Transcribed by Yankuba Jallow

Halifa Sallah, the Secretary-General of the People’s Democratic Organisation for Independence and Socialism (PDOIS) has reaffirmed their position to bring about system change to eradicate poverty, tyranny and degradation in The Gambia. He did so during a press conference he held on Tuesday, 13th August, 2019.

“We are talking about system change because what we are saying has not happened yesterday and is not happening now and we have not seen any political party that has articulated precisely what we are articulating. That is why the agenda that we have –is the agenda we are promoting to be the agenda that can eradicate the poverty of our people and enhance development. PDOIS emerged to eradicate poverty and that is why we develop policies that are capable of addressing poverty. Today we are convinced that the ideas we have is what constitutes the system change that will change this country and that is why we are here to share those ideas,” he said.

The system change advocate has called on all political parties to come forward for a New Gambia.

“We are calling on all political parties to come forward for a new Gambia – a Gambia of debate – a Gambia of productive discussion – a Gambia to give concrete solutions to concrete problems – a Gambia where political parties or independent aspirants will come and debate on issues and leave the Gambian population to decide who should manage their affairs,” Sallah said.

Here is a verbatim statement Sallah made to the Press on Tuesday, 13th August 2019.

Democracy is about information; without it there cannot be decision making adding that many people claim that PDOIS has an ideology and they attribute that ideology to many countries in the world and they attribute success or failure of PDOIS based on their notions.

Ideologies – the study of ideas is not what anybody who truly understands the science of society will attribute to this or that group. Society embodies facts. Facts we have to study scientifically to understand before we can map out which direction society should take to be able to eradicate poverty, tyranny and degradation that we sought to combat.

You will hear people saying The Gambia is a private sector led-country.

What are the facts? And this is what PDOIS is all about, it speaks the language of fact. If you do your inquiry like PDOIS has, they will tell what banking system; the net foreign asset of the banking system is about 9 billion. The domestic is about 22 billion. How much is going to the private sector? 28 percent. So where is the private sector that should generate employment for the youth? It does not exist. PDOIS did not emerge to fight the private sector.

We are convinced that an economy that relies entirely on importing everything that we are consuming is not sustainable. Look at the basis of our importation on rice alone and you will see exactly what we are talking about. What we are producing in terms of rice is 67,000 tonnes what we need for consumption which we mostly import is 200,000 tonnes. Currently, the bill on rice alone is over 2 billion dalasis and we are capable of producing rice. It means that if we produce the rice that we are importing we will be putting 2 billion dalasis annually in the hands of our producers. This is a fact. How do we enhance production is a fundamental question of system.

Some people are telling us that in some countries like the United States few farmers of that country are capable of meeting their needs in terms of wheat and grain. That is true but if few farmers own all these plantations, where will the rest of the society go? Can the Gambia emulate that? That is a fundamental question? Could we allow just a few people using tractors and other types of machinery to own the rest of the land to produce the over 200,000 tonnes of rice that we currently need: over 140,000 tonnes that we end up importing? If we do that, where will the rest of the farmers go, when over 70% depend still on rural agriculture? That is the challenge. Do we give land to only a few and they engage in large scale production? Or do we have a system that will enable those farmers to continue to own those farms and still enhance production? That is the question PDOIS had to confront.

Our answer is, we will ensure that those farmers retain their family farms and are still given the capacity to produce what is necessary for us to consume so that the two billion will be in their hands. That is what PDOIS policy is all about. How is that going to take place is the fundamental question.

Bank, 9 billion, 22 billion in assets they need to invest – these are commercial banks. We are saying commercial banks should invest in the private sector and build up the productive base of the economy and generate employment according to their capacity but because their production is unpredictable you cannot force banks to invest where they will not gain profit, you will not be able to plan any economy based on those banks.

That is why we are convinced that a State which this year had a budget of 28 billion in one year must begin by being a productive State and that productive State must ensure that those farmers will have the resources they need to be able to produce on a large scale. We are saying therefore, that there must be State-owned enterprises and some of the people talk about Singapore – go and read what had happened in Singapore within 20 years after 1965. Singapore had a State sector with State-owned enterprises that facilitated the development of that country.

