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Saturday, May 18, 2024

Lamin Kaba Bajo : President, Gambia Football Federation

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With Alagie Manneh

In this edition of Bantaba, anchor Alagie Manneh talks to the head of Gambia Football Federation, Lamin Kaba Bajo, on his life, “the beautiful game” and related matters.

The Standard: You reportedly have an interesting nomadic childhood. Born in Kiang of Baddibu parents who settled in Brikama. Who is Lamin Kaba Bajo?

I was born in Kiang Kolior.  My dad was a trader, but my parents later moved to Brikama. I couldn’t remember any bit of my childhood in Kiang, all I can remember is my childhood in Brikama. It was in Brikama in 1972, that I started my primary school. Prior to that, my dad insisted that I went to the karantaa. For them, that’s the priority. Thus, my enrolment in primary school was delayed for two years. I was doing both karantaa and Western education. I sat for the Common Entrance Examination in 1978 and proceeded to Muslim High School where I did the GCE Ordinary Level in 1983. In April 1984, I enlisted in the Gambia National Gendarmerie. I rose through the ranks until I was commissioned as a cadet officer in 1987. In January 1994, I was promoted to the rank of captain. I did my gendarmerie officers training in Morocco in 1992-93. I came back mid-1993, and in 1994, there was a takeover. Prior to that takeover, I served in various positions in the gendarmerie. I was posted to the admin office at the gendarmerie headquarters as a chief clerk. I was later appointed as a deputy commander of the mobile gendarmerie, then as commander of the military police. In 1990, I was posted to the State House as part of the presidential guards. I was the third in command and a year later number two, and eventually in January 1994, when I returned from my course in Morocco, I was promoted captain and appointed commander of the National Guards. At the time of the coup in 1994, I was the commander of the presidential guards, and I accompanied former president Jawara to Senegal. After one week, I returned home. After a few weeks, I was appointed commissioner of Western Division. In late February, 1995, I was appointed minister for the interior. After two years, I was moved and appointed minister of youths and sport; after a year, minister of local government and lands; after two years I was appointed ambassador to Saudi Arabia and served there for almost three years. I was recalled and served as foreign minister for a year. In 2006/7, I became the first ambassador to Iran. From there, I went to Qatar, and served for not more than nine months. I was later appointed minster of fisheries and water resources in 2010 and in 2012, I was appointed ambassador to Morocco where I stayed until 2014. After my service was terminated, I returned to The Gambia until I was approached to vie for the position of president of Gambia Football Federation. I served a four-year term, and in a couple of months I will be seeking re-election. I am married with kids, boys and girls.

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Your professional training and work was in the military. Given the controversial legacy of the junta, do you have any regrets about your association with the system that brought about the 1994 coup?

By and large, I have no regrets because I worked for my country. Yes, there were controversies and regrettable actions taken during the period, but I felt serving the country at the time wasn’t bad. I regretted some of the actions that happened. With hindsight, I think we could have done better, but I had no regrets about serving. Many people will be watching or reading this. A lot of evidences are around of some of our personal interventions in alleviating certain circumstances. I regret and condemn anything that was against the rule of law – anything that went against this country. I will not hesitate to say that we are sorry, personally, I am very sorry.

You have served in various positions in government, from military to ministerial. You were very close to the fire, yet it appeared you were not burnt despite working with Jammeh for so long?

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For me and some of my colleagues, we anticipated accountability some day, and the biggest one in the hereafter. I couldn’t stop certain things. I think it was because of my relationship with Jammeh. We entered the gendarmerie at the same time and we are very close in terms of personal interaction and have that respect and trust for each other. Maybe that’s why he got me closer to him. My position has been very clear. I don’t do anything that is out of the… despite the temptations and all that. Despite being youthful, exuberant and all that. I have always known that a day will come when I will have to account for my actions, either here or the hereafter. It is evident in the two commissions – the Janneh and the TRRC. A lot of things came out. We [Jammeh and I] were close, at the same time distanced.

You are the president of the GFF. You came into the job as a novice, but went on to succeed where many have failed, administering the country into its maiden Afcon appearance. What do you would you ascribe your success to?

Maybe the word novice is not appropriate. Every young man in this country, played football at one point or another. I have also contributed to setting up a football team. I have also been a youths and sport minister for more than a year. That must have given me a lot of ideas. I have interacted with seasoned football administrators like OB Conateh, Gabbie Sosseh, Abou Dandeh Njie and George Gomez. I have never had a break from football. The other thing we all have to appreciate now is that to run football, you don’t have to be a superstar. This is a business. It’s more like a cooperation. All what you need are people who can manage. The most successful leaders in running football, especially around Africa, have not been football players. Now football is run as a business. I have very capable lieutenants around me. My team are very competent. Most of them have been involved in football for many years in this country. That together with the vison and strategies we set for ourselves got us to be where we are today.

What are your other successes since taking helm of GFF?

The successes are numerous. The number of teams in the national league has increased substantially. And the league has became more competitive. We are producing a lot of talents that are being sought after all over the world because the quality is good. The standard of the league has improved. The clubs are being supported. Before, clubs struggle for registration fees but we have since abolished that to make it easier. We know how tedious it is to finance clubs without sponsorship in this country. We have increased our support to clubs by way of preparatory money before the league starts. This has helped a lot and encouraged a lot of clubs to come on board. Decentralisation is another important success. We furnished regional football offices and equipped them with computers, furniture and solar systems. Admin and finance officers have been appointed on full time bases. Equally, we have regional coaches. And now, all regions are playing regular regional leagues classified as divisions. We also have the provincial regions participating in the national league. Now, national league matches are being played all the way in Jarra Soma. This has enabled the Greater Banjul teams to go into the interior and play there. we are hoping to expand it so that we are able to play as far as Basse. If you look at the international level, we will soon be participating in both the Caf and Fifa competitions. Our recent performance secured us for the first time inclusion on Fifa ranking. We have even started exporting women professionals. We have also put a lot of focus on capacity building. We were caricatured and many people criticised our rebranding initiatives. We knew it was not going to be easy. The fans don’t have time. They don’t have the patience. All they want are results. But that’s what we were working towards and that is why we empowered the secretariat and today we have a lot of university graduates here. At the technical side, a lot of former players are here. The technical director, Mr Sang Dong, is no stranger to Gambian football, and supported by Alagie Nyassi, Sainey Sissoho. These were all national team players. Gambian football has never been where it is now.

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