Responding Jawara’s critics


By Omar Bah

Good as he was, Sir Dawda Jawara’s government had serious flaws and failures. As the nation mourns his passing, The Standard senior reporter Omar Bah talks to Omar Amadou Jallow who served as the interim leader of the PPP after the lifting of the proscription on the party. He asks the man widely regarded as the political heir of Sir Dawda to respond to ten criticisms levelled against The Gambia’s first president.

The Standard:Critics say Jawara was a tad too soft as a leader.


Unfortunately, we Africans have not learnt from our history of being the most demonised creatures in history. Sir Dawda Jawara became president of The Gambia and refused to follow the steps of other African leaders and The Gambia became the only multi-partiercountry in West Africa because he believed we should learn from our past and not allow people to be enslavedunder a Gambian president.  He was not soft. I can give you an example. When we were young we praisedAhmed Sekou Touré because of the way he treated his people and his arrogance but because they think Jawara was soft they didn’t respect him because he did not kill people or put them in prison. How many Guineans ran away from despotism to come and settle in The Gambia? But no Gambian during Sir Dawda’s time ran away from The Gambia because of suppression or violation of human rights. Sir Dawda was unique and those who said he was soft should instead admire him for his softness because it is not softness [per se], it is respect for the human being.

His critics say he encouraged corruption by treating corrupt officials with kid gloves instead of punishing them harshly as deterrent.

I have never heard or seen him treat any corrupt official with kid gloves.This is why I always ask those critics to tell me the corrupt officials who were treated with kid gloves because if Sir Dawda can dismiss Housainou Njie, the elder brother of Lady Chilel Njie from The Gambia Commercial and Development Bank because of mismanagement and remove Kebba Jawara his elder brother as minister – I don’t know for what reason- but if it was someone else, he would not have done that and I think among all the cabinet ministers for thirty years it was only Kebba Jawara who served asa minister from Jawara’s family. After the 1994 coup, Yahya Jammeh made a declaration that the PPP government was overthrown because of “rampant corruption, lack of accountability and transparency”. He set up a commission of inquiry headed by a Ghanaian and Dr Ndow and AA Faal were the commissioners Everybody who worked under Jawara and Jawara himself went before that commission and We were investigated for eleven months and the decree that established that commission said the commission will sit publicly and its report will be made public. The other commissions, such as the lands commission report, were made public but up to today, the commission of inquiry into the financial dealings of the PPP government report has not been published and all those who went through the commission have a right through Decree 25 to be given the report and I made it my responsibility at the time to hold a press conference every year at the time to request for Yahya Jammeh to publish the report because it was only that report which could have cleared us or otherwise from the accusations that Yahya Jammeh labeled against the Jawara government. Can you imagine if Sir Dawda can be president for 30 years and has only two properties in Wellington Street, Banjul and in Fajara which he built through a loan from the Standard Bank and BICI. Yahya Jammeh on the contrary, in 22 years has 193 properties and billions of dalasis. Sir Dawda has never given out a million dalasi to anyone because he does not have it and could not afford it. Sir Dawda never interfered in the activities of the Central Bank or the Accountant General’s Department. I can attest to that because I know. So I cannot understand where the corruption was. Let them tell m, then I will apologise on behalf of Sir Dawda.

There was relative peace in the country but Gambians remained poor because the regime was following IMF/World Bank (Bretton Woods)neo-colonialist economic policies like ERP, PSD and so forth?

Well first and foremost, people should appreciate Sir Dawda for accepting The Gambia to be a sovereign independent state, because when we requested for independence some Gambians, especially politicians, were with the idea of the British that The Gambia cannot be a sovereign state and we should be part of Senegal.It was only Sir Dawda who refused and he went to Nigeria to President Nnamdi Azikiwe and the first PPP manifesto was prepared in Nigeriaand he came with it and it was ‘Gambia for Independence Now’. The then national president of the party was not convinced that The Gambia can be independent, he resigned. After independence we became a grant-aided country and our civil servants were paid by Britain because our economy was zero but within three years, Sir Dawda stopped the grant aided activity. His government built agriculture to a levelpeople were coming from Senegal, Mali and other countries to farm in The Gambia andfarmers were at the time assisted with equipment and even monetary loans and I can remember in 1984 or 1985 at the height of the drought, Sir Dawda made an executive directive that the Gambia government will takeover loans of 84 million dollars owned by the farmers.He ensured that agriculture was diversified and we became the second biggest producer of cotton after Mali in the sub-region and we had one of the best ginneries for cotton in Basse built by the French government. During Sir Dawda’s time,businesses in this country were controlled by Gambians. In the fisheries sector, all the major fishing companies were owned by Gambians and employing hundreds of Gambians.The likes of NPE, Amadou Samba, Lie Fish, Jerreh Daffeh and others were leading fishing companies in the country. Then I was minister for fisheries. Jawara built hotels and encouraged tourism and apart from Coco Ocean all the other major hotels were built during his time. The Gambia was the only country under the able leadership of Sheriff Sisay as minister of finance that not only introduced the ERP but went into negotiating and building our economy to a standard whereby in the whole of West Africa we were the only country whose currency was revalued and made an international acceptable tender. Sir Dawda built GPA, Gamworks, Gamtel and most of the major institutions that exist in The Gambia today were either initiated or established by Sir Dawda. When it comes to infrastructure, he built the Denton Bridge, Banjul-Basse road, Foni Jarrol Bridge, Pakaliba Bridge, cut down the Jahally hill and not to talk about the feeder roads. So really I cannot understand why people are being critical of him.

