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Wednesday, May 22, 2024
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Hon. Omar ‘Jatto’ Jammeh, NAM for Jangjangbureh

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With Alagie Manneh

The Standard: You are born Omar Jammeh, where did you get the nom de guerre ‘Jatto’?

The name Jatto emerged from Jattaseila. I was named after the late king of Baddibu, Mama Tamba’s father, Jattaseila. Whilst my dad was posted in Jangjangbureh as a civil servant way back in the early 80s, he gave me the name Jattaseila. But pronouncing the name becomes a problem for the people in Jangjangbureh, so they cut it short to call me Jatta. The name stuck, and has since become a household name in Jangjangbureh and now the country at large.

You are a well-known politician now as one of the youngest members of the sixth legislature. But very few people knew you before politics. Can you talk about your early childhood in Jangjangbureh?

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I was born in Jangjangbureh in 1983. It was there that I started my early childhood education and went through the primary school system. After that, I moved to the Greater Banjul Area to do my junior secondary school education, and after three years, I returned to Jangjangbureh to pursue my senior secondary education at Armitage Senior Secondary School. After my graduation, I went further to pursue professional studies in tourism management at IPAM.

You are a youth worker, why did you study tourism and hospitality?

To be honest with you, before I even joined the youth fraternity, I was more into tourism. One of the reasons why I was motivated to align it with youth development was that the issue of young people was not that spoken at national levels. I was inspired to join a youth movement called Jangjangbureh Youth Future Concern Association. When we formed the JYFCA, I was elected into one of the executive positions. Whilst working there, I was also opportune to be introduced to a charity organisation called Paper Recycling Skills Project, which is more of an environmental association. As I was serving the Paper Recycling Skills Project, it occurred to me that I kind of need to develop my career, and that encourages me to go back to school. I pursued a higher national diploma with the Institute of Travel and Tourism. After two years of my course, I decided to go back to Jangjangbureh to participate in the development of young people.    

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What got you into politics, and how?      

I thought the young people of my constituency were not being represented. As such, my interest in politics started way back in 2017 when I contested and lost horribly. I went back to the drawing board. In 2021/22, I vied for the position again. Fortunately, I was elected to represent the people of Jangjangbureh. This was how I came into politics.

Why didn’t you join any other party, instead of going solo, when you decided to enter politics?

My experience in 2017 prevented me from joining any other political party, except otherwise the NPP, not because I was a member of the NPP but the electorates of Jangjangbureh Island advised for me to vie for NPP ticket. I went for their primaries. I lost. When I lost, most of my team members were discouraged because they thought I could only win on an NPP ticket. My sincere advice to them was that look, this is one of the greatest opportunities that God has so far given us. All we needed to do was to go back to the drawing board and discuss amongst ourselves. After analysing the political cycle of the Island, we agreed that I should come out and contest as an independent without any party affiliation.

You earned a reputation as a distinctive and effective youth worker. You were even voted into the National Assembly on the basis of your youth agenda. Now that you are in parliament, how do you intend to prioritise that agenda?

As far as the parliament and the chamber is concerned, we have three key functions; oversight, legislation and representation. And as a rep, I believe anything that I would view for would be the interest of the young people without any compromise. As regards to legislation, I am always ready to champion legislative documents that would help to address the issues of young people. Like for example the Youth Act, which is under review, I have contributed a lot to that process. I might be above the youth bracket, but I still see myself as a young person, therefore, I cannot compromise when it comes to these issues in any way.

Rural urban migration comes with a lot of bad effects. What have been the consequences for the rural people and what should be done to arrest it?

Drift has serious consequences on the lives and livelihoods of rural people. If you go to our communities, mostly, those that you will see are the elderly and children. When calamity comes, and you need that workforce, there is no young people. You cannot stay in rural communities without outing food on the table and expect to have that respect from society. These are some of the effects that we are faced with. The best way to address the situation is to go back to the politics. We must look at these policies to ensure that they address our current issues because these are documents that are subjected to amendments as time changes. if we think policy A is not addressing challenge B, why should we stick to it? The government should work to straightening their decentralisaiton policy and also create employment for young people. We have a whole River Gambia that runs through our communities. It is still untapped. Why can’t we exploit the potentials and turn those potentials into productive industries? This is one of the factors leading to rural-urban drift.

