With Alagie Manneh
Mohamadou Musa Njie, commonly known as Papa Njie, was born in 1969 to the late Aja Aisha Conteh and Alhagi Musa Njie, a well-known businessman in The Gambia. Born in Leman Street, Banjul, Papa grew up in Bakau Newtown, Fajara and Cape Point with a large family of twenty-four siblings. Married and blessed with six children, Papa has served as a public servant for more than two decades, holding diverse roles in International Diplomacy, Project Development and Management, Communications, Business Management, Media, Education, Sports and Youth Advocacy.
Upon graduating from Saint Augustine High School, he pursued an undergraduate diploma from Moulton College, UK and later furthered his studies to obtain a Masters Degree in Agricultural Economics from Wye College, University of London in 1994. Driven by the desire to serve his people, Papa returned home and immediately took up a job with the Ministry of Agriculture and within one year of his appointment, rose up the ranks to become Head of Projects and Planning Unit. In 1999, he served as the Program Manager of the National Women Farmers Association, NAWFA helping women in the communities develop a marketing plan that expanded their sales in both local and international markets, while helping them to secure more funding and boosting the organisations membership of over 48,000 farmers across the country.
In January 2002, Papa joined the Gambia Investment Promotion and Free Zone Agency, GIEPA as Director of Marketing and Investment Promotion, and developed a robust marketing strategy for Gambia which attracted around 10 foreign companies and over $40 million in foreign direct investments into the country. In 2004, Papa left for the private sector and served as General Manager of Digital Planet. In February 2011, he took up a role as a Cultural Affairs/Press Assistant and Education Advisor with the U.S. Embassy in Banjul. As liaison officer with the Gambia media, he led efforts that resulted in the successful launch of Voice of America on two radio stations. He also initiated and trained the first set of Debate Association Members in the University of The Gambia, and established the Competitive College Clubs (CCC) that provides guidance for high school students seeking to be admitted into highly competitive colleges in the US. His services at the Embassy led to an award of $10,000 from the State Department as best Public Diplomacy Post in Africa and the establishment of two American Corners.
Currently, he serves as the Founding Director of Youth Empowerment Through Education and Sports Foundation (YETES)and is the executive director of Global Education Centre and the Project Coordinator of the UNESCO – EU Media and Journalists Capacity Building Project. In this week’s Mayors’ Podium, Papa talks to anchor Alagie Manneh about his decades-long experience in public service delivery, his entering into the fray of Gambian politics and vision for KMC.
You have a proven track record in public service but you never have a background in politics. Why now?
I think everybody is a politician. Life is all politics. Even in work places, you have to know when to speak, issue orders, motivate people or how to meet your results or otherwise. We all know that the last 22 years was almost impossible for people to become politicians. I was not a politician but I was a develop-mentalist, a youth activist. I was somebody who was always giving my best to the society, and I have been doing it for the past 22-years. So that’s why I emphasised that anybody they want to select, they have to look at the track records. Who is a politician in the current mayoral aspirant list? We are all new comers. Yes, but each one of us must show the people what they have accomplished. Achievements.
So up to becoming a mayor, is politics, but once they elect you mayor politics is over and you have to start to deliver. And I want to leave a track record. I want to leave a legacy. I have the experience to move KMC where it deserves to be. I have the connections, local and international. I want KMC to be a clean KMC. I want KMC to be the commercial capital of Gambia. I want a KMC that job opportunities are created for the youths that want to work. I want a KMC that people are happy to pay taxes. That’s why I seek to become mayor.
So everybody is a politician. Just that I haven’t been active. Now though, with the new democracy, New Gambia, everybody wants to apply to become mayor. The bar has been raised very high and anybody who seeks mayorship must show track records of service delivery. The Gambian people are not fools. So anybody who wants to apply must at least know ABC and D. Gambians are no longer fools. They will now vote on track record. They will not vote on party lines, but on confidence and the person that they trust. And I know that it’s me that they trust and it’s me that they will vote for.
You worked for GIEPA and in 1999 served as program manager for NAWFA, do you believe these experiences gave you the opportunity to get connected with the common people of the KMC and beyond over the years?
Yes. Seriously my brother. With GIEPA, with the National Women Farmers’ Association…I had over 48,000 women farmers. I went from Koina to Kartong and sat with them. These are women who are struggling every day. And I kept telling people that ‘if you develop a woman, you develop the nation’. Women educate us. So if any mayor invests in the development of women, you develop a whole nation. I have that experience working with women.
At GIEPA, I learn so much and have a lot of international connections. Imagine how things were hard those days with poor governance and bad laws, no democracy, yet I was able to go out there and bring investment into this country. And especially now that we are a democracy and everything is liberalised, it’s going to be easier. I have done it before and can do it again. Not only that, the network I have by working with the international NGO will also help me.
So on what party ticket do you wish to contest?
I have applied under the UDP ticket. I was a UDP sympathiser. But alhamdulilah, it’s the new democracy that demands that people go and affiliate yourselves with the party that you believe in. That is what I am doing and as a citizen of The Gambia I have every right to apply on that ticket.
What about plan B, in case the UDP didn’t select you?
For me, for now, I want to focus on running on the UDP ticket. And as a politician I don’t want to speculate. I am a UDP member, and I want to go under the UDP. I believe in the agenda of the party.
If elected into office, what first thing will you do?
The first thing I will do is to improve the operational efficiency of KMC. Revenue collection is a priority. Motivating staff is a priority, doing a staff audit; how many people are there against the expected outcome, how many people are undertrained, how many people are overtrained, how many are there in excess. We have to control the people, the source of revenue. We cannot do anything if we cannot control the source of revenue. Only then can we go to the next level. I have the ideas but it’s a little too early to tell you all in detail what I want to do. But one example I can tell you is that, imagine if we tell people to go to the bank and pay there instead of paying to the wage collectors? Already it will reduce corruption.
