With Alagie Manneh
Ousman Jatta, better known by the sobriquet ‘Rambo’, is Bakau’s marmite man politician, admired and disliked in equal measure. A former UDP strong man, he cross-carpeted to the then ruling APRC party and became one of the most trusted and loyal close aides of Jammeh in his final years as president. Earlier last week, he was named deputy party leader of the APRC. In today’s edition of Bantaba, anchor Alagie Manneh continues to ask the strident and brawny politician, the tough questions. Continued from last week.
President Jammeh gave you a lot of vehicles. After he went into exile, a new pick-up he gave you disappeared, What happened to it?
I think we should put that [issue] aside, because that vehicle issue has created lot of confusion…
The pick-up given to you for Bakau?
No, it’s not for Bakau. How many people have President Jammeh given millions to? Did they give it to their people, or did you ever hear that it was given to them for their community or town? Why is Bakau so special then? I don’t understand. That double-cabin pick-up that my driver absconded with… these are my vehicles. They were given to me. Is it a crime to receive a gift from the president? It is not for Bakau. What is meant for Bakau, is for Bakau; what is meant for Rambo, is for Rambo. That is what we have to accept.
You became very close to Jammeh and insiders said it was principally based on the regular recommendations of Jimbi Jammeh, President Jammeh’s niece and protocol who had his ear.
That is absolutely wrong. I came to know Jimbi personally after my interactions with President Jammeh. Jimbi is from Bakau. I know the brothers of Jimbi, but not Jimbi herself in those days, because Alagie Jammeh was my classmate. Dondeh was a friend to my brother because they played golf together at the Fajara Golf Club. What got me closer to President Jammeh is my truth and honesty towards him. I never lied to the big man.
Insiders said Jimbi Jammeh was even more powerful than ministers and that she even told the president to appoint you as head of the Observer Company?
That is not true. Jimbi was not more powerful than the ministers. You know, we have this Gambian inferiority complex; Jimbi is close to President Jammeh, so we should fear her. That is normal in every society, but Jimbi was never more powerful than the ministers. That is not correct. Nobody dictates President Jammeh. Even Sabally said that.
At a political rally in Bakau before the 2016 election, and of course in the course of this interview, you accused the UDP leadership of engaging in a visa racket and that you were aware of it and that it was one of the reasons you left the party. What were you trying to say?
That’s absolutely correct. That was my reason. You know, people say, Rambo was threatened and they wanted to jail him and that was why… I was never threatened by the APRC. APRC could never have threatened me in those days. The number of arrests I had gone through, Darboe did not go through.
So I think I am the real Mandela. Not Darboe. That’s why when I was detained, my alleged crimes were never revealed, because there was nothing to be revealed. Not one thing. I am so law-abiding.
People in Bakau said they abandoned the APRC because you became proud and were telling them you held a higher office than any Bakau native; that you built and lives in a storey building and that they were envious of your success.
I would like to make reference to that audio. Find that audio yourself and listen to it. The audio was very clear; I wasn’t boasting. I wasn’t proud. I was relaying a message that, so far, I’m the only Bakau citizen who had gone that far into the State House. So what do I need from you people? Support. To bring more [development for Bakau]. This is why I suggested you listen to the audio and tell me if I have wronged these people. I never boast. I am what I am today because of them. It’s only Allah who boasts, not a human. I told them the truth. And I am right. How many sons [or daughters] of Bakau worked for the State House? It never happened.
Why do you think your message was misconstrued?
Because it was politically motivated by people who recorded it. We know who recorded it and whom she sent it to. It is a she.
Who is she?
I can’t tell you that. Let’s just leave it that way.
Generally speaking, why do you think Jammeh lost the December 2016 election?
Too much sabotage. There was lot of sabotage and lot of undermining. From everywhere; the opposition, militants, government officials, ministers. Everybody was involved. It was a very big treason. Big betrayal. He could not sustain it.
