With Omar Wally
Lamin Waa Juwara was born in 1943 in Niamina Dankunku. He did pupilage at Dankunku and Kaur primary schools before proceeding to Armitage High School where he was elected head boy in his final year. After completing high school, he was enrolled at Yundum College to be trained as a teacher. Upon qualification, he was posted to Bansang, where he spent six months. He was transferred to Kuntair were he spent one month and got scholarship to study in Bulgaria. He got his first degree in history and masters in contemporary history with special reference to Africa at Sofia State University, Bulgaria. Waa became president of Union of African Students.
In 1972 he returned home and was posted at the Ministry of Education. He left the ministry becoming a local government officer in Brikama in 1974. He served as commissioner in all the five regions in The Gambia. In 1977 he contested and lost the parliamentary election in Sabach Sanjally as an independent candidate challenging Saikou Sabally who later became vice president.
In the 1992 parliamentary election, he contested in his native Dankunku as an independent candidate and won and served until 1994 when Jammeh took over. When party politics was lifted, Juwara joined the UDP, but when the UDP boycotted the elections he left the party. He formed his own, the National Democratic Action Movement (NDAM), and led coalition talks which led to the formation of opposition National Alliance for Democracy and Development (NADD). After the collapse of NADD, Waa abandoned NDAM and joined President Jammeh’s APRC and was appointed commissioner and later Minister of Lands and Local Government. He was dismissed, arrested and spent six months in jail. He was released by Jammeh on 25 August 2016. In this abridged re-reproduced edition of Bantaba, anchor Omar Wally first asked him:
Why do people call you ‘mbarodi’ meaning lion in Fula?
The strength of a politician is to be able to stand up fight for your rights. I think fundamentally because I stood firm, tried to protect the rights of the people. That was why they call me ‘mbarodi’.
What is your relationship with former President Jawara?
He is an uncle. Despite the fact that I have lots of respects for him, initially he suspected –be cause I studied in a communist country – that my views might differ from his own.
Where you… are you a communist?
I wasn’t and I am not a communist. I lived and saw communism being practised and I do not accept what was coming from it. I’m a democrat. If you live in a communist country, you are not likely going to be a communist.
During the Second Republic, you tried several times to be a candidate for PPP but failed, why?
Yes, despite the fact that Jawara is my uncle. I had detractors within PPP.
Who are those detractors?
I don’t want to call names.
Is it true that some people in the PPP worked to sideline you so that Jawara will not designate you his successor?
These were people for one reason or the other who thought that [because of] my relationship with Jawara, if [he] wanted to leave office, he would groom me to take over. That was their thinking but Jawara never wanted to impose anybody on the party. Jawara is a very honest man and clean politician who had accepted democracy and had love for Gambian people. I had lots of detractors. That was why I had to go and contest as an independent candidate. There were people who did not want me to come into PPP. I remember at selection time [in Dankunku] they selected somebody else, but I was the choice of people. I contested with this very man and I defeated him.
You were arrested seven times, locked up in police and prison cells all over the country. Where you tortured and by whom?
I will say Jammeh and some of his henchmen like Baba Jobe and some others that I really don’t know.
Have you forgiven Baba Jobe?
Oh yes, I have forgiven him.
How about Jammeh?
That one I will never. He was behind all these things; he staged a coup against a democratically-elected government despite serving under them at State House. And I think he was treated well like everybody else. He still wants to come back to The Gambia and rule and as long as that exists, I will never forgive him. He should know that he committed [bad] things in his country. We had lots of international help or else he would have caused a lot of havoc against Gambian people.
You opposed Jammeh’s coup, but few years down the line you joined his party and government, why?
Jammeh had his eyes on me. Remember I went to jail many times and was tortured. You can see I have a broken finger.
Who broke your right finger?
That was Baba Jobe. He was one of the dictator’s right hand men. At the time I was arrested with the imam of Brikama. When we were being taken to Mile II prison that night, Baba Jobe and others were waiting at Denton Bridge. They intercepted us, he started torturing us and my finger was broken. These were really terrible days when the dictatorship was at its prime and nobody could have intervened. These were some of the things that had happen. Were it not for God, I would not have survived. We were thrown in Mile II and put on trial in Brikama. But because of the resistance of the people, it was going to get to a stage were the people were going to protest and that was how we were released. The regime was afraid at the time mainly because of the imam ratib [Alhaji Karamo Touray] had lots of support across the country.
