With Alagie Manneh
You were known as plain Ebrahim Sanyang from Brikama, how did you metamorphosed in ‘Prince Ebrahim’of Batteling, Kiang?
I was born Ebrahim. The Prince title had always been there by virtue of custodianship in waiting to historical Soninke realm of Royal Batelling. In 2017, I was finally crowned the 8th Sibi Karang Mansa, thus the Crown Custodian of the sacred heritage of Batteling. Our culture, tradition and heritage always define who we are, and how we go about maintaining our values.
Therefore, becoming a custodianship is never self-impose, rather, it is given. I succeeded my great grandfather (Mansa Koto) the late King of Kiang. Since my ascension in November 2017, I was conferred the title of a Farim and it dates to the Mali, and subsequently Kaabu empires. So to make it simple for any layman, my given responsibilities and or mandate as Farim falls into three folds – The Custodian of our Sacred Values and Sites; Protection and Promotion of our Heritage, Culture and Values; and finally principal Economic driver for the realm of Batelling.
Now your standard apparel is the white Arab thobe and keffiyeh? What does it symbolise?
When you are given a responsibility that dates 700 years back, your role precedes your age. And naturally, within the remit of your responsibility, there are expectations that my society places and expects of you, much more elders and people of the realm of Batelling. Therefore I have to be a responsible person and I cannot go out bare-headed etc. That’s one of the reasons why you will never see me in the community bare-headed. My predecessors did the same, and I am expected to follow in their footsteps.
Don’t you think as a Mandinka ‘prince’, you should be wearing a warambo and daabaa kurrto, instead?
Manding-ka is the language of imperial Manding empire. “Ka” is the language. Mandingo is the person from the empire. Manding predates the US. The argument on the daaba kurrto and the warambo does not symbolize a dresscode of royal Household of either Imperial Mali or Kaabu empire nor Realm of Batelling.
The white thobe is not a ceremonial dresses of Batelling Mansa Kunda or Korings. My elders have varied dresses to suit for my every ceremonial occasion. Am sure you saw the traditional dresscode during my enstoolment or crowning, which was very different from the white thobe.
You were crowned a Farim in Kiang, in realm of Batelling. Your critics, believe you are just looking for fame and a big name and that there is no real cultural significance to your imposed royalty.
Those critics are either cultureless or simply ignorant of Batelling Mansa Kunda” (Royal Household), or Paramount Significance of Realm of Batelling, its “bullungo” within the history of Pre and Post independent Gambia. If those critics are educated about my heritage and Batelling’s Mansa Kunda “Bullungono”, they won’t dare criticize me or our values and heritage.
I am simply following the footstep of a traditional line that had never been broken for 1000s of years. I need no fame nor big name for the continuation of our sacred heritage and values.
In any society, one will have critics. Critics are accepted, must be constructive criticism, not blind hatred and ignorance. In line with my mandate, Today under my custodianship, I have more historically relevant achieves of our Heritage, Culture, Norms and Values than even the Gambia National Museum. This priceless educational materials will be unveiled to public from the 28 of December 2018 during the slated 4 days “bunyaro” crown and stool ceremony in Batelling.
Batelling’s royal household helped shaped the Gambia we have today. Infact, the first travelling commission of Britain to South Bank of Gambia and subsequent predessesors had their homes in Batelling at the instant of our Royal Household. Then again that will be a completely whole new discussion by the grace of God.
Do you know we still have sacred and heritage sites dating back 500years in Batelling that predates ‘Republic of Gambia’? Are you aware that Kiang was a Kingdom before independent Gambia? Are you aware we have flag-hoisting site and a guard-of-honour site for all visiting monarchs and sovereigns around the world predating birth of republic of Gambia? Are you telling me that as Crown Custodian, Our Elders and people should simply let go of all our values just to satisfy our ignorant critics? Surely not. I am not going to apologise or be embarrassed to carried our heritage forward for the benefit of Batelling, Kiang, Gambia and mankind at large.
I’m not looking for any fame, I don’t need any cheap popularity. I am merely carrying out the role as custodian of our culture and tradition that are thousands of years old. It is a mandate given to me not sought. Would the same critics go and ask the Asante king of Ghana why he was crowned king? If we want to protect our culture and preserve it, why would anyone would have an issue with that? This is our culture, our values. My responsibility is very clear: I will continue to protect, promote and preserve my culture for the benefit of all. My mandate is not political and will never be politically influenced. It is independent, and will remain sure. For instance, it means that where there are disagreements, I can step in and give my humble advice to defuse them for the sake of our unity.
Tell us the philanthropic works you have been engaged in the area?
