Interview with Ousainou Darbo
Ginny's Thoughts & Things
May 2, 2006

by Baba Galleh Jallow

The following interview was conducted for The Independent newspaper shortly before its forced and unexplained closure by the Gambia government. We produce
it below for the benefit of our online readers.


UDP leader Ousainou Darboe recently made a short visit to the United States. The Independent’s Baba Galleh Jallow caught up with Mr. Darboe in the American capital Washington, DC. In the following interview, Mr. Darboe spoke about reasons for his visit, meetings he held, his break with NADD, his party’s new alliance with the NRP and other issues of national interest.

Mr. Darboe, let me start by asking you to please tell us some of the reasons for your current visit to the United States.

I am here to meet and consult supporters as we approach the 2006 presidential election campaign.  Gambians abroad have always been important in our overall effort in bringing true democracy to The Gambia and my current trip is a reaffirmation of their role in this endevour. I am accompanied by my colleague, Mr. Ahmadou Taal, a founding and senior member of our party.  To this end I met people in Atlanta, California, Metro Washington, DC, and New York City. Whilst in Maryland I received a delegation from North Carolina.  This being a short trip, I was unable to go to many states to meet supporters in person but I am grateful to the large number of them that called me on the phone across the US.

We understand that you had meetings with officials of the National Democratic Institute and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems here in Washington, D.C. What were the purposes of these two meetings?

Mr. Taal and I held meetings at the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and at the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES). At NDI, we met with Dr. Christopher Fomunyoh, Senior Associate for Africa, Mr. Grant Godfrey, Senior Program Officer, and Ms Melissa Lane, Program Officer.  At IFES, we met with Mr. Nathan Van Dusen, Program Manager for West Africa and Ms Susan Palmer, Senior Advisor.  At both offices, we had discussions on the democratization process in Africa in general and in The Gambia in particular. I found a strong level of interest and an in depth understanding of our current democratic dispensation particularly in the areas of elections process and conduct. They have both indicated a fervent desire to offer their good offices to help our country conduct a free and fair election. I hope the IEC will take advantage of any assistance offered by any of these institutions.

Most Gambians in the Diaspora would like to enjoy an opportunity to vote in elections, like other nationalities outside their countries. What can your alliance do to make this a possibility in time for the 2006 elections?

We have always advocated for the full participation of Gambians in the Diaspora in elections as this is their constitutional right. However, the government of President Yahya Jammeh has shown extreme reluctance to extending the franchise to our citizens beyond the borders of The Gambia. We know institutions/organizations have offered to fund the entire election process in the Diaspora. This offer while not outrightly rejected has been stalled by the government on the altar of consideration.  I call on the government and the IEC to take full advantage of these offers so that the tens of thousands of Gambians living abroad can participate in the democratic process of deciding who should take charge of the administration of the country.

So you think the APRC will definitely lose the elections later this year? What are the underlying variables for this assumption?

We believe this election would be contested amongst others, on two principal issues. First we intend to make it a referendum on the decade plus record of President Yahya Jammeh.  Gambians will have to decide if the current state of affairs in which they face the harshest economic conditions of their lives is acceptable.  Secondly, we intend to offer them tangible alternatives designed to arrest the cascading decline in the economy, followed by a systematic rebuilding of the economy guided by responsible fiscal planning, deficit reduction, giving tax incentives for investments in the productive sectors. This is how we intend to build a vibrant free market economy that would help lift our people from the crushing poverty this regime has inflicted on them. Look at what is happening to the people of this country, hundreds of thousands of farmers are left in the lurch with no credible buying scheme for their crops and everyone has to pay nearly D700 for a bag of rice. This is tragic and the Gambian people deserve better.  In the end we believe the APRC regime will be defeated on account of its miserable record coupled with our strong message of delivering hope, growth and progress.

If elected, what are some of the major issues you plan to tackle as matters of urgent national concern?

Our priority if elected would be a laser beam focus on the economy, constitutional and judicial reform, an overhaul of our healthcare system, education and the pursuit of a foreign policy that reflects our strongly held Gambian values of respect for the rule of law, democracy, human rights and peace. We believe our nation’s standing in the international community rests more on how we uphold universally accepted norms and values than on hosting expensive diplomatic pageantries that cost millions of Dalasis.

What is your position on the issue of term limits for the President?

We believe in a two five-year term-limit for the office of President. Unlimited self-perpetuation of power is a serious impediment to democracy. Term limits will be among the set of constitutional reforms we will present to the first sitting of the new National Assembly.

Now let’s move a little back in time. What was the principal cause of your party’s withdrawal from the National Alliance for Democracy and Development, NADD?

When the concept of forming a broad-based coalition was broached, we entered into the negotiations enthusiastically. We suspended all our party activities and I personally undertook to keep a low public profile. We negotiated in good faith, made concessions and tried our best toward achieving a successful alliance of political parties as opposed to the creation of a new political party operating side–by-side with existing parties. Unfortunately, as we limped on with the new political entity I came to realize insincerity, mistrust, and hatred on the part of some members of the NADD executive, which sometimes led to unhealthy exchanges. My party and I concluded that it was impossible to operate harmoniously within an organization under such conditions.  We then proceeded to resign from NADD and pursue our campaign in a newly formed coalition. This eventuality, however, does not preclude further cooperation between our coalition and other parties. We are keeping the lines of communication open and remain hopeful that we can work together in some fashion down the road.

Your party has formed an alliance with the National Reconciliation Party of Mr. Hamat Bah, which also withdrew from NADD. What has been the reasoning behind this alliance?

Our alliance with NRP is an outcome that I am pleased with. Our parties complement each other in very significant ways and I believe the resultant synergy will pay great electoral dividends as we traverse the length and breadth of this nation delivering our message of hope, growth and progress.  I am also very proud of the wonderful working and personal relationship I have with my colleague and NRP leader Hamat Bah. He is an astute politician and a very energetic campaigner with strong support across the country.

You have been known to suggest that other political entities in The Gambia are welcome to join the UDP/NRP Alliance. How would you react to suggestions that your party is welcome to rejoin NADD?

I believe the best way to proceed is cooperation of some kind among all opposition forces. It is not a question of who joins whom at this point because what matters is working together in ways that satisfy the ultimate objectives we all share.

What do you see as the single, major obstacle to progress in post-colonial Africa?

I believe the single major obstacle to progress in post-colonial Africa is the perennial lack of a full, functional and participatory democratic dispensation. Democracies by nature are accountable to their people, which necessarily means leaders must constantly strive to improve the lives of their people, safeguard their rights, respect their values and protect the rights of the minority.  This in turn spawns economic growth, precipitates innovation and guarantees stability. Sadly, post-colonial Africa has not sufficiently embraced democracy with vast swaths of the continent clutched in the cruel fists of dictators and pseudo-democrats. The result is extreme poverty, disease, civil strife, wars, and general instability.

Any last words for the Gambian people, particularly the security forces vis-à-vis this election year?

The security services have an institutional responsibility to be professional and to operate within the bounds of the law. I would urge each and every member of the security services to first remember their oath of office and also to be cognizant of the fact that we are all brothers and sisters in this small country.  I want to extend the same advice to civil servants, employees of parastatal organizations, local government officials, and chiefs.

To the Gambian people, I ask them not to succumb to intimidation, harassment, and inducement.  They must realize that their vote is the only instrument for shaping the future of their children and grandchildren. The only way you can do this is to VOTE for the UDP/NRP Alliance.


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