Exclusive Interview with Dr Amadou Scattred Janneh
Dr Amadou Scattred Janneh
" For me, everything starts and ends with Gunjur and you know I am very passionate about Gunjur and anything that has to do with Gunjur." Said Dr Amadou Scattred Janneh in an interview with @Gunjur - The Voice of Dabanani. The full text of the interview follows:
@Gunjur: Dr Janneh, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedules to speak to @Gunjur - The Voice of Dabanani. Dr Janneh: Well, I must also thank you for this opportunity to be heard and for the opportunity to come here in the UK to meet with the Gambian community. For me, everything starts and ends with Gunjur and you know I am very passionate about Gunjur and anything that has to do with Gunjur. I attended Gunjur primary school from 1968 to 1974 and I was one of five students who made it to high school that year. I attended St. Augustine's high school and ultimately went to the United States to study. I returned a few times and now am permanently in the Gambia again working with youth groups and other organisations in Gunjur. @Gunjur: Your late father, Momodou Alieu Scattred Janneh was a heavyweight political figure in the Gambia. Has that influenced you in any way? Dr Janneh: Well, I would say definitely. I was influenced because when I was in high school and later years, I saw how much he was involved in political activities with the PPP, NCP and even at some point, APRC. He was also one whose work took him all across the country. I got to live in Genoi, in the Fonis and I travelled throughout the country because of the nature of his work. That definitely did have an impact on my decision to even study political science. I never thought about following his footsteps to become politically engaged but at least, I realised it must have shaped the direction of my career or my involvement. @Gunjur: How did it feel like coming from Gunjur village to attending St Augustine's high school in Banjul in the 70s? Dr Janneh: St. Augustine's, as you mentioned is a premier high school and just by the number of students who were able to proceed to high school could tell it was very competitive because we had far fewer high schools and the number of students competing was huge. I was relatively younger than my classmates. I started school at the age of six. It was very exciting because you had a combination of sports, academics and there was a campus newspaper called "Sunu Kibaaro" and at one point, Lamin Janko Darbo, who was my classmate from Gunjur primary school, was the editor and I made regular contributions as well. It was a very exciting period. Even though we came from Gunjur, we all played prominent roles in the school. @Gunjur: What motivated you to becoming a reporter for Radio Gambia? Dr Janneh: When I graduated from high school in 1979, I was under 18 and by then, to get a job through the public service commission, you have to have a minimum age of 18. My father helped get me a job at Rural Development Project(RDP) based in Genoi. When I reached the age of 18, I applied for a job that was advertised as a reporter for Radio Gambia. I was interviewed and hired and that's how I started working in the media sector in early 1981. That was the same year too that Kukoi (Samba Sanyang ) attempted to overthrow the government. I was one of two people who were primarily assigned to cover the treason trials, the commissions of inquiry and that basically pushed my interest in journalism. @Gunjur: Were you part of any political establishment at that time? Dr Janneh: No, because I was still too young. I went to Radio Gambia when I was about 18 and by the time I got 20, I left the country to study in the United States. I was not involved in anything except maybe following my father sometimes during his campaigns as a member of the NCP. He was a candidate after I have left for the US. @Gunjur: Talking about the US, how did you end up there? Dr Janneh: As you know, we didn't have any universities in the Gambia and most students gain higher education by going overseas to the US, UK and other developed countries or sometimes neighbouring countries like Sierra Leone and Nigeria. I had applied to schools in both the United Kingdom and the US. The schools in the UK were very expensive and almost impossible to get financial aid. I was awarded a partial scholarship to study in the US and I was able to find my way there and that's how it all started. @Gunjur: You were a lecturer of political science. You left all of that and came to Banjul to work with the US embassy as a political / economic attaché and later a state minister. Why did you leave the US to work in the Gambia? Dr Janneh: Well, I made several attempts to return here and live here permanently. The first one was in 1993. I had completed my PhD in 1990, started teaching and then in 1993, I got a grant from the International Organisation of Migration (IOM). They paid for my container, airfare and even to move my family back.