We are saying we need a cooperative bank. We must have a productive State with a cooperative bank where sovereign national wealth will be invested so that it will be able to give the fertilizers, the seeds, the farm implements that the family farms need to cultivate the rice, the coos, whatever grains they need, in order to produce what we need. So in that respect, our country will begin to eradicate poverty. And the rural economy will be a cooperative economy, meaning that each village will have a consolidated fund for the village just like the district, just like the region, just like the nation. And into that consolidated fund will be paid taxes from the village but also with a developed productive base, those people in that particular village will be able to contribute quotas for development such as providing milling machines, other simple machines, labour-saving devices that prevent continuing the type of drudgery that exists in all parts of our country where you find women daily using 20 litre containers to draw water from wells 35 metres, 45 metres deep, or more than that. How long will those people continue to live like that? PDOIS aims to eradicate poverty.

We are convinced that with the cooperative economy, you will be able to ensure each year what could be done to improve roads, hospitals, medicines and all other things which may be needed. In essence, what we are saying is that what each village’s needs in terms of drugs will be calculated based on demands – what it needs in terms of water will be calculated – everything it needs in terms of services will be calculated then the village capacity will be examined, the district capacity will be examined – the national capacity also contributes to district and villages so that the nation serves the villages and the villages will serve the people.

This is what PDOIS calls socialism – it is a cooperative economy where our collective wealth is used; and no one doubts that we are the owners of The Gambia, that is why we have a republic. The land, the sea, the air belong to us. Essentially, all the wealth whether it is terrestrial, whether it is marine, whether it is atmospheric belongs to The Gambian people. The role of the government is to be able to tap it and ensure that it serves the welfare of the people. That is what socialism is about.

We are therefore saying, under the current government, under the past two governments there is the ocean with all the marine life but what they have been doing is granting license to a few companies to fish and take away all the fishing products and process it and then send it back to our homeland – we become the consumers. We are saying that system cannot sustain development. We are saying therefore that you must have a Fisheries Corporation that is publicly owned that invests resources to buy fishing vessels – trawlers that will go out at sea, ensure that Gambians become captains, become sailors, work, sell the fish abroad, gain foreign exchange, process it on Gambian soil and generate employment. We are convinced that our marine life can ensure employment for our citizens and eradicate poverty in our country. That is our policy – that is socialism. It is to build the productive public base, the productive economic base and ensure that it serves the entire people and consequently eradicate their poverty.

We need to know and we know it that minerals are available. The oil prospecting has been done but for how many years? What could be discovered could have been discovered but because of neglect our resources are yet to be known because prospecting has not been done with the efficiency and determination that it should. We knew that under the previous regime they were mining and nobody knows what. And we raised questions at the National Assembly and it is recently that we are being told that another company is doing the mining and paying royalties. Where is the public corporation that is established to establish some form of partnership with whatever private corporation that exists that may be bringing the types of machinery – you have to quantify the cost of that machinery – what part it plays in the mining – what shares you are supposed to give that company which will be a fair share – what will be the national share for the owners of what is being mined and what share that our corporation should have.

Therefore, in the mining process, annually we can guarantee that this sum of money is going to be allocated to our consolidated fund and that fund can be prescribed precisely to go into the cooperative bank to ensure the horticultural gardens will be given fertilizers, seeds, farm implements so that they will produce the tomatoes we need, the onions we need, even to export those horticultural products. This is the type of a system we are talking about – we call it socialism.

We are importing tomato paste when we can produce it. We are importing milk when we can produce it. We are importing onions when we can produce it. Most of the products we are importing, we can produce them. We have the fruits but we don’t have the drinks, we still import those drinks. We are saying it is that processing of our produce that will ensure value-addition and that will generate employment and foreign exchange – that will ensure import substitution. What you are importing instead you will be exporting. That will enhance the quality of the value of your currency. This is how a State should function and this is what PDOIS intends to bring to The Gambia.

