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Monday, October 2, 2023

Marie Sock, politician

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With Alagie Manneh

Mari Sock was a presidential aspirant who put her head over the parapet by wanting to become The Gambia’s first female president in 2021. Since her failed bid, she has been busy with charity works and and using her social media to speak out loudly on issues underpinning the country. In this edition of Bantaba, Alagie Manneh talks to the fiery politician about her charity works, her political activism and the implication of Barrow’s third term agenda.

Alagie: You recently established the Alliance for Social Democrats (ASD). What is ASD and what does it hope to achieve?

Marie Sock: In The Gambia, we are registered as a charity, but in reality, it’s a movement for change. We are here to bring social development for the people of The Gambia. In the United States, it’s registered as a charity as well. The ASD seeks to bring people together. You know very well that I have been an independent candidate and as such I need a structure and a platform where everyone can see themselves. So, under the Alliance, people come together and work together. As I speak, we are having events in the US, a dollar drive, and a baby kid drive. We are going to gather a lot of baby stuff in the US and send them to The Gambia for women who are having babies. Since we are a charity, we continue our charitable works through the ASD. At the same time people who joined ASD as a movement in The Gambia are joining because they want change, a change in our politics and a change in the way we live our lives. It is only through change that we can move forward. The political game right now is very dirty, and it is one of the reasons why we decided not to have a political party; we have movement. We are teaching people to be part of the movement by subscribing. Every Gambian is encouraged to put in 50 dalasis. That 50 dalasis is not only for campaign, but like for example, if today you are part of the Alliance and have a problem or you are gone, we can take from that money and support your family or even flood victims. So, it’s not just for gathering money for campaign. The campaign is in three years… I don’t believe in the political party systems anymore; it is geared just for one person. When people donate monies, it goes to the presidential candidate or flagbearer. The people are not really benefitting. We don’t do that in the ASD.

What is the ultimate objective of the ASD? Is it going to be turned into a political party?  

We are not a political party in The Gambia. We are a political movement in The Gambia. Let me give you a scenario: let’s say I win the election as a result of the backing of the ASD, that will not change anything as far as the structures of the ASD are concerned. The ASD will remain with its chairman and the rest of the executives… that is why I think it’s important to have an independent candidate that can work with everybody.

I observed you have become quite active on social media recently, using it to speak out loudly and publicly on burning issues affecting the country, and condemning the excesses of the Barrow government. What is the motivation behind your proactive political activism?

As a woman, I get all the calls. I get everyday calls from vulnerable women and women groups. I can relate. You know that 90 percent of households in the country are run by women. So, they think that they can relate to me, and they complained to me. This is why I amplified and lend my voice. I feel I cannot be a politician and stay quiet in the face of these hardships or when I see things that are not correct. As a politician, you don’t come out to insult the president. I don’t believe in that because I can be president next time and I wouldn’t want people to insult me. But what we can do is come out and show him that there are certain areas in his government that are not working. There are certain things in your government that should be rectified. He has three more years and we need to call him out so that he can listen and listen to us positively, take what we are saying and put it into action… people are calling us, they are tired, hungry and frustrated. Yes, all over the world there’s inflation, but those countries are managing the inflation. It is controlled, unlike here.

How would you define the change under Barrow since the December presidential election?

Personally, I am a bit disappointed. I felt that people gave him an opportunity. The people I talked to said they voted Barrow in because he’s peaceful. But I ask people how do you define peace? Peace is when you wake up in the morning and go and buy bread for seven dalasis and the price remains the same the following day. But your peace is jeopardised if you wake up in the morning to buy bread that was seven dalasis the other day and now it is ten dalasis. Now you have to increase your budget. So how peaceful are you doing that? This is the problem we have in The Gambia when people don’t understand how to vote and what to vote for. He had an opportunity. This is NPP, a new party. The Coalition is over. This was his biggest chance to say you know what, I cannot jeopardise my new party, I want new faces, new people for this new party. And say to his friends and colleagues, I’m sorry, we had a good ride, but good bye. Lots of young people graduated. Lots of people out there that can be the new NPP, and help him pioneer the next five years. Then Gambians will change because they would say the president has given a lot of chance to young people… we are still hoping that he will reshuffle his cabinet since the parliamentary and mayoral elections. All he did was reshuffle the deputies. We thought this was another opportunity to reshuffle and take the country forward. We have been campaigning for almost three years. He could have achieved everything in his manifesto by bringing in hard working people. He had the opportunity to bring fresh blood in the system. He had many opportunities, and I think they are missed. Listen, you cannot do changes with the people who have been there and never changed anything. [If] you want changes, you bring new people, new breed to help you out.

