By Yero Jallow
Dr. Baba Galleh Jallow, fondly Baba, a Gambian journalist formerly of the closed Independent Newspaper (Banjul), is now a Professor of World and African History at La Salle University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. He hails from Farafenni. Baba over the years took extreme pleasure in engaging and educating Gambians on both satiric and direct commentaries. Baba is also an accomplished author. It turns out that Baba’s enlightenment over the years was shaping a new movement, with motto, “Power to the People,” recently contained in a widely published press release. In this interview, Baba shared more insight into the new movement. See below the full conversation.
YJ: Hello, Baba. Happy New Year! I thank you for availing yourself to us. I am just reaching out on a new movement recently born.
Baba: Happy New Year. Glad you are reaching out. Thanks.
YJ: Oh well, Baba Galleh is a household name in The Gambia. I will ask you to formerly re-introduce yourself for the sake of our readers and even many others who might have heard of you from a distance.
Baba: Well, my name is Baba Galleh Jallow. I am originally from Farafenni. I went to Armitage and Gambia High schools. I was a journalist in The Gambia prior to coming to the U.S. in 2000. I am currently a Professor of African and World history at La Salle University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
YJ: You recently did a radio interview with Demba Baldeh, in which you said you will accept a position if offered to go work in the Gambia. Any insight for our readers?
Baba: Yes I did a radio interview with Gainako recently, a couple of weeks before we launched the New Gambia Movement. But no, I did not say I will accept a position if offered. I’m sure Demba knows exactly what I said. What I said was “I would give it serious consideration” (my exact words) if I am considered worthy of such an invitation. I invite you and your readers to go back and listen to that interview. I said “I would give it serious consideration”, which is entirely different from saying I will accept it. That is a misrepresentation of what I said.
YJ: Baba, over the years, you wrote extensively about Gambia’s politics, sometimes direct, and sometimes, in satire form. What stamina is there in your hands?
Baba: I cannot boast of any stamina in my hands. I’m just grateful to God for the small ability He has given me to write.
YJ: I must congratulate you and your partners for the new movement recently formed. In your press release, motto, “Power to the People,” you argued that The Gambia is at a crucial point, “we hereby announce the formation of the New Gambia Movement (New Gambia) with the primary objective of transforming The Gambia into a politically enlightened and empowered Family Nation in which the people are the parents, the government, the children.” Tell us in few words who actually are behind this movement and how you intend to implement your dream? By the way, are you legally registered in the Gambia and/or here in the United States?
Baba: Well, the original idea came from me. You know that I have been writing about the concepts of the Family Nation and Nation School and the need for political enlightenment and empowerment in The Gambia and Africa for several years now. But no single person can initiate a viable movement and build it up alone. So I reached out to Dr. Omar Janneh, a very trusted brother and former colleague at Armitage in the days and weeks leading up to the Movement’s actual formation. God willing, we have some ideas as to how to go about implementing what you call my dream which, incidentally, is shared by Gambians all over the world. Since we announced the formation of the New Gambia Movement, we have had Gambians joining from all over the world. At present, we have members from The Gambia itself, from the U.K. the United States, Japan, China, Australia, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, and Luxembourg. If you revisit the statement of purpose we issued, we have all the information there about how we intend to carry out our work in The Gambia. But like we said, we keep an open mind and welcome ideas from all our members in the task of actualizing our dream of The Gambia as a Family Nation. On the issue of registration, we are working on it right now.
YJ: Rightly so, it is also coming at a very critical time for the Gambia. Any relationship between the two? Is this a lobbying organ or just an enlightenment movement?
Baba: The present change of government in The Gambia certainly provided us with the right opportunity to embark upon this project. We anticipate that in a post-Jammeh Gambia, we will have the freedom of speech and association needed to effectively embark upon the kind of political education and empowerment process we envisage. As far as what we are, our mission statement is clear on that. Here’s a direct quote from the statement: “The New Gambia Movement offers its services to the Gambian people as a civic engagement platform totally dedicated to the transformation of our country into a Family Nation and a Nation School in which the government’s work is a true reflection of the rhythm of life of its empowered and enlightened citizens.” So that’s what we are, a civic engagement platform, totally dedicated to the transformation of our country into a Family Nation and Nation School.
