With Alagie Manneh
Marie Sock is the lady of the moment. Since announcing last week of her intention to run for the presidency of The Gambia at the next polls, she has been the top trender topic of discussion among Gambians online and offline.In this edition of Bantaba, Alagie Manneh first asked her what inspired her to want to break the glass ceiling by becoming The Gambia’s first female president
Marie Sock: I look at Johnson Sirleaf the former president of Liberia, the German Chancellor, the leader of Trinidad and the prime minister of Finland. These are all female leaders doing great in this pandemic than the countries that are not being led by females. So, I feel we shouldn’t limit ourselves and we should challenge ourselves to get out of that stigma which holds that women should just be on the side.
Your announcement to run for presidency was like a bolt from the blue for a lot of Gambians. When and how did you become political?
I have been in the political arena with other political parties. I was just quiet because I am not the type to be running all over the place and talking about it. What inspired me to be more active now is because the youths felt that they need better representation and because I have worked with them and done a lot of programmes with them, they feel that they connect with me and they urged me to stand for them and that is exactly what I am doing now. So it’s not like I am just new in the game.I was in the background.
Your critics say your mode of dress is ‘unGambian’ and unpresidential after images appeared of you on social media. Is that a fair observation?
That is not my issue. That doesn’t bother me. The world has changed. We are sitting here in The Gambia, you know, we are multicultural. We have our ways. My attire, my daily attire is not wearing a grand boubou everyday. I want to be comfortable. When you are working, there are certain outfits when you wear them, you cannot even move and for me, I want to be comfortable. My mode of dressing is not what is carrying the country forward. That is not what we are talking about; what we are talking about is what I can do and I am ready to do.
You reportedly went through a protracted ugly divorce from your husband of many years. What lessons have you learnt?
Well, my husband is not of many years. When you say ugly divorce, it was an abusive marriage and I don’t encourage any woman to be in an abusive marriage but out of the marriage I had beautiful children. So the positive is having such beautiful kids. The ugly side of it is that as a woman I don’t accept to be abused. This is one of the topics I will be talking about to help women understand what abuse is. Abuse can be verbal, physical or mental. There are many forms of abuse. No one should succumb to that. I recognised it and I didn’t accept it. We are coming from a generation right now where, if you marry and your husband treats you well, nobody wants to divorce. Divorce is not a nice thing. Especially for us women, when we get into marriage and start having children, we do our best to keep the marriage, but my friend if you are faced with verbal abuse, you need your sanity. That sanity is what will help you to take care of your children.
What are the challenges of being a single mother in The Gambia?
I thank God my kids are grown. My eldest is 32, so I don’t think you are talking about me taking care of her [boisterous laughter]. Both of them are serving the military in the US. I am proud of them. The last one is with me.She is also a big girl. This is one of the reasons I dedicate the other part of my life to the youths of The Gambia to give them what I know. I raised my kids well and did what I have to for them. That is done. Now, in this other half of my life, I want to be able to give back. There are people who need me so that when I die tomorrow, I can say ‘hey, I did what I can on earth’.
Why do you list health, economy and education as your priority areas over, for instance, agriculture and women’s affairs?
We are going to work on ten cardinal pillars on the way and know-how in moving The Gambia forward over the next ten years. These are the economy, education, medical health, women and youth empowerment, price regulation, agricultural development, infrastructure, crime, job creation and the increment of minimum wages in The Gambia.We have a roadmap to guide us fix this country and turn The Gambia around.
There are reports that you were a closet UDP supporter…
You see, it’s so sad that Gambia… well Gambia as a whole, the people when they don’t understand that you have relationships with people… Darboe has been a longtime friend. You understand? I am not into this political divide; I have never been and will not start now. Halifa Sallah the same. I have known these people for years. And coming back home, I embraced these people because I cannot see them and be disrespectful. People can say what they want but even as at now if I see Darboe,I will hug him the same way I used to hug him before I entered the political arena. It has nothing to do with politics. We are family first, all of us before politics. This is one of the reasons The Gambia is not moving forward. They can say what they want.They can say I am UDP, APRC or GDC. I don’t care. But they will see the direction we are going when we are ready.
Former diplomat and Foreign minister ML Sedat Jobe said the proliferation of political parties in the country is a threat to the stability of the state and will only create more division in the country. Do you agree?
Well it is. You have like almost 13 parties. My friend,IEC ran out of colours. What is our population? We are all calling each other names. It would have been nice if we have only two parties. We have so many and we think the way of a party is insulting each another. So yes, the proliferation of parties is affecting us. This is one of the reasons I am standing as an independent.
Yet you told the local media you will be counting on political parties to endorse you. Do you honestly believe that established and serious parties like UDP or PDOIS will sacrifice decades of struggle for power and rally behind a political novice like yourself?
