With Alagie Manneh
Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?
KK Barrow: I was born and brought up in Kombo Gunjur. I attended Gunjur Primary School and went to secondary school and then Gambia College. It used to be Yundum College up till 1980. I worked in various sectors in the country including the Ministry of Agriculture, where I worked for seven years. From there, I started development work in the country in 1988. From 1988 to 2017, I was with the NGOs. I headed an NGO in Gunjur for 7 years and served on the board of directors of Tango, and then appointed as program officer at Tango in 2002 to 2017 when I came to parliament.
What are some of your accomplishments since you became member of parliament for Kombo South and Majority Leader?
Parliamentarians have three core responsibilities: legislation, representation, and oversight. As people’s rep, when I came into office in 2017, one of the key things that I did was to get the people of Kombo south to know who I am as their representative, who they are, my role, their role and to act as their representative by looking at some of the key issues that will help uplift their lives. We do not provide programs or projects; we work with partners, advocate on behalf of our members. And, one of the key developments that I have done or lobbied and implemented in the country was to ensure that the educational structures in Kombo south are improved. I am very grateful to Gambia Holland –MRC Foundation for putting up a lot of structures. Kombo South has immensely benefitted since about eleven schools have been supported, and they are still continuing to support. So that’s a clear area of me providing better education for the younger generation of this country. Also, on health, health facilities have been improved and number of staff increased. I have worked with young people of the area and I think for the first time in the history of football in The Gambia, I am the first MP to give out, for a start, D115000 to young people to develop sports. So, those are issues that I have done with young people. As a youth leader for West Coast Region for ten years, I have done a lot of development programmes to promote education and ensure young people are provided job opportunities… As a development worker, at Tango for 17 years, we have initiated a lot of development activities…
And why do you think you deserve another term in office?
The office of the Majority Leader is created to serve the majority in the National Assembly, and that selection is done at the level of the party and communicated to the clerk. My party put in my name as the Majority Leader and that a unanimous decision on the floor of the parliament, so nobody contested me for the position of Majority Leader. But the position of Minority Leader was contested between the current minority leader and an APRC candidate.
But why do you think you deserve another chance come 2021?
Ahh, as I said, these are some of the basic things that I have said; improving the livelihood of the young people and also the vulnerable members of the community, and improving educational programs, and ensuring health matters. Those are key social sectors I have done. My interaction with young people, and also the women, vegetable growers, fish, processing, marketing and all those areas and working with communities supporting livelihood programmes, those speak for themselves. And then it goes way in ensuring that that’s what the people put me in for. That’s why I scored one of the highest registered votes for a Parliamentary member in the history of The Gambia – 10,022 votes. I have brought a lot of programmes, not only in Kombo South but across the country.
You are from Kombo South which has been the epicentre of major environmental devastation with the invasion of Chinese fishmeal factories, what is your take on this?
You know, the issue of the Chinese fishmeal has been overblown, and it was not strategically done and people were doing things on their own way without consultation. The history of the Chinese fishmeal factory is way back in 2015 when we did not even have the current government in place. They were given license to operate and they have been operating in Kombo South for 22 years before the elections. So, if they are there, and you are environmentalists, you did not follow up and say what you are doing is wrong and we want to correct the issues. You wait until the eleventh hour when operations are in place, people are employed, women are working, they are earning their living and you said that you want to make a decision to close that. It doesn’t work that way. It is a tripartite issue; the department of fisheries is involved, National Environment Agency is involved, and the government of the Gambia that gave license for the operationalisation of the project is also involved. So, if you have an issue, I think what you need to do is, to contact the management at that fish meal and take it from there. But you cannot climb the tree from the top. They cannot prove [these allegations of pollution]. They have been challenged by the PS of the fisheries ministry to give scientific data that it is the fishmeal that is polluting the area. You need to be able to do things in a more strategic way, and ensure what you are doing is the right thing. So, you cannot impose yourself on people. But I have seen now, that they have gone back to the drawing board.
But what have you done to soothe the concerns of your people?
I am saying to you, those concerns are not the concerns of the majority of my people. You go to that fishing village and the women would tell you they are earning D500, D700, D1000. The men scaling the fish from the boats would tell you they are earning D3000 a day. So, those concerns are not scientifically proven. And, all the catches that they are saying are being done by the fishmeal, the permanent secretary has said it over and over, some people were attacked and they said ‘no, no, it was a mistake these catches were made in Senegal, Casamance’. But why do you have to associate that with Gunjur?
They said your deafening silence over the issue is because of Alagie Conteh, a close friend who brought the Chinese to Gunjur. Don’t you feel conflicted by that relationship?
The fishmeal is improving the lives of the people. They have not been affected. Up to date, I have not been to that fishmeal, because I have no business there. I am a decent person and the people are telling me they want it to remain there because it is improving their livelihoods. Alagie has his own profession. He is one of the most efficient electrical engineers in this country. That doesn’t mean that he is operating and marginalizing the people or involved in the operations of the company, he is not. He only helped them set up the company. He is not even a partner. That has nothing to do with my relationship with Alagie. Those are the critics saying that but I don’t involve myself in those issues.
Whose side are you on, Alagie Conteh’s or the people’s?
