National Assembly Member
Ya-Kumba Jaiteh came into prominence when she sued the president for withdrawing her nomination as a National Assembly Member. The case attracted attention from across the world and it became the first test for the new Judiciary. The Supreme Court ruled in her favour and ordered her return to parliament. A new and vibrant young politician was then born. In this edition of Bantaba, anchor Alagie Manneh chats with Ya-Kumba, who is now running for the Serekunda seat, about THAT phone call from President Barrow, her time in parliament, and her intentions of leading the United Democratic Party in the future.
The Standard: Hardly anybody knew the name Ya-Kumba Jaiteh in The Gambia. All of a sudden, you became a well-known figure in the UDP. What got you into politics and why?
Ya-Kumba Jaiteh: I received a call from President Barrow whiles I was at work. I was with the GCCPC when he nominated me a day before the first session of parliament in 2017 was heard. This is the story. What led to the name Ya-Kumba Jaiteh being a household name? I guess again it’s the nomination of Barrow. He nominated me, and later fired me after two years in the job. I decided to challenge the decision, and the matter was taken to court. Because as a lawyer and legal practitioner, I read the constitution. He had no powers to do so. I wrote him first and advised him to withdraw his decision. He refused. Then I challenged it, because it was only right to do so at the time given the fact that we just fought against a dictatorship to have a democracy, and parliament is a very important institution. We were taking steps to mould this newfound democracy, so, allowing executive interference in parliament would’ve crashed all the hopes we had. So, this was a very important step towards moulding the independence of the National Assembly as an institution and it also restored the faith people had lost in the judiciary.
You were said to have wanted to contest the Serekunda West seat in the 2017 National Assembly elections, but was dropped. Is it true that you were dropped for Madi Ceesay?
Yeah. We went to the primaries, and Madi was chosen. That was basically what happened. It’s… one thing; it’s about being female and being young. I was 28 at the time, and I guess they felt I was too young to run for politics. The feminism part of it played a role. When you are female, it’s hard for you to be taken seriously, unless you are given a chance to prove yourself. I guess these were all the considerations they took in place, but now we are here.
Yes. Finally, you became a nominated National Assembly member. How did Barrow come to select you?
This is a question you have to ask Barrow. I received an unexpected call. I was in my office when Barrow called. I picked up the phone and someone told me that President Barrow wanted to talk to you. So, he told me that he wanted to nominate me as a National Assembly member. I said I will be humble to serve my country, sir. Then he hung up, and called me back and said ‘I was told you’re currently working and you need to resign and you have to pay one month in lieu of notice’. I said you don’t have to worry about that, I can handle that. This was the day before the first session, the day before we were sworn in. It all happened very, very quickly. He told me in the conversation that he heard that I was vying, went to the primaries with Madi and wasn’t chosen. He wanted to choose me to run, but the President and I are from the same party. Of course, he knew what was going on.
At a UDP meeting in Gunjur, you reportedly said Barrow’s mother is not the only woman who gave birth to a son. Isn’t that insulting and showing ingratitude to the man who made you an honourable member of parliament?
Have you ever heard that audio of me saying that? Well that never happened, and that is the truth. And if it had, this was at a rally where videos were taken. And that video of the rally was shown to the world and nothing like that was ever said. I don’t think it was even sensible for someone to come up with that kind of weird statement. I think that is very weird and had no bearing on the politics of or what we were doing at that rally. That was a complete false statement. I never said anything like that.
Was it not true that your father was imprisoned and it was Barrow who pardoned him so you should be grateful to him?
Yeah, it’s true that President Barrow granted my father pardon. I don’t even know what kind of gratitude. I don’t think I’ve been ungrateful to Barrow in anyway. I think throughout my time as a National Assembly Member, my duty was not to serve President Barrow, or do what he wanted me to do in the assembly. I don’t think that’s what he nominated me for. I think my responsibility after he nominated me, and after I was confirmed by parliament and I swore with the holy Qur’an, was to serve my country without fear or favour. And that was what I was doing to the best of my ability during my time in parliament. And I think the Gambian people are very much aware of that fact.
Indeed. During the fifth legislature, you became a distinctive and effective voice. What makes you tick?
Thank you! That’s very kind of you to say. Throughout, when I was serving the fifth legislature, whatever I did, I was doing it for the interest of the country. I have to stand my grounds sometimes. It’s not easy when you are on the side of truth, but certain things needed to be said, and certain things needed to be done. And I was not looking at who’s watching. I was doing it purely from my heart, and I believe truly in the stance that I was taking that this is what is in the best interest of country. And I think people saw that and that is why the name became famous.
How big a blow is the loss of the election?
It is quite a blow. It was very shocking and unexpected. I think in the history of elections, we delivered the most issue-based campaign. We had our Five-Point Agenda and sold it. Our campaign was clean and issue-based. We didn’t at any point try to do tribal campaign or anything like that. It was all based on the Five-Point Agenda and we travelled the length and breadth of the country to sell this agenda. People bought the agenda. For me, I don’t think the win was a legitimate win given the evidences that the UDP has brought to light recently and given the fact that the IEC kept mute and are still mute over it. That makes us believe that what we thought happened, happened, that the elections were stolen from us.
Critics accused your party of behaving like the proverbial ostrich by burying its head in the sand instead of facing the stark reality that the UDP needs structural changes in the way and manner it conducts its politics in order for it to get the ultimate price.
Well, I don’t think there’s a more structured party than the UDP. At all levels when it comes to party or democratic governance. Tell me which other party. Really, the NPP that won did not even… what they had was an interim executive. They are even yet to hold a congress. How many congresses have the UDP had? How many policies have we made? Even when it comes to gender and female representation. We made a policy in 2019 that 30 percent of women at least should be at every decision-making position in the party. So, that is such a false statement. When it comes to structure, regarding political parties, we are ahead of all of them.
Many see you, Almami Taal, Alagie S Darboe, and Talib Bensouda as potential successors to Darboe. Would you want to lead the UDP?
Yeah, if the UDP chooses me to lead. It’s not for Ya-Kumba to say. I can intend to lead, I can vie for the position, but the UDP is a democratic party and all of these things are done democratically. People are elected into positions just like they are elected to the position of secretary general and party leader. So, you have to apply, and you are elected. If duty calls, I will be bound to answer. I wont shy away from it at any point.
It was rumored that some executive members of the UDP Serekunda West Constituency wanted the incumbent NAM Madi Ceesay to step down in favour of you. Was it true?
It’s not like they wanted Madi to be dropped. I think some of them wanted me to run for the position, and that’s quite very humbling given the fact that I went to primaries with him the last time and he was chosen. This time around, they came back and said we want you to vie for this position. That’s very humbling, and that goes to show, really, the service I have given. I think those are the only reasons for their demands, but I respect Madi as an MP. I have seen him do great work at parliament, and I think they are going to be well represented in parliament with Madi as well. That was what happened. Negotiations went on, but it didn’t work out. That’s it.