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Sunday, May 16, 2021

Hamat Bah, Minister of Tourism & Culture

In today’s edition of Bantaba, The Standard’s Alagie Manneh continues his interview with Hamat Bah, the leader of the National Reconciliation Party and minister of tourism and culture.

The Standard: You have put your political career on the line for President Barrow, yet a local poll indicate that he and his government are no longer appealing to young people in the country?

President Barrow is very popular with the young people. The person who did that survey did not get the survey that we got on the other side of the coin. That was the opinion of one individual. I can tell you that Barrow is very popular with the youths. Do you know why? I was on tour with Barrow and I saw the crowds Barrow was pulling. Women and youths are with Adama Barrow. And the projects we are now implementing under the Ministry of Youth and Sport have never happened in this country.  The few who are making noise here calling themselves activists cannot mobilise ten people anywhere. They will go to newspapers and radio stations and make all the noise but if you tell them to go and mobilise ten people and take them to a rally they cannot.

You might disagree, but your political base is your ethnic grouping, the Fulas, what percentage of the Fulani vote do you think Barrow will get in December?

Let me tell you this, I can tell you that today in Gambian politics, there is no tribe which is not comfortable with me. I am the least tribalistic in the entire Gambian political landscape. I can put my hand up and say that. In our party, our official language we speak is Mandinka when we are not speaking English. Do you know that? I am the one who has developed a new political strategy in trying to eliminate tribalism and I will tell you this strategy. If you go to Lower Saloum, we have three Mandinka villages there –   Jahabur Mandinka, Kaur Janneh Kunda and Kaur Touray Kunda there out of 64 villages. No party would risk that. I did it. The records speak for themselves. I wanted to make sure that we use our political parties to eradicate tribalism in the country.  When they said you will not win, I said you will. And he won. We campaigned for a party and not a tribe. We went to Niamina Dankunku constituency, largely Mandinka people. We put up a Fula candidate, he won the election. Our party has been building structures to eliminate tribalism. And the only way you can do it is through elections.

What percentage of the Fulani vote do you think President Barrow will get?

I cannot judge that now until we get closer to elections. I think Barrow would get more of Mandinka votes that even you would be surprised. Ask me that question by September or October, and I will give you an answer.

Minster Bah, you got a lot of flak for what are perceived as your “tribal comments” during a political meeting at State House…

[Cuts in] No, no, no. I never made any tribal comments. Let me tell you, when Jammeh insulted Mandinkas here, I led the reply to that. The UDP, all of them came to my office. We wrote it down in my office, and we countered Jammeh. I defended the Mandinka community. It was done in my office, go back to history. And if any other tribal group is touched here, I will stand to speak for them. I don’t belong to any tribe. You can ascribe me wherever you want to ascribe me, but I believe I belong to The Gambia, and Gambians for that matter. Critics will speak, but I think they don’t follow history. When the Wolofs were being harassed over laissez-passer, I took it up publicly. If I believe any tribe is not being fairly treated, I will speak my mind. So, if any body feels like you are not satisfied with that, so be it because I am not here to satisfy everybody.

Going by your comments at that infamous State House meeting, some political analysts said you seemed to have concluded that President Barrow is a Fula, is he? 

That’s not… go and ask him that question. It has nothing to do with me. Whether he is a Fula or Mandinka, Manjago or Jola, I don’t know about that. That is a personal question you can ask Barrow. I know that his father is Mandinka, his mother is Fula, his grandmother is Sarahule, he was  brought up by Sarahules, and stayed in Wolof community and his in-laws are Jolas. Is there another another person who is tribally connected to all these tribes more than him?

Opposition GAP leader Batchilly said President Barrow’s ministers have bought expensive properties in Senegal and you yourself said you have properties in Senegal…

[Cuts in]… I think that is Batchilly’s opinion. Let me not talk about somebody’s opinion. What I can tell you is that I have own houses in Senegal far back in 2003.

Where did you get the money?

I was in the Ecowas Parliament, and I had friends in Nigeria who helped me, a lot. And I am grateful to them. Yes.

I have reliably learnt that people in the Kansala District, notably Bwiam, are gearing up for the return of Jammeh and have planted flags along the thoroughfare and made ashobee. What are your views on Jammeh’s imminent return to The Gambia?

