Dr. Ismaila Ceesay
It has been about five years since the political liberation from Jammeh’s tyranny, which has led to some democratic gains. What is your assessment of The Gambia’s current social and economic condition? Do you honestly think we are better off in these areas post-Jammeh?
The situation post-Jammeh is appalling. It is a big disappointment, You have to recall that when Jammeh lost the election and Barrow and the coalition won, there was so much euphoria and hope in the country, especially among young people.
There was consensus that there was a new era for The Gambia; an era of democracy and development.
Reforms were supposed to take place that could put Gambia on a path towards achieving these developments and also consolidating this democracy, however, 5 years down the line, there is no single success we can show.
No reform has been implemented successfully; those that went through have not been properly implemented.
Corruption is rife, the cost of living has increased, and young people still lack jobs. Also, there is no blueprint for the Gambia; we don’t know where we are heading, and that is the dangerous part. So far I think every Gambian is disappointed,
There is a rising crime rate, worsening youth unemployment, and rising prices of commodities and utilities and it seems the people are getting more despondent of the New Gambia promise. What do you think needs to be done about The Gambia today?
Well, is to embark on the executive reforms. All these things happened because the reforms failed; the reforms that were supposed to equip the environment for stability, security, economic prosperity, and for young people to have jobs.
So, we need to go back and do the right institutional reforms that can fight corruption that can help us save some money, reforms that can attract foreign investors; foreign capital and global capital into this country, which can provide employment for our young people and also the security sector reform that will also help us fight not only to prevent crime, but to solve crime.
So the right institutional reforms that were supposed to take place failed that is why we are in this mess today and that is why young people are frustrated.
During your party’s recent press briefings, Mr Dominic Mendy attributed the rising crime rate among the youth to a lack of hope in The Gambia. How do we reverse this?
It is to engage young people positively and provide them with opportunities to learn the skills that are needed for them to get jobs. These are the two things; invest in young people, engage them positively, and give them opportunities to learn skills and get decent jobs. If we do that, then we will reverse the high crime rate.
How does the Barrow government compare to the former government? Do you think Barrow is the new Jammeh without brute violence?
[Laughs]. I would not go into that comparison. I do not like when people make these kinds of comparisons, I think they inhered different governments.
Jammeh was in power for 22 years and Barrow for 4 years, even though you would say that one of the credits we can give Barrow is that at least there is freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and civil liberties are respected.
You can go home without thinking of being abducted at night and taken to torture chambers and arbitrary arrests have stopped.
But obviously, I do not like to compare these two. Let us look at the performance in terms of economic performance, in terms of social indicators, and in terms of political freedoms then we can be able to understand these things.
We have made a lot of progress in terms of human rights. The regime is much freer now and people can say whatever they want to say. Listen to the radio stations, you will hear people say things you will not say in the Jammeh era.
We have seen a proliferation of political parties and we have seen how people are politically engaged so for us it is not about comparing the two, it is about looking at the statistics in terms of economic development, in terms of Gambia’s rising public debt, in terms of inflation, in terms of health indicators. I think that is what we need to focus on, and not personalities.
How is Barrow doing in these areas you have mentioned?
Well, education is not doing well. We have recently seen the quality of the education sector plummet. He did not do any massive investments in the education sector and did not do the right reforms that are supposed to be done in the education sector.
We have seen challenges in the health sector too even though we know COVID-19 have played a role in terms of showing how vulnerable our health sector is, but again no massive investments in health also.
We did not see the establishment of new healthcare facilities. We did not see massive refurbishment for existing hospitals, so Barrow is lacking behind in terms of health. Human rights, we give him an ear on that, at least there is some freedom today, and human rights are respected so he has done well on that front.
Economic developments, no, but partly because of COVID-19. It is a global thing, many economies were affected because of COVID-19. Where we can blame him is his failure to find strategies to cushion the economic impact of COVID-19.
You recently tweeted that Barrow will rig the December polls, why do you believe so? And why did you delete the tweet?