I am a philanthropist by virtue of my mandate. My predecessors, my parents and their parents did, so bringing about economic development and social well-being of our people is a natural casue. That is not necessary just in Batteling. My philanthropic work is quite wide. Where I see a need and it is within my capacity, I will intervene. For example, today, although I missed a continental youth diplomacy meeting in Ghana, I will be heading to Brikama now to help address some issues. I am concerned about the very poor street lighting or virtually no street lighting, so that will be my next philanthropic work – to ensure that Brikama streets are lit. Why? This town is the most densely populated town in this country. If you are from Brikama, you will understand what I am trying to say. It is not very safe to allow the status quo. Potentially, accidents can happened because were places are not properly lit, especially where there is a concentration of movement of our people within the market area, I think these are areas I would want to do my quota. But it goes beyond that. I see that we have a large number of unemployment in our country, especially among the youth. The government alone cannot do these things. These are areas I am interested in. So my philanthropy is without borders.
Your father was an outspoken, notable Kiang-ka in the sizeable Kiang-ka community in Brikama. How did his life affect you? What did you learn from him?
He was not just a strong voice in Brikama but across the Gambia. He stood against injustice. He stood for social justice. He was in the 31st Battalion of the Royal West African Frontier Forces. He fought in Burma [in the World War II), as part of the Gambia company. They are the forgotten heroes. These are people who contributed significantly to our world today. Everything that he stood for, that’s what I stand for.
He stood against injustice and was never partisan, politically. I remember as a young person he always maintain an open door to all stakeholders of Gambia and likes of Lamin Waa Juwara, Sheriff Dibba, Babung Fatty, the former director of the NSS Kebba Ceesay, Imam Ratib Alagie Karamo Touray and many other respectable Brikama elders were all his regular visitors at our house. Ex-Chief Dembo Santang of Brikama calls dad his uncle. Many national chiefs including Bakanding Afang Sulay Sanyang (his brother) were all regular visitors and all used to call upon him. My father was there for everybody. There was nobody in this country who ever stood in his way. His bravery and principle stance pretty much shaped my life.
Back in your school days at Brikama’s Bottrop Senior Secondary School, you were popularly known as “Chemical”
shortened to “Chemi”. What informed the name?
I think it was my fearlessness. I spent one-and-a-half year at the high school and left The Gambia. I was pretty young. But during the stint at the high school, I was very outspoken, very vocal on social justice issues. As a result, there was a teacher, who named me ‘Chemical Ali’. Chemical Ali unfortunately happened to be the cousin of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein. So everyone picked up that name. I was never even a head boy nor a class prefect, I would take it upon myself and call the school principal and said, ‘Look, on behalf of all the students of this school, we are demanding that you do so, so and so’. Within one year, I became problematic at school, in a good way, and I was named ‘Chemical’.
You went to England and did well for yourself there. What and where did you study and exactly how did you make your money?
I left school and went to UK without a certificate and had to be interviewed to get into high school by a professor called Colin Carter. After the interview, he said, “Look, I think this young man has the IQ of an A-Level student.” I did A-Levels in government and politics, business and computer science. At university, I did a major and minor in BSc in Human Geography, and BA in Public Policy and Management at the University of Luton, now Bedfordshire. I later went to do my MBA in Strategy and Procurement Management at University of Birmingham. From there I didn’t stop. I had to further study at the University of East Anglia for an MA in International Diplomacy, that at the same time with Nyenrode University, one of the best universities in The Netherlands, to do an MA in International Business. From there of course, life was just completely different.
Having said that, while I was at the university, my first year, I observed that lot of students were paying expensive amounts of money at university halls of residence. The halls were small and not very conducive. I looked at the money that was given to me to go and pay for my yearly rent at the university’s hall of residence. I wasn’t quite comfortable with this. I went to a bank manager and I said to him, ‘Look I want to buy a house’. Literally he was in tears, he was laughing as in how are you going to be able to pay for this house? You haven’t got anything. So I had to go back to the drawing board with convincing business and viable proposal. A deal was agreed where I became… it was more like a trustee; a property would have been bought by someone and if I get to a certain age the house would have been transferred to me but, on the understanding that I maintain the monthly payment of that property. This is how I started making money. I borrowed money to buy a house and then rent that house and turned even the dining room into a bedroom. Students all over the world were coming. My first year was so impressive that the bank manager called me and said I should look for another property. As you know, property portfolios became bigger and bigger. From there I never looked back. And in that part of the world, when you have a very good record with the banks, the sky is the limit for you.
How rich are you? What is your net worth?