Well, define establish for me. What do you mean by established? If you are around for 20 to 30 years and I don’t see any schools or hospitals in the regions – because parties are like governments and you have pillars and different heads in regions across the country. So, when you say established, I don’t understand. Established in what? That they’ve been around that long and didn’t do anything? Come on we’ve all been around that long. My take, if I have a party for around 22 years trust me, I will have my stamp everywhere. You are already seeing my stamp. My stamp is that everybody is talking about what I have done. My websites show what I have done. Some of these parties don’t even have a website. Some of them don’t even know how to… my friend! I am looking for parties to endorse me because I think I stand alone and I stand different but I also stand with a lot of women and young people as well. We need to come together, and if it takes me to do it, so what? But I am not here putting all my hopes on these parties to endorse me.If that was the case you wouldn’t hear all this noise you are hearing.
Seriously, why should Gambians vote for an unknown quantity like yourself instead of people with proven pedigrees like Mamma Kandeh or BB Dabo?
We are talking to the youths. The youths are not being catered for in the sense that there’s a big disconnect between the elderly and the youths. If I put on my jogging suits, I can go outside and sit with the youths that are drinking attaya and they would be comfortable to talk to me and tell me about their problems. If you are a big man or a big society man, it already creates that bridge and you are not bringing new things to them or speaking their language. If that was the case, I think BB Dabo was in PPP. PPP has been here since the First Republic, and these are their grand kids. So there’s a big disconnect. If they were connecting with the kids, we will not be where we are today. If you say over 50 percent of the country is youth, then you need to know how to communicate with them. Last time I checked, Ousainu Darboe said he was a youth. I don’t know, maybe I am making a mistake on the age bracket for youths.
The EU election monitoring committee as well as the draft constitution asked for transparency in political and electoral campaign financing. Will you tell Gambians how you raise your funds and how you spend them?
People are going to endorse me. People are going to take their hard-earned money and send it to me, organisations are going to give me money because I have the women and youths. Trust me, we are going to be accountable. It’s their money, people need to know how much we have and how we are going to spend. We will be transparent.
You claimed the youths prevailed on you to enter the political fray, who are these youths?
Well, you saw some of them as you walked in. You can see them. They are all there. I can give you the list. It’s a big list. And this is a good thing. These are all young people who want change.
Your critics say you don’t have a political base.
That is their opinion. All the other political leaders when they were taking the first step like me, none of them had a political base. Even the sitting president, did he have a political base?He didn’t, but he’s there.
Your critics say you are on an ego trip and that your chances of becoming president are near zero.
You came into the office, right? I could have said it’s too much journalism, I don’t want to talk to any reporter. But I am trying to make sure that I meet everyone. It’s not about an ego trip or anything, I am the most down- to-earth person you can ever meet.
When you declared your intent to run for presidency, you gave an inglorious review of how political parties are divided on the bases of tribe and ethnicity. How are you going to ensure you are different?
My family is just so big. I am related to the Mandingos, I am related to the Jolas, I am related to the Manjagos, to Fulas… I was talking to a Serahule today and we talked and talked and came to find out we are related. So, being so multicultural, I think I am the only one that can break this issue of tribal divide. I embrace everyone as family.
While some parties have ethnic tags on them, others like Citizens’ Alliance and the PDOIS are not regarded as such by even their harshest critics. Therefore your statement is false.
When Citizens’ Alliance had their meeting, people saw that it was diverse. I don’t know. They have not formed their congress yet. Until that is done, I cannot talk on that. Not all of them are divided. [Yes, I accept] some of them are multi [sic] like PDOIS and CA.
You vow to smash the patriarchy and put women on equal footing with men. But Christianity teaches biblical patriarchy and you are a Christian. How do you square this circle?
I am not typically religious, I am more spiritual. I embrace all religions. I embrace Islam. I embrace Christianity. My family is Muslims and Christians. I am spiritual. As far as I am concerned, I am part of both worlds.
But both religions preach patriarchy?
But look at the era they wrote these books. The times have changed. My brother we cannot go into biblical history. We are not in grass huts anymore. You are sitting here, you are laughing, is nice, the AC is blowing, it’s not in the bible, is it? How old is the bible or how old is the Qur’an? We didn’t have Muslims or Christians, Gambia was one. When I was little, I used to go to Qur’anic school, and can still say some of the verses. Again, some Muslims went to Christian schools. So, this is not an issue.
Madam Sock you gave a coruscating review of the Barrow administration saying after three years of no progress, there is a need for a shift. Can you be specific?
Well, I never said that after three years there’s no progress. I said… okay, Barrow is staying for five years, but you have to understand that Barrow was not their alone; it was a pact, it was a coalition. But unfortunately, there was no focus anymore on what the agenda was. So now he has two more years of his own to try to develop something. Let’s see what he can do because it’s now even less than two years.
What is your personal assessment of Barrow as a leader?
I cannot talk about him because I don’t know him. I cannot talk about his leadership skills because like I said this was a coalition, and they know why they selected him. So I cannot talk on that.
Women who have in the past put their heads over the parapet and announced their intentions to enter politics and lead the country, have been subjected to barrage of abuse and male chauvinism. How do you intend to deal with this?
I am in the spotlight, it is very difficult. Most of these women probably were never in the spotlight. Being in the spotlight, you have to develop a thick skin. If you don’t do that you might come out emotional. Already, you can see what they are throwing at me. But you see, I can take that. It’s their opinion. It doesn’t stick on me. I focus on the people who love me. Those who don’t love me I pray for them to love me.
Congratulations, and good luck.
Thank you Alagie.