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Thursday, June 20, 2024

Juka Ceesay, Human rights activist, #BarrowMustGo2026 campaigner

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With Alagie Manneh

Can you tell us a little about yourself growing up in The Gambia?

I consider myself a Gambian activist. I grew up in The Gambia and completed my high schooling there. I had a very good and strong upbringing. My mom was very strict with us when it comes to education. My father also wanted us to pursue education and to be good citizens. He passed away in January, but I believe strongly that everything he instilled in me will remain all the days of my life – values, principles, speaking the truth even if it means everybody is against you, that’s what I was taught. So, that’s what guides me as an adult.

What is your personal and professional background?

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I went to Methodist Primary School, then to Muslim High School and from there I went to St Augustine’s for one semester. I attended university in US. I’m an entrepreneur, and have been for over 15 years now. At 27, I owed and operated a food market in the city of Los Angeles, California. It all changed in 2013 when I saw a gap and started importing natural organic food products into the United States. The company is called Juka’s Organic Company, and we focus on manufacturing, wholesale and a very small amount is retail. We import from over five African countries. We also manufacture and sell supplements. We supply to natural food markets that specialise in organic products. Also, we supply to African food markets across the country. We sell online, and internationally, while we also do wholesale to different countries in Europe. We are growing the company. It’s exciting. We have a skincare line coming up and it is all gonna be under the Juka’s Organic Company.

You left The Gambia and resettled in the US. What are some of your early experiences there, and did you experience racism?  

I moved to the United States at a young age. I don’t know if I would say I have experienced racism. I would say there had been two instances in my entire stay in the United States where I can perhaps look back and say these acts were done against me because of the colour of my skin. Luckily, I haven’t been exposed to racism as much. I’m not sure if it has something to do with the city that I choose to reside. In Los Angeles, where I live now, is a very diverse city. So, I haven’t experienced racism that much. Just those two instances.

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You are seen as a successful entrepreneur. Can you take us through your journey and what was your motivation?

That is kind of you to say, and I appreciate the comment. But if you ask me, I believe I still have a long way to go. My ambition and my vision are large and it’s always been like that since when I was a young girl. My passion I think comes from wanting to be great in everything I do in life, but also to serve a health-conscious community in the United States by giving them products they value. But I also give back to Africa by helping to be part of this global economy and move and export products from Africa to here. That’s the passion that keeps me going. And I think am grateful for it…

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. You are one of the people behind the #BarrowMustGo 2026 campaign. Can you tell us the genesis of the movement, and why you think Barrow should go?

The reason for BarrowMustGo2026 campaign is that we believe, after ten years – because by 2026 he would have served ten years – he has to go and allow another president to take turn. This was the same reason why we got rid of Jammeh for over staying. And Never Again, I truly believe, should include not only brutality, but also impunity, and term limit. People overstaying and being there for longer than ten years. We are in 2023. It’s only African countries that are still stuck with no term limit. And I say stuck for a reason. Because if you do not have term limit in a democracy, it gives way for uprising to happen, for a coup d’état to happen, and for a dictatorship to happen. So, if we want to evolve as a country, and if we want greatness to happen in that country, we must adopt term limit in our constitution. Although we know that President Barrow had everything to do with the defeat of the draft constitution which was rejected by the National Assembly. I’m sure if he had wanted for it to pass it will pass, but he lobbied for it to be rejected and that’s what happened. So, we are saying even if he wants to run in 2026, we will do everything we democratically can to make sure he doesn’t win. Another reason is that he is unable to govern the country. He said it when he first took that seat. He first promised three years. Granted, things happened. He betrayed every single person he went into coalition with. That should’ve been enough for Gambians to not vote for Barrow again. However, we gave him a second chance, but he is unable to deliver. And this time around he cannot give any excuses why he’s unable to deliver. He cannot say that he had a “Mbahal Cabinet”, or he had other opposition parties in his Cabinet. He can no longer give those excuses and he needs to deliver for the next five years, but the trend that we are seeing right now, he is not delivering anything. Just a bunch of promises while a lot of alleged corruption is going on in that country. Look at the roads in the country. The whole country is a mess. Poverty is higher than ever; the education system is failing the young people miserably; prices of goods and services are increasing and getting higher and higher. So, Barrow must go and I hope every Gambian do whatever we can do collectively to make sure he goes in 2026.

Who are some of the other prominent people behind the movement?

I’ve always worked with Aunty Tukulor Sey, and am sure you know her, and a lot of people know her, too. She was very instrumental in GDF, which was the organisation that raised over 100,000 dollars within a month during the Coalition to get rid of Jammeh, and for Barrow to come in. Tukulor Sey was part of those people in that orgnisation, and I was grateful to have worked with her and a lot of other fine Gambians. So, it feels really good to turn around and see her in this project, or in this campaign. There are other Gambians of course that we’ve worked with in the past that are also part of this movement. It’s unfolding, and we will see where it goes. But yeah, I can proudly and happily say Aunty Tukulor Sey is part of it.