YJ: What will your executive committee (if any) look like? How about membership and dues? How about member expectations?
Baba: Oh, no need for “if any” Yero. There will be an executive committee. This is not a one-man show. Our objective is too big and too important to be a one-person or two-person thing. Of course people have a right to be skeptical, even cynical. But to answer your question, we are going to do our best to have a strong and solid leadership team as soon as possible. We are actively reaching out to some of our members both at home and in the Diaspora and engaging them in discussions on how best we can work together to build a solid executive and lay a solid foundation for the New Gambia Movement. We anticipate that quite soon we will have an executive board in place and will share information about it with the general public. We are not thinking in terms of membership dues. We are thinking in terms of ideas on how to create a solid and lasting organization that will help actualize our primary objective of enlightening and empowering the Gambian people to an extent that they will be the real depositories and wielders of popular democratic power in The Gambia.
YJ: You followed that many organizations surface. Some of them are short-lived because of the hard luck of finance, leadership struggles, and/or even hostility from others. What is your source for funding and how will you sustain this movement?
Baba: We are fully aware of the challenges facing us as a new movement. Again, it might help to give you a quote from our mission statement on our recognition that what we have undertaken is by no means an easy task: “We in no way underestimate the colossal challenges such an undertaking involves. But we also do not underestimate the human capacity for creativity, innovation and overcoming challenges, however formidable.” Yes, we are aware that all the factors you outlined have been reasons for the failure of organizations and there are other reasons too. But we do not underestimate our resolve and the human capacity to overcome challenges and succeed. We are determined to succeed and we will do whatever we can to make sure that we succeed, God willing. Like I said above, the movement is young, and so at this point, we are concentrating on building a solid foundation and organizational structure which will then collectively work to make sure that the New Gambia Movement gets whatever we need in terms of resources to do our work.
YJ: Baba, just to piggy back, many organizations come into play. The organizers choose their own leadership. Then many others boycott it because they feel that they might not be represented. What is the difference between political leadership where you get selected/elected and organizational (movement) leadership? Why don’t the latter require one to be selected by people?
Baba: Well, it depends on the nature of the specific organization and the context and conditions that give birth to it. The reality is that every idea and every movement must originate from somewhere, from someone. And it stands to reason that if you formulate an idea or an ideology – in this case the ideology of the Family Nation actualized through the agency of the Nation School – and if you intend to start a movement to serve as a vehicle for the expression and actualization of that ideology, then you will be the logical founder leader, which is what I am. You all know that I have been writing about the Family Nation and Nation School for several years now. Gainako carried all my articles on these twin concepts over the past few years. So again, whether a new organization or movement’s leadership is selected or elected depends on the nature of the organization or movement and the context within which and from which it emerges.
YJ: Baba, you followed that there are some duplication at times in the formation of organizations that compete in money, manpower resources, constituencies, and just a lot more. This, in fact causes donor and participation fatigue. What exactly is unique and different about this movement?
Baba: What is unique about us is that we are not competing with anybody for anything or for whatever reason. We are out to actualize a vision of The Gambia as a Family Nation and so starting with ourselves, we consider all Gambians as belonging to the same family. Another unique feature of the New Gambia Movement is that we have a clear, uncomplicated objective of enlightening and empowering the Gambian people – making them realize and exercise their popular sovereignty. It is clear from our statement of purpose that we do not claim to have all of the answers to actualizing our objective. We call on all like-minded Gambians and friends of the Gambia to join the Movement so that we can begin the process of diligently and strategically working towards the attainment of that objective.
YJ: How about some “moral code of conduct” for members? How many members are you targeting out of curiosity?
Baba: We do not consider ourselves dictators of morality. Of course, like any other serious organization – public or private – we will have our own organizational standards of ethical conduct. We are not targeting any particular number of members. If we were I would say 1.8 million because as of now that is the population of the country we want to transform into a Family Nation. All members of a family belong to the family right?
