Alagie Manneh: Musa Koteh is your name, why do you hide behind the name ‘King Sport’?
Ask me why they name me King Sport. That could be the best question if you want us to have a conversation, but if you are telling me ‘your name is Musa Koteh but you hide behind King Sport’ then I don’t believe our interview will progress. Really, your manner of questioning is very strong. What do you mean by ‘you hide’? You are interviewing me so that people can know me. If you want people to know me, you should have asked ‘your name is King Sport, what brought about the name’? Why are you saying ‘you hide behind’? I don’t like that.
What exactly does King Sport mean?
King Sport name came at a time when I was in sports. I was the president of the Gambia Weight Lifting, Body Building, and Power Lifting Federation. I formed it. When I formed it, I became elected president. I was there for 15 years and during the period the members and I travelled a lot. Sometimes we would face difficulties but whatever initiative I tried, it worked well, God helped me and my people were very happy with me so they call me King Sport. That’s how the name came. It’s my boys who call me ‘King’. Also, during our sports activities, no matter how difficult, no matter how many people are present, if a problem arises and I arrive, the problem goes away and everyone would listen to me. No one is there to stand [up to] me.
Given your recent prominence, could you tell us a little about yourself, your level of education, employment et cetera?
My level of education is not very high because since my secondary school days, my intention has always been to travel. I started my secondary in Kuntaur and I completed it in Kaur, but my intention was to travel. When I realised that travelling was difficult for me, I did courses at YMCA. I then started working and wanted to join the military. I went to the military’s BFT. I crossed the BFT and was given my things to go to the military camp in Fajara. But then my mother returned from upcountry and said I could not join the army because what she saw in my joining the military wasn’t good. At that time, my father was preparing me to go to the army because during my school days I was a Boy Scout. I was a Scouts leader and was very active. On the following day that I was supposed to go to the camp, I shaved my head, bought my bags, toothpaste, towels and other stuff but my mother said I will not leave. It became an issue but I cannot overrule my mother. I then joined a security company called Wackenhut. I was doing bicycle race while I was at Wackenhut. After about six months, I was promoted. I was the first guy they took as a senior guard to Nawec during a contract. I was there with my men. The Wackenhut director liked me very well because I do bicycle race. In those days, only few people were into that in The Gambia. I then left to work at the ports for a company called Maersk Line. I was there as a clerk and later got promoted as a senior clerk and then as a day planner for vessels.
As president of the weight lifting association, you were accused of visa fraud and that’s why they said you fled The Gambia, is that true?
Thank you very much.That’s a good question. If they said I did visa fraud, well, I am not an ambassador or counsellor, what visa fraud did I do? Those are false statements that people are spreading, and they are lying. People will say what people want to say.
Even during the days of Yahya Jammeh, you were known to say to whoever cared to listen that you could depose Jammeh by organising men to go and capture him in Kanilai. Why didn’t you act out these intentions?
[Laughs] This was at a time when Yahya Jammeh killed people in a very painful killing. Tabara Samb and others were part of that. I was very mad. I was very crazy at that time. Obviously, that killing really hurt me. So I had to talk to my men in The Gambia, my weight lifters. We realised that this is our country and as youths, we couldn’t look at our country without doing something. We had some brave men in our ranks and whatever I tell them they do it. So we said let us all sacrifice our lives and do something. But we didn’t want to pick up arms or anything; we wanted to stage a mass demonstration in The Gambia. We wanted to do that by organising competitions across the country and the last competition was going to be staged in Kanilai because we all know how well the president likes the crowd. So we wanted to be closer to him. In fact at one time I wrote a letter to him to get closer to him in order for us to weaken him. Yahya Jammeh was a good guy and was developing Gambia but there were certain things he did that I could not accept. For our plan, only money was lacking. There was a plan to kidnap Jammeh. We wanted to kidnap Jammeh. The way we were going to kidnap him was going to be very dangerous. No need to reveal that here. His security was not that tight. The Gambia’s security, people say at the time it was very tight but it was not. I used to go in and out of Kanilai.
The Gambia Government spokesman earlier this week referred to you as“a trucker” in America. Is it true, and what gainful employment are you involved in?