I was hired at the Foreign Service, MDI snatched me from the Foreign Ministry. After less than a year, I decided to go back to the US and shortly after that, Jammeh overthrew Jawara's government. I remained in the US for another ten years and then decided I want to go back. This time, I am going there to stay. I found a job through the US embassy. I worked there for few months and that's how I ended up being offered a post as a minister in Jammeh's government in April 2004. @Gunjur: To many people both in the diaspora and in the Gambia, you symbolised the face of the struggle against tyranny in the Gambia. Some of them would not forgive you for working with Jammeh. What convinced you to work with Jammeh? Dr Janneh: I think that's a good question. I will not ask for forgiveness. I did the right thing at the time. I had been criticising the government openly using my name - not hiding behind any pen name and I returned to the country and worked for the embassy. One of the roles that I played at the US embassy was to draft the human rights report on the Gambia and a key component of that especially given my background in communications ( my undergraduate degree was in communications) was the national media commission. By then, it was very contentious. Even the GPU had taken the government to court on that. People were being arrested particularly because of their stance on that. I had very close ties with members of the GPU at the time. I knew where they stood and what their concerns were. When I was offered the post, I consulted with the US embassy, the US ambassador because I was a US citizen also working for the US embassy. I knew if I got in trouble, they will have to play a role so I had to talk to them to make sure that I had someone holding the back for me. Therefore, when I was offered the post, I took it as an opportunity to see what I can change. I knew Jammeh was in the business of hiring and firing. I had written about before I was hired. I knew I would not last but at least, I was challenged to do something while I was there. During my tenure, the GPU executive at the time are still alive and can vouch for me that I held meetings with them in private and I held meetings with the US embassy and other personnel as a means to put pressure on Jammeh in the area of media reforms and we did succeed because the pressure on Jammeh was such that he decided to say we change the constitution to do away with the national media commission and we celebrated that. As a result of that collaboration, he again turned around and saw me as a spy. I was fired and the official explanation was "providing sensitive information to a foreign embassy". Of course, I worked for a dictator but I am proud of the role that I played in that role. I believed I was one of just two government officials who attended events like Deyda Hydara's funeral. Even after I was fired, I continued to play that role so I have no apologies for that. @Gunjur: You are still carrying out your work as an activist, as a political scientist. Here is Jammeh in his presumed sanctuary. Are you going to follow your activism to see Jammeh in court? Dr Janneh: Well, as far as I am concerned, I have made a personal commitment that I will do everything possible, of course, working in collaboration with partners and key organisations to see that Jammeh is brought to justice. Unless and until Jammeh is caged, Jammeh is placed behind bars, my struggle isn't over. I will continue until that happens. We know this isn't a process that happens overnigh. It took several years before Hissene Habre (former Chadian dictator) was locked up in Senegal and I believe it will not take nearly that long for Jammeh to ultimately be tried and locked up. He deserves to be in jail, not in Equatorial Guinea. There are serious efforts going on and I believe very soon we will know exactly what's being done. I know the international community is particularly concerned about making sure that we have a very good process to make sure that Jammeh is ultimately put on trial because it's a way to fight impunity. @Gunjur: As much as being a political science professor, a human rights activist, a one time state minister, you also ran a successful businesses. What motivated you to go into business from import and export in the US, to setting up CommIT in the Gambia? Dr Janneh: Well, after I left government in 2005, I was determined to stay in the Gambia and not have anything to do with the government at the time. I knew my strengths were in Information Technology and I had connections in Senegal and that plus the fact that I lived in the US since 1983. I was able to exploit that, set up a business and it was very successful. The success also got me to understand some of the difficulties that businesses faced at the time. They were paying exorbitant sums on taxes that the government / Jammeh used for his many celebrations and activities. Those were some of the things that also guided me in my activism to understand the problems from a human rights dimension but also the difficulties that businesses were facing. It's through the entrepreneurial spirit my activities as a businessman that I was able to support and pay for my trips overseas in addition to the grants that we were occasionally getting. This is something I am also continuing despite our focus on getting Jammeh and ensuring that we have smooth transitional justice process. I'm also encouraging businessesto invest in the Gambia; to look