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Thursday, October 28, 2021

Hamat Bah, Minister of Tourism & Culture. Part 1

With Alagie Manneh

You are launching the National Peoples Party this Saturday, what are some of the activities expected to happen?

We are expecting a huge launch. This is a party that was not in existence at the time of President Barrow running as a candidate in 2016. It’s a party he conceived and built himself. It is also a party in power. Even though the party was not part of the election in 2016, it is the party that belongs to the president. Therefore, it will not be a small thing. No doubt, it will be a big launch. Although we are restrained by virtue of Covid protocols, the president has decided that the delegation should be downsized to make sure that we comply with Covid-19 [regulations]. Already, over 35,000 masks have been donated by friends and will be available to all those who go to the launching. The president also decided that it should be a one-day event. So, he is trying to respect the Covid protocols as much as possible.

How much money has been earmarked for the launch and where did it come from?

I don’t have any idea because I am not involved in budgeting and secondly, this is the NPP, not the NRP. I want you to understand that. So, if you ask me about the NRP budget, which is coming next month, I can tell you that but for this one, that is a matter for the NPP.

Seriously, tell me where it is the NPP is getting its funding from

I have no idea. Every party leader has that knowledge but in most cases in Africa, we normally don’t disclose these things because the donors sometimes become victims. Therefore, it’s in our interest to keep that to ourselves. So, where the NPP is getting its money, that’s a matter for the NPP leader and the NPP as a party. It has nothing to do with the NRP. But I do know people who have confidence in Adama Barrow, who believe in his programs, in his presidency, in his leadership, and in his ability to move this country forward. They are sympathetic and are supportive. And these are Gambians, honest sincere Gambians. And I think that’s important if people themselves are financing a party. But I want to tell you that growing parties is a big task in Africa. If you look at the pre-independence political parties, very few of them are surviving now. Why? Because they were linked to individuals and once those individuals are out of power, the party dies in most cases. But I believe parties are institutions of the state that should remain, that should be part of the development processes. So, because of the nature of politics in Africa, for people to stay in one party is a problem especially once that party is out of power. People shift to the one that is in power which kills the others. That’s the case in most parts of Africa. But I believe that the new generation of African politicians like Barrow and others should try to work towards some of these ideas so that when they are gone, their parties remain solid and strong and not disintegrate to join other parties.

You seriously believe Barrow can achieve that?

I think the type of leadership I saw in Barrow, yes, he can get there. He is somebody who believes in people, and people in turn take ownership of the party. I think with the policy, it should make a difference for Adama Barrow to be able to keep the NPP even when he retires.

Career diplomat and former minister Dr ML Sedat Jobe said the proliferation of political parties is a threat to the stability of The Gambia, what do you say to that?

I think to, be honest, I respect my brother very much. He is a close friend. I know him very well. But you see, every emerging democracy, if you go by history, you would realise that when political space opens up in any country, a lot of them would come up but five years down the line, 80 percent of them will fade into insignificance. It’s because they cannot sustain themselves to exist. I for one, if I had known it was so hard and difficult, I would never have attempted to lead a party.

How hard it is?

No. No. I cannot tell you but it is quite tedious. Rest assured. If I had known what I know today, I would not have created a party.

What are some of the difficulties involved?

Ahh it’s just difficult. If I start telling you that now, we will not finish the interview. I remember once, I had to sell a pregnant cow – disastrous for any Fula man – but I did so because we were expecting funding and it didn’t come on time. It shows you how much sacrifice is involved. So, all these parties that you are seeing, give them five years down the line, they will disappear into thin air. They don’t know the cost involved, resources wise, to run and maintain a political party. But I think Barrow is lucky. He has seen it all in the UDP. And I think one of the things you must credit this gentleman is that he has learned so quick on the job.

Really?

Yeah. Fantastically.

What about his questionable understanding of issues then and the mumblings and fumblings during speeches?

Let me tell you something, speeches are determined by the environment in which you are speaking in, by the subject you talking about, by the people you talking to. There are a lots of factors to speeches. There are a lot of factors that lead leaders by the way they compose themselves depending on, as I said the subject matter, the speech, the environment and other issues. If you look at Barrow during national independence celebration, he delivered one of the best speeches, because that was a joyous day for him. Immediately it gets into him and you see the guy, the way he speaks, he is right on top there. I think most times people don’t make accurate judgment on rulers.

Political pundit Nyang Njie said Barrow has gotten into a political mood to self-perpetuate when he did not achieve any meaningful progress?

