With Alagie Manneh
You come from Banjul. Tell us more about yourself
I will love to say I am from Banjul but, sometimes Banjulians don’t want to see me as a Banjulian. I was born in Westfield Clinic, raised in Fajara but my roots, you are right, I am from Banjul.
Specifically, how are you related to late Pierre Sarr Njie, founder of United Party?
Banjul is made up of Wolofs, Creoles, Hausas, Mandinkas, it’s a melting pot. I’m from the Njie clan, precisely the Jarga Njie family of Banjul by way of Saloum and Jollof and PS Njie is a known family member of my grandparents. He’s like a grandfather to me equally. As a child I used to visit him and… quite an inspirational person, quite a regal person and someone who really was attuned with the world and worldly affairs.
Upon return from studies, you worked at the Ministry of Finance…
When I was in the US, coming back home, my whole idea was if I am to go home, it should not be the private sector, it should be the public sector because I am coming back home to add value, to be part of the change that I think was needed in the country. The ministry was the only place I saw myself working at when I decided to return because that’s government and that’s where policies are made. I wanted to be the change I want. If you want to see change you have to be immersed in change and being immersed in change as an economist, was to be at the policy nerve-centre of what will drive this country and this economy forward.
You eventually left. Did you jump, or were you pushed?
Haha. I think understanding The Gambia we lived in during the Jammeh days, I was arrested for being “a spy,” which was very silly and funny, but I guess Jammeh was suspicious of me and my activities and said I must have been working for the World Bank and the IMF. Very stupid. Anyway, after I left, I remained in consulting. I was not in government but I was closely working with issues that affected government as it relates to public policy. For years, I was doing work that was policy-oriented. So I was still in close collaboration with government, but I am glad that that was in the past. I’m glad that we have an opportunity to rebuild a nation.
They said you were a ‘boy-boy’ of the former Finance minister, late Famara Jatta.
The answer is no to that. I wasn’t raised to carry anybody’s bag, not even my dad, let alone an outsider. I’m a man of my own. I made myself through the help of my family, my parents to be precise, they educated me. I had no obligations to anybody, but Famara Jatta of blessed memory was a great man who mentored me – and Dodou Bammy Jagne – when I joined the civil service. I think the words used are highly misconstrued and not fair to them and not fair to me, either. They were elders who accorded me the opportunity to showcase my talent, and equally, I learnt a thing or two from them.
You went into private practice and ended up at Comium. Despite your seeming brilliance, it remains the worst performing GSM company in The Gambia. Why is that so?
When Comium came to The Gambia, they were frontrunners as it relates to technology. They are the first that started data services in The Gambia, they started Internet, they came up with brilliant bundles but, any company has a right to live and a right to die, depending on the decisions they make. I think the jury is out; Comium chose a trajectory that has really stifled its growth and innovation, but I’m not a shareholder, so I can’t say much about its business decisions, but they chose a decision and today the price is there for them to pay.
Don’t you think the telecoms market is saturated with four GSM companies?
There is never a saturation point for technology and innovation. I think what’s lacking is great policy from the side of government to make sure that the Gambian consumer gets good practice packages from them. Secondly, I think the regulator needs to buckle up and make sure that the telecom environment is sanitised. Why should Gambia today have a regulated environment where telecoms operators have to go through an international gateway when they should have their own private gateways? I think the market needs to be liberalised. The market needs to be opened so that Gambian telecom subscribers will have value for money, which is lacking today. Government needs to understand that this technological feed called telecommunication, cannot be policed the way they are policing it. What they need to do is open up the space, allow innovation and innovative marketing strategies to take charge so that Gambians will have cheap and affordable inbound and outbound international rates plus, good and reliable Internet services.
Is Pura doing a fine job as the telecoms regulator?
