In this edition of Bantaba, anchor Alagie Manneh talks to the leader of the United Democratic Party, Ousainu Darboe about his health, ramifications of the election loss, the current state and the future of his party, Pa Njie ‘Girigara’, Henry Gomez, Momodou Sabally and what Barrow should do to salvage The Gambia from the sinkhole.
The Standard: In the lead-up to the presidential election, your health took a knock. How is your general health now?
Ousainu Darboe: I’m feeling great, I am recovering. I am using a tripod cane to make movement easier. I could do without it, but we don’t want to take risks. That is the advice of my doctors. I am expressing profound gratitude and appreciation to the medical personnel who took care of me from day one to the present. Even on the day of the accident, outside normal working hours, about 2-3am, they were there in the hospital waiting for me. I am really grateful to them.
UDP lost the election and some people said it is time you hang up your political boots having led the party for a quarter century and failing to achieve victory at the polls.
Those are perceptions and beliefs and opinions which I very much respect. But then, are they suggesting that it is my personality that has been responsible for the loss of the elections? If it were my personality, then I would think that Gambians do not value policies, because you can’t have any programme better than our 5-Point Agenda, and that is the programme we sold to Gambians. Those who are saying so, if they agree that it’s the personality of Ousainu Darboe, then I would say very well, I can hang up [my boots], but then you do not care for policies. If you care for policies, you will not reject UDP’s bid for the presidency because of Ousainu Darboe as a person.
Do you have any succession plans at the UDP? If yes, what are they?
You see, when you talk of succession plans, as far as I am concerned, it’s really putting yourself in a position that is condescending. People selected me, so, I cannot and I should not be seen to be saying that I want Almami Taal to succeed me, or I want Ebrima Dibbba or [Amadou] Scattred-Janneh. It will be left for the congress to elect a new leader, and I would be among people who would vote for a leader. If I identify an heir apparent, I think that will go against our democratic principles. So [about a] succession plan – I can tell you that we have very competent people within the party who are serving in both the national executive, and some in the diaspora. Certainly, at congress, any of them can come up and bid for leadership of the party.
All right, even if you are staying on as UDP leader for the time, certainly you are in the twilight of your political career. What are your plans for a new generation of UDP leaders to take over?
Twilight? [Laughs]. I accept that I am in the twilight… You see, you probably wouldn’t have observed that there are a lot of young people in the party, and these young people have been entrusted with running the affairs of the party. Outstanding women, and outstanding gentlemen, each of whom has the qualities, the qualifications and integrity to be president of this country. There is no want of talent or quality people in the UDP. But like I told you earlier on, it is a succession plan. It will be for the UDP to select who succeeds. I cannot handpick or groom anybody to take over as leader of the party. In presidency, you can groom someone to take over from you as president, but for a party, it’s difficult. We also do not want to influence decisions that will cause cracks within the party, and maybe disintegration in the party.
You christened Momodou Sabally as your “commando”, but some people say he is a divisive figure and that UDP is better without him. Do you agree?
I think those are wrong comments. I think those are people who do not have any admiration for Mr Sabally. I don’t know how he has been divisive. All that I know is that he is coming very hard on opponents of the UDP, and because they don’t like that, they think that he is divisive. But I have not seen him doing anything that is divisive. If I suspect that he is doing anything divisive, I will call him, and check him and say you cannot do that. Nothing that will divide us should be promoted by anyone. Those who do not like anything about Momodou Sabally – how he speaks, how he smiles, how he coughs – they don’t like anything about those things, so, they think that he is divisive. And that is not true. But in any case, in an organisation as big as UDP, you will have people who will not accept everybody. I am sure there are people in the UDP who have some faults, or who think that they have [found] great faults with me. Maybe they are not airing that to me. And these people who consider Mr Sabally as divisive, they do not tell Mr Sabally, they say it in the corners.
UDP supporters want to hold demonstrations at the rejection of Mr Sabally by the IEC, is the party and yourself in support of these protests?
When Ebrima Dibba applied for the permit, he applied for it as an individual. Every Gambian citizen has the right to apply for a permit and go out to protest. Every Gambian has that right. He wasn’t doing so in the name of the UDP, and I do not fault him for wanting to exercise his constitutional right as a citizen of this country. It is left for the approving authority to approve or not to approve his application. This has nothing to do with the UDP. Probably, if he is given the permit, maybe some other people who are not members of the UDP will be joining. But let me tell you that to pigeonhole them as UDP, I think that would be wrong. If UDP is staging anything, we will apply. We will ask our national organising secretary or our campaign manager to put the application to the police that we want to hold a peaceful demonstration, which is a right exercisable under the constitution. And they would have to give us good reason for rejecting it because these reasons [citing] security are phony reasons which used to happen in Jammeh’s time, and they are being brought back by this regime.