Analysts said Jammeh lost the election because of the Mandinka backlash for his tribalist statements at a June 2016 rally in Talinding?
You want to tell me even the other tribes who voted for the coalition are Mandinka? They are not. And secondly, the UDP didn’t win; it was the coalition that won. And the recent polls revealed UDP is ruling with a minority. Come next election, UDP is not going to rule this country. That, I can assure you.
But their candidates won the municipal and area council elections. Is that not indicative of how strong they are now?
Do you believe that I lost the election? No. I don’t believe I lost the mayoral election. I don’t believe it.
Like the 2016 presidential election, they were rigged. And as long as Alieu Momarr Njai is in that seat [at the IEC], elections will always be rigged in this country. How can you be bringing double results in every election since 2016? That has never happened in this country. That is news to Gambians. That is showing us the man is incompetent and he needed to go. And we are going to see to it that he leaves before next election. He must go. He is incompetent. Anyway, it’s because of the coalition that UDP are in power. And without the coalition, no way, they can’t make it.
Why can’t they make it outside the coalition?
Come on, they have never been a majority, although in our days, they were the leading opposition. Look at the margins in the presidential polls. Sometimes when they were beaten, they would not even contest the parliamentary elections. Why? And with the current trend of how this country is governed, people are fed up. Gambians are fed up, including militants of the UDP. They are fed up. If we are to be honest to ourselves, we know that this country is not going in the right direction.
You know the APRC lost the election, why did you continue to support Jammeh in his attempt to subvert the will of the people?
Because it’s the APRC regime that has foresight for this country, that is development-oriented, and care for the needs of the people. This coalition government has been in power since 2017. They said there was no money but they have been pumped with money.
Where is that money? They said we, the APRC, are illiterates, that they are the educated ones. We are yet to see how educated they are. So it’s not all about being educated but being aware also. Thank God President Jammeh is development-oriented. He feel things before he does them. How many times have you seen the present president going round to see how the situation of the country is? It never happened.
Your critics say you are loyal to Jammeh and not the country.
No I’m not loyal to Jammeh, I am loyal to the country. And even if I am loyal to Jammeh… no let’s put it this, I am loyal to Jammeh. I am. I am loyal to a man who is the founder of the APRC which has been in power for the past 22 years and, what have we done? A lot.
So you are admitting your loyalty is for Jammeh and not The Gambia?
What is the difference? When Jammeh was president, I was loyal to him because he was the president of the country, so it’s all the same. You know, you journalists, you try to confuse people, being loyal to the president and being loyal to the country, what is the difference? Once you are loyal to the country, you are wishing him all the best to move the country forward. So what is the difference? To be loyal to The Gambia? What is left in The Gambia to be loyal to when everything is falling apart? It is better to be loyal to an individual who will be mobilising his party to come back to power, so that we go back to where we were. They accused him of killings and other negative things.
What about the betterment of the many lives he has done for The Gambia, are they not going to talk about those?
Are you in touch with Jammeh?
Oh yes, I am in touch with him. Is it a crime? Is there any law that says nobody should talk to President Jammeh? I am making this clear; yes, I am in touch with President Jammeh and thank God we are not in touch to undermine efforts of this coalition government, we are in touch to keep out party alive and alhamdullilah, we are going in the right direction. I am in touch with President Jammeh, yes, once in a while.
How would you describe his condition?
Oh, perfect. Let me tell you one thing, or let me tell you one small secret, the man is still a president; services provided to him in the State House [Banjul] are the same services that are being provided to him in Equatorial Guinea. He is a king, and inshallah, he is coming back to rule The Gambia.
Jammeh is coming back to rule Gambia again? Those comments won’t go down well with many.
That is their problem. I am talking about mine. It’s democracy; you support who you want to support. Next year we are going for elections. And is it a crime for him to come back? If you ask me to choose between Jammeh and the coalition today, I will choose Jammeh because I have seen what he has done. For this coalition, I have not seen anything and time is elapsing. We are still the largest party in this country, whether people like it or not. That is the hard fact.