at the Gambia because we have significant opportunities for economic growth. @Gunjur: You are not a state minister currently but we have seen you on many social media platforms working with the government in areas such as prison reforms and human rights in general. How do you think the government is currently faring in those areas? Dr Janneh: I believe changes in all of those areas you mentioned were phenomenal. You must have to look at the situation and few months ago before Yaya Jammeh was removed and the situation now. Of course, there are many who think that changes should be done overnight ( because ) we have a new era but some of these things take time especially where the destruction has taken as much as 22 years. The prison population for instance, went as high as 1200 but now, it's less than 400. I witnessed that for myself when we went there to perform Eid prayers. The number of prisoners was significantly far lower than it was during Jammeh's era. All of the political prisoners have been released; the prisons have been decongested and I think the president continues to use his prerogative of mercy to be pardoning prisoners during national occasions. Those are things that we never heard of under Yaya Jammeh and I believe there is also a committee reviewing the prisons act as a way to improve prison conditions. The same thing could be said of many other areas. We know we have an energy crisis as well (power outages) but again even to order a generator to replace what we have there takes considerable time. I have all indications that the government is working toward finally solving the power problem. We have a role to play - not just to praise the government, of course when they do good like decongesting the prisons, releasing political prisoners, allowing people to freely express themselves and listening to the people. We need to praise them but if we see anything that the government is not doing, we have to point those out. We also have to keep them on their toes. That's what we expect in a democracy and so far that's the climate we have. @Gunjur: There are lots of young entrepreneurs coming out of Gunjur. What's your advice to those young people who want to get into business and make it very profitable at the end. Dr Janneh: That's a very good development because we should not confine ourselves to applying for jobs and then waiting for a government desk job but to become entrepreneurs and we know creating jobs is very essential because you not only make a good living for yourself but you create opportunities for others and keep them employed. That's something to be encouraged. We need to continue to press on the government to improve the climate under which businesses operate and for training opportunities to be made available to new entrepreneurs to access capital because that's usually the major impediment for entrepreneurs. For any business to succeed, tell the young guys that they have to make sure that they are in some sort of network. They collaborate, exchange information and learn from the ones that are already doing it. @Gunjur: The Voice of Dabanani: Gunjur as we all know is blessed with intellectuals, skilled professionals in both Western and Oriental education, yet to many people, it is under developed. What do you think is responsible for this? Dr Janneh: I believe if we have a dictator in power who sees everything as a challenge to his power and considered Gunjur to be the bastion of opposition to his regime, it would be very difficult to make meaningful development because then you would have individuals trying to work against all odds with the regime doing everything to keep us underdeveloped. With the new regime we have, we have to come up with initiatives and not just wait for the government to come up with plans to develop our community but to use our influence; to use our knowledge to see how we move the country, particularly our community ahead. If we are faced with let's say, with an environmental destruction, we find ways to stop it but also come up with alternatives that would create jobs and better protect our environment. If we know that our secondary roads are terrible, find ways to get the community involved. Put pressure on the government but also look for private initiatives to improve some areas. I believe with that, if we come together and work with the government that is supportive and responsive, we should be able to achieve a lot in Gunjur. @Gunjur: The Voice of Dabanani: How can we tap into the resources of Gunjur diaspora to attain economic, enterprise and educational development in our home community? Dr Janneh: I think we have seen some efforts to a some extent, like the formation of the Gunjur Development Forum and Gunjur Development Association. It's a positive step. It is one way to even have a database of folks from Gunjur who are in the diaspora and once you have information, you will be able to tell who's who; what they can do; what they can contribute. Form a very formidable network and once this network is extended, we can also increase the range of activities, the range of projects that we are interested in. If we have a well organised group, very resourceful, we would not only be able to implement our own projects but be able to exert pressure on the government to do things that we think are going to be positive for our community. @Gunjur: Gunjur has recently been in both local and international news as a result of environmental pollution. What's