You hailed from Brikama, can you tell us about your early childhood and circumstances that shape your growth there?
It was a wonderful and fantastic childhood. I come from a typical Gambian background. I was stubborn when I was in school. It was a wonderful time when we went to the bush to fetch firewood over the weekend. But those things have changed with the emergence of middle-class wealth and kids are more confined to homes and mobile phones or watching stuff on TV or playing video games. But it was a wonderful childhood.
Before studying law, you started your professional life as a journalist. What has been your career highlights?
When I worked at the Daily Observer, the current proprietor of The Standard Sheriff Bojang, was a mentor. He raised me in a way and has significant impact on my life when I was a teenager. He took me to the Observer. The highlight would have been in 1996, shortly before the presidential election or afterwards. A fight broke between the UDP supporters and the APRC. I was interviewed by BBC Network Africa. I can say that was probably the high point of my career.
Your father, a World War II veteran became a magistrate. Did that influence your decision to study law and become a magistrate and later a lawyer?
Not at all. That’s an emotional question for me because I would have loved both my mom and dad to be here. My dad worked in the judiciary for many years, as an interpreter. My father never went to school, but because he went to Second World War, can speak some broken English and, probably because of his integrity, was appointed a magistrate. I remembered when I was being enrolled to the Gambian Bar – when I came from the UK – I went to inform my uncle, the late Alagie Jawara of Bakau. He said to me that my father would’ve been immensely proud if he were present. I went into law by accident but probably it was written in the stars. From school, I have always fought for justice. I was always an advocate for a right. It was inevitable that I would end up being a lawyer, but the decision to become was not conscious.
Your dad is a Mandinka from Baddibu Kerewan, and your mother is a Fula from Kuloro and you have often written about the need for more tolerance and less bigotry in The Gambia. What do you believe as the reasons that are tearing the seams of the social fabric and what should be done about it?
The issue of tribe, unfortunately in 2021 has become so toxic and so polarising and divisive. Tensions are high, but I don’t think it was always the case… My grandparents on my mother’s side both came [from outside] and are not really Gambians. Both my mom’s parents came from Guinea Conakry to settle in Kuloro. My half brothers and sisters are Fulas; they are Jallow. My mom is a ‘Barry’. And my dad is a typical, typical Baddibunka… the issue of tribe has always been here and is not limited to The Gambia. This is a global phenomenon. But for the purposes of our country, I think Yahya Jammeh’s quest for self-perpetuation and to entrench himself in power, found meanings. So, the issue of populist tribal agenda, to pitch Mandinkas against the others – because Mandinkas are predominant tribe in The Gambia – was a deliberate and a calculated strategic effort by him [Jammeh] and I think he succeeded in a way. So, by the time Jammeh was voted out in 2016, he managed to bring to the fore of our political discourse the issue of tribe and ethnicity. Ordinarily, the issue of tribe is not a bad thing. Tribe and ethnicity as a concept or in a concept are a reality. It’s a wonderful thing. But where people used tribe and ethnicity or languages or readings or such affiliations to pursue political agendas at the detriment of our social cohesion and tolerance then that is a dangerous thing. Unfortunately, now, this is broadening. You meet people sometimes, ‘what is your name?’ I’m Abdoulie Fatty. They ask you ‘are you Mandinka?’ Or somebody else they say ‘is the person Fula? Is the person Wollof? ‘Should the person be in such position, because they are Mandinka, Fula, Wollof or Jola’. It is terrible. I think the coalition had a wonderful opportunity to leverage on the political capital that they had to really engage in a dialogue of reconciliation and tolerance and reconstruction of our country but making sure for the purposes of tribe and ethnicity that Gambians embrace this idea that we are Gambians first. But even if you are Wollof first and Gambian second that is not a bad thing as long as embracing that idea doesn’t become detrimental to our collective national aspirations.
You said the seeds of tribal discord were planted during the Jammeh days. Who then should be blamed?
Jammeh should be blamed. There was a political as well as a moral duty and obligation to him as president to make sure that Gambians united. We may belong to different political parties, but as a people we are one. So, Jammeh ought to be blamed, but Jammeh didn’t do it alone. He had people. He had people from Baddibu who pursued and strengthened and consolidated his agenda. I know certain people from Brikama, prominent people, who pursued his agenda. Wollofs, Fulas, Mandinkas are all to blame in this regard. Yahya Jammeh was the chief architect, but he also found it here. Although he worsened it, there are people who supported him in the cultivation of that tribal discord.
What should we do for us to have that tolerant society The Gambia was once reputed for?
I think whoever becomes president after January 22, would need to go back to the drawing board. We need to reach out to each other. There must be a national conversation on the issue of tribe and ethnicity. There must be. The way things are now, the high tensions and the pervasive nature of those tensions at the moment is almost like a volcano. Unless something is done about it, once the lavas start to spread, I think none of us will be spared. I’m not trying to be pessimistic, but I think if you look at everything that we do now, it helps those tribal and ethnic considerations but mainly framed in very, very negative term. That can only be addressed if there’s a collective, systematic, deliberate state-pursued policy to address this issue. It must be done. It must be a priority in the next administration. If politicians continue to divide and rule using this as a vehicle to further polarise the issue, the social fabric of our country [will be destroyed].
You are a relatively newcomer to the Bar, but your profile has been growing exponentially in the past years, what do you attribute your rising success to?
The one thing I would like to say [is that], I think I have a certain level of respect of my colleagues in the Bar, and perhaps the bench as well. And I think that is linked perhaps to my personality. I think I have respect for everyone and from judges to private lawyers, public lawyers and even court staff and that endears you to people. But on a serious note, I think it’s probably because I… I know I am hardworking, and a workaholic. And I think hard work inherently breeds a certain level of success. I’m not saying I am successful, but I think where there is hard work, sacrifice, I think that kind of brings about a certain form of success or recognition.
