With Alagie Manneh
You hail from Ballangharr in CRR, how was it like growing up in rural Gambia?
I attended the village school in Ballanghar, and from there I went to Kaur Primary School and then Armitage High School. It is important to indicatethat I belong to the chieftaincy family in Ballanghar. My father was a chief. My father’s brothers were chiefs. And my grandfather, Nderry Jebou Sey, was the first chief in Ballanghar. My village life in Ballanghar was normal. I had friends in the village. We would go hunting and play football.
What does being a Fana Fana mean to you?
I think ‘Fana Fana’, from a general perspective, is generic, in the sense that I think it more or less refers to a rural person. In a way, I think it is a misnomer because if you refer to a rural person as a Fana Fana, a Wolof, a Mandinka or a Fula who comes from the rural area is a Fana Fana. By and large, in my understanding, in Wolof, they refer to a Fana Fana as a person from the rural areas and the Wolofs are not the only ones from the rural areas. But again for me, it is not of any importance, you know, [I think it is a] derogatory term. I guess it is a way within our own cultural traditional pattern of joking to identify people, just like saying, “That is a Fula man”, et cetera.
As a lecturer at the UTG, you wrote to President Jammeh accusing the then vice chancellor, Professor Muhammadou Kah, of cronyism and nepotism by employing his relatives at the university. Could you rehash for our readers what happened?
I wrote to the Office of the President as a last resort. The whole scenario started when a group of NAMs on the Education Sub-Committee came to UTG on a normal round. We sat with them to discuss the problems in the UTG. I stood up and said there were some institutional problems that needed to be addressed. The visiting team said I could put them in writing? I did so and copied the vice chancellor who immediately suspended me unilaterally, without going to council, without going through any formal procedure. So I petitioned the governing body of the university, the Minister of Higher Education and the very National Assembly Members but nothing happened. Then I said, the head of the university is the chancellor, who is also the president. So I petitioned the president in his capacity as the chancellor of the university. When I did this, there was subsequently an enquiry by the National Drug Enforcement Agency, NDEA. It was an unusual request to the agency to conduct this inquiry. The agency was totally in agreement with what I said and other things came out too. In fact it was published in the Daily Observer. Further to that, other complaints were compiled, but to my surprise, one day I was called by the very NDEA and they said they got instructions from the Office of the President that I should be arrested and taken to court. I was very surprised because the official report completely vindicated me and indicted the vice chancellor.
You were then arraigned for giving false information to the president before finally being acquitted.
I was arrested, I was charged and subsequently went to court. I had to hire a lawyer and for 18 months I was going up and down. My salary was stopped as they said I was no longer with the UTG. The whole scenario surprised me. In Europe, I would have been called a whistleblower, for the state. These persons are normally decorated because they take it upon themselves to come out in the national interest. Unfortunately, I was victimised. I was tormented. I was disgraced. And can you imagine, with a family, going to court for 18 months. Of course the whole scenario was political. In other words, the president was protecting Kah. But God so good, at the end of the landmark trial, I was not only vindicated but the judge ordered that Kah be investigated. Until today, this has not happened. [He] also ordered that Kah’s qualification credentials be investigated but again, that has not been done. In court, his professorship was questioned. It was a shame that the government overlooked the matter.
There were reports that after you were freed, security men went to your house at dawn to re-arrest you but you disappeared?
I feared for the worst, for my life. I had to flee the country immediately after the court case. I went in disguise. I escaped the country and took a flight to London. It was true soldiers or security men went to my house to re-arrest me. Not finding me there, they went to my home village of Ballanghar. Can you imagine what would have happened if I was re-arrested at that time? I may never have been seen again. So it was a good decision [to flee]. In the UK, I had to file a case of being in exile. I did some voluntary service with an NGO. I also visited universities and occasionally offered lectures. Then at the end of 2016, The Gambia changed and I returned home. It was not my desire to leave, but circumstances compelled me to. I have always wanted to live in The Gambia and serve my country.
Why join politics now?
Primarily, my decision to join politics is to serve my country. If you want to effect change, then you have to be part of it. I think we have to be on board in order to contribute more effectively and in order to achieve any political change that you may wish and for that reason, yes we have to join a political party in order to drive for changes.
So who are the members of your party the APP, what is your base?
I think I would like to say this is a party for everybody. We have stated categorically that this is a party for the people, that this is a people-owned party. When something happens, people tend to come up with different interpretations. By and large, not always are they genuine. And again, some people just like to criticise – I think it is just human nature – but I would say categorically that this is a party for the people. We will have Gambians abroad as members. We will have members in The Gambia, we will have farmers and the differently-abled persons to join. We have in fact demonstrated that when we were being awarded a certificate. People of all categories of life form the membership of this party.