How can you even continue to support a man who perpetrated such violence, thuggery, murder and theft as are being exposed at the Janneh Commission and other places?
My friend that is hearsay. In a court of law, do you accept hearsay? I have never seen President Jammeh beating a human being much more killing one. I have never witnessed it. People assume a lot in this country nowadays. “Oh, President Jammeh has killed someone”, they say. You were never there. Is that all we have to say about him, his alleged crimes? What about the good things he did? I think President Jammeh did more good than bad in this country. Where are the proofs? If you are to put it in percentage, then it is 95 percent good and 5 percent bad.
Has anybody seen Jammeh killing somebody? People were accusing him of killing, killing, killing. Now, from January 2017 to date, how many Gambians have died, mysteriously? How many? Take for example, the Faraba shooting, such scenes happened under President Jammeh. They accused him of doing it. It has happened now under this current government and nobody wants to take responsibility. Who ordered the killing of Haruna Jatta? Who ordered the killing of the Faraba youths? Now, all these killings in the country, we are yet to see somebody being taken to court and charged. So we will point fingers at President Adama Barrow. Let’s assume the Faraba shooting was an executive order, like they always did whenever killings happened under Jammeh. Tit-for-tat is a fair game. We should also be alleging it is the president now.
Former Jammeh minister turned commentator, Momodou Sabally, said the APRC should expel Jammeh in order to rebuild the party, do you agree?
Our party is already built. The structures are in place. So what kind of restructuring is he talking about? It is people like him who made us fail in the 2016 election because they were not loyal.
They were a sheep in a wolf’s clothing. Do you know why I am mad with certain people? If I am not in for you, I don’t even want to get close to you, no matter what you have. That is my principle. When I was in UDP, I was yellow and didn’t even want a portion of the sugar APRC were distributing. Now that I am in the APRC, I don’t even want to know whether the UDP is breathing or not. It is not my problem. That is what I believe in politics; you cannot be two-sided. I am not a good pretender. And that’s why sometimes I am short-tempered because if I treat you with respect and respect your opinion, I expect nothing less in return.
What do you have to say about the presence of Senegalese and other West African troops in The Gambia?
Ecomig should go out of our country. It is high time.
As far as they are here, there will be no stability in this country. Who are they securing? Are they here only for the President and the First Family or are they here for Gambians at large, because with the presence of Ecomig we are having all these murders and criminal activities going on. What is their essence in our country? Let them come out and tell us their mandate. We were made to understand that they came here to secure the country. But now, it is on the contrary. According to what is being circulated, it is not about securing The Gambia, it is about giving access to Senegalese forces to invade Casamance and that will be the biggest mistake. This is what I was made to understand is the mission of Ecomig here. So, let our executive be very careful. Let them not mortgage our country. The Gambia is too small.
Why did you lose the mayoral election to Talib Bensouda?
I didn’t lose. The election was rigged. Period.
Who are responsible? We have even seen signs of rigging before the election.
What are the signs?
Let’s just keep it that way. And that is not an allegation. It was rigged just like as in 2016. Do you think the coalition got those number of votes? No. Why didn’t they allow us to go to the court? And what happened to the 360,000 people who didn’t vote? They did not vote. You want to tell me those 360,000 people disappeared or died in this country in a period of five years? No, my brother.
Your political career is on the ascendancy again with your recent appointment as APRC deputy leader.
Actually, at first, when the appointment came, I declined. Because the way it was done wasn’t proper. It happened in a way that was not in line with my principles because something happened behind closed doors. I don’t want to go far into that anyway. So when the issue came again, I said no, I am declining still for the sake of reconciliation between us and MA Bah. There was a problem and I am not going to sit here and say there was no problem. We are having an internal problem in the APRC and we are trying to solve it internally. The problem is still on.
