By Yero Jallow
Pa Saikou Kujabi leaves in New York. He is a former Gambian police detective turned politician and student of law. See below the full uncensored interview. Meet our new guest soon, as a way of continued engagement on Gambian citizens and beyond.
YJ: Hello, Mr. Kujabi. I first wish you a happy New Year. I wanted to reach out here on Gambia’s politics.
Mr. Kujabi. The Gambian politics has evolved to what I call “a level of political maturity”. By that I mean the Gambian people have come to realize that the status core was unsustainable and that multi-party democracy was steadily dissipating as one party state rule almost on the verge of taking root in our democratic process. As I have always said in many public forums, only when a people are political mature, and militant oriented, then they can effect change. Political maturity and militancy come in different forms and generally dictated by the circumstances at the time. I would argue that in the case of The Gambia, the opposition, and by extension some disgruntled AFPRC/APRC supporters saw and understood that this was a golden opportunity to curb Yaya Jammeh’s oppression by uniting behind one candidate against the incumbent in order to save The Gambia from further isolation from the world community.
YJ: Tell our readers a little bit about your political background in The Gambia and Diaspora participation?
Mr. Kujabi. It all began in 1992 when I just retired as a detective from The Gambia Police Force (GPF) at the expiration of my 5 year term. I was approached by some concerned citizens of my native village of Kafuta to contest the Kombo East Parliamentary seat under the NCP ticket. Predictably, I lost widely to the then powerful interior Minister, Hon. LK Jabang. It did not go without a lot of harassment and intimidations by the incumbent’s surrogates. In short, I was charged for assault, along with two other Kafutarians, Lamin Manjang and Nyaw Touray. The court lasted for three months. NCP could not provide legal service for us, so we were forced to represent ourselves. The court erroneously found us guilty, and therefore “Bound over Peace” (Probation) for 6 months.
Two years later, the PPP government got toppled and a new era was born. I did welcome the coup until I was forced to withdraw my support from the Junta on or about November 24th, 1994 when the then Chairman announced a four-year transition time table at the Independence Stadium. That was the last meeting I attended, and served as the red line for me. In August 1995, I joined a group of concerned Gambians, most of whom were my fellow NCP Executive members and petitioned the Junta raising concerns about their dragging of the democratic process, including lifting of ban on political parties to debate the contents of the draft constitution, the demarcation of constituencies in the Fonis, the abolition of term limit, the dilution of age limit, qualification for citizenship among other things. Of course you know NCP and its leadership were ban to participate in the 1996 Presidential and National Assembly elections, which was the direct effect of Decree 89. Naturally, the need to look for alternatives became paramount.
In August 1996, UDP was born and I became part of it from the very day it was announced. My decision was in line with the position of the NCP as a party. I encountered my first nightmare in Gambian politics on or around September 23rd, 1996 when as part of convoy of the then UDP candidate for the 1996 Presidential election, Lawyer. Ousainou Darboe I along with dozens of party militants fell victims of an ambush at the Denton Bridge by The Gambia Armed Forces who were under the direct command and supervision of then Capt. Yankuba Touray. The late Almamo Manneh and Kawsu Camara (aka: Bombardier) visibly active participants in the brutalization of innocent citizens whose only crime was their desire for a genuine democracy in The Gambia, and to reject a military-turned civilian rule of any kind. I still believe that Lawyer. Ousainou Darboe won the 1996 elections hands down.
In late November 1996, I got approached again by some members of the Kombo East UDP Constituency Committee to lead the fight for the constituency seat. This came after all efforts to find a candidate bore no fruit. I did not hesitate to offer myself once again to take on the AFPRC/APRC candidate, the late Hon. Kebba .M. Touray (MHSRP). Surprisingly, I narrowly lost to the AFPRC/APRC candidate.
