In this edition of Bantaba, he discusses with The Standard’s Lamin Baba Njie on politics, why he joined the APRC and his hopes for future elections.
Tell us a little about yourself?
My mother calls me Pa, my friends call me Jong Kelefa. Politically, I am called Pa Manneh; officially I am Pa Amadou Manneh and at school (Nusrat High), I was called Zoom. I am the councilor for Nyambai ward, Brikama. I am the third child of my parents. My dad was the late Ebrima Manneh who worked as an agriculture officer and my mom is Fatou Jallow, granddaughter of Musa Molloh. You have been politically active from childhood, what attracts you to it?
Given my life, I would not be mistaken if I said I was born a politician. I did my primary school education at Brikamaba. We lived in Sapu when my dad was working at the agricultural department there. I spent my whole primary education there and we came to Kassa Kunda where I sat for the Common Entrance Exams. I proceeded to Nasir Ahmadiyya High School in Basse where I spent two years and was then transferred to Nusrat High School. During my school days, I was an activist and during that time, people began to see attributes of a politician in me. When I was admitted at Nasir, the first lesson that I attended really inspired me to make a career in politics. Our teacher taught us about how black people lived during the Apartheid and their struggles, especially Nelson Mandela. This to a great extent stimulated my interest and it was from that day in class that we formed an anti-Apartheid movement in school and I was an executive member. My political virility started right there at that movement. I was also part of a drama movement and we organised plays where I played the part of the closest friend of the late Steve Biko. I began to build great interest in Apartheid and I started to read a lot about it. How was the political landscape during your boyhood years in the First Republic?
Way back in the 1980s, the PPP government was still very much in power. At that time one thing I felt was that there was a portion of children growing who enjoyed all the privileges while others were marginalised. It was a bourgeoisie set-up where the children of the elite were very much well-positioned to make it through life. Distaste for that status quo radicalised people like me. Tell us how you entered politics after school?
After I graduated from high school in 1991, I travelled to Sweden and I was there for almost five years. The July 22nd Revolution took place while I was in Sweden and upon my return I felt the worst fear. Fear surged through me because my thinking at that time was that coup d’états always lead to the downfall of a nation. This was a popular notion among many. I was sceptical about the whole thing at that time and that was the reason I was opposed to the military regime. I was afraid that it could lead us to a Sierra Leone or Rwanda type conflict. I decided to join an opposition political party that has a democratic outlook and this was how I eventually joined the United Democratic Party. During my time in the UDP, I served as the regional youth president of Kombo Central for the party. I served as a mobiliser and tried to mobilise the youths to join the UDP. Based on the information I got when I was in Sweden, I returned back to The Gambia thinking that the UDP was the most popular opposition political party in the country. However, at a point, I decided to leave the party. How was the UDP political structure or set-up when you were there?
At that time, I didn’t understand much about the institutional arrangement but I knew it was a party that was popular on the ground and many people supported it. Ousainou Darboe was the leader and Lamin Waa Juwara was the propaganda secretary. I was close to Juwara. The NCP and the PPP were all banned at that time and some members of those parties decided to ally themselves with the UDP. So why did you leave UDP?
I left when the party expelled Juwara. During my time in the UDP, Juwara was my mentor. He had a little fracas with Darboe that led to his dismissal. At that particular time, I felt it was unnecessary and unwise for the party to engage in ideological warfare. I felt it was unnecessary to create a mess over little ideological differences. I sympathised with Juwara and I left. This was after the 2001 elections. Tell us how Ndam was founded.
Waa Juwara received an invitation by a group of Gambians living abroad. They invited him to the United States and when he went there, they told him about their desire to form a new political party and wanted him to be its leader. He said he will first need to consult some people on the matter and then get back to them. When he came back he called some of the people around him including me and disclosed the matter to us. That was the time we gave him the green light to accept the proposal and we assured him of our preparedness to work with him. That was how everything started. I quickly became the national youth president of the party. This was around 2004 and 2005. The party had an external wing of members who lived abroad including Ousainou Mbenga, one of the trio who tried to invade the Gambian embassy in Washington a few months ago. He was the deputy executive secretary of the party and was Waa Juwara’s deputy. I was one of the most active members of the internal wing of the party and I did most of the press briefings and other activities. I chaired meetings and organised conferences for the party until the time when the idea of the National Alliance for Democracy and Development (NADD) cropped up. But few months into the negotiations to form the alliance, Waa Juwara was arrested, tried and later convicted for a seditious crime. This was when he made calls for Gambians to take to the streets in an interview. While he was in prison, I assumed a leading role as Ndam’s representative in those negotiations for a possible alliance which we ended up with the launching of NADD. I had a lot of advice from Waa Juwara because I used to visit him in prison where I fed him information about the whole thing. What was the idea behind NADD and what concessions were made by the parties to form the alliance?
