Rohey Malick Lowe, Mayor of Banjul

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With Alagie Manneh

Your father, a former mayor, was a diehard PPP, yet you decided to support the UDP. Why?

Honestly, I was never a fan of PPP, to be quite honest. Every member of my family supported PPP. Of course, my father was a diehard PPP, even most of my friends were PPP. I don’t know for what reason I was never PPP. Even my extended family during the time of Jawara were PPP. But I was not a PPP fan. I don’t know for what reason. 

Congratulations on your ascendancy as president of Refela Africa. I am sure that came as a great boost to your image. What does it mean for The Gambia?


Many people asked me what does it mean for The Gambia. Indeed, it means a lot. I am sure taking Gambia at the top of the map means a lot. I have met so many people in Kisumu [Kenya] for example who have never heard of The Gambia before. But today I am sure 90 percent of the people who were there know about The Gambia simply because of the presidency. So, indeed, it means a lot to me. I am honoured, and grateful to the people of The Gambia. I am sure I could not have been the president without the involvement of The Gambia, the government and indeed, my brother, His Excellency Adama Barrow. So, it has a lot of significance for The Gambia especially for women and youth. 

When you broke the glass ceiling by becoming The Gambia’s first female elected mayor in 2018, many people thought that would have opened the door for greater women participation in politics. That hasn’t happened on a higher scale, has it?

I wouldn’t say it hasn’t happened. You have to understand where we were before and now. I think my election has triggered so many attentions. You can see that a lot of women came to the political arena. If you look at it during the parliamentary elections, we already have about 19 candidates. I think women are becoming so brave now to stand and say okay we want to represent ourselves. So, I have to disagree with you that it hasn’t been happening. I am of the view that it is happening, that we are seeing greater women participation in our politics.

Many described your first term in office as distinguish and successful. Tell us about your achievements since your election in 2018.

I think my weapon is inclusiveness. I am one person who listens so much. I ask, and I listen. I include people also in whatever I am doing. Sometimes as a leader, people give us all the credit because they are not seeing the background. We have other people who are not in the council but have contributed a lot towards its development. The team is in the background. Just across the street here, you can see the town hall building that we have started [constructing]. I have laid the stone for the foundation. It is something I am very proud of. We have the youth for Excellence Centre at the Campama mental home. This is another success. All theses successes are related or have to do with the manifesto. If you go back to the manifesto, and read it properly, you would see that it has addressed and intends to bring in a waste management truck and bins, building of a town hall, youth centre, the EU project, the abattoir, public toilets, paying school fees for children, establishment of the Rohey Malick Lowe Women and Youth Empowerment [centre] and indeed, many others. But what is dearest to my heart is the school fees. I think from my own point of view, that is the tool for the future. I believe if I want to help empower women and youth, I should give them education.

Once, you told me regarding your intention to work to establish a state-of-the-art hospital in Banjul. Are those dreams still alive?

I once had investors who wanted to do this, but unfortunately, it didn’t work, to be honest. Preparations were at a high stage, but unfortunately, it didn’t work. You know here in The Gambia, politics. It couldn’t work [because of the politics].

Even before your mayorship, you were already seen as self-made young woman and an inspiration to thousands of young Gambians. What drives you?

Yeah, well, I was an entrepreneur, and I am still one. [Smiles]. To be quite honest, the business is still going on but on a lower scale now as I don’t have the time to be engaged in it. This is what I was doing. I am still doing it, but on a small scale.

You have been fighting for the independence of local councils. And, at a recent town hall meeting you vowed to fight a directive obligating elected officials like yourself to seek travel clearance whenever they wish to travel. Is there end in sight?

If you say fighting for local governments, I think even you Alagie have been fighting for local governments. And I think everybody should fight for local governments. We are closer to the people; we know the problems of the people. We should filter the problem of the people up. I think everybody will agree that a bottom-up approach of governance is what develops a country. Regarding the issue of clearance which they say is an executive order, I don’t know, I have tested the waters. I said it the last time that I will be traveling without clearance, and I did, came back and nothing happens. Because it’s an executive order. And I know that… I don’t think the president has any interest in this. You know, sometimes, they use their powers to do things that they know very well that are not necessary at all. You cannot just tell a mayor you cannot travel because you don’t have a clearance. I think it’s important for people to start testing the waters. It’s not that they are going to put you in jail. So, you test the waters and see what will happen. Sometimes it is a waste of resource and time [going to court]. You don’t have to battle everything in court. If it is a law, indeed, I will respect the law. But you cannot tell me that this is an executive order when I know very well that the president doesn’t even have an interest in who is traveling or not, whether you have clearance or not.  I have seen the MPs. MPs don’t have clearance to travel. So, this is why I say that I will keep testing the waters until they flank a red flag. 

Gambian politics is nasty, but you never shy away from controversy or a fight. What do you say to those who say this is unbecoming of a mayor?