Barely two months after the parliamentary election, on April 7th 1997, I got arrested and detained incommunicado at the National Intelligence Agency for 11 solid days, over a protest petition I wrote to the then Commissioner of Western Division Capt. Alhagie Kanteh for dismissing three Alkalos from some of UDP’s strong holds; Kafuta, Sohm, and Farabasutu Villages respectively. I copied the pettion to the then Minister for Local Government and Lands, Yankuba Touray, and Attorney General & Minister of Justice respectively. As you can imagine, no charges were filed. Thus, I became the first politician arrested in the Second Republic. Suffice to say that the conditions at the NIA were deplorable beyond imagination.
On May 28th 1998, I got into scuffle with one Lamin Bojang, a senior Forestry Officer at the Kafuta Forestry Training Center over the arrest of the Brikama Imam. Karamo Touray. Mr. Bojang sped off to Brikama Police Station where he filed a complaint that I “insulted the President”. I was arrested and detained at Brikama Police Station for six days before I was granted bail. A three- month court battle at the Brikama Magistrates court presided over by a competent young Magistrate in the name of “Jaye Sowe”, ended in complete acquittal and discharge of all counts.
The persecution never ended, and so in early 1999, I travelled to the United States where I reunited with a very beautiful and supportive family in New York City. In early February 2000, in consultation with some prominent UDP sympathizers in New York City, namely Mr. Omar Trawally, former Gambian Society president Mr. Mamudou Jaiteh, Mr.Jarga Touray, and Mr. Yankuba Drammeh, just to name a few, Wassa Janneh, Saihou Mballow, and myself began to explore the idea of establishing a UDP “Diaspora Chapter (New York Chapter)”. We thought it was absolutely necessary to energize our base by engaging them in the beauty salons, Mosques, subway stations, and by invitation to our weekly meetings in our apartment. We recruited new members as part of our membership drive strategy to not only boost our membership, but to also broaden our funding source for the party. Our meetings were held in the apartment I shared with Hon, Janneh at 952 Aldus Street in The Bronx.
In 2006 I joined my colleagues in Diaspora in an effort to unify the opposition parties in the run up to 2006 presidential election. This effort led to the creation of what later became known as NADD. As you know, the idea that led to creation NADD got lost when some of us got partisan by refusing to settle for anything short of a UDP led coalition with Mr. Darboe at the top of the ticket. I felt culpable since then for letting my partisan ego blindfolded me over national interest. We knew then as much as we know now that with opposition unity, the numbers cannot sympathetic to Yaya Jammeh. We could have had an Independent President Darboe, Sallah, Bah, or Gomez way back in 2006, and I want to publicly apologize once again for being part of the problem that denied the Gambian people their well-deserved freedom and dignity for ten more years of Yaya Jammeh’s tyranny. I am deeply sorry. However, I think our attempt to united the opposition in 2006 paid dividend this time around. It set off an alarm for Yaya Jammeh in that prompted him to amend the two-third majority provision in his own tailor made constitution, thus, eliminating second round voting, which I would argue, has turn to be a political suicide for him. In the current scenario for example, with no candidate securing a two-third majority vote, he could have reached out to Mr. Kandeh to throw his weight behind him in lieu for a Vice President slot. He would have saved his neck once again, but to the detriment of the masses. May I add that even under such scenario, the duo’s honeymoon may not last for a year.
YJ: This year’s politics both in the U.S and The Gambia was really something. How do you compare Gambia’s politics then and now?
Mr. Kujabi. I think the type of politics that we had in the past was one of complacency and blind dumb loyalty regardless of what our leaders and rulers may or may not do to and for us. We consciously refuse to challenge our leaders and demand of them to do right by us, instead we help them justify their excesses by drawing religion into the equation in the event it fails out of line with the constitution. Now, with the emergence of social media and with the world community becoming closer together through other forces of globalization, politics in The Gambia is now up for “Prime Time”, if you will. The citizens will be able to challenge authority and demand answers to their questions and concerns without fear of retribution. In the new Gambia, I think competence and results driven programs should be the focus of any future government. Attitudes have to change before we can realize the effects of this historic change that Allah has given us.