Why are you the choice of lawyer for many young upcoming activists and politicians?
I don’t know. Maybe because I write occasionally or I participate in certain social activities including radio programmes. I think that activist or that pursuit for activism discloses in some of these things. I think people easily identify that perhaps Mr Fatty is concerned with some of these public issues so, ordinarily, he may not be a bad choice to speak to. Perhaps there is already a baseline that I have interest for democratisation, for human rights, transitional justice. Perhaps those are the reasons why.
One of your learned colleagues decried the discrimination in the Gambia Bar and pejoratively said there is a Fajara Bar and a Brikama Bar. Do you subscribe to that view?
There’s always been this perception that the Bar is controlled by the Banjulians; that people from wealthy or elitist backgrounds and that transcends into the practice and certain sections of the bar predominantly those from provincial regions are excluded. There’s that perception. Is there credibility to that perception? Yes, there is some element. But I think over the last few years, under the presidency of Salieu Taal, I think he has deliberately, and consciously tried to make sure that the bar is as representative as its general numbers. There was a genuine attempt to move away from those perceptions, whether they were real or otherwise. While acknowledging that there maybe, I don’t think that’s the case now. I think sometimes it is just convenient for me to say I am from Brikama and therefore I am not part of… [or that] the whole bar is an elitist club where I do not belong and therefore, I’m always going to be a bystander. I think this clouds and destroys their mind in terms of their relationship with the Bar.
Your suit against the AG, IEC and Mayor Rohey Lowe on the issuance of voter’s card has been successful. What are your general views on the outcome?
I think the case is far-reaching than we ordinarily say it. This wasn’t… I absolutely like Rohey Malick Lowe. I’ve never met her. I think she is doing a wonderful job in Banjul, but this was a separate issue. This is related to her functions as an elected public official. My [guys] believed that the exercise of attestations was outside the scope of her powers as laid down in the Elections Act. And I believe there was a good argument in that, and we went to court, and we obtained judgement. In another case, the decision didn’t go our way. But in that case, I cited this judgement [on attestations] and the judge in her judgment actually relied on certain provisions of that, that courts in their supervisory jurisdiction have power over public officials or public institutions in the exercise of their… so, I think it was an excellent outcome, not the outcome itself but the outcome in terms of the fact that our public institutions took some actions and those actions have been challenged in the courts. So, for me, I think it really strengthens our democracy. It strengthens the rule of law. It gives hope to civil society that where you believe there is a violation of Acts of Parliament or the constitution, challenge these things in the courts. This gives the citizens confidence in the impartiality and the independence of the judiciary which was an important issue in the last administration. I think people lost hope in the integrity of the judiciary as an independent adjudicator.
You called the outcome of that case “excellent”, but some observers say it is likely to leave many potential voters disenfranchised. What do you say to that?
No. I think they are looking at it from a very, very narrow point of view. The IEC has the power to invoke its supplementary voter registration process or anything, but the IEC really has to defend its mandate. Even if subsequently, somebody decides to take this matter to the revising courts and those people who’ve been issued voter’s card, the IEC has the right to… because they have these numbers [in their database]. So, they can decide to go back to Banjul for a week or even two weeks and allow these people to come back and be registered following the regularisation of their documents. And I think that should happen. It’s not my clients’ intention, neither mine, to make sure a single Gambian… it would be contradictory. Here I am in court, representing some people, seeking the court to order the IEC to register the diaspora. How can I then turn around and seek to disenfranchise eligible Gambians? The law is the law. We have to respect the law. If the law is saying that the mayor did not have the legal capacity to attest, we cannot turn a blind eye because what happens is that we would create this culture of turning a blind eye to deliberate contraventions or breaches of law. So, this wasn’t done in bad faith; this wasn’t done in a vindictive manner; this was simply upholding the sanctity of our law, and the court recognised that. But the IEC can make amends. They can even plaster this in the newspapers and invite people to come back and if they are eligible, they can be registered. And I urge the IEC to do that.
You are also behind the suit that wanted the high court to make an order for the IEC to register the Gambian diaspora in the upcoming elections, however, it has been dismissed. Is this the end of the road for you?
We will go back to court. It is the continuation of the journey. The matter was dismissed not because of lack of merit but it was dismissed on technicality. We will regroup but we will certainly go back to court. We may even go to multiple jurisdictions. Certainly, my clients really want an outcome that empowers the political participation of all Gambians. In dismissing the matter, the court said that judgment by the Supreme Court was a declaration… the court stopped short of making a consequential order. The court said since the Supreme Court only made a mere declaration, and not accompanied by a consequential order, therefore there was nothing to enforce. Hence the case failed. Technically, the court is saying what you asked for, technically, the court couldn’t but you may still have a very valid application if you had sought for the enforcement of the judgment.
With less than five months to the elections, do you honestly believe there is enough time to take this matter to the courts and have a judgment?
The intention is to file these in court this week. Because these are public interest, exceptionally urgent [issues]. We are hoping that we may even be able to get decisions on this by the end of this month. Why should the Diaspora because of other considerations [be left out?]… I think it’s simply an untenable argument to suggest that there is lack of money. The Gambia is a party to the African charter on democracy, governance and several others… if it’s money, resources or technical or otherwise were our main constraints, then we could have sought help. It doesn’t appear to me that there is a genuine desire by government or the IEC to register the Diaspora. And I think the issue here is the lack of political will, rather than the lack of finance.
Watch the full interview will be uploaded on standard.gm later.