The problem is, I think people cannot differentiate between unnecessary fight, and fighting for your right. We are nearer to the people. You cannot tell me that… For example, I have been trying to get a GPPA clearance to buy LED lights for Banjul. If you look at all these [letters], these are all letters I am receiving from people because they cannot wait. They cannot wait at all because their streets are dark. The old people cannot go to the mosque, or to the church, and then I have to just wait because I need to follow the regulation of GPPA. Yes, it is a regulation. It is a good practice, and I respect it, but sometimes, you cannot just wait until ten people die and then you say sorry because I was waiting for GPPA. So, I don’t fight unnecessary fights, and I don’t fight other people’s fights also. Whenever you see Rohey Malick Lowe open her mouth so wide, if you take the yardstick, then you will see that there is an iota of truth that they are wrong. Because you cannot just come to my city, disrespect me and do whatever you want and then go away. Sometimes they say oh it’s because you are a female. But I don’t want anybody to sympathise with me because I am a female. Because I am a female, that doesn’t mean that you have to come and do whatever you want and then just go. No. no. It doesn’t work that way. I am not somebody who just go out on the street and say ‘hey Mr Manneh, come and let’s fight’. Sometimes you cannot understand the pressure we have as mayors. It’s too much. And some people, because of politics, think that they can always pin us down to do what they want, not with me. No, no, no.

There are talks that you are not on good terms with most senior UDP members. How true is this?

I think that’s a stale news. I have been hearing that every day. And I am sure when I went to the airport you have seen the likes of Aunty Yam Secka, the likes of Ya Mundow Yabo, Honorable Darboe, the KKBs and others. I think these are the senior UDP cabal. I have been hearing this just like oh my God every year there’s a scandal for Rohey Malick Lowe. These things don’t worry me. I am telling you that I am in good relations with my party.

You have a troubled past with the Barrow administration. How would you describe the relationship now?

I’ve never had a problem with the Barrow administration. Never. Confrontation and problem are not the same. We can disagree to agree. That doesn’t mean that the problem will escalate up to the extent of we becoming enemies. If I tell you I have a lot of friends in NPP you wouldn’t believe it, even ministers who are very close to me. But you know the Gambian politic, if you visit Manneh at home, it means Manneh is your best friend. If you visit somebody, the next day the person says it was my friend who visited me. For example, if I talk to Fatoumata Jawara of MAA Foundation, a childhood friend, they say Rohey Malick Lowe is now NPP, in this small Gambia. In this small Gambia, if you want to avoid Manneh, Ida or Penda, I don’t know how we are going to live. So, politics does not separate me from friends and family.

Critics said that your party is in disorder. What does the future hold for the party?

I don’t know how to say this, but there were times during the Jammeh era when the UDP used to boycott elections, and then people will come out and say UDP has died. But the UDP militants are active only when it is necessary, and when it is not necessary, they go back to their corners. You just wait and find out if the UDP is in a disarray or not.

What are your views on tribalism and what should be done about it?

I’m not saying tribalism is not the problem of The Gambia, but I think the partisan politics is more problematic than tribalism. I will agree with you that we have a problem, and we need reconciliation, and that we need to move forward, but to achieve that, everybody would have to admit that they were part of the mistake. Some people just think that they can do any harm and just walk away and pretend as if nothing has happened. We are all human beings. We all make mistakes sometimes, but we cannot just pretend like nothing has happened, and that the problem is Manneh. It doesn’t work like that. So, yes, tribalism is happening, I think it is the partisan politics that has dominated tribalism. Of course, partisan politics will be here, because everybody belongs to a party. Politics is something that we do every day, but I think our leaders need to see eye to eye, and from there we can take it up. The problem is not me or you. Our leaders, they should sit and see eye to eye.

In its White Paper, the government said that it accepts the TRRC recommendation for it to work hand in gloves with political parties including CSOs and other stakeholders in development. Do you think those commitments are sincere?

I don’t know whether they are sincere or not, but if they are not sincere, I am urging them to be sincere. If they are sincere, bravo to them. But it is now time for us to walk the talk. It is time, if we want to move. And it is time to mean our own words. We cannot just be talking into the vacuum; we have lives to rescue. The Gambia is not as rich as other countries, but we’ve wasted a lot of time on frivolities. It is true, everybody should be a police, everybody should have a stake in what is happening in the country, but that does not mean that everybody can be a judge. I don’t know whether you hear me right. But then again, whether they mean what they said or not, I want to urge them and say please, this time, if you don’t mean it, mean it. We need to move on. We don’t have time to be going back and forth. We need to move now for the next generation coming.

The mayoral election is looming, do you intend to seek re-election?

Let’s wait until the time comes. It is too early. Now, we are talking about Rohey Malick Lowe, the president of Refela. Let’s digest that first, and wait.

Do you have ambition to be UDP flagbearer?

As I said, at the moment, I am the president of the African Capital Cities Sustainability Forum, I am the vice chair of the Global Parliament of Mayors, I am the president of Refela Africa. Let’s take it on that lens first. Let’s look at it in that context, and see what the future will bring.