What happened was that all the opposition political parties were made to understand that none of them had a real chance of winning elections even the UDP. Ndam was the newest opposition political party and we knew we couldn’t make real impact on our own. The best option for the opposition, therefore, was to come together and form an alliance. But NADD later proved to be a big failure. In fact what happened was during the formation of the alliance, people from the ruling APRC party said the opposition political parties were power hunger, and could not unite under one leader because everyone wanted to be the leader. During the negotiation period, I didn’t see disunity within the opposition; everyone showed sincerity. But as time went on, we realised that most of the people were not in fact sincere and most of what they said during the negotiations was not in them. It was after we chose a leader that we knew that most of the people who were with the alliance were not actually sincere. But who exactly would you blame for the eventual failure of NADD?
I will blame the leaders of all the opposition political parties for the failure of the alliance. I will blame the disunity on the UDP, PDOIS, and NRP. I knew at the time that we were headed for failure because the UDP left first and the NRP followed. I began to see the level of insincerity in our people especially the leaders. I knew things wouldn’t work out as planned but then it was close to election and the rest of the parties decided to stay and contest. But I definitely knew we were not going to win. NADD lost badly and the UDP couldn’t make it. Given the scenario, we at Ndam realised the wish to unite all the opposition cannot be achieved. So we also pulled out of the alliance and Waa Juwara left to join the ruling APRC party. According to his advice, we decided to put Ndam under the APRC. This was after the 2006 elections. Was it his defection that terminally killed Ndam?
I wouldn’t call it a defection and I think Waa Juwara will be the best person to tell you why he joined the ruling APRC. He played a role in convincing me to also join APRC. Actually when Waa Juwara left, the executive thought it was the end though the general reaction suggested there were people who were disgruntled. But I wasn’t disappointed myself. Juwara is very calculating in whatever he does and it was a bit hard for him to convince me to join him in APRC but eventually I started to develop interest in APRC before the 2011 presidential elections. I supported APRC in the elections and I started to go out with some members of the party. Former West Coast Region governor, Lamin Sanneh was a good friend and contributed in convincing me to join APRC. I started active politics with the party during the last local government elections. What does winning the councillorship for Brikama Nyambai Ward mean for you?
It is about what you can do for your people and I am aware of the responsibilities attached to being a councillor. After I was chosen to be candidate for APRC, I was happy and I felt I was the right man for the job. I knew the terrain very well and I know I was going to win as councilor for my ward. I had a very comfortable campaign and the people enjoyed it.
Many people including Jaliba Kuyateh, accompanied you to your nomination, what is your relationship with him?
Jaliba is one of the most generous supporters and financiers of the ruling APRC party and its cause. He takes a back seat in politics but he is always entertaining Gambians through music and helping fundraising for development both at home and abroad. He is the first person to organize an APRC youth group in Brikama Nyambai in the name of ‘Jaliba Family’ and as a way of participating in APRC functions. He has even gone on to lend support to the president’s farm in Kanilai, Darsilami and Siffoe. And so for him to come out to lead my campaign during elections could be because he lives in my ward and he was also not as busy in his engagements at that time. In two years we will enter another election cycle, what are your predictions for your party?
If you read the country’s political terrain, you will understand that there’s no threat of the opposition anymore. There’s no opposition that can threaten the APRC at the moment. Gambia opposition political parties don’t even have a formula and I think the next election will be a landslide victory for APRC. They are very much disintegrated and cannot even make an impact. The people have lost confidence in the UDP because it cannot convince them on anything. But do you think that is good for democracy in The Gambia?
What is democracy? Democracy they say, is a government of the people, for the people and by the people. So if APRC is a government of the people, by the people and of The Gambia and working for the people then that’s democracy. If the people are saying that it’s APRC that they want, that’s democracy. APRC is not saying there will be no opposition political party. But if opposition political parties and Gambian people are saying no to them, then that’s not the fault of the APRC. There is room for opposition political parties but if these parties cannot make an impact, democracy is moving. There’s democracy in The Gambia.
Finally, what is your ultimate ambition as a politician?
[Laughs] I am still a starter and to me politics is a lifelong thing. It’s not a contract for a period, it is a lifelong thing. Politically, I have not even gone half way yet. So I wouldn’t say I have achieved anything yet. I’m still a beginner and learning.
With Lamin Njie