(Laughs) I don’t know my net worth, but it is quite a good sizeable portfolio that I maintain. It is something that will continue to grow. As far as The Gambia is concerned, there is no… I have not seen a Gambian that has the same financial leveraging capability that I have. There isn’t. One of my projects alone, in Ghana, I have a 3000-acre deal in Ghana, and our intention is to pump in 1.7 billion dollars in that property. This property here I am telling you, we have a deal to build 15,000 homes in just one part of the land, at 40,000 dollars per property, in a very small portion of that 3,000 acres that we are working on, that’s over 900 million dollars revenue. And if you add that to the other 900 million of let’s say seven aircraft, you now hit over 2 billion isn’t it?
Some believe you were involved in cyber credit fraud and 419 scams.
Again, it is laughable. From multi-billion portfolios to mediocre credit card fraud and 419? The world is very small. In any case, these critics would go to any length to taint people’s image. My reputation is very, very clean, globally. Today you are seeing it all over the world; from the British Institute of Directors where I happen to be making keynote speech to regional organisations where I happen to represent. You know, even the prophet had his own detractors. I think the biggest problem all the time was, I have never been a media-savvy person. I have never allowed these kind of interviews for people to know the true person I was. I had a very quiet life all along. This is what gave the enemies that opportunity to spew baseless nonsense. But as everyday goes now, people are seeing me for who I truly am and are able to understand that.
About this 419 nonsense, I heard a Gambian blogger wrote such nonsense and that I was wanted by the West Midlands Police, for defrauding Lord Mayor of Birmingham…’ Which lord mayor? The only lord mayor I know was previous and invited me to encourage me to invest more in Birmingham. I did that and employed number of people there! It was my credibility that took me there and same credibility is here to stay. The Senegalese are after me, other African countries have invited me. I am starting an airline operation in Eastern Africa as we are speaking. Ghana is my home. There isn’t a door in Ghana I will knock and it will not open for me. While these very few individuals are busy trying to taint my image, my global reputation keeps expanding. I went to the US, the same detractors followed me. The reality was that, and for the first time, I will break that to you, I was in the US to engage into negotiations into buying the Tyler Perry studio, in Atlanta, Georgia. I am an investor, Mr Manneh, and have been asked to invest. I think I should be the one that should be wary of 419ers. I am talking about billions here, and you are talking about child’s play like me getting involved in minor criminal activities? Really? Does that make any sense to a rational mind? Mark my word, let no one be fooled, anyone who falsely tarnish my name and reputation, will face legal action sooner or later.
How did you come to meet Ansumana Jammeh, the younger brother of the former president?
Ansumana was a childhood friend. I wa in Kiang. He was at Sintet. My late uncle Manlafi Sanyang, was stationed at Kalagi Police Station. So you will see that we knew each other when we were all young people. When we didn’t even use to wear shoes.
How did he come to own all those shares in most of your businesses?
He helped set my company up in Gambia with nominal token shares given to home. All these shares were rescinded back to me since 2016. Ansumana Jammeh is NOT a shareholder in my Companies. All companies that I have here, I personally own all those companies. The ones under the so-called freezing order are ”unsubstantiated allegation’ that lacks merit. What do I have with Yahya Jammeh? Nothing. All what they say is false allegations by Minister and Ministry of Justice. Absolute false allegations.
During a PAC-PEC sitting at the National Assembly about five years ago, your name and that of one of your company came up as owing AMRC about D15 million or thereabouts. How was that liability contracted and have you paid it?
AMRC owes me, I owe them nothing. Every penny that they owe me will be fully recovered, make no mistake. I am here. How come if I were to owe them that kind of money my name was not publicized and circulated transparently in the media as wanted just as in the case of all their debtors? They defaulted multi-million dollars contracts with my company and they defaulted. The idea of banditry under the pretext of the state at some point, will always come to an end. “Watositaleh” (time has come for them). If any public officials think that by manipulating, by using banditry to put people in trouble, it will never stand water.
About three years ago, Jammeh ordered your arrest and instructed you pay about D10 million you were owing the state or be detained at Mile 2 Prison. You coughed up the money and paid within 24 hours. Did you pay from your Treasury Bill stocks?
Very true, Such amount was collected from me at Banjul Police Headquarters under pretext of Executive Directive. Yes. And the modus operandi of that whole farcical detention in itself was illegal, and will be brought to court soon. To me, it resonated a blatant extortion and organised criminality under pretext of state. I have been extorted. And let no one take my silence for weakness. That 10 million dalasi would come back to me. The state will pay. And the people involved in that banditry, I underscore it again ‘banditry’, under the pretext of the state, whether it is this commission, or any other commission, they would face full force of the law.
