With Omar Wally
Ousainu ANM Darboe is the leader of the biggest political party in The Gambia and the country’s Minister of Foreign Affairs. Bantaba anchor Omar Wally picked up from where he left in this marathon interview. Excerpts:
Omar Wally: So how did you raise funds for UDP?
From our pockets, each time I’m asked this question, I get a little bit emotional. I have liquidated assets that I should have left for my children to inherit. I did that and of course a couple of people.
You see my friend and elder brother Dr [Sheriff] Ceesay really pumped in a lot of his resources and professional skills to look after our people in times of great need. Also Alagie Kanteh. It was 2013 that there was organised thing from Gambians in the diaspora and prior to that people in France and New York helped us. The educated Gambians in diaspora came in 2013, but before that it was the uneducated ones in places like the Bronx [New York].
Is it true that Sir Alieu Sulayman Jack gave the UDP a million dalasis when it was formed?
I cannot quantify how much Sir Sulayman Jack contributed to the UDP. He was one person who was contributing virtually on a monthly basis. He was one of our greatest funders, if not the greatest. He did it with great happiness.
Was that the reason his daughter Mariam Jack-Denton was selected Speaker of National Assembly?
His daughter is not the Speaker of National Assembly because of that. [If that were the case] we would have done the same for Dr Ceesay and his family [laughs]. She is just competent. You need somebody with a legal background as Speaker of National Assembly. She was part of the struggle; it is not because of her family association. She was a founding member of UDP and contributed in several ways to [promoting] the political fortune of the UDP. So you can’t have someone better, and in any case, show someone who is more competent and more committed politically than her. Show me anyone.
Lamin Waa Juwara in March this year told me you were an ‘enabler’ who helped Jammeh to stay in power because you were the block in the opposition efforts to coalesce.
I don’t know what the word ‘enabler’ means. [laughs]. Anyway, let me say this: Who contributed towards shaping Jammeh’s policies? Who sat with Jammeh in cabinet to promote his policies and agree and discuss with Jammeh policies that we have condemned? Who served Jammeh as governor to really scuttle our provisional administration, to misuse our local government administration? Who served Jammeh as chairman of the Brikama Area Council, having their mouths on the honeycomb? Who did that? Are those not enablers? You see when people ask this question, I don’t want to answer because Waa Juwara is so irrelevant politically that speaking about him you will really wasting your time. I don’t have to waste my time on responding to people who are described as having a party whose number is less than that of [the membership of the] Gambia Red Cross Society. Let us deal with issues that concern The Gambia.
Juwara said he joined Jammeh to undermine his regime.
We have opposed Jammeh genuinely and we have been persistent in our position and we know what was going in his cabinet and government without joining him. And from outside we fought and defeated Jammeh. The NADD fiasco… they will never want to see Ousainu Darboe lead them. It was as simple as that. Waa thought that being called ‘Mbarodi’ Lion in Fula was great. It was personal. When Waa left UDP, he became so unknown and unpopular and in order to be in the limelight again, he joined Jammeh. He joined Jammeh and did the worst things for the country including going on television to applaud the execution of people in The Gambia. Who is the enabler? He applauded that Jammeh was doing the right thing. I think when we are talking serious political issues about The Gambia, I don’t think anyone should really think of what Juwara has said or could say.
Is your issue with Juwara personal? He told me Numukunda [your uncle] looked down upon him when he [Juwara] was a teacher in Bansang?
You see I didn’t know Juwara before he went into politics. And I have never had any interaction with him until when he was released from prison. Let me say that he owed that to the UDP because for the 1997 National Assembly election, UDP made a condition that the party will never participate in that election until all those detained – MC Cham, OJ, Housainou Njie and Juwara – were released. So we fought for their release. And for caste system, I do not believe in it, I just believe that these are things that our society created. I also say honestly in the traditional Mandinka society, the blacksmith will pound his chest and say I’m the son of a blacksmith, so I will not get into anything that will be ignominious.