I don’t want to get involved. That’s his opinion about Barrow. Contrary to that, we have seen hundreds of thousands of Gambians and their opinions of Barrow. I think Gambians appreciate him. We live in a country for 50 plus years, even pipe-borne water they cannot have it to drink.

But women are still dying in our hospitals giving birth, aren’t they?

Yeah, I am coming. It cannot be solved overnight. I know that personally, we are doing something to resolve this situation. I know the situation. I have been a victim. I lost a sister during pregnancy. I also lost a child. So, I know the situation, and I know that President Barrow is working very hard to resolve it.

They said you people are calling the paving of roads development…

[Cuts in] That is their view of development, it’s not the view of the people we are giving them to. And everybody has a right to their view but whether your view will be respected and honored by the people is a different question. The people we are giving roads, water, electricity, health centres, they know that is development. Those who are saying don’t give it to them, the people of those areas are waiting for them when they go there. 

They said Barrow has betrayed the objective of the so-called New Gambia which was to build strong institutions…

[Cuts in] Barrow cannot develop institutions in five years. Strong institutions are built in decades. Look at the US and how strong and discipline its armed forces is. These are strong institutions that you build in years, not days. Anybody who thinks that Barrow can build strong institutions in five years, you don’t know what that institution is. I am sure the [pundit] person must have just been speaking his mind, he doesn’t want Barrow to be president. Anybody who tells the people that Barrow should not give you roads, you are committing political suicide.

The EU election observer mission as well as the defeated draft constitution called for transparency in campaign and electoral financing, will you tell Gambians the source of the NPPs money?

Why are you not asking other parties? Why only NPP? You are selective. Why do you have to single out the NPP? Why are you asking only one party? What about the others, APRC and UDP? If genuine Gambians are willing to support President Barrow, who am I to question them? They are committed to helping Barrow.

President Barrow is seen as an acolyte of President Macky Sall and even adopted Macky Sall’s white horse as his party symbol, are you receiving any assistance from him? 

Barrow will never receive a dime from anybody outside this country. Barrow is very proud of himself. He is a nationalist who believes in his country. Take it from me. For his choice of a horse, that is his party’s choice.

Many people have said the launching of the NPP is wrong timing given the pandemic situation, isn’t it irresponsible of President Barrow and the NPP executive as the event is a potential super spreader?

People have a right to fear about the issue of public gathering. They know there is a virus but let me also tell you one thing, the president has listened keenly to experts and as we speak, the president as concern as any other person. That’s why they are providing over 35,000 masks. They have also massively cut the number of delegates who are supposed to come. You will always have people who criticise but let it be genuine criticisms.

Political analysts say when the GDC came, it decimated your party and now, NPP is doing to GDC what GDC did to your party, do you agree?

Let me tell you the situation. They [the political analysts] did not understand the dynamics of our politics. When the GDC came in, I did not present myself as a candidate because we were negotiating a coalition alliance. My supporters were not happy with that. They believed that I must be a candidate. They felt that they could not trust anything that comes from the UDP. Those that were frustrated with the APRC also felt that if Hamat Bah did not stand, they would not support the UDP’s Barrow, because they believed Barrow was still in the UDP even though officially he was in an alliance. The APRC said they are not satisfied with Barrow because he is UDP. If Barrow had not parted with UDP, the support he enjoys today would never have come. People have to look at trust. When we got into government, my alliance with Barrow became too close and of course, that would be the end of the GDC. Anybody who knows Gambian politics would know it’s the end of GDC. They are now comfortable – these supporters – to join the Adama Barrow boat because he is with Hamat Bah who we are comfortable with. And I think the GDC should have foreseen seen this coming. They should have if they were good analysts and knowing our political terrain, known that the alliance of President Barrow and Hamat Bah would certainly finish GDC. I think that’s the time they should have joined the alliance. Their failure to join the alliance means they are doom. Mamma is my junior brother. I am just trying to explain the dynamics of our politics. Barrow had a choice. Now, what obtains, the fact that they have trust in Barrow and my alliance with Barrow automatically eliminates GDC, threatens the APRC and the UDP; and you will see a lot of jumping over the fence in the next months. Our political leaders find it difficult to read between the lines. I think sometimes our personal interest overcomes our sense of judgment in making proper political decisions that would certainly advance the political interest of either political parties or country at large.

Some commentators described those cross-carpeting to the NPP as political sycophants who are only interested in filling their pockets. Is that true?

Yes, they are what we call pollical prostitutes. They exist in every country. They would move to where ever they think it’s good for them to survive. They don’t have any skills. They don’t have any political capital they can add to you. They exist everywhere in the world not only in the Gambia. But they are in the minority. But those who support Barrow are genuine.

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