Sheikh Sidia Bayo “Controversial head of former “government in exile”

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With Alagie Manneh

Alagie Manneh: Your father was an emigré who headed the Gambian association in France and you were born and raised there. What made you so involved in Gambian politics?

Sheikh Sidia Bayo: I have a political background – both sides – my mother and my father. My parents came from the same region in CRR, Niamina. My mom is from Kudang, and my dad came from Niamina Sotokoi. My mom is the daughter of Aja-Tunko Ceesay, who is the sister of the late Sheriff Saikou-Ba Ceesay, who used to be the first governor of Central Bank and a former minister of finance under the Sir Dawda Jawara rule. From my mom’s side, I came from a political background. And my father, Alagie Bunja Bayo, was a close associate of Sir Dawda Jawara. My father left The Gambia in 1966 to go to France and from the end of the 1980s, started to help Gambians, unofficially, because he was not an ambassador-at-large. We did not have any embassies those days in Paris, but if you ask any Gambians who were living in France during those times coming to the 2000s, they all came to my father’s house when they had any visa problems or consular issues. My father was a kind of ambassador for The Gambian community in France. So, I was born in that atmosphere, and I grew up in that atmosphere. And naturally, when I understood that I can play a role during the Jammeh struggle… I was committed according to what I knew from my parents.

You joined the French army and went AWOL, why?

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Let’s avoid talking about the French army, or anything linked to that one. Because you know, the world now is in a conflict. I don’t want to talk about that, and Gambians, I think they don’t need, specifically, to know what Bayo did with the French army. I was born in France, yes. And when you are born in France those days, during Jacques Chirac’s tenure, it was an obligation to serve the French army, for ten months. It’s what I did. And for the details; why I served the army, what I did for the army, I think I prefer to not talk about that. This is not important for the Gambian people.

Is it true that the son of former French president Sarkozy, a rapper, was your friend?

We studied at the same university. When you are committed politically, of course. If there is anybody who is close to power, and from another country, of course [they become close]. Automatically, you guys, the journalists, you also have interest to know if I have any link with that person and if this link can serve to do what you are doing today [interview]. And I prefer to anticipate that question – no.

You once declared that you were going to get foreign forces to oust Jammeh and it turned out to be a big bluff…

[cuts in] It’s not that I don’t like to talk about my past. In any political career… I did not even start any politics in The Gambia. I am not a politician; I’m a member of a party. I did not form my own political party. I did not join a political party to be an executive member of that political party. I am still observing, doing business right now. Maybe one day, yes. I have declared several times that I do have political ambitions, but not now. I don’t want to associate myself with any kind of political organisation or affiliation. Even being a member of a political party, which is PPP, you can see that I have never been openly committed even with PPP. I think the time has come for me, to prepare my generation to lead for tomorrow, but not now. Right now, I am supporting the president.

You dress well, drive expensive cars and stay in posh hotels, where do you get your money?

Alhamdulilah. I am 42 years old. Since the age of 29, I own different businesses in different parts of the world. I have a company in Paris, I have a company in Dubai. [And] now I set up a consultancy company in The Gambia. Everything I am receiving from my income is legal and well prepared. Driving what you said ‘expensive cars’, in The Gambia I am not driving expensive cars. In Paris, I have a rental car company. Even during Jammeh’s time, I used to rent cars for The Gambian embassy for example. But it’s not a matter of driving expensive cars. I bought those cars to do business. In The Gambia, I have a very humble car, but for the average Gambian yes, maybe it’s expensive.

During the struggle, you were part of a group of people who formed a so-called shadow government in exile primed to take over from Jammeh. The idea didn’t go anywhere but it showed that you have ambitions to be president of The Gambia, are those ambitions alive?

I want to rectify you; that concept of building, establishing like you said a cabinet-in-waiting or a shadow government, was part of a strategy to struggle against Yahya Jammeh. And I want to rectify you that that idea was a perfect idea to put the dictatorship of Yahya Jammeh under the eyes of the international community. We have been received, I and my counterparts like Dr Amadou Scattred Janneh and others, in many international institutions. At the EU Commission, at the UN High Commissioner’s office in Geneva, at Strasbourg in Brussels. We did a lot of lobbying to obtain what we obtained when Jammeh refused to move in 2016. Yes, people saw this coalition in 2016, and they succeeded. They removed Jammeh through the ballot box. But before them, you as a journalist, I think you can confirm that there were a lot of Gambians, politicians, people from the security forces who were in exile, and who testified against atrocities that happened here. We did a lot. When you said it didn’t go anywhere, I think it’s wrong. We convinced the EU for example, to stop the financial aid to Yahya Jammeh because of violations of human rights. So, this is Sheikh Sidia Bayo and his counterparts. If you remember in Libya also during the days of Gaddafi, you have the National Transitional Council (NTC), and they tried to remove Gaddafi with the same strategy that we used with two wings; the military wing to remove Yahya Jammeh using force because he understood only that language; and the political wing, which I can tell you was a big success because myself, after all, received an award from the EU. If we did not do well, they will never give me that award, which was a peace and democracy award. So, I want to rectify you there, that what we did together, forming a shadow cabinet or I don’t know how you called it, was a success. It was not a direct success because we did not overthrow Jammeh as we wanted, but we proved that Yahya Jammeh was not a leader to deal with.

