INTERVIEW: Ousainou Darboe – Leader, United Democratic Party (UDP)

In this interview, I sat with the UDP leader to discuss issues centering on the party’s future, his love for The Gambia, gay rights, among other things. Parts of this interview were already published in The Standard.

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Que:What is the current state of the UDP?

The UDP is certainly very active. It is working towards the 2016 presidential elections, and the 2017 national assembly elections. We hope that by that time, the playing field will be much leveled… in that I mean some of the things that we are now facing will be a thing of the past. Despite the hostile political environment, we are still forging ahead. We know that we will not be broken….

Before we go to the issue of ‘hostile environment’, let’s talk about your succession as UDP’s presidential candidate: You cannot contest again because you have reached the constitutional age limit of 65 years.

It is rather unfortunate that a lot of Gambians think that Ousainou Darboe is UDP. UDP is an organisation – whether I have reached this abominable age limit prescribed by the constitution or not, the party has the right to select another person as its presidential candidate. I do not have a birthright to being the presidential candidate of the UDP. And also people tend to forget one thing, that being flag bearer at elections, and being party leader are two different things. And come 2016, you will see a candidate more formidable than myself. I can assure you that. UDP is not a party that is individual-based, or personality-based. It is a party that has deep roots throughout the country. We have membership both within and outside the country, from the ranks of which we have very formidable candidates.

Can you give me examples of such personalities within your party who are capable of succeeding you as flag bearer of UDP?  

Let me just say that we have members from the senior executive who are capable of succeeding me – both from outside the country and those that are here. I do not wish to mention any names…

Why not?

Because that may jeopardise their positions… take for example, one of our very promising members: Word was going around that he is a possible successor; you have seen how the criminal justice system has been misused to get at him. We do not want that to happen to others.

I assume that is Amadou Sanneh?

Yes. It’s him

So it is true that he was a very strong ‘potential successor’?

Obviously he is. He has the… if I may say, all the ingredients…

It is true that his arrest and subsequent prosecution and conviction were as a result of this?

Yes, I can tell you that it has something to do with it.

Now that he is in jail. What is his fate in the UDP’s future?

Well, we are fighting the legal battle. And I have every hope in our court system that the Court of Appeal will really stand up for justice.

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How will you describe the current political landscape of The Gambia?

There isn’t much activity going on in the country. Speaking from my own side, we have people who are engaged in grassroots mobilisations. But that is not to say that all is well. I have mentioned that the environment is very hostile; I have said that there are prosecutions going on. One is completed, that is Solo Sandeng. We also have 14 other people being prosecuted in Brikama, and we have another person being prosecuted in Bundung. I think this is a ploy to have me occupied in the courts, instead of being engaged in my political activities. Again, it is a misuse of the criminal justice system. Anyone in his right thinking mind will never have thought that the state will prosecute Solo Sandeng for the so-called offence he is alleged to have committed. But it’s a shame on them. It just shows that they do not put on their thinking cps. If they were doing so, it is a case that will never have been prosecuted. And then I do not decide cases and am not suggesting that anything would happen, but with other cases too, no government in its right senses, that is committed to democracy, that accepts legitimate opposition in its country, will prosecute anybody for those so-called offences.

Some people believe that your party is not doing enough in handling these “calculated targeting” of your party’s senior membership? Couldn’t you have handled them in a different way, politically?

You know that the political nature of this country does not allow, for example, demonstrations, even if they are peaceful. Otherwise, two journalists would not have been picked up just for applying for permit to stage demonstrations. Two of your colleagues, Mr saidykhan and Ceesay, according to the information we have, had applied for a permits…. I mean if the law says that, and you apply for it and got arrested? Then you can see how much they can distort the law, and how much they can resort to very unorthodox methods to try to suppress demonstrations. We have never ruled out anything that should be done within the ambits of the law. Peaceful demonstration is guaranteed by the constitution. It is an option open to my party and any other political party.

If it is open to you, why haven’t you applied it in the past 17 years to bring solutions to your political problems?

Yes, we have not. But it is an option that has been open to us and certainly we can exercise the option at any time.

Some people have casted doubts over your patriotism, especially citing the fact that you have travelled to London to testify against the government in its legal case with Carnegie Minerals Company. What will you say to these claims?

I dismiss those allegations s rubbish. They have absolutely no foundation. There is no one in this country who is more patriotic than me. There is no one in this country who loves this country than myself. But then, I will not, because I am a Gambian, shy away from doing what is right. I have gone to London to give my views on the laws of the Gambia. I have done that and I have every right to do that. And if anybody thinks by doing it I am unpatriotic, they are the one who are unpatriotic; they are the ones who do not want people to know the legal situations of the country. I think that is a cheap political propaganda.

