That comparison is ironic and pathetic.
Batchilly hasn’t had any of those issues. He only owes some people.
Batchilly, from the word go, not once has he ever told journalists who interviewed him, that he has any desire to contest as an aspirant.
He told journalists that he is a party leader and secretary general. And this has been his message all these while.
So, the issue of that comparison against… is definitely out of context and I am not sure if that really suits this interview.
Why did you resign from your diplomatic position? Did you jump, or were you pushed?
I did not jump, neither was I pushed.
This was a decision that was well-calculated and executed at a time it was supposed to be executed.
The issue is that, I want to completely commit myself to the course of GAP and to do that I want to avoid any conflict of interest, and to avoid that I have to give way to one of my commitments. My best course of action was to quit.
I will not be pushed, neither will I jump.
I took this decision independently. I did it for a genuine cause.
I did it because I am committed to the development of the Gambian people.
Thank you and good luck.
You are welcome.