YJ: With the new movement as you put it in your press release, “This persisting anomaly between the political reality of the constitutional nation state system and traditional African political perceptions has enabled unscrupulous politicians and dictators to pull the wool over our peoples’ eyes and exploit and oppress them with total impunity.” I also followed a lot of your submissions on the nation school. What is the whole philosophy behind this?
Baba: The whole philosophy behind this is simple: a politically enlightened and empowered people will not allow themselves to be exploited and oppressed like Gambians have been for the past 22 years. In The Gambia we have all the trappings of a constitutional nation state. We have a constitution in which all the rights and responsibilities of the people and the government are outlined. We have a system that in theory is governed by the doctrine of the separation of powers, which translates into checks and balances between the executive, the legislative and judicial branches of government. Yet paradoxically, over the past 22 years, we all know that what we had in The Gambia was not a constitutional nation state or a system of checks and balances. The people’s rights were randomly trampled upon, constitutional provisions and the rule of law were ignored and trampled upon with impunity. The president behaved as if he was not only an all-powerful king, but the personal owner of our country and the lives of all the people in our country. Now, all this was possible largely because of the anomaly we pointed out, namely, that the political culture of our society has not changed from the precolonial to the colonial to the post-colonial period. And so people ascribe all the abuses of the Jammeh regime to the fact that the president was a mansa, and a mansa could do anything. So, if we correct that anomaly through a mental revolution that politically enlightens and empowers the Gambian people, they will never allow anybody to oppress them in the future. The only way to prevent tyranny is through the political enlightenment and empowerment of the people. That is why we chose “Power to the People” as our motto.
YJ: How will this relate with the Government, the governed, and even the international community?
Baba: As far as we are concerned, Gambia is a Family Nation in which the people are the parents and the government the children. This is clearly stated in our mission statement. Political power and national sovereignty reside in the people. The government comes from and is embedded within the people and cannot exist without the people. The government exists because of the people and should be children and servants and not lords and oppressors of the people. Can we imagine children oppressing their parents, elders, or siblings in a traditional Gambian family? The answer to this question is clearly no, we cannot imagine that. However, it is deeply sorrowful that this is exactly what Gambians have endured for 22 years. The whole idea of the Family Nation is about transposing traditional Gambian family values onto our political system and political culture. Of course, every nation is embedded within the international community and so how best to co-exist as good and friendly neighbors with the international community will be a central value of the New Gambia Movement. That of course means, in the thinking of the New Gambia Movement, that Gambians also need to understand as much as they can about the world within which they are embedded – the family of nations, institutions, and cultures. That is why we indicated in our mission statement that Gambians also need to understand such institutions as the United Nations, among others.
YJ: A personal friend of mine expressed pleasure when I informed him that I was interviewing you. He said that Baba should go back as a professor at the University of the Gambia and build his movement from grassroots. Any take on this?
Baba: I would love nothing better than to be studying with Gambian students and doing research on Gambian history while working on attaining the goals of the New Gambia Movement. We are very much encouraged that some of our members at home are part of The University of The Gambia community. I very much look forward to doing precisely that as soon as God makes it possible. And I do not think it is out of place to add that there are other Gambians who have similar dreams. May all our dreams for our smiling nation be realized.
YJ: Also, is this only a nationalistic effort or is it global? Is it a Pan-African establishment?
Baba: The New Gambia Movement is a Gambian national project and as I indicated earlier in this interview Gambians from all parts of the world have joined since we announced its formation. The Gambia is uniquely blessed in that we are a very small, very close knit society – Jammeh tried to polarize us, but failed. It would be near impossible to undertake such a project in very big countries. However, we believe that our success may spur other countries in Africa to experiment with similar ideas.
YJ: You called on people to join through your online portals. Any mechanisms to control and prep membership in ensuring you have people who represent your ideals?
Baba: We are not looking for people who represent our ideals. We are looking for people who identity with the ideas, sentiments, and vision outlined in our mission statement. We have a lot of good people already from across the world and the number of people joining is growing daily.
YJ: Baba, I hope to have you soon again, possibly for a part two. I thank you once again. Good luck to the new movement.
Baba: Thank you Yero. Always a pleasure. Thanks for the great job Gainako has been doing and is doing in the service of our nation.