With Alagie Manneh

Well she doesn’t need any introduction, does she? Fatu Camara is our guest on Bantaba today, ahead of her eagerly awaited Heroes Awards tomorrow. She talks to Anchor Alagie Manneh about the initiative, and a bit about Gambian politics as we brace up for next year’s presidential election.

You will be hosting the Heroes’ Award this Saturday, tell us how the idea came about and how significant it is?
The idea came after I said to myself that it is important for me to also be part of those who will celebrate our fellow Gambians. Lot of the times we complain that Gambians do not celebrate each other but this does not mean that not every Gambian does that. A lot of Gambians support each other but I wanted to be one of those people who would continue that momentum. So I decided to come up with this award to say thank you to people who are great for their community, and also for their country, to give them a pat on the back and say people appreciate what you are doing out there, we just want to say thank you to you and recognize you as to the role that you are doing for the country and for the community.

This is going to be a glitzy affair, and you are hosting it at the posh Coco Ocean, how much is involved and how were you able to raise it?
A lot of money is involved because everybody knows Coco Ocean; is a very expensive hotel especially if you want to have dinner there. The dinner is going to be very expensive and of course we have artists lined-up who are all Gambians. We’ll also have comedians at the event. Newspapers too have been carrying adverts some of which I paid directly. Other adverts are covered by Africell. We have about 16 awards for different categories and we have made sure they are not cheap awards because if you invite the caliber of people who are going to be receiving awards, you cannot invite those people and give them awards that are not worth it. We got our awards made in the UK and shipped to The Gambia. They are also very expensive. So, a lot of money has been put into this event.

This is supposed to be the people’s award but given the D5000 individual attendance ticket cost, a lot of Gambians who would ordinarily love to attend would be unable to do so. What do you have to say to those who say this Heroes’ Award is just another middle class bourgeoisie affair?
What I want to say is that not everybody goes to every event. Myself there are some events that I look at my budget and I know maybe this is too high for me, I don’t go to. I mean, it is supposed to be the people’s event but also remember, they are going to be eating. You cannot come to an award, somebody organised something very nice for you to come sit comfortably and eat free and leave. It’s a budget. We have to look at the cost that we are covering. I cannot cover your cost for you; I can’t pay for your dinner. It’s unfortunate but that’s how just it is, life in itself is not fair. Somethings are too expensive, but I guess this happens to be one of those. A lot of money has been put into it. Come and be entertained. And, the First Lady of Sierra Leone will be there too.

You stand to rake in millions of dalasi as proceeds from the event, are you thinking of giving to charity and if so which?
Well, we are not at that stage yet because, as you may well know, the money does not come now. We all know people buy corporate tables but before they pay, it takes time. So right now I am at the investment stage, it’s me putting my money in and hopefully maybe in a month or so I will be able to receive all my money. What I want to do with the proceeds, I want to give back to the cause that some of the awardees would be supporting. So we ask them what is the cause they are supporting and if they tell us, then we support that cause. That is part of what we plan to do. I’m sure a lot of people look at this event and say to themselves that I’m going to be making millions of millions. Well, it is not like that. They have to remember that there is a lot of money we are going to spend with the dinner, the musicians, the set-up, the stage, the publicity all of that cost a lot of money. So it’s not like a huge margin like what some people are thinking.

You are seen as self-made young woman and an inspiration to thousands of young Gambians out there, what drives you?
I just believe in myself because in the world that we live in now, a lot of people think that for you to be who you are, you have to be there following people even if they don’t want you to be there. What I tell young girls all the time is believe in yourself and leave the rest to Allah. I don’t run after anybody. I make sure that I sit down and think about what I want to do, create new stuff rather than following people. If you follow people, that doesn’t last but if you believe in yourself, be creative and hard work and dedication, that is what pushes people. Of course if you do that in a society that we live in now, some people may not like you because what people like is someone to be running after them, but I wasn’t taught that way, I don’t know how to do that. I always tell young people believe in yourself, work hard, be consistent with what you doing and put in a lot of dedication. Actually, that’s what’s been driving me.

You are a mother to three teenage boys, what does motherhood mean to you?
Well, it means being there for my kids. I involve them in everything that I’m doing. This award ceremony, a logo came out, we had different ones, I shared it with them, I said what do you think? I actually involve them in everything that I do. They know my schedule is crazy and they do give space for that, but whenever they call, they are always a priority. No matter where I am if I see a call from my kids, I would have to pick that call up because they are number one in my life, and then my family.

Are you married?
No, am not.

What are the challenges of being a single mother, especially in Gambian society?
I’m really not bothered. I know people do say a lot of things but most of the time people do that to bring women down. For instance, if you are a woman who is thriving and working really hard, and they don’t want you or feel you are starting to be a competition to them, they call you names. But nobody is going to call me any name that I have never heard in my life. I have been in the media since 1994, so everything that’s been said to me was said before. One thing I know, a husband doesn’t complete a woman. What matters is you know who you are, and take care of your kids. And those who know me, have respect for me and that’s all that matters.

You are on record as being opposed to polygamy, yet you are a Muslim and Islam allows it. So how do you square this circle?
Well, Islam allows it but Islam never said anywhere if your husband has two or three wives you have to stay by force, it didn’t say it. I think they actually left that space open; that is to say decide for yourself. The man has a right to have four wives but there is nowhere where it is stated that if they have four wives you have to stay. That option is left to the woman. If you feel that you do not want polygamy, you walk out and have peace of mind. I have seen women who are involved in polygamous relationships they end up pouring hot oil on the other woman or doing those kinds of crazy things.

