Q | Turning to The Gambia, under your leadership, your country gets a lot of bad press. Rarely do we read about the developmental changes that have happened under you leadership. It’s my first visit here and I have learnt from ordinary people I have been speaking to on the streets how a few years ago there was no university in The Gambia, and there was no television. What have you done since you came to power in 1994?
Yes, a few years ago there was no university here. And that is part of the reasons why we have left the Commonwealth. The British were here in The Gambia for 400 years, and in that time they built only one high school.
Q | Really?
Yes, in 400 years the British built only one high school; then there were 30 years of the so-called independence (under president Dawda Jawara, whom Yahya Jammeh deposed in a bloodless coup in 1994), with no university, no high school; [and] yes, the post-independence government never built a single high school, a single hospital, in the 30 years it was in power. Do you understand? Even the British-built high school, called Armitage High School (established by colonial governor Cecil Hamilton Armitage in 1927), was for the children of traditional rulers in order to appease them and that was the only high school they built in 400 years of occupation!
So let us do the mathematics: if one high school was built in 400 years, how many years would it have taken us to add a college or a university? Nearly a billion years?
Therefore, when you listen to the tone of the BBC, saying we didn’t tell anybody about our decision to withdraw from the Commonwealth, you wonder. What they are saying is that we should have taken permission from somebody, after informing them ahead of time, and they would have advised us whether or not to withdraw or not to leave the Commonwealth.
And it’s not only about The Gambia. They want every African government or leader to do the same. Consult the West before we do anything. Well, that time is long past. We don’t want to be anybody’s servant.
Now they are telling everyone how The Gambia was benefiting from the Commonwealth, though they won’t say by how much. But let me tell you the true story about how much The Gambia was putting into the Commonwealth annually, compared to what we got from the Commonwealth. It didn’t balance.
If I have to give, say, $8m annually to an institution that belongs to both of us, and I get less than $1m back annually, who is benefiting and who is losing?
Let them be. And from now on we shall do what is right according to our norms, culture and religion. And we shall leave them to practise what is right according to their norms, culture and religion.
Q | On the issue of good governance, your political opponents and the Western media say you are a dictator and you abuse human rights including homosexual rights. Why should they say otherwise?
Oh yes, I am a dictator of development, a dictator of progress, and a dictator that will not be dictated to by outsiders. But in The Gambia I am a servant of the people. We have come a long way, we still have a long way to go, but we have depended only on God and other countries that recognise that we are human beings and that we are an independent and sovereign country.
And we shall not accept any British person telling us what to do, or that homosexuality is a human right and therefore we should legalise it here in The Gambia. Well, if they want their countries to be led by homosexuals, that is their business, but not in The Gambia. So if they think it is right, let them practise it there, but not here in The Gambia, do you understand?
On governance, when did Africans participate in elections in the colonial era? It seems the idea of human rights, freedom and good governance never applied to their colonial subjects.
Q | Your stance is sure to affect the level of international funding you get, do you realise that?
What funding? Now show me one African country that has developed today thanks to the West, tell me.
About 99% of the infrastructural projects here have been built from our own national resources. Yes, we have built this infrastructure. We have built this country from the Stone Age. If you look at The Gambia divided into two by the River Gambia, the north bank of the river never had a highway until we came into office. Today the north bank has the best highway in the country. Let me tell you one thing, but I don’t know whether I should tell you this.
Q | Yes please, do.
You know that 75% of rural Gambia is electrified, and 90% of rural Gambia has potable water. No, they will not want the world to hear about that.