To the earlier question…
…All these things happened and ultimately the way we want the people to be mobilised so that we can get him out never actually happened. There were certain things which I will never know if I don’t go nearer [to him]. I never supported Jammeh, I was there for only six months, he threw me out and I was sent to jail. I was playing a tactical game trying to survive. I would not have survived if that did not happen. Jammeh was a murderer and I did not want to run and leave the country. But tactically, Jammeh discovered that I was not sincere [to him] and that was why he arrested me and sent me to jail.
But Omar Jallow, Halifa Sallah, Ousainu Darboe and others stayed, carried on the struggle without joining Jammeh, why didn’t you do the same?
I said there were certain facts I wanted to get. Unless I got those facts I will not be able to fight Jammeh as I did.
What are those facts?
Those facts are secret and I do not want to say anything about them.
Did you even get those ‘facts’?
I got them. And Jammeh discovered that I got them. Jammeh would have been removed if he had not arrested me at the time.
Many say you joined the APRC because you were tired of being in the opposition; that you were broke and wanted to ‘enjoy’ a little in your twilight years. Is that true?
That is not true. Why was I arrested? If it was because I wanted to appease them, personal gains or support them sincerely, there would have been no problem. You cannot remove a dictator when you sit down and fold your hands. You need to take positive action; that positive action I’m not going to disclose.
You served under Jammeh, so you were an enabler?
Absolutely not. I’m a democrat; I love this country and hated everything that he was doing. I was going to remove Jammeh, I will not tell you how.
Through elections or other means, how exactly did you intend to remove Jammeh?
Through other means.
Like a military coup?
It was not going to be a coup.
What are those means?
I will not disclose them. But that was the problem that existed between me and Jammeh. He betrayed Jawara and I taught as a betrayer, all you need to do is also betray him.
So because he ‘betrayed’ your uncle, you also wanted to betray him?
Yes! He taught I had joined him when in actual fact I hadn’t. With all sincerity after all that had happened, it would have been the most stupid of Jammeh to think that I will ever support him or be part of his team. That was stupid of him.
Was it true that while you were a torn in the flesh of Jammeh, Nawec was used to disconnect your water and electricity connections even though you paid your bills?
Yes, that happened and many other things, but I had to stand my ground. I did not run, I stayed in the country. For me removing Jammeh by any means is positive as far as I’m concerned.
What do you consider the political miscalculations being made by the current government?
What is happening now is the question of the alliance falling into pieces. They came together and fought under one umbrella because The Gambia was in such a bad state. Now parties are going on their own to contest. That came from Darboe and is very wrong.
You have always been critical of Darboe. Why?
I must say this. Darboe failed because we suggested to come together but he rejected that. The parties are not much more important than the nation. Barrow came and all political parties got together. That was how Gambians have their liberty. We had suggested a united front. I remember telling him, if you have a long rope and I have a short one but your long rope could not get to the bottom of the well to be able to draw water, if I tie mine to yours we will be able together [to draw the] water and none of us will die of thirst. He [Darboe] could not remove him [Jammeh] despite the fact that UDP was the biggest [opposition] party.
Should Barrow go for three or five years?
I think Barrow should go for five years.
Those who voted for Barrow know that for presidency, if you vote for anybody, it should be for five years. If Barrow chooses to leave, that would be a different matter but those who voted for Barrow elected him for five years. I think Barrow should be given another chance, he has done well and all we need now is for all of us to unite so that Barrow can succeed.
You mean even after five years he should be given another mandate?
I think so, if he succeeded and he will succeed if Gambians unite. But now that we are falling apart, nobody knows if that is going to happen.
What do think should happen to Jammeh?
He should be put on trial. It has happened to other dictators.
Do you want him to be tried here?
I will prefer it to be elsewhere not in The Gambia.
Why not in the Gambia?
What matters is for Jammeh to be put on trial.
If you are offered a job [by the Barrow government], will you take it?
I don’t mind; I can serve The Gambia. I was committed to The Gambia and contributed my quota. With all the experience that I have had, I will be able to advise. There are certain areas in governance that I’m an expert in which are important to this country.
Many people say you are a failed politician yourself and that you are an alcoholic?
I’m not an alcoholic, I don’t drink alcoholic. And nobody can tell you that I have found him drunk or lying in the street. I’m not a failed politician. I have succeeded as a politician – the fact that I was in the thick of the struggle, one of the most prominent Gambians. I don’t see how I have failed, where did I failed? I have not failed.
Let us love our country. We cannot succeed in anything if the law doesn’t exist. Let us live modest lives because The Gambia is a poor country and that is all what is required to put people together.