That for me is just tradition, because I do not think, in fact is not a question of think, I do not believe that a ‘jula’, son of a freeborn will attain higher place in Heaven than the son of a griot. In our family people are married to griots and griots are married into our family. Maybe Waa has that complex about himself, he thinks that he belongs to this caste system, he is being bothered by that; if that was so, why would we have given him a position of prominence in the UDP?
Another former UDP executive member Ousman ‘Rambo’ Jatta said he was aware of UDP officials engaging in visa for sale deals. In fact Amadou Sanneh was caught in one such case, tried and jailed.
Is it true?
As far as I know, Amadou Sanneh was never involved in any visa deal. I want Rambo to say who and who were involved in the visa thing. Probably, he [Rambo] did when he was national youth president of the party unbeknown to us. But Amadou was not involved in any visa deal at all. What Amadou did was he gave attestation to someone who was seeking asylum and of course we all know what happened in the country. In fact the person he prepared the attestation for come from Bantanto, one of the areas strongly anti-Jammeh. There were people including candidate who recently lost the seat for GDC in the Janjangbureh Area Council who were terrorising the residents of Bantanto, Dobong Kunda and Mabally because they showed absolute rejection of the APRC. And what Amadou wrote on that document was, ‘According to what this person told me, he has been suffering’. Omar Wally, tell me, Amadou with his profession and earning capacity, why would he get himself involved in visa deals? He has under his employment eight people. These are the things that they think they can say in order to tarnish the UDP’s image. We know there were people involved in visa [deals] but nobody had ever heard of the UDP’s involvement.
Did you ever think you were going to come out of Mile II prison alive?
Well, I have always prayed to God that I should come out of the prison alive. I was also convinced that the Almighty, my Creator has enjoined us to supplicate and beg Him and He will respond. So I believed that I would come out alive. One thing the government was very careful of, was to make sure that nothing happened to us because it could lead to social unrest and further international isolation.
Apparently Adama Barrow was not your first choice as UDP candidate for the coalition election, the independent lady Dr Isatou Touray was. Why?
Dr Isatou Touray was not a UDP choice. It is wrong to say that she was the UDP choice. When we were in prison, we were told whether we can support Dr Touray’s candidature. And of course then there was nothing wrong with Barrow. This was in June during our trial and certainly the fact that we cannot let Yahya Jammeh go unopposed, I said well we give her our support and the UDP executive should really decide whether or not they will adopt it. So it was not a UDP choice. That is wrong.
People say there is an ancient curse that people from Dobo, your home village do not become rulers. What is the origin of this ‘myth’?
[Laughs] Those who say it, I think they are in better position to explain that, honestly. You want to tell me something as great as leadership that anyone will curse his family not to be a leader, you want to believe that? So the people who say it, I think they should really explain. I have never heard of that. What I’m told is anyone, particularly a service person – those in uniform – who goes to Dobo to torment the people and cause problem for them, he will regret it and that has happened. People who did it have seen the consequences.
Mr Darboe, how did you become foreign minister, not VP or Speaker of the Assembly? Who chose whom for that post and why you?
The president chooses who should be in what portfolio and certainly I cannot question his choice of speaker, vice president and foreign minister. I’m really very happy for being foreign minister, I’m enjoying my work and I’m not sure if I want to change. [laughs].
Did you have an input in the decision as Barrow himself said you are his political godfather?
I think President Barrow will do his consultation when he finds it necessary. I don’t think that he can predicate on below that political father.??? President Barrow can consult any member of the cabinet, any senior civil servants or any party in the coalition. So it cannot be me being his political father and in any case he consults who he wants to consults.
You were on record as saying you want Barrow to serve five years – instead of three years as agreed by the coalition parties -is that still your position?
