Statements of Presidential Aspirants at Coalition Convention

By Kebba Jeffang

During the national convention organized by opposition political parties to select a flag bearer for the coalition, all the five statements-of-opposition-leaders-afterpresidential aspirants were given the opportunity to address the 490 delegates coming from all over the Gambia. The coalition convention, which was held on 30 October, 2016 at the Kairaba Beach Hotel, eventually selected Mr. Adama Barrow to contest as an independent candidate in the 1 December 2016 presidential poll.

Foroyaa has already published the statements made by the presidential aspirants namely Hamat Bah, Dr. Lamin Bojang, Halifa Sallah and Adama Barrow after the selection of the latter as the coalition flag bearer.

It is now featuring the statements made by the respective presidential aspirants before the voting that selected the presidential candidate for the united opposition parties.

Below are the statements from Mr. Hamat Bah, Mr. Adama Barrow, Dr. Lamin Bolonding Bojang and Mr. Halifa Sallah:

 Mr. Hamat Bah, the presidential candidate of the National Reconciliation Party (NRP)

“Today marks another era in the political evolution of our dear country. But I will give you a brief history of coalition alliances in the second republic. In 2001, there was an attempt to build an alliance of a united front to stand against the APRC. The then late Sheriff Mustapha Dibba, Assan Musa Camara, worked so hard. Myself and others tried to build an alliance but it didn’t work and indeed we packed it and then we ended up having the various presidential candidates but at that time it was 50% + 1 vote. I need not explain the reason why it didn’t work but some of us know and we are here to build unity so the history that divides us needs not to be told. In 2006, the Diaspora in the United States initiated a dialogue that led to the creation of the National Alliance for Democracy and Development (NADD) that again failed. It didn’t work. But when it failed, our party at the time felt that the United Democratic Party (UDP) should lead at that time when they had the biggest number. And we made the necessary sacrifice as a party to support the UDP under the leadership of His Excellency Mr. Ousainou Darboe. Again we were a divided opposition and what characterized that campaign need not to be told again because we are trying to build unity. We went into it and again we failed. In 2011, we attempted and we were able to form an alliance with the PDOIS. We tried our best and again there was no opposition unity and we failed. Today, we are in another era trying to build an alliance to work towards removing the APRC from power. But we must be mindful of the process that we have gone through. There are a lot of questions but because people want us to come together, we decided to forgo all that. Our ultimate task or objective today is to come up with one candidate that will win. We are here to elect a candidate that can carry the Gambian agenda, that can do what the Gambian people want to do and that must transcend tribal inclination, regional factors and all the boundaries for the good of our country. We are not looking for the opposition vote but that 800, 000 votes that was not our vote and we wanting it to come and join us to remove this regime. What do we do to make them understand that they don’t have to fear but any one voted here will be able to cater for their interest and they don’t have the fear and make sure the frustrated people that do not want to be part of that camp can join us? Hate is never right and love is never wrong. This is the message we have to send to the 800, 000 voters who want to part with the APRC and want a new dispensation and they are looking for somebody to give that opportunity that will lead the country where they will feel comfortable, safe and where they will feel that they will be part of the Gambia and nobody will go and witch-hunt them. And I want to believe that I can provide that candidature and I can be that candidate who can unite a Gambian people, who can let the past go but one thing is clear the truth must be told of what had happened in the past for the record and for the future of this country.  I will tell you that we should never engage in a programme that we go after people and witch-hunt them. We do not need an expansion of our jails, we don’t need any more Gambians in exile. This is a country that belongs to all of us and what we need is to build a system that will accommodate all of us, therefore, we cannot go on a revenge mission. This is the message, whether we like it or not, if we want to attract those people who want to come and join us. We must put aside tribalism, some of our differences and make sure that we can forgive but not to forget to record it for the purpose of history and we name and shame them for the evil that they have done. That I stand and that we stand.