What Ebrima Sankareh said is true. I am a truck driver in America. But he doesn’t know America’s truck drivers have the best pay for any truck driver in the world. I thank God very much since I came to this country. At the company where I started truck driving, Warner, I was trained and they trusted me but I wanted to be my own operator and leased a truck from Warner. I went to another company and registered my truck and I am driving now as owner operator. Ebrima G Sankareh doesn’t know the wage of truck drivers in America. If I pick a load today, after all expenses, nothing less than US$1,500 goes into my pocket. In a week, I make about six to seven thousand dollars. I am very comfortable with my truck; I have two beds in it, I have my cooking utensils in there and I cook there and everything is in there because I roam all the 48 states of America. Ebrima G Sankareh, today, he is in the hands of Barrow. When he was in Europe or United States, I was earning more money than him.I will not leave this job even for the presidency of The Gambia. I know what I am earning. I have people working for me. He doesn’t know the history of truck drivers; we are paid even more than the doctors. I can pay Sankareh, I can pay his boss. Sometimes I make a million dalasi in a month. I wasn’t even working the past days. I was enjoying the demonstrations. Ebrima Sankareh should stop the lies. I can pay him for truth telling, you know.
There is also a claim that you are an undocumented alien in the US and that you are using the Three Years Jotna to further your chances of being given asylum because then you could say you fear political persecution were you to be returned to Gambia.
You cannot be a truck driver in the United States without being a citizen or permanent resident. To be a truck driver here, you must be a citizen or a permanent resident or a green card holder. Don’t answer those people; they are just desperate.
This is a vexed issue. You claim to be the leader of the 3YJ but Abdou Njie is the chairman. How are you the leader?
I made Abdou Njie the leader because he is in The Gambia. I am the head of Three Years Jotna, but I am abroad which means I must have someone to lead our Gambian base. If you put the whole Gambian Diaspora together, I am the head of the 3YJ. Abdou Njie is our 3YJ chairman for Gambia. Any of our members who goes to The Gambia must answer to the chairmanship of Abdou Njie. I am the only one who can go to The Gambia and Abdou Njie would show me respect. He would see that his elder has arrived, and would let me lead. But he is our chairman in Gambia, I have to give him that respect, but I am the founder of 3 Years Jotna. I respect him as our chairman.
Tell us the genesis of the 3YJ movement.
I started Three Years Jotna since the first day that Ousainu Darboe stood and said Barrow is going for five years and whoever doesn’t want that should meet him at courthouse. It was on that day that I said Lawyer Darboe is ready to bring problem to our country because he wasn’t present when the Coalition was being done. If he was there, this coalition wouldn’t have worked. Can’t you hear what he is saying? God helped him to come out of prison but if I were him, I would have remained quiet. But even if the whole Gambia said five years, I King Sport, will not accept that. So, I started mobilising people and opened a WhatsApp group and named it Operation 3 Years. I wanted to use a Mandinka dialect like sangji sabo sita but then I decided no, they would say these are Mandinkas trying to take the country. I thought and Jola came to my mind but then I was close to APRC and people could say this guy is APRC. I wanted to use Fula too but I decided no and ended up with the Wolof because I haven’t seen a Wolof leading any political party in the country. Wolofs like to align themselves with whatever party is in power. They embrace any leader who comes. It was then that I said oh, ‘Operation 3 Years Jotna’ sounds good.
How was the executive selected?
I can say 99 percent of our executive in the diaspora was selected by me. I always listened to people on our WhatsApp groups and would identify sincere and genuine members and after a time I would take them as members of 3 Years Jotna. Others sometimes would point out loyalists to me for consideration. Sometimes I would select people for the executive based on how they express their anger and displeasure about Barrow. In The Gambia, our first meeting was held in Fatou Conta’s home. I gave instructions for them to select our Gambian executive there.
Most if not all of the leaders of the Three Years Jotna, with your notable exception, have come down for the protest. Is it not in fact cowardice on your part to be seen to be fanning the flames of trouble here, while you are there?
No, what I did was called on Gambians to come out and express their rights. Cowardice? Those are wicked statements. I told you I was in The Gambia. What these people want was to capture me like they captured the others. All those saying he is pushing people, I am not seeking for any fame. I am doing this for the country. Those are desperate people; they are political sycophants. You should not listen to people like that. I am only pushing people towards their liberty and freedom. The role I played in Three Years Jotna, no one played it. The money I put into it, is far more than anyone.
