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Friday, June 21, 2024

General Lamin Bojang, Secretary General & leader, ANRD

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In this edition of Bantaba, anchor Alagie Manneh talks to former general and retired diplomat Lamin Bojang, who bounces back with a new party, the Alliance for National Reorientation and Development (ANRD). The general was dismissed from the Gambia Action Party (GAP) in July last year following a sex scandal that threatened to damage his reputation.

Alagie: You were trained to be a nurse. How did you end up as a general in the army?

General Bojang: While I was serving at Faji Kunda Health Centre in 1994, I used to work under a supervisor who passed. There is a gentle man who used to visit me and during one of our conversations, he indicated to me the need for professionals in the army. It was not only nurses they needed at the time, but doctors, engineers, and others. They wanted to build that core. It was there that I was convinced. Yet, I did not resign from the ministry of health. I was doing both, but I ended up joining the military and became the head of its medical core for a vey long time. When my core was changed from medical to infantry, I did not take it as an issue and in 1999, I had a scholarship to go to the Usmanu Danfodiyo University to pursue a degree programme in medicine… when my core was changed, the adjustment was a bit difficult because I was a licensed nurse and state certified midwife. Infantry, I think it was the right choice for me. It was the right choice because I was a disciplinarian.

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You are a young man, what led to your removal from the army to the Foreign Service in 2012?

Politely, we were redeployed to the Foreign Service. I did not do anything. Was I ready to be redeployed to the Foreign Service then? No. At that time, I thought I was in my prime and had a lot to give to the military. When they retired me, I was the army commander, and there was a path that I chartered for the army. I wanted the army to become the people’s army and had started implementing that desire, but down the line I was redeployed. I was not removed from the military, neither was I discharged. I was redeployed into the Foreign Service, but it was very difficult for me. 

Since you entered politics and declared your interest in running for president, you have been involved in one scandal after another, or one tragedy after another. Don’t you think you have been cursed?

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Thank you very much for putting it that way. To become the president of this country, you must go through certain tests. The tests are not supposed to be palatable or easy. The things that I am going through, do I like them to befall me? No, in the strongest terms. But who am I that I am not supposed to go through them? Great leaders have gone through far difficult moments. But I don’t think it is a curse. The allegations upon allegations, the tragedies upon tragedies – these are difficult but if you look at the circumstances around them, you will always see something and that is innocence. And that is very important. If I am the perpetrator, I would have been behind bars by now. But because I want to become the president of the Republic of The Gambia, I must have certain level of tolerance. Things that befell me, to me, they are tests because they did not happen to me alone. Other leaders have passed through the same and encountered worst. If it’s a curse I would have looked at alternatives but for now, I think this is a blessing in disguise. It pushes me forward to do more. It also makes me known. It publicises me. The most important thing also is the solidarity you would see from people and how those people stand with you in those difficult times. But I don’t believe it’s a curse.

Five months after the formation of your new party, ANRD, what are your chances of winning the December vote?

You know, we [you and I and your camera crew] prayed Zuhr here [in my house]. Alhamdulilah. The ANRD is the next government. We have the strategies, and we have the plans. We want to do things that would show to the people that we are the winning party. When we registered, the expectations were that we were going to form rallies for people to come from all corners. No. That is not the politics that is going to change things. The ANRD, since registration, has structures and those structures are the ones that we are using to permeate our messages to people who are supposed to receive them. What we have been doing all this while – people do not know – from here to Koina, if you go there, you will find our messages there. We have been doing door-to-door campaigns. Any region you go to, you will find ANRD there. For the record, on the 5 October, we are going on an introductory tour. Having recently lost my mom, I could not go out. We are going to start our one-week tour across the country, to introduce ourselves to the Gambian people and to tell them that this is the party that has come to salvage the country. In Kombo, we have been marginalised a lot as far as politics in this country is concerned. We have not had Kombonkas engaged in leadership tussle. All we know is that we make kings, we are the deciders, we are the ones that… this is the swing state, the battle ground state. So, this is the first time we have two indigenous natives of this area coming out and declaring their intents to enter politics and lead the country.

Your hometown of Brufut and its environs are naturally your political base, however, by all indications the UDP and NPP are by far the predominant political forces in this area. Where are you going to get your votes from?