It is not true. Jammeh is not returning to The Gambia. And as soon as Jammeh lands here, he will face the full force of the law. No doubt about that. Absolutely not true. The TRRC is ongoing and the revelations are on and justice must take its course. I can assure you, this government is not in any way related or aware of Jammeh’s “imminent” return to The Gambia. Political supporters can say what they want to say. Jammeh himself knows that the revelations at the TRRC will not go unanswered.

Your deputy in the NRP has thrown many broad sides at you…

[Cuts in] Oh! Yes, Musa. Anyway, I am waiting for him at the congress, let him come. We are waiting for him. Let him come and convince people there.

He has said that…

[Cuts in] Mr Manneh, let me tell you, the meaning of politics is the art of what is possible. Go to any encyclopedia. Today, our alliance with Barrow has brought us development in our area, something we never dreamt of. You have seen the roads in in Sabach Sanjal, Lower Saloum, Upper Saloum, Nianija, Niani, Niamina and many other places where we now have strong bases. Today, you think if we had not cooperated with Barrow that would be easy for us to get? We are getting something in return for our support for the president for our people. Health centres are being built, water supply is on, things are moving for our people. Who am I to stop that? To throw it away because of personal interest? Because you were an ambassador, you had issues and you got sacked, you have a problem and you want to bring that anger to us.

So you think he is on a vendetta?

Of course. I know what happened. I know why [he got sacked]. I have the evidence.

What did he do?

No, no, no. I don’t want to really get involved in his personal issues. I don’t want to destroy him. I am not out to destroy him.

Among many things, he accused you of selling your party to President Barrow, have you?

No. that’s not true. That’s an absolute lie. In fact, my party is supporting our people throughout the country. we can never sell this party.

The man said you are following Barrow to advance your personal interest, are you?

I have no interest following Barrow other than [advancing the] national interest. And that national interest supersedes my individual interest. I have more troubles being a minister today than when I was a free man. Nobody was asking me where I got what I got? I was one of the first Gambians to drive an R30 in this country. One of the first Gambians who drove Mercedes Benz SCL 12 cylinder bulletproof. I was one of the first Gambians to drive Pajero 6 cylinder petrol vehicle. Today, nobody talks about that. I was running a hotel. Nobody talks about that. I have houses as far back as in 2003, nobody talks about that. Today, for any small thing, it is Hamat Bah, Hamat Bah! They want trouble for me, but I am happy that I am serving my country and I am supporting Barrow for the national good. And he knows that.

The PPP has said that it will not put up a candidate to contest in the December polls, will NRP contest?

Oh, absolutely no. We are supporting Adama Barrow. We’ve made this known since 2017.

Was this a personal decision or was…?

[Cuts in] Oh, at the congress in Soma we agreed. And we are going to reiterate that in our next congress.

Tourism is in crisis as Covid-19 persists, what are your plans for post-covid?

I cannot tell you all that. Post Covid will never come.

Why not?

I don’t know but Covid will always be here. Covid will never go. At what level I don’t know but Covid will always be here as malaria is, as meningitis and any other disease. Covid will remain here for a long time to come. Yes. We predicted this long time ago and that’s why in a speech I delivered in Casamance in 2019, I talked about the need for West Africa and Africa generally and The Gambia and Senegal to talk about domestic and regional tourism because our international tourist market may have trouble and when that trouble comes we are not prepared, we will sink. And that is why that year, we decided, as a government, to start the project of building hotels, lodges up country so that people in the sub-region and Gambians can be tourist in their own country. And it’s succeeding very well. We are now trying to see how we can support other Gambians to form some tour companies and organise bus trips for Gambians, families, boyfriends and girlfriends on weekends and make a decent living for themselves. So, our agenda is working.

What are your thoughts on the Ecomig extension mission in Gambia?

It’s good. I wish they support us until we finish our security reform programmes. The programme is on, and Gambians should be patient until we finish all these programmes… If you are telling me now, Ecomig has to get an extension, you are wrong, parliament never brought Ecomig here. Again, you are telling me Ecomig extension is illegal. Did parliament bring Ecomig here? So, who are you to tell me that it’s illegal? Where is your basis? You see, its good to be an activist and speak, but speak things that are carrying sense; issues that would educate people.

Thank you Minister Bah for your time.

You are welcome

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