Speaking exclusively to The Standard on the country’s Golden Jubilee, Mr Bah added that the former president was democratic to a fault.
He said: “Jawara was a very organised and systematic person, although he had weaknesses when it comes to swift implementation of decisions. He does not believe what most of us say: ‘when a democratic decision is taken, you have to be dictatorial at implementing it’. He is a leader we should remember for many years to come. I have no doubt that Jawara would have moved The Gambia beyond its current state had he been given the opportunity to continue his leadership.”
Jawara ruled The Gambia for more than thirty years before he was overthrown in 1994, and Hamat Bah agreed with the accusation that the former president presided over a corrupt government.
“At the end of the Jawara regime,” he said, “corruption was widespread, though not deeply rooted. Jawara was partly responsible for this because he was the president. But I will say, without doubt, that Jawara as a president was the least corrupt leader in Africa.
“I have heard of instances where Jawara demonstrated high leadership qualities. I was told that Jawara’s watch was at one time spoiled and they wanted to buy a watch for him from state funds, but he said ‘you cannot buy a watch for me from state funds. I have to use my own money to buy a watch’. Jawara also boarded state flights to go on state missions and someone told me that he saw Jawara been given ten million dollars in two briefcases, in those days, and he rejected the money outright and told them that he was not going to sell The Gambia. It was a particular country that wanted recognition. I also meet some of his wives who told me even to buy cutleries, Jawara would tell them we have to buy these from our own money. But, as a leader under the PPP party, he should have dealt with anybody who was corrupt.”
According to the opposition leader, the former government did what it could under the circumstances.
He added: “I can tell you that he was a successful leader who has helped The Gambia achieve a lot under his watch as a president. At the time Jawara was being overthrown, there was only one leader in Africa who was above him and that was the president of Zambia, Kenneth Kaunda.
”The Jawara government also tried its very best to build state institutions, particularly the civil service. They have realised that in building a nation as The Gambia was at the time of independence, one has to start with state institutions, then the issue of infrastructure comes next. And I can tell you that Jawara has built very strong institutions. The Central Bank, civil service, the parastatals and many other institutions were on good footing. It was when these institutions started to function effectively, and the Jawara government began pacing towards infrastructural development that the 1981 coup came, led by Kukoi Samba Sanyang. That coup took this country many years back; it was a disaster which brought heart wrenching consequences for this country.”
The NRP leader went on to pay tribute to The Gambia’s early politicians, who he said, were determined to get the country to independence despite a shadowy prospect for the country at birth. He, however, expressed dissatisfaction over the current state of development in the country. This, he opined, has more to do with colonial neglect than post-colonial mal governance.
Mr Bah added: “The Gambia is not where it should be. If you compare us to other African countries that have celebrated their 50 years of independence in 2010, as a good number of countries in Africa became independent in 1960, you will understand that we are lagging behind. However, if you look at it holistically, in terms of where The Gambia was as at independence, the British were not even sure if the country could survive as a nation. The British were so sceptical that they gave the then government thirty-five thousand pounds subvention to be able to run the government. We had a population of 350 thousand people at the time.
“Nevertheless, our post-independence leaders like Sir Dawda Jawara and others were so determined to see that The Gambia become independent. They were so determined that they only took that thirty-five thousand pounds (35,000) subvention once. And if we could cast our minds back, Jawara told Gambians that, ‘independence does not mean turning our peanuts to diamonds. It means working hard’. That message was much understood by many Gambians.”]]>