Last week Pa ‘Girigara’ Njie announced to The Gambia in the pages of this newspaper that he has shifted his alliance to President Barrow’s new party, the NPP. Njie contested the last mayoral election for the Kanifing municipality on the ticket of GDC. He became the GDC candidate after he was spurned by the UDP, a party which he claimed to have given a hefty D1,000,000 to, on a fine day at the height of the fight against the Jammeh dictatorship.
In this edition of Bantaba, Alagie Manneh began by asking him why he has decided to throw his political weight behind the NPP now.
Pa ‘Girigara’ Njie: My relationship with GDC started in 2016 when Mamma Kandeh first came out declaring himself a presidential candidate for the 2016 election. By the time, the (2016) coalition was not formed. It was three months after that the coalition went to congress at the Kairaba Beach Hotel. When that happened, the coalition did approach us to join them but for strategic reasons, we decided not to join them. The most obvious reason was that the membership of GDC were mainly from the APRC. We know that if we join the coalition, which selected Adama Barrow, a UDP member as a flagbearer, the GDC people would see him as a UDP candidate, not an independent candidate or a Coalition candidate. That’s their mind. When that happened, several people approached us including Musa Drammeh (now minister for local government), Fatoumata Tambajang, and James Gomez (now minister for fisheries). They had several meetings with Mamma Kandeh. But then when the heat was on for us to join, I suggested to Mamma Kandeh to call up a national conference which all the regional reps would attend. We had that meeting at the GDC political bureau on Kairaba Avenue. About 80 people attended from all the regions. After presentations and protocols, I asked them one simple question: Are you ready to join the Coalition? And the answer was unanimously a big no. There and then I understood that if Mamma Kandeh joins the coalition, the majority of the membership of the party would go back to the APRC. So, as a political strategist, I said look, I would rather support Mamma Kandeh and the GDC to retain those members and reduce the votes of Yahya Jammeh than force them to go to the coalition which will help Jammeh win. If you look at the election results of Jammeh and Barrow, the difference was only 17,000 votes. Imagine if the 90,000 votes of Mamma Kandeh or even half of it went to Jammeh, he would have emerged victorious. So, this is what I was saying. That’s why I continued with the GDC, supported them, financed them, until what happened, happened.
Since the coalition alone could not be credited for removing Jammeh, why was the GDC unable to work with the coalition after Jammeh?
The simple reason was that Ousainu Darboe was the de facto leader of the government. We have all heard Adama Barrow calling Darboe his political godfather as Barrow hailed from the UDP. Whether you call him independent or not, he hailed from the UDP. So, they have a special relationship which continued in government. Since we were not part of the coalition, we were branded as an opposition. It might sound too harsh but we were regarded as an enemy of the new government. There was lot of animosity between the so-called UDP government, or the coalition government, or Adama Barrow’s regime and the GDC. You can fully remember incidents when Mamma Kandeh was taken to the police and questioned. And, up till now, that animosity exists not between the UDP and the GDC but between Barrow and Kandeh.
Don’t you think that was because of a longstanding local rivalry between Kandeh and Barrow as they used to vie for the Jimara seat?
Yes, it is [a personal grudge]. The simple reason being that the two came from the same constituency in Jimara. Mamma Kandeh won the Jimara seat twice and because of that he thinks that Barrow cannot be his boss.
Is that a view that Kandeh still holds?
That’s a perception which I think he will die with. It’s very deep. I tried to broker an understanding between the two but Mamma Kandeh is the one refusing to extend his hands.
Is it an ego thing?
I would call it [arrogance] because that [arrogance] was extended to me and that was the reason why I left them. So, after the elections, I left and went to Dakar because my second home is in Dakar. Three months before the mayoral elections, Mamma Kandeh and Tina Faal (now GDC deputy leader) kept calling me day-in, day-out whether I am in Banjul, Dakar, or Bamako, wanting me to stand as their mayoral candidate. I asked them why because I never stood for elections in my life. I never wanted to stand for elections and up to today, I will not try it again. I gave it a try after three months of consultation with family and friends before accepting their offer. The reason why I accepted it was because I have done all kinds of politics except stand for political office. I wanted to go through the process and gain the experience and I can tell you today, I will not do it twice.
My reason is that I’m a businessman primarily, and a politician secondly. Politics is not my priority. I am a good politician no doubt, I have been since the age of 16 when I was in the US. But before going to the US, I was an observant of Moja (Movement for Justice in Africa). Koro Sallah was my neighbor and elder brother and I used to go to his house and we used to talk. That’s where I got the motivation and initiation [into politics] and when I went to America, I perfected it. When I came back, I supported Pap Ousman Cheyassin Secka’s NLP. He lost the first election. And there was a by-election and he lost again. I told him he was a lawyer and I, a businessman and that we should forget about politics. So, I left politics, until around 1991/92. Remember Sir Dawda Jawara’s Mansa Konko declaration in December 1991? That declaration split the PPP, and you have the Saihou Sabally on the one side, and the BB Dabo on the other side. BB Dabo is my elder brother. I know him since when he was working at the Gambia Commercial and Development Bank. Naturally, and obviously, I sided with BB Dabo, and 1994 came…
Now that Dabo has set up his own party, GFA, why didn’t you join him instead of the NPP?
