With Alagie Manneh
Momodou Jaiteh lives with his extended family in his native in Kololi. Born in 1963, he graced the classroom in 1997, even though his age at the time was way over accepted admission requirements. Nevertheless, Jaiteh enrolled at Sukuta Primary School, sat for common entrance and proceeded to Sukuta Secondary Technical School and went on to sit for the Gambia Teacher Entrance Examination. He then sat for Private O Level, trained as a teacher at college, earning a Primary Teacher’s Certificate.
He was posted to Southern-CRR, then Kayai in Niani, later transferred to Bakoteh Primary School and Talinding and back to Bakoteh for a second stint, before finally bringing down the curtain on an illustrious career in teaching and taking up politics in 2002.
He served as secretary general for Serekunda West Constituency for the APRC and as ward councilor for Kololi for two consecutive terms. In 2013, he served as Deputy Mayor until his term ended in 2017.
Although you quit teaching, you still are passionate about the profession. Why do you like it so much?
Teaching was something that I enjoyed so much. As a result, I went on to spend about 21-years in the field. I came to teaching at a time when the profession wasn’t lucrative at all, but out of my love for the job and for country and for our future leaders, teaching became something I like and had to do.
And I’m sure the nation appreciates your services. But tell us, if you love teaching that much, why switched it for a messy profession like politics?
Because I wasn’t just a teacher at the time, I was also involved in community development works and initiatives. The truth is, I never anticipated being a teacher in life. Things happen, I guess. I fell in love with this noble profession. But then the people, the youths came and demanded I lead them as councilor for Kololi. Knowing I can deliver and do the job, I accepted and worked towards improving their socio-economic lives.
When did you start stepping into politics?
I started as a mobiliser and coordinator for this ward. From there, I rose to through the ranks to become secretary general for the Serekunda-West constituency for the APRC party. In 2002, I became a councilor for my ward and served for three terms. During my last and final term of councillorship at the KMC, I was lucky to be nominated by the general council to be the deputy. And so, I served as deputy mayor of KMC up to January 12, 2018.
You served as deputy mayor and now want to become mayor. Why?
I would like to put something on record; I was not the mayor and did not go out to ask people to vote for me. So I was not responsible. But now I feel that over the period that I was there, I learned a lot and acquired a lot of experience. And I believe this will help me now to better serve my community and be productive to my people if they vote me as mayor. I also have a program; over the years I discovered a lot of things can be changed for the better. As a mayor, I have my agenda and I feel I will be able to implement that manifesto, which will be beneficial to the people. That is why I am coming up with a slogan… I want a municipality that is working to serve everyone. That is why I call on people to come on board, whether or not you are old, young, businessman or whatever, everyone must have a say and must be involved in my blueprint and development for the municipality.
Give us a vivid mental image of the municipality you want to see?
My vision may be similar to others but nevertheless, I want a council that is progressive and accommodates and works for everyone.
One of our biggest challenges is waste management but I am sure we will be able to remedy that. We have programmes to address waste management. Although I am hearing some aspirants promising they are going to immediately solve the issue. No, they cannot do that because it requires a lot of planning, lot of thinking and resources. There must be that capacity first. We must manage it first to the level where the health hazard it costs to the population around that area is minimised. That management is by providing tools, materials and manpower and other resources able to manage waste and our dumpsite, while other plans are afoot to having it relocated.
Then you come to municipal development. There are a lot of things that we can use to develop ourselves and our communities. People are talking about roads rehabilitated. You also have to look at our infrastructures and how to upgrade them and also come up with new ones but all these ideas are going to be based on consultation and involvement of the communities. So, in a nutshell, what I would say here is that my blueprint will be determined by the outcome of the consultations and input of these communities because actually, you cannot take development to the people. You cannot just say to a community that ‘this is what I want to provide you with.’ It may not be what they need.
But if you have conversations and engagements with them and involve them and together you identify and move together. If that is done what you have is this ‘ownership’ consent because the people will see it as their own property and would want to make sure it is sustained, which is very important. At the same time, activities for the youth, women, our sporting facilities and other institutions will be afoot.
I also want to believe that placing the people with disabilities issues and concerns must be of paramount significance and hence it is one of my priorities.
I want to believe that within my first years, we will start realising these objectives that I set out. If people are involved in their own development, I believe that is also cost-effective for the council.
I talked to many aspirants and most of them have no plans for the people with disability, yet you heartily share their concerns and issues. What plans do you have for them?