You are a friend to three first ladies in the sub-region, how did you make their acquaintances?
The First Lady of Sierra Leone has been a friend all the time, for many years. I think the first time I met her was in 1998/99, so she is not only a friend; she is also a sister. I think that’s what a lot of people misconstrued. I see a lot of people comparing my relationship with Fatima, and my relationship with the Gambian First Lady, it is not the same. Fatima is a sister and she is a friend. The Gambian First Lady is a First Lady of The Gambia; it is different. I have respect for our First Lady but we are not like that. So I don’t understand when people try to compare the relationship between the two. What I can do with Fatima or what I can talk to her about, we have been doing that for many years. We slept on the same bed, we have done a lot of things together, so it’s different. The First Lady of Senegal, I was introduced to her by Fatima, my sister. Since then we have a good relationship. When I’m in Senegal, she is always very nice and very supportive to me when she knows am there. All these three relationships are very different. They are not the same; Fatima is just like, I see myself in her. We are more than friends.

Your critics say your journalism is compromised by your social-connectedness. Is this a fair statement?
If people have common sense they would know that I am not into 100 percent journalism. Now, what news do I report? Who do I write for? I actually outsource the whole of Fatou Network which is being run by Lamin Njie and Omar Wally and now Sarjo Brito. I decided to do public relations. What I am trying to explain is that people, nobody can satisfy them. If my journalism is compromised, who compromised it because I am not singing praises of anybody or any government official or any head of state? I do have a public relations company whereas I do a lot of PR works for a lot of companies in the Gambia and for individuals outside Gambia. In fact, this is why I have some issues here because I realise in Gambia now, everybody is looking for people to sing their praises, and I don’t know how to do that. These are some of the reasons why I have issues because a lot of people are like oh if you want to be friends with this person you have to do this but one thing I will never do is to sing praises of people. I will never ever do that.

Social media is mean but you never shy away from controversy or a fight. What do you say to those who say this is unbecoming of a lady?
They have a right to their opinion but one thing I know, that’s my personality. This is who I am, and not going to change who I am for anybody. Maybe that’s the reason why I have all this following because people know that I speak my mind, I am nobody’s little dog, they know that. So, if anybody is offended with that, well, that’s it. Yeah.

You set up The Fatu Network a few years ago and within this short period you transformed it into a household name. What do you attribute to this success to?
The Fatu Brand has always been successful since it came in 2008, I think, when it was set up. The following has been there. Anybody who was born in this country from 95 should know who Fatou Camara is, been reading the news for over 20 years, did the Fatou Show, so definitely the Fatu Brand has always been a household name in The Gambia. It was changed to the Fatu Network but first we had the radio in the US and then we have the website. Here in The Gambia we added online news site, online television. It’s now more than just a talk show or the radio station or a website.

You had a famous falling out with some of your best friends like Fatou Touray and Mama Sarr, how are your relationships now?
I cannot remember any fall out with Mama and I, we are friends, we’ve been very good friends for a very long time. Misunderstandings happen because people don’t like to see good friends together. Mama and I are over that, we talk ten times in a day. We are very good friends and, that’s all that I can tell you.

You served as DPPR at State House for Jammeh, and you were roundly praised for your efforts to bring about rapprochement between Jammeh and the Gambian press, what advice would you have for the current holder of that position?
I think the problem is President Barrow needs to open up, I always say this but each time you say it, it is translated into ‘they looking for jobs’ but if Barrow himself looks around him and his circle he will realise that when it comes to the press, his PR is suffering. I mean, there’s not much there, all you see is a president who doesn’t even talk to his people; a president who is isolated, he is just around there in a corner talking to a few people. I think that is clear to every Gambian. The Coronavirus, if you look at it, in every country of the world, the presidents are up there, they make statements, we never heard anything from President Barrow. The 3 Years Jotna came, he never said anything. I think he’s a president who doesn’t like to talk to his people. Sometimes I sit and think maybe this is because when he speaks, people make fun of him, is that the reason why he is not speaking? I once wrote that people should give him a chance because I thought it was his pronunciations and stuff… but I think he needs to come out and speak. Sometimes, even me, I make mistakes when I speak. But I think it’s about time for President Barrow to have more confidence, come out and speak out. He also needs to know that people in The Gambia do not hate him. When people criticize the government, even constructively, they translate that to hate. He also needs to be press friendly and be there for the media, be accessible when the media need you. He should know election is not too far away. Gambians now are not Gambians from 22 years ago, when Jammeh was here. Gambians now have changed; we want to have a leader who will talk to us, who will listen to us.

What is your reading of Gambian political parties?
Gambian political parties I think they are just involved in petty politics. Most of these politicians are not telling us anything. They need to tell us why they are good for the country and why we should vote for them. Nobody is talking about healthcare. It’s been 55 years of independence until now our healthcare is struggling. We have 55 years of independence until now our education system is backward. Look at the posts on Facebook and look at the grammar. I am not saying mine is better than everybody else’s but we are all struggling with a lot of stuff. Look at our education system… we don’t even read about our own people. The Ministry of Education should definitely look into this and also introduce basic civic education. That is the problem we have in this county; most people don’t even know the difference between the president and the country. If you say there is no electricity, they say you don’t like the president.

What political party do you support or have sympathy for?
If I am being honest to you, none of them. I am not seeing what I want to see in any of these parties. Maybe more political parties will come up. But eventually, I am going to support a political party before the election and I am going to campaign for that political party and will make sure that party wins. Some politicians should also be careful. They will be making some mistakes if they think the diaspora does not have the ears of Gambians.

Thank you Fatu, and good luck on your awards ceremony.

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