Speaking of the commission, most if not all of your companies and businesses have been put under a temporary freeze by the sitting commission of inquiry into the financial activities of former President Jammeh and his associates. Yet curiously they have not summoned you to testify even for a day. Why and what are you doing about it?
As I have said before, the allegations in itself were false in its entirety. It’s “unsubstantiated allegation”. Let them call me in an open commission and present evidence. Bottomline is, there is no nexus between me and former president. If they fail to act accordingly and transparently, I will sue them to court both nationally and internationally.
Because in any case before you accuse somebody, you ought to investigate them. Why wasn’t I investigated? My businesses were tarnished on newspapers saying that they were close associate of President Jammeh. To date, they cannot bring a single nexus between me and the former president. The worst thing about it is this; they even went and close my office down. My main corporate head office and all my offices are closed to date over a year now. They are closed. Which court of law would warrant that? You see, what I’m saying to you is that there are rots within the government itself. Corruption that we said we are fighting, still exists.
That is a grim allegation.
It is not an allegation. It is a fact. Why would you freeze nine of my companies and made them close associates of Yahya Jammeh, and even see to it that my companies were falsely sanctioned by the Americans. I was never a close associate, not even a business partner to Yahya Jammeh. In that US sanction, as you would see, it was Yankuba Badjie, Yahya Jammeh and my companies. What have I done? Therefore, any public official with any conscience, must act to see that justice is done and seen to be done. I am one of the most sought-after investors, by global leading banks, and to associate my companies, to former president, that technically means they want to destroy me. That’s what they have done. Who ordered the closer of my business? I hold the minister 100 percent responsible for every wrong that I am going through now. I have no fear of anybody.
What role did you play during the impasse in the efforts to force Jammeh to go?
Well I will not go very much into those details. What I did, I had to do. For the record, I was probably the first people before these civil societies came together, before today the so-called champions who we are seen beating their chests about democratic dispensations. They were all hiding. I came on the record and directly even urged the security service not to take anyone’s part. I did that out of moral conscience. To see to it that the president-elect becomes the president. Of course, the refugees were fleeing, we went after them and gave them food and other things, from my pocket. I worked closely with mayors in Senegal, from Toubakuta to Karang, all the way to Dakar, funding them as Gambians to live a dignified life. As for the political leadership, I am not going to talk much but they know what they needed to know. I have done my bit in the impasse.
What specific support did you give the Coalition 2016?
I am not going to go into that. I asked for all sides to meet including the former president himself to have dialogue to ensure that there is an expedited peaceful process, which we end up seeing. But yes, I was very much in touch with the leaders of the coalition. We shouldn’t look at this victimisation from the whole entire machinery of the state; my issue is only one place and one place only, the Ministry of Justice. I have a very good cordial relationship with other ministerial departments and executives. The president by no means, of course. I have no problem with any other state department. Quite frankly, if I want to see the president, he will see me, if I write. I spent no less than 250,000 US dollars on my office. This whole idea of going to making my companies a close associate of jammeh is a show without merit, is a show. It is a circus. They keep extending this whole freezing order and kept my business closed. On what basis? Why wasn’t I called to the commission? So any rational mind should be able to look at my case and see a blatant injustice.
What is your general reading of the state of affairs of the country?
We need to be more united. I don’t engage in partisan politics, but people in the country need to work together to ensure that we bring about policies that will bring about a robust economy, to put in place both policies that will bring about comparative and competitive advantages both at the national, regional and local levels to ensure this country realises its goals. So the state of affairs? From your own point of view, seeing what I am going through, how would you see the state of affairs?
What are the things President Barrow is not doing that he should be doing?
I cannot speak for the president. I met him. He is a brilliant man with a brilliant mindset in terms of what he wants the country to be. He is the leader, and we cannot have too many chiefs and no Indians. I am not paying tribute to him by merely flattering him. I am not political. I am not looking for any position. I have more money than even the state, they said their coffers were empty, near bankrupt. I believe the only way that the President can succeed, is to have that supportive, collective, holistic structure around him. He needs the right team around him to succeed.
Are you interested in seeking political office some day?
Never. Politicians come and go, Sibi Karang Mansa is a lifetime job. I have zero interest in political office. That is based on principle. I can use my ability and resources and continue to benefit the people and the country without belonging to any political party or holding government post.
Any closing remarks?
Our legacy, individual or collective, let’s ensure that we have a united Gambia that forges this unison in peace and prosperity and Justice for all, in an inclusive manner. That’s all I have to say.