How can I be on Alagie Conteh’s? I am serving the people of Kombo South. I was the first MP who went out to communities with over 30 buckets and sanitisers. I have promoted the health and livelihoods of my people. All those critics shouting, they have not even contributed in my development but I can bet that I have contributed to their education. We have constructed schools, classroom blocks in schools where they all passed through. I have even contributed to some of them traveling to Europe. So, what are they shouting and accusing me of serving one person?
Your constituency is also a hotbed for land conflicts, at times, deadly confrontations between communities, forcing police to take to their heels. Why has land become such a lethal issue in your area?
Land management administration in this country has been flawed by the former regime, and people have not been given… you cannot come to a community without staying for 10 or even 15 years and want to claim ownership of land. It’s not done. If it’s not given to you, and you did not buy and because you are allowed to do farming on it for some two three years and now want to claim ownership. It doesn’t work that way. The notion that nobody owns land is not true.
Land Commission chair Raymond Sock said his commission has become a “toothless bulldog” as government is yet to act on rulings made by it. Do you think the Barrow administration is serious in stemming some of these seemingly pig-headed land problems?
[The Barrow government’s inaction] should not surprise anybody. If Janneh Commission can be set aside, a small commission like the Land Commission, how serious do you think the government would be in that? Where we spent millions of dalasi, you came with your so-called white paper to say that some people are going to be excluded. The Land Commission will be toothless because they do not even have a proper office outlet to do their work.
There has been a seismic shape in the political arena with Barrow breaking away from UDP, forming his own party, and as yet, you haven’t made any public announcement on where your allegiances lie. Between Barrow and Darboe, who are you tying your political fate to?
I am not tied up to anybody. I have my principles, and I belong to a party. I belong to the UDP. I contested the 1996 elections when Barrow was not even… I am ten years ahead of him in politics. I am UDP and nobody can sway me to join an individual.
You and Barrow used to be buddies and would even spend nights in your home, doesn’t that history mean anything to you?
That was when the campaign trail was going, but when he switches, I told him I cannot support him. I told him I will continue to be UDP.
With the power of incumbency and all the political alliances Barrow is putting together with an eye on 2021, are you confident of a UDP triumph at the polls?
Politics is all about numbers, and if Barrow thinks that the 200,000 votes that he scored came from him, he’s just fooling himself. Seventy percent of the votes that were cast for Barrow in 2016 came from UDP. Let him not fool himself. Barrow couldn’t win in his own village. Where is he going to win in this country? Those people around him are misleading him.
So you also believe that Barrow does not have good advisers?
He doesn’t… how can you have people around who do not even know how to operate a home, much more a nation. Those are the people messing up, but they will pay the price.
The failure of the draft means catastrophic consequences for UDP, as Majority Leader what efforts did you make to secure the success of the draft at the National Assembly?
My effort was that all my people have voted. Also, some members of the other parties have seen that this draft… but what is important here is that Gambian people and the diaspora supported this constitution. It was very consultative. And that is why, despite the setback, this draft is going to pass. If it doesn’t pass, well, democracy is in trouble. Our stance is, this constitution has to come back and if even a dot is changed, we are going to reject it.
Barrow’s people said they hope to reintroduce the draft with honest Gambians to lead the process, do you have any doubt about the integrity of Justice Jallow and co?
You cannot have the likes of Justice Jallow, Awa Sisay Sabally, Lamin Camara and so on. Those people including the secretary general of the CRC are people of substance. Most of those who voted against the draft did not read its content but because the ministers told them to do so. They told them these are the sections that we rejected [at Cabinet level] and these members also decided to reject the draft. That’s the irony and sad thing about this country.
Why did you ask Mambury Njie to resign?
They are used to the old ways of Jammeh regime, so they could sit in their offices and apportion the budget as they wish. We said that is unconstitutional and in contempt of the National Assembly. If you have such a person at the helm, who has no financial discipline, it’s going to bring a lot of chaos in this country.
You have been a subject of heavy criticism on Gunjur Online who said you have become unpopular amid all the issues of Kombo South, do you feel confident that you still have your people’s support come 2022?
Who are those on the Gunjur Online? Who are they? Have they participated in the election? They have not participated in my election, so they have nothing to say as far as my politics is concerned. Don’t mind those people. Those critics, let them come down to Gunjur and participate. They cannot sit there and decide for the people.
What is your relationship with the Speaker and the renegade MPs who left the UDP to be sympathisers of Barrow?
That’s their way. That’s their political feeling but without UDP, most of those people will never be called National Assembly Members.
Do you share the belief, like a lot of other Gambians, that the defeat of the draft constitution was a grand scheme hatched by State House, and solidified by Barrow’s refusal to declare publicly and loudly his support for the document?
Oh, it was masterminded from State House, from the president right down to the Cabinet ministers and all the so-called advisers. It is. They did not hide that from anybody. They are saying it, that this constitution does not favor Barrow. This constitution is not here to favor Barrow. What we fought to bring this constitution is to end self-perpetuation in power. If they have given the notion to that man that he is going to serve 15 years in power, that’s why they are fighting, they cannot do that. No one will serve more than two-terms.