your take on the pollution issue and what advice would you give to people citing the economic aspect of for example, the Golden Lead fish meal company as opposed to a healthy environment? Dr Janneh: Well it's indisputable that we need jobs in Gunjur and that any industry that would create jobs and offer employment especially to our young should be welcomed with open arms. But by doing that, we also have to be wary of other concerns, health being one. Impact on our environment should be top on our list of concerns. As far as Golden Lead Company is concerned, we are glad that the company was established in the first place and there are people making a living from working there. We are also not happy with the level of destruction it has brought to our coastal area. The challenge for us is how to address the environmental concerns to restore the damaged environment; to monitor the company to ensure that there is no more damage and at the same time offering jobs. What the community groups particularly the environmental groups are pushing for is not necessarily to get rid of Golden Lead Company; it's not necessarily barring companies from coming to invest in Gunjur but we are looking for responsible investment. Investment that would strike a balance between economic incentives and environmental concerns for instance. I believe the ongoing crisis/ tension between the community and Golden Lead could be solved by striking the necessary balance. @Gunjur: Gunjur has always been known for divisive politics in the past. PPP/UP/NCP and then after that era, you have the APRC/UDP, what would you say is the political awareness / situation currently in Gunjur? Dr Janneh: I think it's healthy for there to be partisanship; for people to belong to different political parties; hold differing political views. That is something we all fought for and we don't want there to be one party dominance. We won't force people to all belong to one party, to have one view point. The problem with the previous regime was that anyone who was slightly critical of the ruling party faced persecution or severe consequences. The atmosphere has changed. People are free to join the UDP, NRP and other parties or even not belong to any political party. That's the climate we have to fight for to maintain. That way if we have a free and fair elections and the people operate in a climate where they can express themselves freely, then we will be able to say we have leaders who are freely chosen then those leaders could be both responsive and responsible. It is healthy to have differing political opinions and belong to different political parties but not good for the state to impose one view and to punish others for not following its lead. @Gunjur: Our village - Gunjur has been at the forefront of politics in the Gambia. In fact, we have been king makers from independence to date with the likes of N'famara Wassa Touray, Mbemba Jatta and of recent you have one Dr Amadou Scattred Janneh. Isn't it about time that Gunjur has a shot at the presidency? Dr Janneh: Well, I don't know if it necessarily has to be Gunjur but the good thing is now we have a political climate where anybody whether it's from Gunjur, Berending, Sanyang could compete for the presidency and not worry about disappearing. The political space has opened up and it's an opportunity for others who think they have what it takes to weather the storm and have the necessary support to jump in the race. Whether it's Gunjur or elsewhere, this is a whole different political atmosphere and not necessarily me but I will encourage anyone whether it's Gunjur or elsewhere to throw in their heart. It's not a post that is restricted particularly for any area. @Gunjur: Would you want to say you are making a bid to becoming the president of the Gambia as widely rumoured? Dr Janneh: No, no. It's simply because I've not been addressing it and I don't belong to any political party and people see that I have been very active before Jammeh's demise and up to date but my focus has been on humanitarian concerns and human rights issues. As you can tell when I returned to the Gambia, we visited the prisons; went to "Bamba Dinka" went to "Tanka Tanka" psychiatric hospital; been involved in this environmental crisis in Gunjur; involve with the TRC process; involve with youth groups, football teams. I have football teams in Gunjur, Sukuta and elsewhere. All those are things I feel I need to do as a good citizen and I have the time and resources to do them. This is also the time to support the transition government to ensure that it succeeds. When the political space opens and others are competing then we can all decide whether to support them or to go our separate ways but the key is to create that atmosphere and that's the challenge now. @Gunjur: And now any final word? Dr Janneh: Well, I just wish to express gratitude to you and your partners here in the United Kingdom and others in different parts of Europe I had been to - Belgium, Amsterdam, and also both Gothenburg and Stockholm and the reception had been good. It has been an opportunity to see folks that I have not seen for quite a while and I am very thankful and we're very hopeful that the country is taking a very positive direction. @Gunjur: Dr Janneh, we are so much honoured to have you here and we wish you all the best in your five days stay in the UK. Dr Janneh: Thank you so much.
Editor's note: This interview can also be seen on video on our YouTube channel below: