“If you always follow others, you can never lead” – President Yahya Jammeh
Fearless journalist? I didn’t feel so at this moment, as I was ushered into the waiting area, inside State House – a dowdy room with a few chairs, a coffee table and a flatscreen TV with CNN news on. Either the TV set was faulty, or State House also suffers intermittent power cuts, as in the short time I waited, the TV went off 5 times on its own, and someone kept emerging from a room next door to switch it back on. The air conditioning must have been set rather high as well, as the room felt really cold on this hot October day, so that I eagerly accepted an offer of a hot coffee at noon. No, the Gambian State House is not decked in flamboyant expensive excesses – well not the little that I saw, at least. But jitters aside, I felt ready to face the man every journalists is meant to gravely fear. I was ready with pen and mind to ask him about all those ceaseless accusations thrown at him.
Is he homophobic? A trigger-happy murderous dictator? Does he really care about The Gambia and what has he got to show for it? Does he really believe anybody really cares that that “little” Gambia had left the body every former colony is meant to worship?
Yes therefore, as I was ushered into his office (with minimal security may I add) and as he greeted me with a broad smile asking how New African is doing “after all these years?”, I could instinctively tell this was going to be a long hour. I felt my host was ready for me.
I reach for my bag and hand him some copies of the New African and wish him happy reading. He tells me to make myself comfortable on one of the “British royal” green chairs that deck the office, which is walled in mahogany and book-shelved with all manner of tomes. He hand-gestures for me to sit and he takes the chair next to me, clutching his trademark walking stick and prayer beads. As I gently place my micro-recorder the table, he asks if am ready and straight away, I fire away my first question, but before he answers, he quietly recites a short prayer, then looks straight at me. He is ready.
And truly, President Jammeh has a lot to say and prove. Sit back, delve in and join us in the world of one of Africa’s most enigmatic young leaders – he is only 48 years old. Married to Zeinab Suma and they are parents to Mariam and Muhammed.
Q | New African: To start with, your decision to withdraw Gambia’s membership of the Commonwealth is the story that everyone is talking about. Could you explain the reason behind the rather surprise decision? And why now, after 48 years of membership?
President Jammeh: First of all, I want to welcome you to The Gambia and we are very proud when we see international magazines published by Africans, and other media houses owned by Africans. I have known New African magazine for a long time, I have been reading it since I was at school. I used to read Africa Now, West Africa, and New African.
Let Gambian leader open democratic space in his country and not hide behind interests of Africa violated by the West.
Now we know that this story was paid for by the former dictator for around £80, 000.00. We were surprised by the journalistic line NewAfrica took in interviewing this demagogue of a president who siphoned off millions from poor people of our country to pull off a publicity stunt with this magazine. What a shame NewAfrica has reduced itself to!