What do you think should happen to Jammeh?

Let the international community, with the ICC, which is an institution from the UN, to decide with The Gambia government what they are going to plan, and organise a serious trial against Yahya Jammeh.

You declared your support for President Barrow in the lead- up to the December presidential election. Why Barrow?

Barrow is the pillar and face of our victory against Yahya Jammeh. Then, we are also in politics. There was lot of conflict of interest between the six political parties and independent, which is Dr Isatou Touray and Adama Barrow himself. It’s two parts; one part with Adama Barrow, and the other part with UDP and its people. Myself, I decided that we need to stabilise the country, we need to maintain our peace and tranquility we have, and that’s I why chose Adama Barrow. This is the choice that I made, and a lot of compatriots made the same choice. And he won the election with close to 60 percent of the votes. The international community, with the observers, said the election was free and fair. Despite what the UDP tried to do, I think we can be proud of our new democracy, and let’s go on.

Many political analysts said the election was going to be a tight race between NPP and UDP. Did the outcome surprise you?

No. I will tell you why. In Africa in general, you have what we call an ethnic vote. This ethnic vote is true. Today, it’s true, people are saying that Mandinkas are the majority. But according to the statistics that I have, you have the Fulas, you have the Wolofs, you have others, and you have the Mandinkas. But today, I am sure if you take the… I think we have close to one million voters registered. Majority of them are Fulas. If you check only the Fulas, I think its close to 30 or 40 percent on the percentage of votes that President Adama Barrow obtained. The rest, 16 or maybe close to 20 percent are Mandinkas and others. I will tell you something; Mandinkas in general, they did not vote as people were expecting them to. Majority of Mandinkas, they are living in the rural zone. Most of them, they did not even have ID cards. So, we forgot about that. I think the political analysts are very wrong on that. I don’t need to go to the statistics bureau for that. I was born Mandinka, even though I did not grow up here. If you go to the villages, where Mandinkas are, you will understand that the majority of people who vote for Adama Barrow are not Mandinkas. The Gambia is two million. Half the population obtained their voter cards. I can tell you that 60 or 70 percent of those people are not Mandinkas; you have Fulas and others. And Adama Barrow today, if you take Hamat Bah, and then you take the social background of Adama Barrow, I can say half of his background is Fula. If you take all of this, you will understand that majority of Fulas in this country voted for Adama Barrow, but they also voted against the UDP. They were afraid about the reaction of UDP after all.

And do you think those fears have basis?

Those fears were based on statements coming from UDP camps. Statements like revenge, like the banishing of the Senegalese, and things like that. If you say those, people get frightened, even though it was the supporters who were making those statements.

The UDP recently held a press conference during which the party gave a detailed breakdown of some of the alleged electoral fraud that occurred in the lead up to the December election. What are your views on those revelations?

The international community and observers said it was a fair, credible and free election… President Adama Barrow is a true democrat, if not, he could have used his executive powers to say no, Ousainu Darboe cannot run, but he was 100 percent certain that he can beat him. It was Ousainu Darboe who said he was going to defeat Barrow, three times. Well, now there has been a defeat where few expected it.

We have seen recently the formation of ‘We are Barrow’ movement by you and other like-minds. What do you hope to achieve?

We are Barrow is a platform whereby I would like to unify our generation to support the president to prepare the next generation to take over. I have discussed with the president regarding that idea, and he loves it. We have among us people like General Lamin Bojang, independent candidates like Honourable Jeng, Honourable Mamadou Bah. We are convincing others to come and join us. We also have young and talented businessmen including young students graduating from the UTG who are joining us. It’s a very dynamic movement that we want to strengthen and convince the president and his political party that today, the young and talent generation is coming, not to oppose you, but to prepare the political arena to help you. And after all, to lead after you. This is the main idea behind We are Barrow. It is not a political organisation. We are not affiliated even with the NPP. Myself I am not NPP; I am PPP. We have a lot in our midst who have a lot of love for The Gambia. 

Sheikh Sidia Bayo, the topic on everybody’s lips today is the issue of corruption. What are your views on corruption in The Gambia?

Corruption is everywhere, my brother. I was born in France, I grew up there, and I studied there. I can tell you something; two of our biggest political figures in France, they are right now in court because of corruption and others. The former president Nicolas Sarkozy, and François Fillon, the former prime minster. I am talking about France, which is among the five or seven biggest countries in the world. The Gambia – we are just born. Corruption is normal here. This is a taboo, and I don’t like it. People are talking about corruption, is a kind of hypocrisy. Corruption is completely normal in The Gambia. What is the average salary in The Gambia? D3,000. What is the price of a bag of rice? Close to D3000. So, you have D25000 – bag of rice. You have D3,000 salary. For example, the police officers, we all know how they survive. In the offices, when you can have something there, you will have it. What is corruption? For example, somebody comes to you and wants you to help him solve a problem but the person said you know, my salary is not good, so if you can give me D5000 to help me. Yes, this is the kind of corruption [we have], but this is completely healthy, as far as the salaries are not good. The Gambia is a poor country. The Gambia is classified as the 174th poorest country in the world. So, in a country like that, corruption is healthy. Let’s stop the hypocrisy. Corruption in The Gambia, is completely healthy. It is I who said it.

Thank you.

You’re welcome.