Well, actually it was not supposed to say he is going to rig, it was supposed to say he will attempt to manipulate the process in his favour.
You only have a certain number of characters on Twitter and sometimes if you are not careful you say things that can be taken out of context, but when I read it over and over again I realised that it was not meant to say he will rig and that is why I deleted it.
The elections will be held under the 1997 Constitution, in order words; anyone with a single majority wins. Given the mushrooming of political parties, are you not worried the incumbent might win even by the slimmest of margins?
I am not worried, I think mushrooming of political parties will have no bearing on who wins the election. That depends on the people and also on who has the right agenda for the people.
We have seen incumbents lose elections in the African continent, recently in Guinea Bissau and we have seen it in Senegal and Malawi. So I am not worried about that. I think opposition parties have a chance to win it.
Barrow is the incumbent, but he is not using it strategically. Having incumbency is like having a shotgun; you can use it to finish off your enemy, but he you do not know how to use a gun you can shoot yourself.
Why did you say he is not using it strategically?
Because we have seen what he has been doing recently. He is not doing things that can bring him the votes for example, people are suffering in this country, some communities lack water and he is not delivering. If you want to win elections, you deliver.
Before buying these expensive Toyota pickups, which are worth 30,000 dollars each go and campaign in the rural areas, give them water and they will vote for you. But also, he is making error after error and among these errors
is he has not fulfilled any promise he has made and that means that people cannot trust a man who does not fulfil his promises. He has failed every reform agenda that he has promised and he did not do much to make sure there is a new constitution.
Can you name a few of the reforms you say he did not fulfil?
Constitutional reform, which is the lynchpin of the entire transitional process, security sector reform has stalled, civil service reform is nowhere to be heard, and prison reform is non-existent.
The recommendations of the Janneh Commission, which was supposed to ensure that at least there is some fiscal discipline after Jammeh, are not implemented.
We have in fact recently seen some recommendations by the Janneh Commission being ignored. We have seen how public officials with the Central Bank could withdraw money, it is like Jammeh’s era.
A lot of people believe that only a coalition of opposition parties can unseat the incumbent. Given that it is effectively only about 5 months before D-day, do you agree that opposition political parties here in The Gambia are failing their duty to the country? Or does the CA not believe that a coalition is necessary?
I don’t believe in forming a coalition just to unseat the incumbent, if that is the purpose then we should not be in politics.
You go into politics to have an agenda to transform the country. That is where the focus should be. Who do we replace the incumbent with that can bring prosperity and development, not just remove him?
We made this mistake in 2016, the focus was to remove Jammeh. What did we replace Jammeh with? What significant change have you seen in terms of development?
So we do not want to find ourselves in a situation where we will just remove Barrow and put someone that is like Barrow.
If we see an agenda which is genuine in terms of how we want to move the country and the framework is right, these are things that parties can discuss but for now, our focus is not just to form a coalition because Barrow has to go. For us that is not the purpose why we are into politics.
Opposition political parties here have historically found it difficult to coalesce, and this is believed to be one of the reasons former President Jammeh was able to dominate the space for so long. Are you afraid we are on the same path as Barrow?
I do not think so. I think Jammeh was able to dominate the space for so long for many different reasons. Obviously, he has been in power for 22 years and many people got disenchanted with the political process and the playing field was obviously not very level.
We all know that Jammeh was using state media and logistics to his advantage, but things have changed. Now young people are eager and hungry to take part in the political process. They are more connected and are registering to vote.
Does that sound like a credit to Barrow?
That is what I am saying. Right now the political space is more open and we give him that credit. As I said, people are freer now to do what they want with their votes, people are free to discuss politics now and they will be debates here and there.
People will have their opinions. Some will say you only remove Barrow if you form a coalition, but it is also possible to unseat Barrow without a coalition.
Do you have any insight into this particularly Gambian phenomenon where it seems that the competition among the Gambian opposition is often more heated than the joint opposition against the incumbent? As a new entrant, is the CA also drinking from the same poison chalice?