Critics say Jawara’s much-vaunted ‘Singapore Dream’ was that, only a dream, because while Singapore built universities, the Jawara government did not do near enough in developing human resources as evidenced by the failure to build one single high school in 30 years.

It is unfortunatethat people did not understand Jawara’s system. Sir Dawda had an agreement with all the Catholic missions that are here and other missionary schools whereby all their staff were beingpaid by the Gambia Government. People didn’t know that. The ‘Singapore Dream’ was coming. When they talk about the university, if you can remember when AlieuEWF Badjie was minister in the 1990s,he set up a commission for the setting-up of the university. If you go to the archives of the Daily Observer, when the commission made their report that it was right for The Gambia to have a university, the then American ambassador [Andrew Winter] said it was not right for The Gambia to have a university but Badjie insisted that we are going to establish a university. It was after that the 1994 coup happened. After the coup, I just want to ask people whether logically anyone can establish a fully-fledged university within two years?The School of Nursing &Midwifery, The School of Agriculture, GTTI, MDI, RDI and all the institutions that constitute the university were built by Jawara. The Brikama campus which is the main headquarters of the UTG today was built ten years before the coup…These were all institutions that we were making ready to have a university but Jawara was very much aware and careful of not overspending money on things that would affect the livelihood of the ordinary person in the street…That is why when the new government came pumping money into white elephant projects it affected our currency exchange and prices of commodities. During Sir Dawda’s time, a bag of rice dropped from D380 to D175 and a bag of sugar was costing D110 up to the coup. Now if you want a bag of sugar or rice you spend over D1,000. The Jammeh government was reckless in spending and not knowing the priority areas. Sir Dawda’s view was that development starts with the people; this is why he wanted to uplift the lives of the people first, particularly the rural people. This is why for 30 years you have not seen one rural Gambian crossing the desert to die because agriculture was sustainable.

Critics say Jawara was Machiavellian by announcing he was stepping down only to stay on and remove or demote all those who consentedfor him to step down and promote those who cried and begged him to stay on.

That is not true. I was one of those who asked him to his face to step down but he never demoted me or sacked me. That has never happened. Sir Dawda is human and there is no perfect human being. I was there, I know he meant it when he said he was stepping down but the amount of pressure they put on him by organising imams, elders and family members to beg him to stay on made him  change his mind because he is human. Critics should blame those who made him change his mind.

Jawara’s failure to groom an heir and hand over to the person is a gross failure of his leadership and legacy. Don’t you agree?

Sometimes I think people make certain criticisms out of ignorance because the constitution that established leadership proceduresstipulated clearly that when a presidentdecides to step down, the vice president will take over immediately so it was not necessary for him to groom anybody. That is not his job. His job was to follow the constitution of the state.Each and every one of us in cabinet at the time could have taken over from him because our government was not being ruled by an individual but by a team.

Don’t you agree that internal fighting within the PPP, mainly the Saikou Sabally and the BB Dabo camps led to the hemorrhaging of public support for the government and spawned the July 1994 coup and made it acceptable?


There were some differences, I have to be honest to myself, when he rescinded his decision there were some problems within the party which is natural because some people wanted BB Dabo to continue as vice president but Jawara had the prerogative to decide who serves as his vice president. I, Landing Jallow Sonko, Saikou Sabally and LK Jabang were all ministers before Bakary Dabo but after ten months as minister, Dabowas appointed as vice president but none of us argued or complained. Jawara removed Sheriff Dibba, Assan Musa Camara and AB Njie as vice presidents before BB Dabo but nobody argued and BB is not better than them.

Critic say you have hijacked the PPP and your choice of Papa Njieyour protégé,as PPP leader,will leave the party on the fringes of Gambian politics as he has no credible political pedigree or base and is not electable.

Those saying that, where were theywhen I was imprisoned for 22 times for upholding the legacy of Sir Dawda and the PPP? They all ran away. I registered the party singlehandedly. Through my own financing I went round and got all the signatures required to register the party. Where were they? If I wanted the party or hijacked it I would have contested for the party’s leadership because I am still strong but I didn’t go into politics for my own personal benefit but for the interest of The Gambia and I think Africans should learn from our past and avoid making our leaders seem like God. People talk about Papa Njie. What were Sir Dawda’s political credentials when Gambians were making him leader?  For me, I supported Papa Njie because he has the qualification and the competence. He has a master’s  degree in agricultural management and he has worked for the civil service, diplomatic service, international NGOs and his father was one of the closest friends of Sir Dawda and the biggest financer of the PPP. Papa Njie has never supported Yahya Jammeh for 22 years. How can you compare him with BB Dabo, who was made minister of information and tourism from 1981 to 1982, vice president from 1982 to 1992 and minister of finance from 1992 to 1994 under Jawara and came back to work with Jammeh a dictator who committed treason for overthrowing a democratically elected government? He did not stop there, he wrote a letter to the IMF to inform them that he had joined the AFPRC government to eradicate the endemic corruption in the PPP government. Where was he as vice president for ten years when that corruption was taking place? Can you have that man as a credible leader?

Some observers said in lauding Lady Chilel in your address at the state funeral, you publicly humiliated Lady Njaimeh.

Well that is their opinion but that was not my intention. I know Lady Chilel was the one here with Sir Dawda. I respect Lady Njaimeh.I was the only former minister who goes to Sir Dawda’s house every Sunday to have breakfast with him. That is why they chose me to make a statement on behalf of his government. We should give the devil its due. I am too honest to say things I don’t believe in. That’s me. I didn’t do it to humiliate anybody but if anybody feels humiliated I am sorry. I said what I said because I was going there and I witnessed things. Lady Chilel has never allowed the maids to serve us food, she did it herself.