Exclusive: An interview with youth movement leaders in Gambia

THE HOT SEAT:READ THROUGH AN INTERESTING INTERVIEW BETWEEN YOUNG PEOPLE’S DIALOGUE BOARD MEMBER FOR MEDIA, INFORMATION AND PUBLICITY SETFREE N MAFUKIDZE AND #GAMBIAHASDECIDED MOVEMENT LEADERS ……..

On Young People’s Dialogue Hot Seat we have the privilege of hosting Fatoumatta and Lawyer Salieu Taal from the Republic of Gambia ,Salieu is one of the brains behind the #GambiaHasDecided campaign which is advocated for the protection of the people of Gambia’s vote in which Yayah Jammeh the incumbent President lost to opposition coalition leader Adama Barrow.

This session of The Hot Seat is hosted by Setfree Mafukidze the Board Member responsible for Media,Information and Publicity in the Young People’s Dialogue.

Setfree N Mafukidze : Fatouma and Salieu Taal welcome to the Young People’s Dialogue Hot Seat Session, I will give you just a brief background of the Young People’s Dialogue.
The Young People’s Dialogue is a trust that advocates for the participation of young people and taking up leadership roles in economics, politics,social, sport and all other positive aspects that promote development of Zimbabwe.We felt the need to have you join us as we are keen to learn on what transpired and what is the way forward for the people of Gambia.

Fatouma: I will let Salieu Taal one of the brains behind the #GambiaHasDecided team and a prominent Lawyer called at the bar both in the Uk And in The Gambia the elaborate on the issues of the Gambian crises and the way forward . Thank you.

Setfree N Mafukidze: Thank you for coming through Fatoumatta, while we wait for Salieu to come through you could give us highlights of what the situation is like in The Gambia at the moment?

Fatouma: Again it is a pleasure to be invited to such a prominent group to discuss our current crisis . I hope Counsel Taal’s contributions will be of immense importance to the group and in the coming elections in Zimbabwe . We must learn by experience . And The Gambia experience must be of great significant in the continent.With less than a population of 2 million people we have demonstrated to the world that the power of the people is greater than that of one person .

Setfree N Mafukidze: I suggest we go ahead with questions related to the Gambia and Salieu joins us later, shall we proceed? Let’s get the ball rolling ,now Fatoumatta and Salieu I understand an election was held in your country to choose a new President and the results of it led to the fall of incumbent President Yayah Jammeh who was defeated by opposition politician Adama Barrow.
Can you briefly give us an insight into the personality of the outgoing President as well as his achievements during his 22 year rule?

Fatouma: On the First of December 2016 elections held in Gambia saw the incumbent lose to a coalition of 8 parties after the imprisonment of the leader of the largest opposition party the UDP.

I cannot point any achievements in his(Jammeh) rule of 22 year old rule we have lived a life of terror and fear . This can be demonstrated by the blocking of internet from the eve of the elections and the kidnapping of key persons and killings of nine inmates in 2012 whose appeal processes were not exhausted in the courts.As we speak there are over a Dozen political prisoners whose whereabouts are unknown.

Setfree N Mafukidze: In other words Yayah Jammeh has not done much to protect the citizens of Gambia,how did he rise to power in the first place?

Fatouma : He rose to power in 1994 through a military coup that ousted the then President Dawda Tawara.

Setfree N Mafukidze : This clearly shows the power of United opposition movements to rid themselves of despots, given that what were the modalities leading to coalition and how was the Presidential Candidate chosen?

Fatouma: After analysis by a mediator in the name of Fatoumatta Tambajang , she brought all parties together with the exception of GCD who won 8%.

Setfree N Mafukidze: So you are saying the coalition was brought into place by initiation by a single individual?

Fatouma: Yes through a primary election which the UDP (Adama Barrow ) leader won.

Setfree N Mafukidze: Now that the coalition won the election and are taking over power what are the long term plans regarding the coalition of parties?

Fatouma: They serve for three year transition after which fresh elections will take place.

Setfree N Mafukidze: What are the lessons for Zimbabwe which can be drawn from the Gambian experience in this past election in respect of how a coalition can successfully dislodge a dictator from power in an election?

Fatouma: It can demonstrate a peaceful change of government by the people for the people . The people were intimidated by the military but all was ignored due to proper communication by the Coalition making people aware of all consequences should they go out in the streets . We tried to avoid a state of emergency by remaining peaceful ,we had silent disobedience.

Setfree N Mafukidze: Interesting,but we all know YayahJammeh lost the election and conceded defeat only to make a sudden change of heart in a few days,what could have prompted that sudden change of heart?

Fatouma: He had the support of the military whom he controlled . People rumoured that he the majority of them were not Gambian but rebels from Casamance a town in Senegal that borders his hometown Kanilai.

Setfree N Mafukidze: As a result of his relations with the military has there been any casualties caused by Yayah Jammeh’s insatiable desire to cling to power and what has the regional block ECOWAS done to ensure that the safety of the Gambian people is preserved?

Salieu Taal: Hello everyone

Fatouma: This was the reason the block focused on peaceful negotiations as it was uncertain the level of influence they had and the exposure they wanted to reduce the risk of casualties .

Setfree N Mafukidze: We are now joined by Salieu Taal one of the founders of #GambiaHasDecided,welcome to The Hot Seat Salieu, now without wasting much of your time can you briefly tell us more about #GambiaHasDecided and it’s influence on the Gambians to resist dictatorship?