We met in Basse to begin a new journey – a journey that started many decades ago fundamentally with one objective – eradicating poverty, tyranny and degradation in our homeland. We made a mutual commitment that unless poverty is eradicated, that degradation, that tyranny no matter how many seats we occupy in the National Assembly and even the highest office in the land we would have failed in our quest.

Those who continue claiming that the journey which took this long is not worth taking would definitely have to reconsider their view if they do accept that poverty still remains, that degradation still remains, lack of ownership of power still remains; then we conclude that we are yet to reach our destination and that is why are here before you today.

In this respect, we have made a commitment to the villages and these commitments I do not need to repeat because we will hand over the documents to you for sharing and we will be using these documents everywhere so that people will know exactly what we are promising the Gambian people and through your questions, we will be able to answer so that you will know concretely what we are saying.

We are ensuring that villages will no longer go through the drudgery of using pestles to get flour. We will ensure that all villages have labour-saving devices to eradicate the suffering of our people; clean drinking water to eradicate the suffering of our people; proper health centres to eradicate the suffering of our people. You can question how we are going to do that. We have shown you the cooperative economy, that you must have a productive base.

If you go to any village now, none of them has a village council or a treasury. It does not exist. So how will they develop? That is what PDOIS intends to bring and into that treasury, the village will be able to have its own productive base. For land that is not used by any family, the village will be able to get a loan from the cooperative bank to be able to work as a village on those farms and the earnings of the village will go into the consolidated fund of the village. If it is a fishing village, aquaculture will be utilized and the village will be given the fund that it needs by the cooperative to get all the means it needs to use to be able to produce the fish that they need so that what is earned will go into the consolidated fund of the village to provide water, to provide health centres, to provide nursery schools, to provide the basic things the village does not have.

As for the State, from the production of minerals, from the production of oil that may be found, from the fishing that is being done, all the sovereign national wealth will be utilized to ensure equalization of grants and through equalization, you will make sure that all those who are falling behind will actually move forward, therefore, there will be proportional development of society. This is what we are talking about.

Members of the press, we met in Basse, to sum up PDOIS’ experience since 31st July 1986. We made a comparison that ANC was born in 1912 and managed to rule South Africa in 1994. Why? Because there was an apartheid which needs to be fought leading to the incarceration of people like Nelson Mandela. Even though he was in prison, he was seen as a symbol of national unity because there were tribes and there are still tribes in South Africa because apartheid struggled to divide the South African people and in that sense if they were left, they will not have been liberated. Like ANC, PDOIS realised that after 1994 Gambia had changed completely. The parties that had emerged in the First Republic were mainly banned and they had to move into coalition building in order to try to survive. Even though, they established the UDP Coalition they could not succeed by 2001 and they started to disintegrate and because of the disintegration of that coalition all of us know the NCP separation from that coalition in 2001 and eventually, the PPP, the NDAM.

So essentially the coalition started to shatter and it was at that moment PDOIS started to show a trajectory that can maintain national unity so that we can effect what had already been said by the Chairperson (Honourable Sidia Jatta) so that we can effect a change at the top, a change of government. The anticipation as we have said in Basse is that the change will be political – political in the sense that those who would effect the change will not consider their individual party interests – they see the coalition as a national liberation movement. A national liberation movement comprises people from different sectors with different aims and objectives but they come together for a purpose and that was the purpose that gave rise to Coalition 2016. A national liberation movement which eventually effected the change, following that change, we needed to build national instruments and institutions; that is why we saw the need for constitutional reform, institutional reform ensuring that there is justice which will be substantive justice and restorative justice where people who have done wrong will admit what they have done and society will see the wrong done and those that have been victimized will see that what had been done to them is been admitted and leave them to decide whether they will want further reparation or any other means to ensure that the wrong that is done to them is actually admitted.

The conviction was that within 3 years that task would been accomplished and the country will move to its first phase of democratic existence since it became a republic. It was our conviction was for all parties to work together as a national liberation movement to build the instrument, institutions. We will build up a country fit for purpose and the Gambian people will become a conscious people who will never again be subjected to inducement and or intimidation – they will vote and select leaders based on the policies/programmes put before them. It was anticipated that those who combined to form the coalition will work together for that nation and consequently can claim for the victory for the period and will start on level ground to seek the mandate of the people. That is what we thought could consolidate democracy and give the Gambia a new start.