How do you think Barrow should go? Should he resign?

Of course, through a democratic process. Anything we talk about is gonna be democratic. The opposition should come together, and we all rally behind them, get our acts together, and find a flagbearer and get Barrow out just like we got Jammeh out. It’s very simple. If we can do it to Jammeh, who was there way longer, we can certainly be able to do it and get rid of President Barrow. And anybody else who comes into the presidential seat and wants to impose himself on us Gambians, we should always find the courage and the common ground to get together and get rid of such person. Otherwise, it is going to hinder the development of the country. Yes, he should’ve resigned after the end of his first three years. That was the promise that he made to The Gambian people. Legally it was allowed for him to stay because that’s what was in our constitution, but morally, it was wrong for him to stay because he gave a promise to all of his voters, members of the coalition and every single Gambian. But Barrow broke his promise to us. So, yes, he should resign. He does not know how to lead, and he certainly is showing us that every day that he doesn’t know what he’s doing.

But he doesn’t have any constitutional obligation to leave. What is the legitimacy of your argument? 

You are right according to the constution he doesn’t have to leave, but this was one of his campaign promises when he was running under the Coalition flag. Not only did he promise three years, he also promised a lot of changes especially in regard to the constitution. So, morally, he has an obligation to fulfill. We are not provoking him, we are just reminding him of why the diasporans raised over 100,000 dollars and sent it to the coalition for his candidacy, and why hundreds of thousands got up and went and vote, and why many Gambians lost their lives along the way. So, we are simply just reminding him in case he forgot, but we know he didn’t forget… 

You are domiciled in the US. Will you come down to participate in the movement’s activities when the time comes?

When the time comes, anything and everything that I can possibly do to enhance the democratic process, I will. If that includes coming down for Barrow to leave, then I will. I’ve done it with Jammeh even though I did not come down at the time. But I did everything that I could possibly do, and I will do the same thing again when the time comes with Barrow if he does not decide to leave on his own.

Can you tell us about the progress in the fight for justice for your slain brother, Alagie Mamut Ceesay and his friend Ebou Jobe who were killed by Jammeh’s collaborators as per the TRRC revelations?

First, I would like to say that our hearts and prayers are always with them and that they will forever be in our hearts. And we remember all the other victims of Jammeh as we continue to fight for the preservation and respect of the ‘Never Again’ slogan. In terms of progress, unfortunately, there’s not much to report when it comes to the government. Right now, in the US, there’s a case against Michael Correa who’s one of the accused persons in the murder of Alagie Mamut Ceesay and Ebou Jobe. That is an ongoing trial and I can’t comment too much on that. But we are hopeful that justice will be served from that angle. But then again, it is another unfortunate thing about the Barrow government, as Aunty Tukulor Sey always says. Most of us collectively as Gambians were appalled by the Jammeh regime and how brutal they were. That galvanises a lot of people across the globe to make sure that we bring in someone new in Adama Barrow. One would think one of the first things he would do especially after the TRRC revelations will be to acquire justice for every single victim of the Jammeh regime, but he did not do that. It shows all of us that he is more busy amassing wealth, and doing whatever he has to for himself and for his family. He does not care at all about the victims of Jammeh.

Do you believe justice will be served in this case as Barrow recycles and dances with the same people who helped Jammeh to kill your brother?

I don’t have any hope in the Barrow government’s ability to achieving much for The Gambia, especially in terms of development, justice for victims and their plight, or even in terms of healthcare and education. I don’t. He’s been there for seven years now, yet it is still the same old story. Why should I expect anything different only to be disappointed.  I hope he can surprise us and step up, which would be wonderfully welcomed. So, the answer is absolutely no.

They say that the brain drain of accomplished people like you is largely responsible for the challenges to Africa’s development. Do you envisage yourself coming down to serve your country?

I absolutely disagree with the notion that there’s a brain drain in Africa. I believe that there’s a lot of smart, experienced, and intellectuals in Africa who can move Africa forward. The issue is selfishness. The problem is especially the so-called intellectuals who take the majority of us for fools and for a ride, while enriching themselves under the mask of intellectualism. As a result, people often fall for it, which is really sad. It’s the selfishness syndrome that a lot of them have which is keeping Africa including The Gambia back. Some of the people surrounding Barrow are intellectuals. For them, it’s all about how they can enrich themselves and their families whilst forgetting about the masses. There are smart people out here who want to serve their country, but often times they are not welcomed in the system. Do I wanna go back home one day and do some work? I don’t know. I have to think about that. I think my calling is actually political activism. And activism can be done from anywhere in the world, as long as you have an audience and can serve the people with sincerity and commitment.

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