Salieu Taal : Thank you,#GambiaHasDecided is an initiative that was started by a group of professional Gambians both young men and women who included Lawyers like myself, Accountants, Marketing experts,information and technology experts and different types of people,music promoters who though comfortable in their professions felt the need to really ensure that their vote is heard because we massively voted against Jammeh for the first time in the history of Gambia.

The professional class came out and voted,young people and everyone else voted.There was a unanimous resolve to ensure that we remove Jammeh by the ballot box.

Having done that Jammeh decided to cancel our vote and said wait a minute,I am not going to accept your vote and there is nothing you can do about it,hence he started his antics using the court systems and everything under the book to frustrate us.

We saw this play,we saw it happen and we have fairly experienced people in different areas of businesses including Law.So we decided,if we don’t get up and mobilize people this guy will get away with this. We then said let us start a peaceful protest and I invited friends of mine at my house and we were brainstorming then came up with #GambiaHasDecided an already trending hash tag and said we are going to start a campaign under the slogan GAMBIA HAS DECIDED,because all of us had decided that Yayah Jammeh is no longer President, we can not go back on this and we have to make sure our voices are heard ,we need to make sure we create a platform for the voice of all Gambians to be heard.

So we quickly created a logo because we have a graphic designer expert in our group and we agreed to print tshirts and also erect bill boards and other forms of media to ensure that the Gambian space is occupied by #GambiaHasDecided.

First thing we did was we went online and changed our profiles,a lot of us have a lot of followers so it just went viral like a fire,nobody knew who was behind it,they just started seeing profile pictures changing to #GambiaHasDecided everyone was changing because that was the mood and it was hot and ready.After we did that the next thing is we printed tshirts with contributions from our own pockets.Everyone started wearing the tshirts in the streets then we started fundraising for more tshirts and then did the billboards and it just went crazy, everyone would wake up to see massive bill boards with simple inscriptions like ” Gambia has decided for Justice and Peace”.The authorities could not handle it,it spread like a fire.

Setfree N Mafukidze : This inspiring Salieu, lessons can be drawn and the power of social media has been noted whilst at that ,how has been the participation of Gambian Youths in the political framework of their country, how many were registered to vote in the election in question?

Fatouma : The youths are now fully conversant in politics, they were the ones always behind Jammeh,but the back ward syndrome in the Jammeh administration continuously trampling on people’s rights went out of control and again awareness, they abandoned him along the way, over 50 % voters were youths. In November 2016 the crowd following the Coalition to the filing of their candidate was attended mostly by youths who wanted change.

Setfree N Mafukidze: The Gambian military turned their back on Yayah Jammeh what could have prompted them to abandon their Commander in Chief?

Fatouma: The Commander on the 2nd of December 2016 pledged his allegiance to the incoming President Adama Barrow which was also later revoked . So we were sceptical when on the 19th he came our to celebrate with the people . I think but it’s my personal opinion that it’s because of the ECOMOG taking over Kanilai again according to unconfirmed sources.

Setfree N Mafukidze: Can these Commanders be trusted to continue working with the new President Adama Barrow?

Fatouma: We are all in doubt but from what we have learned it was a rule of terror and once the feared is far and away peace shall prevail . Gambia is small and everybody knows everybody so building trust can be easy.

Setfree N Mafukidze : How literate is the Gambian population and to what extend does the “casting of lots” voting system aid to combat electoral theft?

Fatouma:In our own outgoing President’s words,we have the most rig proof elections ,counting is on spot,I guess this makes it hard to cheat with all parties on the ground as results are known on the spot.

Setfree N Mafukidze : Interesting there Fatouma,having noted the active involvement of young people in the campaign to protect the Gambian people’s vote, what role will young people including yourself and Salieu be playing in the new government, if any?

Fatouma: Not sure about Salieu but I would assume his legal expertise in policy making would be essential. He is one of the lawyers ,as for myself I have sat in education committees in the UK and have had exposure my dream is to see our schools the way they were before the Jammeh administration.

Salieu Taal : Personally as part of #GambiaHasDecided and as a youngish person at 43,I am involved in a lot of activities that affect government, I sit on a number of boards like the Chamber of Commerce and other places.

What I would do is encourage government to integrate the youths into active policy making not just design the menu and serve the food,I think the youth should design their own menu and this will require first helping build the capacity of the youths to be Councillors and Members of Parliament and even some to become Ministers.

I think to achieve this it requires mentoring and it’s something I am very interested in doing so that we can teach the youths that they are the majority of the population who need to partake in policy development and nation building and not just be on the receiving end.

Fatouma: We tried . It was a long hard journey . But thanks also to the people from the Diaspora we made it . If jammeh closes internal communication links they help us from Abroad to make our voices heard

Setfree N Mafukidze : Some Gambians and West Africans living abroad in Europe and elsewhere seem so much in love with Robert Mugabe despite his excesses. Whats your opinion about Mugabe talking from a Western African’s perspective?

Fatouma: I personally don’t like dictators as I see him as one . Staying In power too long also disqualifies him in my like books.

Salieu Taal : Let me assure you that any right thinking Gambian would not like or adore Robert Mugabe, I think those are the sentiments of the larger cross section of Gambians.

Fatouma: The next elections in west Africa is Togo and I pray that they follow The Gambian experience and respect the will of the people in peace.

Setfree N Mafukidze: Let me take this opportunity to thank everyone for following yet another YPD Hot Seat Session, many thanks to our brother Salieu Taal ,Sister Fatoumatta from The Gambia, it has been a pleasure having you all on The Hot Seat and I must say we have learnt a lot from The Gambia as the Young People’s Dialogue we look forward to a good working relationship with you in future.