We are not drinking from any poisoned chalice. We are a political party that feels that there is a gap as in there is an urgent need for effective and innovative leadership in this country and that is what the Gambia has been yearning for, and for the Gambia to be able to transform its potential, the transformative sustainable development that leadership has to be provided and we are here to offer that leadership to the Gambian people.
We are here to find solutions to the complex issues we are facing now in terms of electricity, water, food security, education, healthcare, jobs for young people, but also to prepare the country for the next generation.
That is why we are into politics and we have sold that agenda to the Gambian people and we hope they will buy our agenda and vote us in in 2021 to transform this country.
So what happens among oppositions or between oppositions and the incumbent is politics and has no bearing on how we see development.
For us the focus is not on who should govern but how do you we govern the country, how do we move from this predicament we have found ourselves in. What we do as a party is hold the current government accountable and constructively critique them when they go wrong.
The presidential election which is slated for December 4 is a few months away, how confident is CA in its chances in the polls? Do you think CA can win without a coalition?
Very confident. Of course, without a coalition any party can win it. We are on a strong footing and we have huge potential to win this election.
We have done a lot of work both at the grassroots and digital media levels. We have been out there and we have sold our agenda, we know what we want.
We have described the problems of this country, diagnosed it and we have the prescriptions. We are the fastest-growing party ad we are less than two years old but we are already a household name in every part of this country. So with the right strategies, which I think we have, we are able to win this election.
As the biggest opposition political party, a lot of people believe the UDP should ordinarily be at the forefront of bringing other parties together in a coalition against the incumbent. Do you think it is indicative of poor generalship on the part of the UDP that the electorate is not yet clear on how the battle of 4th December will be fought?
If the party is the biggest opposition party why will they need a coalition to fight the incumbent, they can just go for the election and win it.
The Jonathan Goodluck-led mediation to revive the jettisoned draft Constitution failed, and this means President Barrow might just have two terms already under a constitution without term limits. How worried are you that President Barrow could potentially stay in power for 20 years or maybe more?
Anything can happen and that is what we were trying to avoid. That is why we were ready to have a compromise on the Draft Constitution so that at least before we go for election there is a term limit.
This does not only apply to President Barrow, any party that wins the 2021 election will be sworn in under the 1997 Constitution with no term limit which means you could be there for the next 10, 20 years and this t could be Barrow, CA or UDP.
Do you think the Draft Constitution still has a chance before the December polls?
That is impossible because it has to go through a lot of processes. First, you have to bring it and then gazette it for three months which means it will have to go through the first reading, second, and third and then it goes for the referendum so there is no time. In fact, logistically, it is not possible. For now, it is too late.
In the situation that there is no agreement on the Draft Constitution, would you agree that it might just be expedient to amend the existing constitution and ornament it with the democratic and progressive ideals that are desired in a new constitution?
We have also proposed that. When the Draft Constitution was thrown out, as a party we wrote a statement expressing our disappointment with the manner with which the Draft Constitution was handled.
We also proposed that one of the things we could do is to go back to the 1997 Constitution and make amendments. At least that will create the right legal framework before the election but that was ignored.
But for that also to happen, you need bipartisanship and currently, the parliament is so polarised to the extent that nothing good goes through. One part is for and the other part against, so it will be very difficult to amend the 1997 Constitution too.
There is yet no clarity on whether Gambians in the Diaspora will be able to vote in the forthcoming presidential polls despite their franchise being guaranteed by the Supreme Court decision. Would you consider it as voter suppression if the Diaspora is indeed unable to vote in the elections tabled for December 4?
Maybe they have been disenfranchised. The IEC and the government have to be blamed here, especially the government for not providing the right support to the IEC.
Diaspora registration is a complex process, you do not do it over three months or six months. You need at least two to three years of good planning, a roadmap that says this is what we are going to do; we are going to first make sure we do a census, know how much we will need and how we can mobilise those resources, legal frameworks we need to deal with and technical logistics that could huddle and how we will deal with them.