You are also among a long list of political figures and social commentators who condemned the government’s purchase of expensive SUVs for National Assembly members as unjustifiable.

I made a video on that. I don’t have a problem with them having cars because they are as important as the ministers. These are lawmakers who are supposed to be there for the people and to stand for the people. So, we need to respect them, we need to give them benefits, we understand that. But what is the cost of that benefit? If a country is in a situation where we are indebted, where we have so many issues pending, especially at a time when the whole world has crises with inflation and everything, this is not the time to be awarding officials a 60,000-dollar vehicle. If there was no bidding, how can they be sure that these vehicles even cost 60,000 dollars? When you order vehicles in that quantity, you get a discount. I worked at a dealership before in America. When a car leaves the dealership, you already losing almost five percent of the money that you spent on it. So, not only that it has lost value coming from wherever it came from, it has also lost value when it went into the ship and crossed the ocean. The value that they bought it for has depreciated almost 25 percent by the time they arrived in The Gambia. Now, they drive it three years and then what? It is spoiled. And we have to buy again for the next National Assembly members. I mean, what kind of country is this? The National Assembly should have a system where they have their own cars, with conditions. Or, we give it to them where it is taken out from their money, but it doesn’t have to be a 50,000-dollar car. Where are we heading?

What do you ascribe the deafening silence of opposition political parties on this matter to?

At this point, this is where Gambians have to open their eyes. Because if political parties, whose members are involved in this are all quiet, something is wrong with this whole picture. That means they are all part of it. We should not be surprised because this is exactly what happened in 2016 when the political parties have a falling out. Everything that is hurting us today, is as a result of that Coalition [disintegration]. Let us be real. If you have a political party and your members accept such cars, as a political party leader you should come out and denounce it. But everybody’s mute because you have members in parliament, and you don’t want to create a noise because you might upset them and end up losing votes. In The Gambia, it’s all about the votes. The Gambia is that quiet society that is so scared to say something. If I had members in parliament, I would call an emergency meeting and say listen, you don’t have to take that vehicle because one, it’s not good for you; two, you are going to be paying for the rest of your life for it. That salary they are paying you, you know your condition. Some of these MPs, go and look at where they are living, go and look at where they came from. The car is more expensive than the houses. Even a bed to sleep in, they don’t have it. But because they want to all sit in nice cars and drive for these young girls, just to show[off]. The norm now is to have beautiful cars. The country, nothing is working, and they are putting the cart before the horse. You see, discipline starts from the party, then you renounce your candidates. When you do that, the whole Gambia will respect that party; the whole Gambia will come to that party because it will be seen as the party with laws. But everybody is quiet. NPP is quiet, UDP is quiet.

Some commentators also say that the deafening silence of political parties on the matter amounted to a political betrayal of the Gambian people? Do you agree that it is amounted to a political betrayal?

Of course, [I do]. If I had members in there and they did that, I would call them and talk to them and if they refuse, I renounce them. You are no longer with us. We have to be serious, and forget about political points. Good governance starts in our party systems. If there’s no good governance in our party systems, what you see happening is exactly what is going to happen in the offices. We saw it in 2017. What happened in the political parties? Where they working before? Where their leaders going to work? The political party bureaus became a bantaba, where they sit and drink [Chinese green tea] attaya and talk politics until now. When they won, they couldn’t believe they won. Everywhere you go, ministers are sitting and conversing. It was a whole bantaba at the State House. It’s a reflection of how they were behaving in that political party. Let us open our eyes, [because] it’s not going to change.

You called on the government through the finance and trade ministries to regulate the prices of basic consumables. Why is the cost of living, in your view, becoming even more expensive for the ordinary Gambian, and do you think the government will heed?