Mr. Adama Barrow, the presidential candidate of the United Democratic Party (UDP)

“Today is a historic occasion since we started our respective efforts 20 years ago to peacefully dislodge the entrenched dictatorship that continue to commit terror in the Gambia and on the Gambian people. What is happening here today is an ample testimony of our commitment to put our differences aside and come together as a single devoted group inspired by demand by the Gambian people to unite and end 22 years of brutal dictatorship in the Gambia. The Gambia is at the cross-road and the urgency is now to salvage our country from anarchy. It must be noted that there is no better group than established political parties and the independent politician to save the Gambia from the difficult situation. And that is why the UDP take very seriously our determined efforts to see that all the opposition parties and the independent come together as a united front to approach the election. The UDP earlier on presented itself to lead the opposition commission for obvious reasons; the UDP election results have shown that since 1996 it is the biggest opposition party in the Gambia. But we are no more important than any other political party or the independent candidate sitting here today. Secondly, we have covered the established committees and the grassroots branches in almost 90% throughout the country. Thirdly we are the only political party that uses patients across the country to continuously organize meetings and sensitization programmes on a regular basis. Fourthly, it is also an established fact that our vote appeal from the generality of the Gambians to have posted the UDP at an important aspect to pose a serious threat to the incumbent. Fifthly, the UDP candidate is the only candidate that has all the chances of getting the sympathy vote from the verse majority of the electorates as a result of April 14 and 16 incidents, the killing of Solo Sandeng and Ebrima Solo Kuruma, the conviction and sentence of Lawyer Ousainou Darboe (the Gambian Nelson Mandela) and 29 other party members. The Gambians are ready to vote massively for a change in solidarity of the UDP and its gallant leader the opportunity we could not afford to miss by voting for UDP candidate for coalition. I have just came back from a tour and our supporters are fully energies and are ready to go in for election from Nuimi to Wuli, Basse to Jimara, Foni to the Kombos from different backgrounds and political belongings with a singular message of change and there is strong determination from the Gambian people to take back their country. As I speak, the UDP has gone very far in its preparedness to election and just a few weeks ago, the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) has distributed the nomination forms to political parties. We must report that the UDP has fulfilled all the conditions spelt out in the nomination form. Our foot-soldiers have already collected enough signatures from our valid voters all over the country and in some administrative regions we have collected more than 5, 000 signatories. I realized nevertheless, all political and the independent candidates present here today without exception made their marks on the politics of this country and the struggle that we all found ourselves in and we honour and respect them in this regards. As a political party we are deeply aware of the tyranny and big mistrust among the Gambians because of divides and rule system. Commitment and democracy and human rights, the UDP has a fundamental belief and it is committed to democracy and respect of human rights. There can be no sustain and meaningful development in the absence of a genuine democracy. The people of this country have absolute rights to participate in all the decision making process and all issues affecting their lives and the condition of their existence and the fair treatment before the law. During the transitional period all parties will operate freely and can organize without hindrance. Cabinet positions in the transition, we absolutely believe in and we are committed to transition government and will ensure that all parties are represented and no one left out. National advisory committee will be set that will be responsible for advising the president on nomination of cabinet positions. We are however proposing that the cabinet position of defence and security be left to the exclusive mandate of the transitional president. We want to make abundantly clear our commitment and loyalty to the coalition and any other agreement that we all append our signatures. We shall implement our programmes and policies to the strict terms of the spirit and the letter of the MoU signed by all the political parties. For this reason we propose that a special committee be set up by the political parties to avert any political disagreement that could fail the very essence and smooth running of the government. We are fully aware that the tasks outlined in our document and we will strength and implement democracy with which people chose base on informed choices as to who they want to represent them and can serve their interest and the affairs of the state on their behalf. We propose to review a constitutional review commission to make proposals to include limiting the term limit of the president to 2 terms of 5 years, to remove upper limit in the Constitution which has been used as justification for senior politicians above 65 from participating in elective positions, limiting the local government executive to 3 terms of 4 years. Once this commission is approved and established, we will work on a platform to improve the sectors of finance, agriculture, education, communications, energy, petroleum, civil service, health, youth and sports and foreign affairs particularly our relation with sister republic of Senegal and regional and sub regional organisations. We will work to set up a truth and reconciliation commission that will engage to consider gross number of issues including but not limited to enforced disappearances, political motivated killings, torture and degrading and inhuman treatments which amounts to crime against humanity. This commission will not engage in witch-hunt but will bring the unfortunate dark history behind us. The terms and conditions of the commission will be prepared by the executive and confirm by the national assembly. The composition will comprise the diversity of people as Gambians.

Mr. Lamin Bolong Bojang, presidential candidate of the National Convention Party (NCP), who spoke in Mandinka, said he is into to politics to fulfill his dream and to set the country on the right course. He said people should vote for him for their interest in this world and the next world. He said to say politics is about worldly business is not the reality. He said although he was into politics long ago, he decided to quit but came back as NCP presidential candidate. He asked people to change their attitudes and have trust in God.