Did you get paid for this?

As a witness, I was paid a witness allowance.

How much were you paid?

I cannot tell you how much I was paid.

You are a public figure. The public has a right to know how much your income is…

I did not go there as a public figure but as a layer….

A lawyer that is leading a political party, is certainly a public figure…

I went there as a professional, not as a politician. I can’t tell you how much I received as an allowance in that case.

What is your stake on homosexuals in The Gambia?

I believe it is very abominable. It has no place in this country. People who are engaged in it must certainly desist. I believe that it is part of those tendencies in human beings that require some treatment…

What sort of treatment would you prescribe for homosexuals?

I think something psychological. But then what is the magnitude of homosexuals in this country as warrant it to be put on that very high pedestal, as if that is the priority of this country? We have to address our priorities. We do not have to divert our problems, the real problems of the country… how many people in this country have been identified to be engaged in that relationship – whether as lesbians or homosexuals? Those have to be identified. How many people have contracted these types of marriage in this country? How many of them have done so? Ad how many have openly acknowledge themselves as being gay in this country? I personally abhor it as a Muslim and as a decent Mandinka because it is not part of my culture. It is abominable but it cannot be the priority of this country. On every occasion, you have a pronouncement on gay people, when you have problems of electricity (now we are sitting in darkness doing this interview); problems of poverty, how many children do you have around supermarkets, loitering, begging? Should we not be thinking of how to get the beggars from the streets and make them live a decent life? Shouldn’t we be thinking of how we get efficient electricity supply in this country? Some years ago, about 1996 or 1997, when the president was laying the foundation stone of Brikama Power Station; he said “power shortages will be a thing of the past”. That is just about fifteen years ago and it is getting worse. I think we should really be serious and address issues that are really confronting the nation than these side issues, just because you want to capture the attention of the “Muslims” or the religious community.

You don’t condone homosexualism?

Absolutely not. It is horrible.

So legally speaking, what is the basis of the president’s pronouncements about the ultimate punishment for gays in the country, death?

Is there any law for that? If there are laws for it, let them take the defaulters to court. After all, there are some people who were being prosecuted here in Kanifing. And they discontinued the actions. If there was any basis for it in law, they would have continued with the prosecution. Otherwise, I couldn’t recall the name of the gentleman who was on the papers writing copiously defending homosexuals… why haven’t he been prosecuted?

If you were the president of The Gambia today, what would you do about this homosexuality?

Well, first I will have to identify who the homosexuals are. I am not saying there are no homosexuals but I do not know who and who homosexuals in The Gambia are. And then then try and treat them, win them out of it…

How will you win someone out of homosexuality, Mr Darboe?

Just the way you deal with drug addicts and win them out of drugs, I believe you can do the same for homosexuals…

But you will not take anyone to court for being a homosexual?

If there is law on it, yes. But the proof will certainly become a problem. If somebody acknowledges being homosexual, and there are laws prohibiting it, then we will prosecute it. This reminds me of the 1960 when there was a big debate in the House of Lords. Some held the view that when two consenting adults engage in such a relationship, what is the business of the law in it? But there are others who say that protecting the morals of the society is the responsibility of the judges. And I side with those judges who believe it is the responsibility of the judges to protect the morality of society. But to go the extent of killing them, I will not do that.

Any last word?

I think our leaders should be very serious in managing the affairs of the country. I think we are more engaged in big talks and coming up with little actions. It is pathetic that for several months, the Banjul-Barra ferry does not provide the required service. And in fact, it is putting the lives of passengers at risk, properties at risk…. We should be thinking of how to address that situation. We should be thinking of how to address the problems in our hospitals, mass poverty, these are real problems, they are not imaginary. You go on condemning a system, yet the system that you are advocating for, is not responding to the needs of society. I think we have to rethink and we have to stop blaming others for our own failures. We have to appreciate that the buck ends at the presidency. The minister of finance is just exercising residual executive powers of the president. One cannot see the failing economy and really turn your eyes away from the presidency. After all, they have been issuing press releases and pegging the Dalasi at an exchange rate with foreign currencies… I think we should stop this vous-style attitude of doing things…

What is vous style attitude Mr Darboe?

Vous-style is when you are sitting in a vous and something comes up, and you jump and say we are going to do this. You don’t run a nation like that. Yu don’t just sit down and say, ‘we are going to change the official language of the country’. Change from English to what? (Laughs).

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