I hope. I lend my voice in order for them to listen. Yes, prices have increased all over the world, but you cannot buy mango that is imported from Senegal – 200 dalais for four, and somebody in The Gambia who just cut the mangos from the tree is selling them at 200 dalasis. Does that make sense? And the salary scale in Senegal in much higher than The Gambia. Local chicken is supposed to be cheaper, but imported is cheaper than local. Imported is 200, local is 400. Does that make sense? My dear, the whole of The Gambia is organic. We are copying what is not suitable for us. In the West, it is difficult to get organic. I always eat organic in the West but it costs me money. But in The Gambia, everything is organic. If I throw tomatoes outside, they will grow. So, why are we making organic products more expensive than the imported? These are all things that the government or price control agencies can regulate. We cannot use the global inflation as excuse for the high prices of basic commodities in the country.

You condemned the alleged illegal and fraudulent activities of the four Gambian diplomats at the Gambian embassy in Wahington D.C following their expulsion by the US State Department. In your estimation, how much reputational damage has been caused internationally by the actions of these men, and how can the country’s credibility be restored?

It’s an embarrassment. We are putting people in the foreign service who don’t understand the foreign service law. Before sending people to the foreign service, they all need to have some kind of orientation classes, from ethics to foreign policy to everything. That way, they cannot comport themselves in a certain way when they leave the soil of The Gambia. Basically, in The Gambia, it’s like we don’t have laws anymore; laws are not being implemented, so, people are doing what they want. They feel that since they were doing that in their country, they can do that in other countries, but these countries are more serious. These countries have laws. The guy who was beating the child with a broom, that is an assault. If anything, they would have locked him up and we cannot do anything about it. But because of his diplomatic immunity they didn’t lock him up and instead asked him to come back. The other one went and sought for a school illegally for a child. Didn’t they read the foreign policy as diplomats? In the history of our diplomatic missions, I don’t think we have ever seen something like this. We had so many diplomats over the years and still have exemplary diplomats that are making The Gambia proud.

What should be the fate of these expelled diplomats?

It will be very important that these people, when they come back home, that the law deals with them. When they come back home and we don’t do anything, it is going to hurt our foreign service. Countries like the US are going to make it difficult for us to have diplomats there. They are going start tightening even those laws. Already, as Africans we are not wanted there anyway, but because of these diplomatic ties and bilateral relations we are creating, they have no choice but to accept us just like we accept them in our country. But if we are misbehaving, this will be very easy for them to tighten laws and blame us for it. Maybe they would have to sack them completely when they returned. The country needs to see us doing something about it. We need to be serious as a country. If they come down and we failed do anything and people see them working again, what message are we sending internationally?

Would you be surprised if no punishment or charges are proffered against them upon their return home?

I will not be surprised because nothing is punishable here. Everybody is going scot-free; everybody is doing what they want. A country cannot move like that. A country has to have laws. That is one of the reasons our children are becoming wayward. Even the police now no longer know their role because they said when they catch people and we investigate, next minute they are working free, losing respect for the police. So, the police are like ‘what is my role here’?

There have been deepening calls for President Barrow to follow in the footsteps of his friend and President Macky Sall and truncate his desire of seeking a third term in office. Do you think he should?

Just because Barrow and Macky are pals, whatever. They are only pals because of the presidency, they didn’t know each other before they became presidents. They weren’t even close. After the presidency, they might not be pals anymore, because levels change. Barrow and the Coalition government of 2016 agreed on a three-year mandate, but whilst Barrow was there, other political party heads, because of their political interests, said because Barrow was sworn in as a constitutional president, and that he must serve a full five-year term. If he would have stepped down after three years, and run for office and win, then his term is not finished because up till now he would have still been serving. But since he did not step down after three years, he made it a constitutional presidency and stayed for a complete five. So, he has only five years to go. He did already serve two of that five years, meaning he has three years left to go. And we are expecting him to come down honorably so that Gambians can respect him. We cannot afford to exile every president in this country. I want our presidents to stay home after they are done. There’s life after the presidency. Presidents like Obasanjo are traveling to meetings and representing their country. That is what we want for our presidents. So, I would advise him against even contemplating such an idea of a third term. Let people not encourage him to do that. He is on his second constitutional term, so, exceeding that will be unconstitutional.

What will be the implications of Barrow’s third term bid?

It will be bad. I’m not saying they will, but things might happen [because] people are tired, and political parties are also gearing up to do another coalition. [Some] people might sit back and fold their hands; others will leave while others will stay and fight. Anything can happen. Because he has triggered what we tried to stop in this country. It is one of the reasons why we came up with a new constitution so that we can have two terms for presidents which gives opportunity to all. The presidency is not a personal home. You are only there to serve the people.

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