In several of your audios, people say you seem to be a defender of Mandinka pride. Is Three Years Jotna in fact a pro-Mandinka activist?
They would say I speak Mandinka, but in all of my audios I have shown that this is not a political group, that this is not about tribes. All Gambians can bear me witness. True, I speak Mandinka in these audios, but defending Mandinka pride? That’s a big mistake. I don’t know where they get that from. I am fluent more in Mandinka, that’s why I speak in Mandinka. I can speak in Wolof but I am not quite fluent. It is tribalists who are saying things like that. They even questioned why I didn’t name the movement in Mandinka.
Many critics also say the Three Years Jotna, given the political leaning of its leadership, is a proto-UDP grouping and fighting a proxy war with Barrow?
When people somehow felt that this movement is a Mandinka group, they distanced themselves from Three Years Jotna. Those who see the truth, have aligned themselves with us. Of course, the majority of the group will be Mandinkas, because they are the majority in the country. A Wolof told me once that I shouldn’t have used ‘Jotna’. I am not UDP. I have never voted for UDP. As far as we are concerned, we are concerned citizens who want to see Adama Barrow fulfill his promise.
They say anti-Barrow people in The Gambia and abroad have been bankrolling your activities. How much money have you collected and spent on your two protests?
What I don’t understand is you saying ‘anti-Barrow people’. How is any of this anti-Barrow? President Barrow doesn’t have any haters. The ones I know in the diaspora and even in the Three Years Jotna are the ones who voted for Barrow, so that is not anti-Barrow. Gambians like him and if only he would fulfill his promise, he will be somebody that Gambians will respect and the world will respect. If there is any animosity here it is Barrow who caused it because he is using his powers to destroy people.
You were on record as saying that when your people go out on January 20thyou will not go back until Barrow steps down. This is clearly against the law and is in fact treasonable. Don’t you agree?
Yes, it was I who said it. We did not go out to attack him at State House, but he has no business in us staying outside because he is not the one feeding us. I did not say I will beat or arrest him. Respectfully, we wrote Adama Barrow twice, but he did not respond. We even took Gambians out and the international media covered it and we handed another letter to him, but he refused to answer. And he is our president. If at all he wanted peace, when we took our first letter to him, he should have called us for talks but he didn’t because Adama Barrow has surrounded himself with advisers who know nothing about world affairs. All they know is power. If he had responded, won’t this be over by now? He looks down on all of the country and that was why he said ‘whether one likes it or not’. So that statement… we will stay outside on the roads and no vehicles will pass, we will cook there and nothing he can do about it. He doesn’t care about us who put him there. His mandate was finished already on the 18th [January]. To me, from the 18th of January, The Gambia has no president. That’s my stance.
The information minister said during the January 19th protest you released an audio in which you called for the police to join the demonstrators and remove President Barrow and this was one of the reasons that led to the discord and breakup of the protest. Surely, no government will allow anyone to get up and agitate for its overthrow.
You see, when you are not on the side of truth, you are always afraid. I released an audio and said ‘Gambian police, know your jobs, stand on the side of truth. Adama Barrow said three years, so, today, he is not your president, join your fellow Gambians and demonstrate for Barrow to stand down. Do not allow Adama Barrow to use you to torture Gambians, your own brothers. It doesn’t bother Barrow anythin because his son will not be touched.’ I told them that today, Barrow is not our president, I said it. Does Ebrima Sillah own the police? That guy doesn’t know what he is saying. I heard his words. If my words shook them, then today I am more blessed than Barrow and his people. It was when I was entering Gambia that I released that audio.
Three Years Jotna is not banned in The Gambia. The government should know that Three Years Jotna is not registered under any government. We know that Adama Barrow’s government is an outgoing government and that is why we are not registered under it. So you can only send away a group that is under you, but we are not under Barrow so how can he ban us? We are a pressure group of Gambians. They just don’t know what they are doing or saying at that State House, that’s why they are saying all these. Our people that they are holding behind bars, today they have power and that’s why. But this action if anything has only increased our name and reputation. We are more powerful today. You gave us a permit and return to tell us that you heard some things and that’s why you have to stop us. Sillah said it was I who caused all this. Why didn’t they issue a release to revoke our permit? They didn’t do that and waited for us to come out only to throw gas at us and beat us up. Is that the right action? They wanted to kill a lot of people but luckily, all the people did not gather at one place. What they did is wrong.