So you plan properly, but the planning was poor and there was a lack of capacity from the IEC and that is why today even the national registration is late. It should not be done at this time of the year because if something goes fundamentally wrong right now, it going to jeopardise the entire electoral calendar.
Imagine for example the Rohey Malick Lowe attestation case is taken to the Supreme Court and the court says she lacks the legal standing to give attestations, which means that every voter card given based on that attestation is null and void and there is no time to rectify that.
What should have happened is the Diaspora including the national registration should have taken place last year. For us it is a travesty that they cannot vote but again that is it.
Are you saying they cannot vote?
I do not think so, it is highly unlikely because what you need to do now is that registration ends in July and we are pushing for it to be extended to August because of some of the challenges that the current registration process is facing.
Now, even if there is money, when do you deploy to the Diaspora? Mind you, the Diaspora is bigger than The Gambia geographically so where do you start and where do you go especially in this COVID-19 period?
So it is a logistical nightmare that needs the entire year or even to two years to plan not two or three months. And also, by law, it is not allowed to register people three months before the election.
Also, do you think a political party or sovereign Gambian citizen could therefore challenge the results of any such elections and seek its annulment on the basis of such “voter suppression” if it can be proven to be such?
I am not sure the Constitution gives individual citizens the right to challenge the election results. I might be wrong, but I think that right is reserved for political parties.
They can challenge the results in court if they are not satisfied and do not be surprised if that happens because like I said things have happened during voter registration which threatened to undermine the integrity of the electoral process.
What are those things?
One of them is the attestation thing. We have heard reports that alkalos are given attestations to minors. There are also reports that none Gambians or perceived to be none Gambians are receiving attestations.
Also, the IEC has said that Rohey Malick Lowe can give attestations but people can challenge this in court because it is not in the Constitution, so all these are weaknesses and the IEC has to come out and clear the air but also every citizen has the right to challenge these in court.
Is CA as a party satisfied in the integrity of the IEC right now?
So far we are worried about some of the reports we are having, but we have sent agents across the country who are observing the process and collecting evidence for us. We are waiting for a holistic report from them.
I do not want to pre-empt that report. We want to have the report, look at it holistically with proper evidence and then we will decide what to do.
If you do not trust the integrity of the process you have to challenge it before you go for election, you cannot wait until you lost and then decide to challenge it.
So what happens now is that IEC will publish the number of registered voter cards so people can challenge it, if there is strong evidence of malpractice then we will challenge it.
What do you see as major issues eroding the common good in our country and what would you do about these issues?
Corruption is one of the things really causing problems in this country. There is corruption and it is endemic now but the government is not doing enough to fight it.
The government failed to create an anti-corruption commission and they have not taken any strong stance to fight against it.
But important also is what we are seeing on a daily basis; lack of ethics in the civil service, people do not take their work seriously, coming to work at any time they want and leaving at any time. All this is part of corruption.
How can CA fix these issues?
We will have a strong civil service and we will make strong performance evaluations also we will make sure to reform the civil service by instilling certain core values in the civil service; values of service, integrity, and patriotism so that people can know they are in the civil service to serve the general public and not themselves or any particular group.
We are going to put in place institutions that can ensure accountability and transparency and help s fight corruption.
We will digitalise the government and make it more effective and efficient by employing IT and digital technology so that through those things we can know exactly who is coming to work and at what time.
What is your view on the current political climate in the country?
It is very much divided. I have never witnessed the level of divisiveness in Gambian politics as of now. The rhetoric is really tense and we need to dampen it a bit. There is so much vitriol.
The entire political climate is a bit toxic and there is so much polarisation I think it is important that political parties urge their supporters to tone down a bit and then let us discuss the issues.
Let us bring forth ideas that can take the country forward but not insult and bully each other and call others foreigners. I think unity is something we need to promote.
We need to start reconciling as a country despite our political differences. No country that is not in harmony with itself can succeed no matter who the president is or what policies you have.
Published 1 year ago on June 29, 2021