It is not what I want; it is what the law says. It is as simple as that. When you went to vote did you elect president for three or five years? You voted to elect a president for the period stipulated by the Constitution. Let us all focus on carrying the nation forward, on making sure that the mandate given to us is executed properly. Let us ensure that confidence is not betrayed. Let us work for the good of the country. All those who are in cabinet, let us please work hard to ensure that the agenda that the president put forward and enshrined in the National Development Plan, is implemented for the good of the country, so forget about three or five years. I don’t know why people are so eager for elections. In 2016, it was the presidential election; in 2017 parliamentary and in 2018 local government elections. So they want presidential elections again in 2020? I don’t know why we should be so eager for elections.
I’m reliably informed that you had strained relations with President Barrow because UDP felt he wanted to set up his own party. Is there any truth in that?
What people [our detractors] want to see happen is what they are peddling. They really want to see there is a rift between President Barrow and the UDP and as Mandinkas will say, their eyes will burst before they see that. My relationship with President Barrow at both official and personal levels is cordial, maybe people want to see that, but they will never see that. Barrow is the President of The Gambia, and the UDP as a constituent member of the coalition, will stand by Barrow because even if all others are against Barrow, UDP will not be against Barrow. After all, Barrow was chosen from the UDP ranks, so for UDP, Barrow is our Barrow. When I say this some people get annoyed, but he is our Barrow and we will never abandon our Barrow, come rain, come sunshine.
The Voice newspaper once reported that you said you will be the next president of The Gambia. ‘His Excellency, Ousainu ANM Darboe’ is it a fait accompli? Why do you believe so?
I can’t remember making that statement and I really want to see that publication. From 1996 up to now, I have never predicted the future. I have never said I will be a candidate for the party. I have always told interviewers that the leader of the UDP is not the same as being presidential candidate for UDP. You could be leader of the party without being the presidential candidate, and I do not know who will be chosen as the presidential candidate. We will leave the future to determine that. I will not today say what will happen in 2021 or subsequent to 2021.
In the event that UDP put you forward will you run for office?
I think I have just answered that. I will not predict the future. After all, it is the people of UDP who will determine. We have a government and it has a mandate, why don’t we pursue that mandate? We do not want to talk about who will become the next presidential candidate. That is drilling our minds. That is really making you occupied with petty things when the bigger things – the national agenda, the support for Barrow – should be our focus now and that will be our focus.
In the envisaged constitutional changes, first-past-the-post will likely be replaced with 50+1 for election as president, will that favour your party?
Whatever the Gambians think should be in the Constitution, we believe that will favour UDP. What we want is a Constitution that will allow UDP to operate without hindrance.
For sanity of our democratic system, don’t you think election campaign finance should be regulated?
I will support such a move if it’s going to be from state funds. But really, money that I generate, the liquidation of my assets, why should anyone want to regulate how I use that?
When you were released you said you have forgiven people who did you wrong. Does this include Jammeh?
In fact I specifically said Jammeh, what he did to me personally not what he did to other people and members of UDP. Because when I was getting into politics, I did an interview with the BBC, and did say that I’m aware of vicissitudes with those involved in politics. And I knew when I took on Jammeh, one of the places that I would likely end up in, is the prison. So it didn’t come to me as a surprise, he tried several times to get me to prison and failed. But this time he could do it because we didn’t have the judges that were upholding rules of office.
What do you think should happen to Jammeh?
I think the evidence should determine and the facts. If the facts are there then he is certainly be brought to court.
What is your vision for new Gambia?
My vision for new Gambia is President Adama Barrow’s vision for new Gambia. In this new Gambia President Barrow is the leader and it is his vision that we all uphold and try to realise.
Let us be critical of our government, but let us also not be destructive. Let us support what is needed, after all we cannot all be on the same level in views. But then generally we should all agree that there is need for us to support the administration and should not abuse our newfound freedom because that will lead us into a state of anarchy. We should not give the administration any opportunity to do things that it really never wanted to do. But if people also want to do things that are not consistent with the proper exercise of their rights, the government owes an obligation to society to make sure that people conform. Let us support our administration, it’s ours, and President Barrow, irrespective of political affiliation or ethnic background, irrespective of social status. People should see him as a president for all of us not for one section of the community.
Thank you Mr Darboe
You are welcome.