Equivocally, no. They are not. I think the role of a regulator is to make sure that the market is sanitised, the market is clear of obstructive practices and policies and fair play is accorded to all participants. The issue of having an incumbent operator, that is, Gamtel/Gamcel, well Gamtel to be precise, should have been looked into. Pura needs to stop being a consumer body and be a regulatory body. Even during Jammeh days, they played safe. They ventured into areas that were not in the interest of the establishment. They need to focus more on liberalising the sector and making sure the space they should use to regulate is not stifled or encroached upon by government and policy-makers.
President Jammeh sent his men to completely demolish your house in Batokunku together with others, what was the total net lost?
I have lost in excess of D7m, excluding the value of the land. President Jammeh didn’t destroy my house, the state destroyed my house because the machinery that came there to destroy the house belonged to the state. The workmen that came there were employees of the state. Notwithstanding, The Gambia got out of 22 years of hardship, a lot of people lost lives. So I never wanted to openly go out and go after the state for compensation, hoping that they would first take care of people who lost lives and others. I have given them a year and six months and I am yet to hear anything tangible. I may have to resort to court. I may have to take the Government of The Gambia to court to make sure that they compensate me fully and duly for what has happened to my property.
Was it not the destruction of that property that changed you because before then nobody heard of Nyang Njie as a political commentator?
I think what changed me had nothing to do with the house, it had everything to do with my conviction and commitment to my country. I left America and came here because I wanted to see change in the country, my country. I became a commentator socially and not at the last days of Jammeh. I have been doing that at least a good four to five years before Jammeh left.
During the impasse you left The Gambia and settled in Dakar, what role did you play?
It was an accidental departure. I didn’t want to leave The Gambia but on 31 December, while driving from the beach, I was stopped by the then CDS, whom I didn’t even know or had an encounter with before but, he recognised my face, and told me, ‘I have been given instructions to liquidate you. Don’t go home, park your car, turn your phone off and find your way out’ he said. I am grateful to him.
Many were surprised that you were not picked for some top government job by Barrow. Why?
Why were they surprised? I am not expecting a reward. I didn’t do anything because I want to be picked up. I was making a nice living. I don’t need a government job to self-actualise myself. I don’t think a person should advocate for country to be rewarded.
Is the Barrow government on the right trajectory?
The Barrow government needs to refocus, re-orient and do two things for The Gambia. The reason why the silent majority of Gambians got up and booted Jammeh out and said enough is enough, was we lacked a transparent and accountable government. So the hope of Gambians were very high when this government came to being. However, this government hasn’t done a good job communicating with Gambians, and managing and taming the expectations of Gambians. We don’t expect this government to build roads, give us hospitals or even electricity they are working hard on, we want them to rebuild the institutions of state and make sure that the subsequent generation or governments of The Gambia will now have a good footing to build a new Gambia. It’s not the responsibility of this current administration to rebuild the country, but it’s their utmost responsibility to rebuild the institutions that make up the government, and that’s what we expect from them, nothing more.
After committing to the promise of a one-term presidency, Barrow is now focused on staying on. Your comment.
Barrow is just another politician, and you know politicians. Barrow is positioning himself to be relevant after this term. His political ends may not be to the interest of what the average Gambian wanted. The average Gambian wanted to make sure that the most important transformation was institutional transformation, the legal instruments and the institutions that make up the state. Of course we want development and better roads and electricity, but all of that will be meaningless if we don’t have functioning institutions and governance architecture. I expect Barrow’s government to make sure that this country has strong, reliable institutions that will make The Gambia a model among the states within our sub-region.
How did you come to be appointed communications director at the OIC Secretariat?
The job was advertised. I wasn’t handpicked. It’s not a government role, and the most important thing is, can I sell The Gambia? The answer is yes though this job will not stop me from pointing wrong out.
But your critics say you have gone quiet since your appointment saying ‘in Africa, it’s rude to talk while eating’.