YJ: U.S is not perfect but one of the best democracies. After you have been in the U.S for a long time, what comparisons can you draw between the U.S and The Gambia, and what adjustments are needed to get Gambia’s politics to U.S standards.
Mr. Kujabi. I agree with you that U.S is the one of the greatest democracies in the world. In fact I would argue that it is the greatest democracy in the world. In the United States people speak their minds freely to power, have the ability to hold their representatives at all levels accountable, there are checks and balances of power, really work hard to uplift this country. Having said that, I think we still need to improve on race relationship, criminal justice reform, income inequality, institutional racism, access to affordable health care, equal pay for equal work, student loan programs and affordable tuition, the list goes on. The Gambia on the other hand, with the exception of equal pay for equal work, is lacking behind in most of these areas. Although The Gambia under Jammeh has built a lot of schools, improving the quality of education remains and will continue to be a daunting challenge the future. One outstanding dichotomy is that The Gambia dumped a tyrant and an idiot for a decent and progressive leadership, while the United State on the other hand dumped a decent and progressive candidate for a bigot, racist, an idiot, and a selfish so called leader. I don’t know of you, but for me H.E Barrow’s victory could not have come at a better time, because I am on my way to apply for a political asylum in The Gambia, period. As relates to the question of adjustment needed to be made in our democracy, I think we should reintroduce a term limit of either 4 or two 5 year terms, abolish the age limit clause, all draconian laws hostile to free press, retrain The Gambia National Army on constitutional Law, and then in due course merge it with The Gambia Police Force (GPF). It is too expensive to maintain an army, especially one that does not have any use for the country they supposed to serve and defend.
YJ: People are talking about justice and reconciliation. As a leaner, what is the way forward for The Gambia?
I think that is the right course of action. I don’t think that we should reduce an entire nation to Yaya Jammeh’s level of ignorance, arrogance, and ruthlessness by venting on a retaliation scheme. If we were to take that rout, when will it end? How can we as a nation be any better than Yaya Jammeh as an individual, or his surrogates who, by any account, were drunk with the privileges of POWER. Nonetheless, we must bring perpetrators before the entire nation and have them admit their wrong doings, and look their victims and their families in the eye and express remorse. This would be a fitting punishment for all crimes including murder. By so doing, the perpetrators would embarrass their own families. The state should have the capacity to rehabilitate these culprits and give them a second chance. As part of the reconciliation process, victims or their families must be entitled to some monetary compensation commensurate to the lost incurred. I think we should turn a new page and move on. Trying to chase the past will only slow us down in our global race to the top. The Gambian people should never lose our deeply rooted culture of tolerance and forgiveness. That spirit is needed now than ever before in our history. This may very well be another test from Allah to see how we as a people will handle certain situations after he helped us emerged victorious. I am grateful to Allah, and I think the nation should. May I use this opportunity to publicly declare with a very heavy heart that I have forgiven all those who consciously or unconsciously created the atmosphere, or physically violated my rights as a citizen, and above all as a human being. Like many Gambians, I have also lost a close friend, and some close family members. Notwithstanding, I am done and not looking back.
YJ: Following Gambia’s politics is great at times, at other times not quite easy. There are many groupings by the day. Are you part of any group of political party currently?
Mr. Kujabi. Absolutely. I consider myself a UDP militant acting as a support force at the constituency level. I think it is good that Gambians are increasingly getting engaged and have opinions on issues affecting our individually and collectively lives as a nation. However, I just don’t get when you have all these syndicates popping out from every corner claiming to be championing the same values that many existing groups have, or are already doing. That also explains how difficult it is to unite around a common objective.
YJ: You have wrestled with Jammeh and the APRC for a while, what is your new take on him?
Mr. Kujabi. Jammeh is a humiliated coward, periodical lunatic, and a greedy jack ass.
YJ: On December 2nd, 2016 Jammeh conceded defeat to Barrow. On December 9th, he came back to say he will not accept the results. What is different?