Concisely, what is the problem?
We try to engage MA Bah in dialogue for almost four weeks, and he was very resistant, especially after President Jammeh rescinded his decision.
But shouldn’t you expect that stubbornness from MA Bah considering he is a soldier?
My friend he is a civilian now. Everybody is a soldier, it is only the uniform and the weapon that differentiate us, because if it comes to the worse we will all take guns and defend our ourselves and our country. So everybody is a soldier. So I don’t believe in that mentality.
The problem here is, President Jammeh said this today, and he rescinded the decision tomorrow. We should all accept that. When it was said that he was the party leader he accepted it, so when that decision was rescinded, he should accept it. Anyway, last week the executive converged and they took their decision. That decision was not a decision by President Jammeh. Rather, it was my final selection as the deputy party leader.
Is your appointment the right decision by the APRC?
Yes, because I know that I will perform much better than most political leaders you are seeing. I am not selfish and can never be selfish to my electorate. We’ve seen political leaders here whom you know, are very selfish. It is only during election time they have time for their people. I am not that kind of person. I interact with my people every day and night.Critics said the APRC will die a natural death.
That was said by Ousainu Darboe. That is his wish to see us die so that he can take our people, but that is never happening. Not in a billion years. It is never going to happen. That is his wish.
Speaking of Darboe, what do you think of his rise to the vice-presidency?
The way I’m seeing him handling the mantle or the affairs of this country is not so welcoming. Definitely, I never knew he was like this when I was supporting him. But I believe it’s now we are seeing his true colour.
What is his true color?
His true color we are all seeing it, don’t put words into my mouth, you are a journalist and should see for yourself. We have to be frank that there is nepotism and tribalism in The Gambia. There is a list; the appointments made, from the central government to the parastatals, it is 97 percent Mandinka. I am Mandinka. In fact, I am a proud Mandinka but the way things are happening in this country, I am ashamed to be a Mandinka.
You are saying there is no ethnic-factor in the cabinet. How do you think it should have been formulated?
I think there is no balance. It should be balanced. Look at the coalition heads, they are from different ethnic groups but right now, go and have a look at the list, it is not balanced at all. And this will haunt us after these people are gone. It will haunt the Mandinka tribe.
Some people say Barrow is lame and passive and doesn’t have what it takes to lead a progressive Gambia. What is your opinion of the man generally?
He named himself as ‘a political animal’. So, we just assume he is a political animal. I believe he is a weak president. And Gambians don’t need a type of a president like Barrow who is weak and can’t take decisions. I wish he was a very bold man. I wish he was very action-oriented. I wish he was me. Honestly speaking, I wish Barrow was me. If at all I was in his chair today, we will not be seeing all these nonsenses in this country.
Any closing comments?
My general advice to the average Gambians; I wish all Gambians could come back to their senses and try to see that The Gambia belongs to all of us. The Gambia is bigger than any party or individual. The way things are going in this country is very scary. I suspect we are heading to a crash landing. Barrow needs to stand up, take a firm grip of the mantle of leadership to take us to where we want to go. He has almost less than one-and-a-half-year to go, because the three years is going to stand, whether one likes it or not.
But Ousainu Darboe threatened he will take anyone to court who demands Barrow spend three years in the presidency.
Alagie, don’t spoil my morning. Ousainu Darboe is an individual who was not even around when the agreement was signed. They denied it was signed but we have seen signed documents circulating on social media and elsewhere. I wish Barrow would be a gentleman and honour the gentleman’s agreement. Then he will have more respect. That is my position, because if not, come next election, UDP is not going to choose Barrow as their presidential candidate. That is out in the open. Barrow himself knows that. So maybe he might come to us. Anyway we know that come next election, we are either going to be king or kingmakers in Gambian politics.
Mr Jatta thank you for your time.
You are welcome.