The first thing that I will do is that I will recommend, if I become mayor, for one amongst them to be nominated to represent them in the council, to be their mouthpiece. Through that representation, since they are a minority, their needs will be critically looked at and we will try to prioritise them. What I am not going to do is sit here and say ‘we are going to do ABC and D for the people with disability, no. It may not be the wise thing however, I’m sure they will have someone at the council to fight for their plight.
You are no longer with the APRC but you worked for Mr Colley as his junior…
[Cuts] let me make one thing clear, I did not work for Mayor Colley. We were both elected into office.
Nevertheless, silly controversies surround his past as critics accused his administration of corruption, using of state resources in APRC affairs and particularly the fate of the over 2 million Euro contract agreement with Italian company JMP still unknown. As his former junior, what are your fears of the impact these negatives might have on your candidature?
Actually, I am not going to speak for Mr Colley. Like I said in the beginning, Mr Colley had a manifesto and his manifesto was bought by the people. And so he became the mayor. When people have some of these type of perceptions against him or for him, I want to believe that he should be the right person to answer those questions but as far as I am concern, I would have preferred to be asked this question ‘what did you do or what development or how did your people measure you or what did you do together with your people to bring development?’ I am not elected by the municipal to represent them there, my Kololi ward elected me to represent them there. And so I cannot be accountable to the municipality, because they did not elect me. I should be accountable to my ward and that is the difference.
Secondly, being an APRC before, I don’t believe the notion that that can bar anybody, I think it’s the individual that matters and what he can offer and if people have confidence and trust in him, then he can serve. So, the question of Mr Colley that is something else. I don’t have the capacity and I am not the right person to comment on those particular issues. I don’t want to believe that what a superior does, should affect you in anyway if you are innocent. Take Zimbabwe as an example. Robert Mugabe was there for a long period but later people felt he had prolonged his stay and called for another leader to serve their interest. So Emerson Mnangagwa, his junior, stepped up and is today leading the country.
That’s quite true. So, as an independent, tell us about your support base, how strong is it?
I think over the years, I was able to build a lot of relationships and also being a councilor and politician over a long period from 1994 to date. I have also attended a lot of meetings, workshops, programmes and activities within the municipality and beyond. I have also served in the capacity of my ward for two consecutive terms and also once served as deputy mayor. During these times, I have interacted with a lot of people and they know what type of a person this man is. For Kololi, where I live, I have been working with Alkalolu in the municipality, been working with Yai Compins, councilors and youths and so I want to believe that, going by these testimonies, I am well-known in the municipality. Everybody knows me. I taught in schools and touched on so many lives.
What slogan are you going by?
All-inclusive for one municipality! Yes, everybody has to come on board and participate, because when that happens what you have is transparency and it cuts down corruption.
I want to make one thing very clear, government is about participation. When you allow people to participate there you are trying to build consensus, responsiveness, effectiveness and equity.
If you were to address the electorate, especially at a time when sentiments seem high and competition for political offices tougher now than ever before, what would you tell them?
This is an opportunity for everybody and everybody would want to contest the mayoral elections. Some would contest as candidates and others under party umbrellas, but what I would advise the citizens of this municipality is that I think it is important for them to realise that the KMC is an institution that belongs to everybody because we are all tax-payers. So, it is important that when we choose people that are to represent us, we have to make sure we choose the right peoples with experience and capability and honesty and hardworking and who will represent our interests, be transparent and satisfy our needs.
I know people used to say that council resources were used for the APRC activities. I want to believe that if these were true, this time around we should be wise and avoid that by voting for independent candidates because they would make sure everybody is accommodated and they owe no loyalty or allegiance to anyone who might expect reward. If a candidate of a particular party wins, as none supporter, you would not feel comfortable to come to an institution that belongs to everybody in which you are a tax payer. But if you have an independent person who is open and versatile and as a result represent everybody, then even every Tom and Harry would have access to the institution and share their concerns.
How will you celebrate?
It is a victory that I would take and give it back to the municipality because without them, the people, it would not have been possible. What I am saying is that it is their victory and I would give it back to them to celebrate anyhow they like.
What next for Mr Momodou Jaiteh if he loses the election?
I am already a politician. You know, with us, our problem is when you start politics sometimes it may happen abruptly, involuntarily. But when you are in too deep and moved up another level, you feel you have to continue because it becomes part of your blood. So, I want to believe that even if I did not win, I would continue to serve my people like I am doing at the moment. I must say we have brought a lot of development to my ward, and I am proud of those achievements. And I promise you, I will continue being a politician regardless of outcome of the polls.
Thank you Mr Jaiteh, and good luck to you sir
Thank you Mr Manneh for coming.