I decided to abandon politics. What brought me back is just one reason. I don’t like injustice. And I know that President Barrow was being taken advantage of by UDP and Ousainu Darboe. That prompted me to step in and give him a helping hand. And I will do so until he wins in 2021.
When did you stop being a member of GDC to join the NPP?
[My joining the NPP] was based on one condition. The first person who came to me and asked me to help them, I told him [I would do so] under only one condition, that is, if he separates from Darboe. Then I will step in but as long as Darboe is [with Barrow], I will not join him. When he [Barrow] separated from Darboe, naturally I joined him.
What is your obsession with not wanting to work with Darboe?
I have personal reasons. I sacrificed my life being with Darboe from 2006 up to 2016. Every time that I come to this country – I was living in Dakar – before going back I will go to Ousainu Darboe’s house. I didn’t mind which NIA operative saw me go in and out of Darboe’s house, for ten good years. It was a risk and at that time even Darboe’s own relatives were scared to go to his house. Secondly, I financed them for the 2011 elections, but my personal relation with Darboe transcended that. I will not talk about that. But when Darboe took over, he forgot about me, completely.
You were “disappointed” by both the UDP and the GDC, what makes you believe that you are not heading for another disappointment with NPP?
When we talk about elections, it is always an issue of predictions. It’s never an [actuarial] science; it is social science, you make predictions based on facts, realities, statistics and data. When I gathered all that, I knew that His Excellency, President Barrow is improving his voting chances on a daily basis. On the other side, I saw other political parties losing ground, losing militants to President Barrow. I am convinced that he is making a headway and come 2021, people will decide. But my observation of African elections in general, is people mainly vote based on what the incumbency has done for them in terms of infrastructure, social services and amenities. And I see Barrow is doing very well in those areas.
What is your response to the argument that in The Gambia people remain loyal to their parties and that even though you have people cross-carpeting, the core members of the parties would not abandon their parties for other parties?
No, those are very few. In fact, no political party in this country has more than 50,000 members. They cannot show you 50,000 cards that they know are loyalists. So, the rest of the people are sympathisers, and they are in the hundreds of thousands, spread among these parties. Nobody owns those people. They can shift without you knowing they have shifted their allegiance.
So do you think Barrow’s NPP will win a lot of them?
That’s the critical mass that we call the silent majority. You will not see them at any political gathering, meeting or activity. They are at home taking care of their businesses until election time, when they decide to vote. They can swing like any other party. That’s why in America you have what they are called swing states.
Why exactly did you decide to leave the GDC?
I decided to quit during the mayoral campaign. I saw so many things during this period because it was the first time I went inside the party. All the time I was on the peripheries. I saw things that I don’t like. After Talib Bensouda won, I congratulated him. [But] they [GDC] wanted to protest at the IEC. They were even contesting his voter’s card. That’s the first time I got mad at them because that was a joke. That’s why I parted for good with GDC. Why I kept talking about them these past few days is because they attack no politician in this country except Adama Barrow. All their outings are to chastise Adama Barrow. That’s why I decided to counterattack, to put Adama Barrow on a better footing.
As a political strategist, have you noticed that GDC is getting close to the UDP?
It’s natural, because what we know about politics is all about interest. But what they don’t know about UDP [now], they will discover later on. The politicians that know UDP very well are Halifa Sallah, Hamat Bah and now Mai Fatty. Mai Fatty was used while he was in Dakar with the president to attack Halifa Sallah. That started the animosity between Darboe and Sallah. That’s why they refused to join the government.
On hindsight, do you think it was a good decision for the PDOIS to shirk from joining the cabinet because a lot of people thought with them in government, the transition would have run a smoother course?
No, they will not join them because those people [PDOIS] have ideologies. They are not like these propagandist politicians. They are consistent, they have principles and beliefs.
You seem to have a lot of respect for PDOIS, why didn’t you join them then?
Politics for me is a game, and it’s a game of numbers. If you decide to go into politics, you must try to get the biggest number. You don’t worry about how people think. PDOIS is the opposite; they only work with people who believe in their ideals and ideology. PDOIS to me is not a political party; it’s a political organisation. For the past 34 years, they have been trying to lead the country but they never went beyond National Assembly Members. And we have seen their results during the presidential elections. That proves what I am saying that it’s a political organisation. They are not people who would go out and entice people.
So you belong to the school of thought that holds that PDOIS’s mission is to educate people politically.
Absolutely. And it bore fruit during the 2016 elections. Because throughout the impasse, each and every Gambian, when you wake up in the morning, the first thing you ask, what did Halifa Sallah say?
In other words, they brought a lot of credibility to the Coalition 2016?
Absolutely. And I believe Halifa will reap the fruits in the next election. My prediction is, unless APRC put up a candidate, if they don’t, Adama Barrow will emerge first, and PDOIS second and UDP third.
Isn’t that too far-fetched?
People will even insult me, I know. But I am not worried about that because those who have no idea, those who cannot argue, easily insult. They have nothing else to say.
Finally, if you are given an executive position in the NPP, will you take it?
Yes. Because that will permit me to project my ideas within the party. That will be good for the party. Secondly, I will also dip my hands in my pocket and help them. But I can tell you, I am not interested in government position.