The NPP rejected you to be their flagbearer in the just concluded National Assembly elections. In the first place, why did you gravitate towards the NPP, instead of other parties like the PDOIS or UDP?

I was not working alone at the time. I was doing consultations with respective stakeholders at grassroots. I was told that the constituency wouldn’t like to go against the ruling government. You know, those local norms and concepts were people think if you don’t come on a ruling party ticket, then the government might not consider your area. I can tell you, even my NPP application, was not written by myself. I wouldn’t like to name names. When I was approached, I was reluctant to apply with the NPP.

Why were you reluctant?

My reasons were, I wasn’t really convinced with the leadership, if I have to be honest. This is about The Gambia; it’s not about Omar. This is why when even the people of Jangjangbureh thought I should apply with the NPP, I was like okay I am no more myself, I am a politician, I will agree to your proposals. My application was done and submitted by somebody within the community. That is why when I lost, it was easy for me to come out with a decision. My decision was look, my brothers, we don’t have a level playing political field as we speak, and I think this is a time when we can vie for an independent ticket. To be honest, in all my life, I was never affiliated to any political party. This is why I was victimised by the NPP. They said I never participated in their activities. I was always careful with party affiliations.

You vowed to remain independent, but the NPP has said that it will try to lure independent politicians like yourself. Will you consider joining the Barrow bus?

I think Barrow, sorry to say this, doesn’t even need a bus now. The road he is plying seems not to be helping him. I would advise him to turn to be a cruise captain, maybe with the river, it might be easier for him to cruise and find an easier way. I don’t think I would join his bus. Not even if he should come with a cruise ship. My conscience is very clear. Understanding the political trend and analysing how votes were canvassed in that constituency, I was not only elected by a single political party; I was elected by all parties that exist on that island. I want to maintain that integrity and respect for the electorates. Its not about Omar as an individual. Its about my people. If I got to NPP today, how would PDOIS, APRC, and UDP see me? And they have all forgotten their parties during the elections to vote for me on the basis that I could be a genuine representative. If I shift allegiance, I would be compromising my integrity and disrespecting the diverse electorate of the Jangjangbureh constituency. So, it’s a no-go area for me.

The enthusiasm and hope that greeted Barrow’s ascension to power have all faded now. What happened?

This is why I said Barrow being the bus drive should disembark from that bus and maybe vie for a cruise ship. After 2016, we were all in celebratory mood because we thought it was time for change. But that change never came. For me, I don’t see anything that is working in this country, and this is why many a time I refer to the governance system as a failed system in totality. Nothing is working in this country. People are hungry. And some of the reform agendas we brought forward are not respected. The Janneh Commission report is carrying dust somewhere. The draft constitution was thrown out. But I believe with the young energetic parliamentarians in the sixth legislature, we will not let it rest. The minority caucus seems very firm, and seems not to look into political affiliation. We face the realities of this country. We think that to salvage this country is by getting a friendly, usable constitution to guide the affairs of this country.

The pressure group, Coalition of Progressive Gambians are busy organising its massive civic action. What are your views on the CoPG and how should the government handle the whole matter?

I know the chairman. I used to work with him in the tourism industry. I have so much respect for him, and learned a lot from him during my time in the tourism industry. For me, I believe if I have an anger in me, and you don’t give me the platform to voice what my feelings are, you are causing more problems. Having said that, I think the government should be open to the group and give them the requisite security they need to assemble peacefully to speak their minds. We can’t be that kind of a country. If we are to be democratic, we need to be democratic, and being democratic means, we must be open to all forms of criticism. It should just be when someone is out there to praise sing the government, we kind of showcase those people. For me, I would advise the government, the Ministry of Interior and the IGP’s office to give this particular group the go-ahead to demonstrate peacefully. They are Gambians. They have right to freedom of assembly. Why is the government running away from such? One of the issues the CoPG was talking about was the ongoing corruption in this country, and I think that is genuine. I also think that is one way of helping the Barrow government to understand the feelings of the people. These are our electorate. We all elected the president into office, so, if we see things not going right, who are we to stay back and not to speak out. They have every right to speak? Therefore, I urge the government to clear the way for them.

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