Ismaila Kanteh: The success story of the NAM that never was

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By Lamin Cham

Little known Ismaila Kanteh contested the Kiang West seat in last year’s National Assembly elections as an independent candidate and woefully lost to Lamin Ceesay of the United Democratic Party, UDP.

Kanteh secured only 627 votes against UDP’s Ceesay, who got 3669 votes and Lamin Drammeh of NPP, who scored 1, 610 votes.

Because of his proximity to NPP, many observers suspected Kanteh was planted by the party to split the ever-strong opposition votes in the area.

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But the diminutive man said he meant every word of his desire to represent and develop the constituency and if no one took his word for it, his actions will tell.

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Soon after the dust settled from celebrations and heartbreaking reactions of the election, Kanteh returned to the villages he toured during the campaign and while some rushed to commiserate with him on the election results, he jubilantly told them to forget the election as just an exercise to elect a representative to the National Assembly and that he has returned to reassess the challenges they face to provide assistance as promised during the campaign.

“I have a long list of project requests that could transform the lives of the people but I cross-checked it with my realities, resource mobilisation capacity and logistics and picked some priority areas,” Kanteh told The Standard.

Within months, Mr Kanteh returned with a truck load of solar powered street lights (and like the much – talked about and probably nonexistent aborted airport project in the area in the 1970s) groups of villagers sprang to action digging up holes in streets to install brilliantly shining solar lamps on wooden poles, illuminating the night for the first time across seven villages. They include Kemoto, Jula Kunda, Taborankoto, Missira, Manduwar, Kuyang, Brikamanding, Sandeng, Batelling, Jali among others.

“The street lights proved to be a much-appreciated present for the people as it sort of changed the landscape of their communities, improve security and promote social, cultural and religious events at night. Generally, people feel great whenever night falls. I hope the Baddibunkas are not reading this but actually some said they cannot recognise their villages,” Kanteh said.

The Independent Candidate as Kanteh is called in most part of the area, also added boreholes to his next priority list and soon 10 villages were fitted with boreholes that pumped cleaner and safe drinking water. “Some of the villages are lucky to have both a borehole and streetlights. Altogether, a total of 17 villages get either solar light or boreholes, in some cases both,” one member of Kanteh’s team confirmed to The Standard on the ground.  He said the boreholes bring not just clean water, but a lot more convenient and less straining method of drawing water. “They just turn on the tap, instead of the age-old pulling of ropes and pots. Taps may be common place in most parts of the country but they are innovations in other parts of the country including the areas under our coverage,” a borehole installation expert working on the project said.

Transportation

One of the most challenging in the daily life of people in Kiang West is transportation.  Deprived of a basic motorable road, even simple travelling by car requires planning because there are simply not many plying the pothole- ridden path linking the rest of the villages to the South Bank Highway. The situation is worse during the rains. The fundamental issue about the transportation is of course the lack of road, and I must thank the government for starting construction of the road, but as an immediate remedy, I have decided to provide four buses, which will only be used to transport people from the area to Kombo and back,” Kanteh revealed.

The 48-seater buses will be stationed in Brikama and Kiang with two services each day (8am and 3pm) from both directions.

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Kanteh said these vehicles would open up businesses and connect the area more easily and faster to Kombo and neighboring Foñi. 

These interventions from an unlikely source have attracted admiration and kind comments from people across the country. Popular Gambian affairs online portal Whats On Gambia, quoting a community member of Kiang West reported: ”Although he did not win, but Hon. Kanteh is fulfilling most of his campaign promises. Less than one month after the elections, he went back to his constituency to bring them development projects. This is very rare in Gambian politics. Hon. Kanteh is not only a patriot, but also a philanthropist.

His dedication to work and service to his homeland is admirable. Hon. Kandeh donated solar streets lights to Kemoto, Jula Kunda, Taborankoto, Missira, Manduar, Kuyang, Brikamanding, Sandeng, Bateling, Jally, Jammeh Kunda, Mandina and other villages in Kiang.”. He also gave commercial vehicles to some communities to use and create employment for their youngsters”.