Mr. Kujabi. I think he could not simply come to terms with the fact that he has lost power to another person through a democratic process, a process he hoped would always deliver his desired outcome. Well, not this time around, and certainly not in this moment. All his trusted tricks backfired on him. Yes, the so called “rig free on-the-spot” counting did not help him either. Allah turned his own conspiracies against him. He was not prepared for a 2016 forced retirement even though he may have the healthiest retirement package in the entire country. I also think he genuinely fear for his life, considering some of public statements made. I think it was premature on the part of certain coalition figures. So, I think in the end what he and the real force behind him are looking for an amnesty. I think if push comes to surf, he will muddy the sand, which will be a suicidal on his part, but I don’t think he wants to die now.
YJ: Most certainly there is a leadership impasse. In your political life, have you witnessed such a situation and what insight can you share?
Mr. Kujabi. I totally agree with you. There is a leadership impasse in our beloved country. There is a deep sense of apprehension throughout the country. I have never witnessed such a stalemate in my political life, and certain in the political life of The Gambia. I strongly believe that he is going to relinquish power even if the tainted Supreme Court rules in his favor, which I doubt very much. I think he need a third party to negotiate his way out. I hope I am right for once. I also think that he created this impasse to suppress the enthusiasm around the country. His reversal has effectively quickly moved the country from the celebratory atmosphere to a state of total apprehension.
YJ: Jammeh maintains that he will not leave. Many Gambians and the international community are calling on him to leave. ECOWAS is saying that military option is on the table. The Gambia sits on a ticking time-bomb, with this impasse, what is your take on this?
Mr. Kujabi. I don’t think Yaya Jammeh will let the situation escalate to that level, because he will be up against a very formidable and determined force. Like I said, that would be suicidal on his part. I think he is playing a tactic here, hoping that with the threat of a looming war, the population can pressure the President-elect and his Transition Team to publicly declare that he or his close allies will never be prosecuted for their actions during the past 22 years. He simply wants to indemnify his actions. There is no Gambia for to rule not even for a fraction of a second post January 18th. I think he is stupid enough to know that. Yaya likes to bluff. His ECOWAS argument is only designed to dictate the negotiations to reach an amnesty outcome. That’s my take.
YJ: Since after victory, there is no Cabinet from the incoming Government. How politically strategic is that?
Mr. Kujabi. I share your frustration. I have no answer to that except to speculate that they are working on filling up key government and incoming Cabinet positions, if they have not already done so. My hunch is that the announcement will come before pretty soon. May be within the next couple of days. Now, whether the lack of or disclosure a cabinet is politically strategic depends entirely on the circumstances dictating the transition and the vetting processes.
YJ: Many are hoping to go help the new Gambia once the dust settles. Where do you stand?
Mr. Kujabi. I have served The Gambia first as a Teacher, a Detective, and in politics. I look forward to serving in any capacity in the future.
YJ: Mr. Kujabi, as a former police officer and a politician, what is your advice to Gambia’s security forces? How about Gambians and the international community?
Mr. Kujabi. My advice to the security forces, especially the Gambia National Army and the State Guard, is to stay true to the Oath you took when after when you were instated to serve and protect the constitution, defend the nation against external aggression but not to be part of scheme that would create that atmosphere. Your loyalty is not meant for an individual, but to a nation. To Gambians at home and abroad, let us approach this impasse with a sense of maturity, collectivity, and open mind. No stone should be left unturned to persuade Yaya Jammeh hand over power peacefully. One life is just too much to lose over this stalemate. I would like to join the voices of peace to urge the international community to aggressively engage Yaya and negotiate a peaceful solution.
YJ: Thank you for the interview Mr. Kujabi and your contributions are greatly missed. Any last word?
Mr. Kujabi: I just want to take this opportunity to thank the Gainako Team, and you in particular for according such an honor to me. I very much appreciate it. Thank you.