Following the Supreme Court’s rejection of UDP election petition, your party supporters heavily criticised the court and its constituent judges. You have familial relations with some of the Supreme Court judges and as one of the doyens of the legal profession in The Gambia, do you share their condemnation of the court and the judges?
I am not here to discuss individual judges. I have issued a statement on my view of the judiciary, but I will not discuss individual judges at all. If you had read the statement I issued, this question will not have been asked. I have stated that fully I have confidence in the judiciary of this country, and we respect the judges of this country. The chief justice is an eminent African jurist who is highly respected throughout the world. So, if you are talking about me personally, even the party position, we made that quite clear. Condemnation? I don’t think I will go out to condemn. But we [have] expressed our dues on the judiciary as an institution and our respect for the individual office holders.
Pa Njie ‘Girigara’ now of the NPP, publicly stated that he gave you one million dalasis and you promised to make his nominee a minister if the UDP were to win a certain election and he publicly challenged you to deny his assertions. You have not. Did he speak the true?
I have always felt that I should not edify the ravings and rantings of a person like Mr Njie by responding to them. Let me say this. I have never sat with Mr Njie at any time when he gave me a million dalasis. I was on tour in the provinces, and he met Mr Manneh and offered to help on condition that he has a company that deals in call cards. He wanted us to give him an exclusive contract, exclusive rights for that. He also wanted to be appointed minister. My response to Mr Manneh was that when it comes to the call cards, there’s no way that we can make such a commitment because this has to go through the proper procedures or procuring. From a ministerial position, that is left to the prerogative of the president, which could be considered. I never gave that to him as an incentive. I think his company was called Westcom. He wanted Westcom to order all cards for Gamtel. I said well, that, no. We cannot give that. You have to go through the normal procedures. He also told Mr Manneh specifically, what ministry he wanted – communications. I told Mr Manneh, wouldn’t that be conflict of interest if he is minister for communication and wanting his company to be supplying Gamtel call cards. I told him that would be conflict of interest. That’s it. You know, Mr Njie has never told anyone about this. Mr Njie left UDP to go to GDC, but he never mentioned any of these things. When I came out of prison, I told Adama Barrow there’s this Mr Njie, and if he could be considered. The president told me this man has abandoned UDP, he has gone to GDC, so, we cannot consider him for any ministerial appointment. Even as a member of GDC, Mr Njie never said anything. He never came out with these rantings. Do you know what happened? His wife was working for Mega Bank, and she was eventually removed, and he asked me to ask Mr Amadou Sanneh to reinstate his wife. I said we will investigate. I went and spoke with Amadou Sanneh and found out that there was justification for removing her. I told him look, I am sorry, but your request to have your wife reinstated is not possible. He said, ‘Koto, Sanneh is your child, and whatever you tell him, he must do it’. I said but that is what we fought against during Yahya Jammeh’s time; doing the wrong things in order to please individuals. I didn’t have the power to force him to do anything, and even if I had the power, I wouldn’t force any minister to do anything to reverse a decision that was taken after due consideration just to bring back the Yahya Jammeh practice. This is what hurts him. He is not happy because we have not done the wrong thing to please his wife.
Do you regret supporting Barrow?
I have never regretted supporting Barrow because when I was doing it, I did it with conscience. I did it with the belief that I was doing the right thing, so I cannot regret. I will not regret having done things conscientiously. Maybe they came unexpected, but in politics they say it’s certainly a game of betrayal and so forth. But of course, I did not expect that from Barrow. I have not regretted, really, for supporting him. I am happy to say that the UDP has thrown out Jammeh from power. I am happy to say that the UDP has brought an end to dictatorship in this country. I am happy that it’s the UDP that caused these horrendous revelations at the TRRC to have happened, because it was UDP that went out to confront the dictator and that galvanised Gambians to vote him out.
There is certainly a need for system change in The Gambia. What are the key areas that the government should focus on to get The Gambia out of the hole that it is in?
