With Omar Wally
Lamin Waa Juwara was born in 1943 in Niamina Dankunku. He moves to Kosemar village with his mother and grandfather while his father was fighting in Burma during the II World War. After the demise of his mother and grandfather, he was left with his grandmother going to Islamic school. Subsequently his grandmother also died and his family members took him to Dankunku when his father returned when the II World War ended. In 1951 when the school was opened in Dankunku, Waa was among the first fifteen students enrolled. His father died and he went to his aunty in Kaur to continue with his schooling until 1957. He got a scholarship to Armitage. In his final year he was elected head boy, the year the school admitted girls among them the current vice president.
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 local government officer in Brikama in 1974. He served as commissioner in all the five regions in The Gambia. In 1977 he contested for 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 Namina 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.
Why do people call you ‘mbarodee’ which means 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 ‘mbarodee’.
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 me because I studied in a communist country, that my views might differ from his own.
Are you a communist?
I wasn’t a communist. I lived and saw communism being practised and I do not accept what was coming from it.
If you are not a communist, what are you then?
I’m a democrat. If you live in a communist country, you are not likely going to be a communist.
Several times you tried 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 my relationship with Jawara…if Jawara wants to leave office, he will groom me to take over. That was their concept 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 when I went, 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 several times and was tortured. You can see I have a broken finger. 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 come nearer. 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 and that was why he arrested me and sent me to jail.
Which means there is no difference between you and Jammeh?
That is not correct. I was supporting the people and Jammeh is a dictator. I could not subscribe to a coup and I supported a government that was here. But I do not want to run away and leave this country, I wanted to stay here and see what my contribution can be.
OJ, Halifa, Darboe and others contributed their quota without joining Jammeh, why did you not 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 were those facts?
Those facts are secret and I do not want to say anything about them.
Did you get those facts?
I got them. And Jammeh discovered that I got them. Jammeh would have been removed if he did not arrest me at the time.
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 at the time. 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) who had lots of support across the country.
Many say you joined the APRC because you were tired of being in the opposition; that you were broke and wanted to enjoy. 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 a positive action; that positive action I’m not going to disclose.
You served under Jammeh, were you not an accomplice?
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 did you intend to remove Jammeh?
Through other means.
It was not going to be a coup.
What are those means?
I will not disclose it. 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 wasn’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 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.
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. The Gambia is more important than political parties. And when you say let us unite and have one force against Jammeh – that was during his leadership as an opposition – [he would not agree]. Barrow came and all political parties got together. That was how Gambians have their liberty. Really Darboe has to carry some blame for Jammeh’s staying this long. 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.
What is the genesis of your strange relationship with Darboe?
Well I don’t have a strange relationship with him. I think there are certain facts that exist. When politics in The Gambia started, Ousainou Darboe and others were not supporters of PPP they supported UP. And it is not strange that Ousainou’s party is [called] UDP. UP was Pierre Njie’s party. It was Banjul based and the rights of ordinary Gambians in the provinces at the time were not respected as they are today. It was good idea that people took it to themselves to vote for PPP. With PPP you can be a candidate anywhere, Jawara was a parliament candidate in Brikama despite coming from provinces. Darboe never accepted Jawara up to today.
Why do you make such a claim?
Because historically they were opposed to Jawara. It was Pierre Njie. I cannot see how anybody could have accepted a condition like now. They are more mature politically now than we were before. Despite the fact that I joined Darboe, I wanted him to accept me but I don’t think he accepted me. You know there are certain ethic differences in our traditions and I believe some people still believe in that which I do not believe. That is really nonsense and it has no place in The Gambia.
You mean the caste system?
I don’t even want to mention caste system, but these are some of the things. I was in Bansang when I qualified as a teacher and Darboe’s father Numukunda was a politician and the caste system was strong at the time and I know about it. I think this is all nonsense. Darboe had tried four times. Was there nobody in his party? Not a man of my stature in UDP and he contested four times and I still continue following him and could not contest? If you contest twice and failed, you should try somebody else. That is democracy. I’m sure even next election he would want to contest which means there is nobody [else]. Darboe contested four times. I could not accept that. That is not correct, it doesn’t go with democracy. In a democratic world if you contest twice and fail, you leave and allow others to come. In fact in one of the elections I totally disagreed that Darboe lost the election. He conceded before consulting us, at the time we were on the ground, we knew what had happened. The election was not free and fair, despite all that we were able to win the election and Darboe could have been president from that time.
How do you rate Darboe as a politician?
He is a failed politician.
Was that the reason you left UDP?
Because of that we had lot of problems and I could not stand it. I don’t think you can face a dictator if you don’t have the stomach to put up a fight. Dictators are strong men without any conscience. He came through a coup and could do anything, so we need the muscles to be able to stand up to put up a fight. If you look at the situation at the time… the ballot boxes were before us and the polling stations were opened and people manifested their support for UDP.
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 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 failed as a politician because 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.
Any final words?
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.