I think they are either myopic or indifferent to what people post. I don’t speak for myself. If you go to my blog, to my Facebook page, my work speaks for itself. Nobody controls or owns Nyang Njie. When I see wrong in this government, I will be the first to point it out.
One of your critics, one Sulayman Saidykhan, described you as a metrosexual…
I’m a fashion-conscious guy. I’m proud to say I am a metrosexual. Nothing is wrong with that. The sophistication of the Gambian mind-set is very primitive, I am sorry to say. Gambians cannot understand people who are different from mainstream Gambians. I am not the next Gambian. I’m a different Gambian in mind-set and the way I exhibit myself. I dictate the terms of my life and life-style.
Does your recent divorce from your wife of many years has anything to do with your current political pro-activism?
Far from it. Life is about choices, and people make choices. When you make a choice, if you’re fine with your choice, you go with it.
You are always trying to defend the legacy of PS Njie, yet many Mandinkas in The Gambia regard him as a tribalist.
If you know who PS Njie is, you cannot call him a tribalist. The easiest reference is Ousainu Darboe, one of many, not him alone. PS Njie paid tuition for a whole lot of Gambians and hosted them in his house. He can’t be a tribalist and do that. PS Njie’s mom is not even Wolof, but people don’t know. Berkeley Rice wrote a book and that book was a political satire. Unfortunately, people chose what they wanted out of the book. I enjoin you to read that book; Rice had nothing good to say about Gambians and the social elite. Tamba Jammeh of Illiasa is PS Nie’s cousin. If people who don’t know PS Njie and called him a tribalist, I am sure in his grave he will be smiling. PS Njie never had an issue with Mandinkas. His best friends and closest loyal allies were Mandinkas. He had a political problem with David Kwesi Jawara.
It didn’t transcend to the Mandinka race. Will you call Jawara a tribalist for coming up with the People’s Protectorate Party, when the PPP was first formed? Who were in the Protectorate? There’s certain things, they have to be put in context to understand. Was PS Njie a man with shortcomings? I will say yes, he was a bit arrogant, and his arrogant nature was due to him feeling that he was regal, royal, but wanted to play politics, and politics is people power. When you want to play politics, you need to bring yourself down. PS Njie thought he was a prince. The shortcoming of PS Njie if you ask me, was the mind-set of his blue-bloodedness and his royal lineage. That affected some decisions that he made in his life including some political decisions, which cost him the presidency of this country. PS coming from a royal background, believed he should not be in politics with certain people. That was a foully.
Is Tahawal Banjul going to be turned into political party?
I know nothing about Tahawal Banjul. I have nothing to do with Tahawal Banjul. I was never part of Tahawal Banjul and or ‘Gambia Has Decided’. In the absence of information, the rumour mill thrives, and when the rumour mill thrives, it becomes the reality because perception is as strong as reality.
Do you want to be king, or do you want to stay as kingmaker?
If you live in a country, for a fact, you should be able to either be a decision-maker or an influencer of decision-making. Would I want to be a decision-maker? That’s not up to me, that’s up to Gambians. I would always forever want to be someone who will influence and dictate what others do. To be a king is not up to me, it’s people who decide that.
Is Barrow good for Gambia?
Barrow is good for a transition. You have to understand one thing; anything but Yahya Jammeh is what Gambians asked for. This government must be seen as a transitionary government, a transitionary government to just get rid of our festering menace called the Butcher of Kanilai. What I expect Barrow and his government is to act as a transitionary government; rebuild, strengthen, focus on the reparations and repairing the ills of the past. We voted him for a transition. He should stop at the transition phase of why he came to power. Nothing more.
Three years or five, which side are you?
I’m on the five year side because I’m a firm believer in my constitution. I respect my constitution. The constitution of this country supersedes any arrangement individuals, groups or organisations enter into. Whatever PDOIS, UDP came to agree, it’s inferior to my constitution. Therefore, Barrow will be here for the period stated by the constitution and even if he wants out, we cannot have elections…