“We, the Gambians, are responsible for our own suffocation and not everything is caused by President Jammeh. We have to change our attitude to be able to make informed choices. Politics is not about joke to me and anybody that you vote for must understand you are voting for your eternal decision,” said Dr. Bojang.

Mr. Halifa Sallah presidential candidate of the People’s Democratic Organisation for Independence and Socialism (PDOIS) said

“Leadership is the capacity to energise the collective intelligence of a citizenry so that we can become thinkers, inventors and builders of civilization that can guarantee us liberty, dignity and prosperity. We are gathered here to affirm and assert our ownership of the Gambia. You are the sovereign owners of this country. A republic is a community of citizens equal in sovereignty, irrespective of their tribe, what we call ethno-linguistic origin, religion, gender or any other status. That is why when the leader of this country declared the Gambia an Islamic State we were among the first to say that he has erred because Islam is a community of Muslims whilst a republic is a community of citizens who may be Muslims, Christians or belong to any other religion. That is why when Jengin Sonko of Nuimi was arrested because of the witchcraft scenario, the son came to me and said that “my mother is arrested”, a dignified woman whom I know when I was working at Social Welfare. I had to take a stand that it must come to an end because a dignified Gambian people must not be subjected to inhumane and degrading punishments. Because we are all equal in sovereignty, is precisely the reason why when we had the April 10 and 11 incidents. If you read the report of the Commission of Inquiry you will see my letter at the back of the page when I was struggling to tell them what they should do to avoid what had happen.

If I were to become a president of this country, I would make sure that my heart will beat in unison with the heartbeat of every suffering Gambian and prevent any Gambian from being subjected to torture, inhumane and any degrading punishment. That is why we are citizens of this country. Over 293, 503 children are in our primary schools, 170, 000 children are in our upper basic schools and 51, 225. Every 12 years, they will come out of schools, over 400, 000 children. Where are they going to get jobs? If they don’t have jobs how are they going to get married to be able to feed the family? The young people do not have a future in this country. We have to create that future. To tell people go to the farm without giving them seeds, fertilizer and farming implements is simply chaff in the wind.  That is why each of you must understand that in order to set the economy of this country right we ourselves must have the knowledge. The country is surviving on debt and taxation. The debt of the country combined internally and externally is over 42 billion dalasi which is more than the gross domestic product (GDP) of this country which is 42 billion. If you divide it among all the Gambians, each will be carrying, even the small baby who is born today, a debt of over 20, 000 dalasi.

Yes, you can build schools, hospitals with debt but you must pay them and therefore you must increase the taxes that will increase the suffering of the people. That is why a person in grade 12 is earning 6, 000 dalasi a month. Take that to the market today and see how much you get and that is the highest paid person in the public service. The drivers, the watchmen, are earning less than 1,000 a month. How can people survive? You look at the farmer. We are saying in order to change the condition, we must change the economic structure and we must address all the sectors of the economy, starting with the farming sector. If you can have 400 million taken from Social Security and invested to buy Ocean Bay hotel. That sum of money could be put in a cooperative farming scheme. You go to Kartong, Sanyang, Batokunku, they are mining. The Gambia is rich! You go to Tumana, no one knows what is happening there. The Gambia is rich! Senegal has discovered oil, the Gambia has it; the Gambia is rich! That is why you don’t have the type of poverty in Saudi Arabia that we have here because they are utilizing their resources. We need a government that will utilize those resources and establish a cooperative bank to provide the farmers with fertilizers and farming implements so that they can be able to produce. That is the way to eradicate poverty. Transform what is produced into processed goods and that is how you can create jobs. Look at the ocean, how many people could have been assisted with fishing vessels, transform our mangoes into juice, tomatoes into pastes, and create jobs. If you go to villages you will discover where a woman will take 20 gallon containers to draw water from 65 metres deep well. How long would those people be able to survive while you can spend 1, 0, 11 million in 2014 on national celebration, 1, 011 in 2015 for national celebrations and 65 million this year for national celebrations and 175 million on maintenance of state’s aircraft while people are in difficulty in coming from Senegal to the Gambia because there is no national aircraft?

So in short, these are not the types of people who are capable of removing you from poverty. We have agreed that we will serve for 3 years and I am 63 and if you were to make me President I will never change a Constitution for my own benefit. I will serve for only two years. But within those two years, I will help you to build the foundation that any other government can rely on to move forward. That I can assure you.