We told the meeting Basse would have made a new start as we PDOIS fully support that there should be 50 – 50 in all institutional representation but to move to that process, you start with 30% equalization on the basis of gender through proportional representation and gradually even before the end of one term to 50% before the next coming elections. That was our conviction and we could have achieved that. It was a programme to discuss how to eradicate discrimination against women. We have told the Youth and Women Congresses that if you go to the countryside you will find women who will face difficulties in giving birth – women are dying because of lack of facilities. Could we say women are treated equally in society? You will find women pounding, you will find them drawing water – the drudgery, could we say these women are given fair treatment? We see the suffering of our people but we ignore it and use statistics to show that progress is being made. We must look at the poverty – over 48% – in order to reflect on what to do. We cannot talk about our development as long as poverty exists. We cannot continue to measure our development because an arch has been built, a bridge has been built – that is not the way to measure development. The way to measure development is eradicating the poverty of our people. Yes, infrastructural development is important but the most important form of development is providing social security for our people. That is why the women is Basse made a commitment that will consolidate our institutions – the women movement and build it into a movement for system change so that the economic base will change, the social base will change, the civil base will change, the cultural base will change, the psychological base will change, international relation will change – that is what we talk about when we talk about system change.

We left Basse as party fully prepared for system change and to prepare the country for system change. The political bureau is charged to prepare the political literature that will help bring about citizens education, membership education and leadership education. We have prepared the documents as a start and we will be producing the party magazine called “Gonga” and all this information will be there embedded for general circulation not only to the party membership but to anybody who wants clarity as to how to change this country so that it serves the interest of the people. The political bureau will continue to build a library where people can come to seek information; it will conduct research continuously to give correct information to the population.

The information bureau will be responsible for the actual production of the party magazine.

We are, therefore, ready as a party to start a new journey towards system change. Our institutions are to operate immediately, registration of all youths in the party will be consolidated, registration will be open for all new members who may wish to join the party – the same thing for the women’s bureau; all the institutions are now charged; their committees are now set up in the regions and they will be working with those committees and the bureaus in all the regions will be open with their coordinators so that the groundwork at the community-level continue to be enhanced.

We are convinced as partners in the development process, our colleagues in the opposition, we are calling on all those who have an alternative plans and all those who want to be independent executive to be ready for the new Gambia.

We cannot have the new Gambia without a new Gambian. If you demand the new Gambia, ask yourself whether you are a New Gambian. If you are not a New Gambian then you have no moral authority to demand a New Gambia. That is the bottom line. Once you are a New Gambian then we can have a New Gambian.

Who is that New Gambian? It is that Gambian who is conscious that he or she is an embodiment of the sovereignty of the land. It is that Gambian who is conscious that no other Gambian is embodied with a higher degree of sovereignty than he or she is embodied; it is that Gambian who is conscious that he or she is equal in sovereignty with all other Gambians irrespective of gender, religion, ethnolinguistic origin, birth, etc.; that New Gambia will be conscious of being in a nation – united with everybody and seeking to ensure that each lives for all and all live for each. That is the Gambian who can bring about a New Gambia.

We are saying, what had happened in 2016 would have prepared us for that new Gambia but we have lost that battle. Emphasis, we have lost that battle. What we conceived in 2016 was a form of a national liberation movement – three-year term. We continue to emphasize that if Halifa Sallah who first called for presidential candidates (at Kairaba Beach Hotel) had told them to select him as their presidential candidate they would have left him there and there would not have been a coalition. If anybody who responded to that invitation came and said ‘select me for five years and I will also, stay for five years,’ Halifa Sallah will not have been there sitting and he doubts very seriously whether anybody will have been there sitting; there would have been no coalition and there would still have been Jammeh’s administration in The Gambia.

So we developed a tactic – that should be heard loud and clear – a tactic so that we can unite and those who disagree with that tactic should not claim ownership of the change because it is that tactic that brought about the change. Don’t separate the change from the tactic, that is not honesty. The tactic was to ensure that none of us is interested in self-perpetuating rule. Therefore, we put it in an agreement that the person will be there for three years.