You said now is the time for a new breed of politicians like your humble self to take charge. Honestly, what are you going to do differently from established leaders like those in the UDP, PDOIS and GDC, for example?
None of us were politicians; we became politicians when we joined a political party. A technocrat is not a politician. When he joins a political party and becomes part of politics he is a politician, and perhaps a better politician. Because he knows knowledge-wise how to run a country better. Personally, I tend to avoid personalities because our party is dedicated to building a new Gambia. So whether it’s Mr Sallah or Mr Darboe, we have the greatest respect for all of them and for that matter any of the political parties. We seek no confrontation. We want a shared respect for the political parties. As to the question of capability, I think the whole country knows who would be capable, who would not be capable. I have worked in this country in departments and I have been head of departments and the whole country knows how well those departments were run. I have worked for the United Nations, and my legacy with the UN is astounding. I have worked for international organisations in Ghana. When I was leaving, they cried that I shouldn’t leave. I have worked for the University of The Gambia. When I was joining, the university had about three or four international university linkages. I was the director of international affairs and information. By the time I was leaving, we were counting 13 universities, with well-established linkages which were very beneficial to the university. And I started the university’s first newsletter. I think at the end of the day, the worth of a person depends on how competent and how willing he is.And that much I am willing to give.
So what about your political base?
As you know, our party is a young party. A party that is being accredited or given a certificate yesterday, or last week, is a young party. We are hoping to have our party base in Sinchu. First, we are finding a location which will be our party base. Subsequently also, we will have our party representatives all over the country.
Won’t you admit that it will be foolhardy for anyone to even suggest that the APP, which was just formed, will form the next government?
In this world I think we should be optimistic. We must know that anything is possible, depending on determination and hard work. A famous former president, Lee Kuan Yew was asked when he was leaving Oxford University for politics, “What would be your armoury? How are you going to operate, Mr Kuan Yew?” He said all his emphasis when he goes, was going to be hard work and discipline. This is something we very much believe in, in the APP. So, anything is possible.
The EU election monitoring committee as well as the draft constitution asked for transparency in political and electoral campaign financing. Will you tell Gambians how you raise your funds and how much money you have in your party coffers?
We have a party manifesto which will come out soon. In that manifesto, we have emphasised transparency of the party. We have emphasised relationships with regional bodies, international bodies and so forth. Yes, we respect very much those ideas. We see no reason why we must not be able to show that we are transparent. If we want the country to believe in us, if we want the population to be with us, we will say exactly what we are.
Is Professor Abdoulaye Saine the secretary general of the APP, as it is being rumored?
Yes, the secretary general of the APP is the renowned Gambian scholar Abdoulaye Saine, who has done a lot in terms of political analysis of the country.
Who are the other better-known members of the party?
The prominent members are quite many at the moment, and we hope that sooner or later the public will come to know them. We have medical doctors, IT specialists, engineers, and other technocrats who are all members of the APP. We are fully a prepared team in all disciplines, ready to engage The Gambia.
They said you praised Barrow during the launching of your party. Is that true?
No. First of all, I did not praise Barrow; I extended greetings on behalf of the party to Barrow. I also extended the same greetings to all political parties and their leaders. Again as I said, when people misrepresent for their own purposes, well perhaps that is their own choice, but here there was no specialty for Barrow, as far as I was concerned. He is the president of the country, even the diplomatic corps, we extend the greetings to them. I see no reason why therefore, the president and his government, cannot be greeted.
What is your assessment of Barrow as a leader?
My assessment of President Barrow is something we are going to talk about later on. When the right time comes, we are going to say what we think.
You are an economist, would you rate The Gambia Government as fiscally transparent?
I think the government should work very hard towards decreasing our national debt. The government should work very hard towards widening its revenue base. The government should work very hard towards attaining an efficient way of controlling government income. Because if there is no efficient control, if there are no efficient collection methods, the income government should have would not totally benefit government. Taxes needs to be collected properly.
There are fears the IEC may not be cross-checking the eligibility of political parties, are you certain the APP have met all requirements?
If you go through my speech, I had said that we have qualified being subjected to a rigorous process by the IEC. At one point, we thought they were too hard on us. We were supposed to produce 10,000 voter card nominees. What I am saying is that, the required procedure, we fulfilled it to the fullest. I don’t know of others – that’s for the IEC – but in our own case, we have certified totally, all the requirements.