I don’t know whether we need a hook and sinker to get it out [Laughs]. But seriously, we have to be serious when we talk about system change. There should be less political interference with the institutions. They should all be apolitical; the civil service, the entire public service. And once we are able to do that, then we will definitely have the system change. Is it different from Jammeh’s time, the way police are handling people? In fact, it’s worse. You want to satisfy the sitting government by doing things that go against acceptable practices. Look at the TikTok girl who was arrested by the Brusubi police, apparently for insulting. She didn’t mention any specific individual. She condemned the system, and then ended her condemnation with use of a profane language which certainly is unacceptable. Nobody can condone the use of profane language. The Brusubi police did not only arrest her, but also seized her mobile and warned her not to talk to the press or anybody. She has been advised to go to the National Human Rights Centre to report the officer there. Another man in NPP insulted my mother, my father and myself. The police never did anything about that. They are now treating this young lady in this manner because they want to satisfy the sitting government. They never did anything about the [the man who insulted me], but they can go and pounce on this little girl for her TikTok message, for which she in fact apologised. What’s the crime? So, can you see how much we are going backwards? Public servants are threatened with dismissal because they support the opposition. In Jammeh’s time, we all agreed that seyfolu should never take part in politics. That was part of Coalition 2016’s agenda. But it’s happening. Haven’t you seen the circular from the controller of government vehicles? Barrow is going on campaign and they are commandeering government vehicles. So, the system hasn’t changed. What we have done is to change the guard at the sentry post. In Jammeh’s time, the people fought to bring about an end to that system, but if those who have been entrusted with the power and responsibility to correct that horrible dispensation are the ones now perpetuating it, then that is more objectionable than in Jammeh’s time.
In the last election, UDP conspicuously did not seek collaboration with parties like the NPP did, and many pointed that out as one reason for the party’s dismal showing. Don’t you regret that decision?
No, we did not regret that decision. We did not have an alliance, but certainly had endorsement from GFA. For me, that is as good as being in coalition. But then, which parties are we going to have an alliance with? The other parties have chosen parties that they want to align with. We cannot go after parties who are looking for jobs. All those people who condemned Adama Barrow that he is inefficient, he’s incompetent, and that he cannot run the affairs of this country, they are the ones who were running 100 miles an hour to go and join the NPP. Some called themselves independents, but they had all condemned Barrow here for being incompetent, for not being capable to handle the affairs of this country. For me, I think Barrow is a better person than them.
Why do you think they gravitated towards him after all those condemnations?
Because they are looking for jobs. That is all. And that is why for me, Barrow is a better person than them. They think that we have to go to Barrow so we can get jobs. It’s not out of conviction or principle-driven.
Mr Darboe, there are those who believe that the UDP is in disarray. Do you see your party as the future for this country and why?
Well, those who think that the UDP is in disarray, really wish to see the UDP in disarray. These are expressions of their wishes. They want to see the UDP in disarray. We have been told since 1997 that the UDP is in disarray. But each time we go out of an election circle, we come back stronger. All things equal, if you don’t have rogue registers; if you don’t have corrupt practices being endorsed by the incumbent; we certainly will win. But because we haven’t been indulging in corrupt practices. Mr [Ahmad] Gitteh, in his last video, said well, Darboe said this and that, but he did not say X and Y. So, he went on recounting all other cases of corrupt practices in which the NPP had indulged in. These were things done for and on behalf of Barrow and for his benefit. That was enough to nullify this election. Yes, UDP is the future of The Gambia.
Henry Gomez said ‘Allah took you to heaven but you decided to go back to hell’. What would be your reaction to that statement?
People who cannot live on their own, who cannot sustain themselves, will always be an appendage to others. Ministerial positions mean nothing if they are a chance of earning. If I go back to my law practice, [it] will be more lucrative than receiving the salary of a vice president, or a minister. But you see people like Henry Gomez, because of their ineptitude, because of their lack of skills, would have to go on praise singing, would have to continue being sycophants in order to continue to obtain the positions they do in government. Why was he removed as a minister? Certainly, I don’t think he has competence. We don’t have to mince words about that. He doesn’t have the competence to be a minister. He thinks that walo walo in Wolof is what runs a ministry. I am not being condescending, but it is the truth. Let him continue saying that, and he will continue saying that in order to enjoy the small privileges that he is enjoying. If Henry Gomez is out of office as an adviser, I doubt he will stay in this country because he cannot sustain himself. He cannot do anything for himself. He cannot be independent. He does not have the capacity… maybe capacity to dogu dogu [Laughs].