Section 65 of the Constitution provides for the resignation of the President so it is wrong to say that the Coalition partners did not know the Constitution, otherwise they would not have said three years. It provides for a vacancy in the Office of the President through resignation or death of the president. If the Constitution says 5 years and you die before the 5 years, will you still remain to be the president? A constitution must provide for resignation, it must provide for death, it must provide for vacancy and it does and we realise that. That is why we said the person who will be there will be there for 3 years, why? It is because it endears the person to the electorate after 22 years of self-perpetuating rule of the Second Republic and 30 years of self-perpetuating rule of the First Republic. This would have been a ‘nenemajo’. That is the reason. It endeared the country to its people and to the world – that was the reason. The whole objective of saying that the person will not contest in the next election is to eradicate incumbency. Everywhere in this world, incumbency is the first way of rigging elections because it puts you at an advantage. So we said let us get rid of advantage, let us get rid of incumbency – the person will not stand in the next coming elections. To move further, we said the person will not support any party in the next election to ensure that there is real democracy where there is level ground for multi-party contest. Our demands as Gambia Coalition for Electoral Reform to Jammeh was for a level ground – so go and read our demands. We demanded it from Jammeh, what about us? We also included under the current Constitution that if the office of the President becomes vacant, the vice president will complete the rest of the term and if the office of the vice president becomes vacant, the Speaker of the National Assembly will complete the rest of the term. If there had been a plot, I think we would have demanded to be made the vice president or the Speaker of the National Assembly – as PDOIS people. I want all honest Gambians to tell me now, if I sincerely wanted to become the Speaker of the National Assembly and I go to President Barrow who was working very closely with me to make me the Speaker of the National Assembly I sincerely believe he will make me the Speaker of the National Assembly; even if he does not make me the Vice President, I think he will make me the Speaker of the National Assembly. So where is the greed? Where is the hunger for power? Where is the hunger for position?

Everything was done with sincerity and unanimity, not consensus. No dissent. My God! Where in this world have you seen that? It has never happened anywhere in the world. That is why The Gambia was endeared to the world. The Gambia became an example of the world.

So in essence, if now if people are demanding from us, that we should speak out what do you want us to say? To speak with anger when you the people who are now demanding that we should speak out when the coalition was being dismantled, we [PDOIS] said, ‘let’s work together in the cabinet, those that can go to the national assembly; all independent national assembly members, let’s have an independent country, no party will emerge because we wanted a level ground after but others said no they don’t want parties to die. What did you say at that time? How did you vote? What was your position? Why didn’t you claim at that time that this will dismantle the coalition, let’s work together? Where? So you allowed everything to be dismantled until now where you reach a situation where if you demand the person to leave after 3 years, the Vice President will serve the rest of the term – is that what we fought for? So we are telling you that was not our agenda. That was not our agenda and we cannot speak on that.

Our agenda was for President Barrow to serve for three years and that is what is best for President Barrow but if that President Barrow says “I want to serve for five years, what can we do about that? So this is a moral issue because constitutionally the provision is there to serve for 5 years – the provision is there for him to resign before the 5 years. The choice is his not us.

Now we want to be pacified – we want to be calm – we want to go back to our own selves – we don’t want to continue to argue with people, insult people and we don’t want to question people’s integrity. UDP leader and other leaders have the right to be who they are. It is not our business – you are the ones who must choose leaders. People have their own personality and their own ambition; that is not our prerogative.

What is important is tell us how you intend to build a nation and we tell you ours and we debate; we show you that ours is more profound and that is what we stand for and we are going to proceed on that trend. Anybody who does want to proceed on that trend, then you are not on the trend of PDOIS. Move to the other path, we are all citizens and we have a right to freedom of association and freedom of expression. Those who speak the same language and associate for the same purpose should continue to do so.

We are associated to eradicate poverty, tyranny and degradation. We are united to ensure that our people live in liberty, dignity and prosperity. That is why we assemble and forever we will assemble until we reach our graves. This is what we stand for. Thank you very much.

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