The other area that I want to emphaise on is waste management, not only waste collection but management. This is going to be a long-term process. It’s not just about collecting waste, it’s about recycling waste, it’s about educating people how to separate waste at source. Other countries are doing it, we can also do it. It’s about making waste into money as you can get fertiliser from waste, you can recycle paper, etc. So we have to educate people and decentralise waste collection. Make it a business venture with towns like Bakau and other towns and places having their own waste collection system and employ people.
The dumpsite in Kotu also must be a priority. We need to find a solution and move the dumpsite. It must be moved. That dumpsite has to be moved. Yes.
Indeed, the dumpsite has been a long-standing problem for the people of Kotu and its environs. But where do you plan to move it to?
That is a collective effort. I don’t want to just mention it because once I do, it becomes a problem. I went there two days ago, couldn’t even breathe. That has to stop. But then we also have to look at the economics of it.
Once we move the dumpsite to a farther place, how do we deal with the expenses? Council has to sit and find solutions. But one of the solutions like I told you before is we must find ways of reducing wastes that go to the dumpsite. That’s where my next point comes in; communication. We have to communicate and educate our people from primary school that we separate wastes. If you have a can drink, after drinking, don’t throw it, bin it. We have to train people. It’s not going to happen overnight, it’s a process.
Why are you passionate about having this job?
The reason Papa wants to become the mayor is that I have the track record and don’t want to leave this place for somebody to come and mismanage it like they did in previous years. I have done this kind of work before. I have the passion, and I know the solutions to KMC’s problems. I want to come and do it. Papa believes that I am a resident of KMC, I have the skills, expertise and know-how and have the conviction that with me at the helm, we can make KMC great again.
Now that we are a democracy, everyone wants to be made mayor, selling all sorts of ideas to the electorate. Do you believe those observers who predict the electorate are faced with some difficult choices at the April 12 polls?
Yes, the electorates have a tough time to decide who they want to vote for, because of couple of reasons. One is because the 22-years of brainwashing of their minds and the way they knew politics is changing. Two, they will have a tough time in selecting the right man because other politicians indirectly are using the tribal card and that is a big problem. The third thing is that we need to have a platform where all the aspirants will go and talk about their agenda or what it is that they want to offer for the people they seek to serve. A debate-type thing, which is very, very important.
I believe that every person that wants to become mayor has to be interviewed by the people of KMC. They must be asked; ‘what track record do you have? Have you ever worked in government? Have they worked in institutions or been leaders or decision makers?’ Because to be a leader, one must be strong and ready to implement on day one. And how can you do that? You can only do that when you have a track record of service delivery. Track record and experience are very important. So I appeal to the people of KMC that anybody they want to elect into office must show and prove that they have a good track record. They don’t want to come and test people at the KMC. The KMC is not a testing ground. If you want to be tested, go to the small businesses and start it there. The KMC is a serious place. Serious work.
Why is debate important?
Because each person will be asked about your agenda, each person will be given an opportunity to talk about your experience and what you want to do for The Gambia. With that, people decide who to vote for. This debate is important because we still have people who vote along party lines. That can be dangerous if the wrong person is elected.
Others may suggest this debate is meaningless, and that you are only calling for it because of your own proven track record of service delivery
Not even that. No. Every single political office in the country should be exposed to debates. Not only the mayoral office, even the councilors should go and talk to the people and there should be debates along those lines. That is democracy. You have to tell people what you can offer. It is very important we are given a platform for us to talk about our agenda.
But there is a section of society that is also not represented and we need to talk about that. That is the young people and the people with disability. We must do something about them, too.
You are also seeking to immerse support for mayorship with your crusade to ending diabetes in Gambia. Of all the life-threatening diseases, why did diabetes appeal to you?
It goes back to my person as an activist. My foundation has been in this fight for the last four years and sadly, my mother passed because of diabetes, so I have been very passionate about diabetes and every year I celebrate world diabetes day by raising awareness and doing free blood-testing. This year we celebrated it in four different locations, testing over 500 people, some of whom never knew they had diabetes. And during this time, we spoke about how to prevent diabetes, which can sometimes be caused by poor-eating habit and lack of exercise.
Tell us as President of Gambia Basketball Association, how did you miraculously take the accounts of the association from D76 to half a million within one year?
Through networking. That is a skill that you need, especially if you are vying for mayor. We went to the NGOs and private sector and tell them what we need. Since then the Basketball has been going on for the last six or seven years and we have been having our national league. Government has never sponsored us, we would love for them to start doing that now.
Do you believe you will win?
Any Muslim would leave everything in the hands of God. But my chances are very, very high. I know people will listen to me, they know what I have done and know my track record and will vote for me based on that.
And if they don’t?
That is life. I move on. I have a life before politics, before seeking to be mayor and I will continue to do my business.
Earlier, you hinted at your political philosophy. What does it state?
My political philosophy is, lead by example and two, allow the people you claim to represent, lead you, since you are their servant. Always try to develop your people and leave a legacy. I would like to leave a legacy worthy of emulation. For me, it’s not about money.
How old is Papa now?
Papa is 48.
Favorite local dish?
As April 12 looms, what word of wisdom do you have for the electorate?
Let them vote with their hearts and don’t vote with their passion. Vote for competence, not because he is my neighbor or because I like him or because he is from that political party. Vote because you believe this person can provide you the services you need, vote for somebody with integrity, very, very important, otherwise for the next five years we will get an individual who is only eyeing to fill his own pockets.