That’s a very important question. [But] I don’t know how many times the president has come here since we were registered. I am born and brought up here. We are the owners of this community. We are all inter-related. What the people are looking at is not UDP who’s been here for 30 years; it’s not Adama Barrow who thinks that he has money; it’s not somebody who has been in politics for many, many years. All that they want to see is a genuine person. And here I am, but now you are comparing me with people who have been in politics for a very long time except Adama Barrow. UDP came here for a meeting, and interestingly, they have seen what they have seen. Secondly, Adama Barrow has been… I am telling you; he is coming here for the fifth time. We will teach these politicians a lesson. That is why we are not talking. That is why we are not doing anything. What we are doing is selling ourselves. The way we are doing our politics is very mature, and that is why we are into politics. We are into politics because we want to bring sanity into politics. Allowing Barrow to win is only going to plunge us into chaos. UDP is not the substitute. The only substitute is a fresh person, and that fresh person is going to come from Kombo. They all know but are denying.

The EU election observer mission as well as the defeated draft constitution both called for transparency in electoral campaign financing. What are the sources of your party finance?

Honestly, I will tell Gambians. The magnitude of corruption in this country is unbearable. We are a witness to what has been happening from 2016 to date, no accountability. For us to be able to succeed as a government, we must fight corruption and mitigate corruption.

Why can you not tell us right here right now?

I can. All political parties have people that support them, without any conditions attached. The ANRD has sponsors from Italy, from USA and even from Senegal. These are family members, friends, or members of ANRD.

What interests these donors, in your view?

The interest that they have is to see that there is change in this country for good. The interest that they have is to listen and to follow us for the answers to the problems of this country. That is the only reason why they are giving us their monies.

How do you intend to compete patently with richer parties like NPP and UDP and even PDOIS?

That is where the problem lies. I don’t know why money is significant. As far as we are concerned, we only want funds just to facilitate our movement. The parties that you have named, especially the NPP, I have never seen them – beside the PDOIS –cultivate even a business. All I know is that out of the blue, they are now being touted as one of the richest parties in the country.

And why do you think that is?

Corruption. It’s because of the magnitude of corruption. NPP, or Adama Barrow has failed Gambians. He has betrayed Gambians. If I tell you something and that turns out to be false, in my view that is a lie. They lied to the Gambian people. And he will continue to do that. Just to remind you, Adama Barrow once said that if you are looking for presidency, you can say anything, and that is exactly what he is doing; he is just talking, promising people, laying foundation stones. A good sign of leadership is not to start projects and leave them incomplete. What he told us, is exactly what he’s doing; tell them anything that you think you can tell them, but it’s not true. He doesn’t even know how to put the country’s interest at heart. When they came in 2016, they said they have certain responsibilities they were going to fulfill; the security sector reforms, the TRRC, the Janneh Commission and the like. If they are genuine and patriotic Gambians and have the country at heart, what stops them from honoring that three years agreement? And that is very difficult. It is either they betrayed us, lied to us, or deceived us. And this is what Gambians are fed up with regarding Barrow’s government.

Will you in fact contest since you have been named in coalition talks…?

Inshallah, I will contest the December election. That is why we are in politics. But we are not part of any coalition talks. We made that clear. I am sure you are also going to ask if there’s any possibility for us to align with any other political party. General opinions have it that there is a tendency or possibility for the various opposition political parties to form an alliance or a coalition. This is possible. We have an open-door policy. If there are political parties whose agendas are the same as ours, why not? We are not that rigid in the belief that we must be the flag bearer of any potential coalition should there be a better candidate. But right now, you give me a criterion of the candidates in this country and compare them with us and tell me who is better than us. If such person is there, we will want to go into that.

Many political observers say you exhibit pro-Jammeh and pro-APRC sympathy. In fact, there is talk in town that you speak with Jammeh. Are these true?

I have never spoken with Jammeh since he left the shores of The Gambia. If I am a sympathiser to Jammeh and APRC is based on unity. ANRD is a unifying party. We are a unifier. Let us look at this issue critically; when Yahya left, this country was polarised, we were divided on ethnic or political lines. We needed a unifier. We thought that was Barrow. When they commissioned the TRRC, some of us said oh this is the best arrangement that can bring all of us together. But to our dismay, the TRRC has been used to witch-hunt certain people. I am very careful regarding my position on Jammeh and the APRC. What I said was that if we can establish that Yahya has done ABCD, the laws are there to judge him. What they used to ask was why I am not being critical of Jammeh, but I have worked with him, and he used to give me instructions directly. Not once did he ever instruct me to go and beat anyone. We cannot be glued to the past all the times of our lives. APRC did this, Yayha Jammeh did that, no. At one point, an arrangement will be made for Jammeh to answer to all these things, but there is also an opportunity that we can all pardon him. Political party leaders are using the errors that happened in the Jammeh administration to continue their castigation of the APRC and Yahya Jammeh. APRC members are Gambians. If you are talking about unifying The Gambia, regardless of who has done what, we would pardon all and we all move forward. And this is what is going to bring all the Gambians together.

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