By Ousainou J. Sawaneh
In this eight edition of the Interview, we have a chat with Honorable Ousman Sillah, the National Assembly Member for Banjul North. He talked about many important things in politics, how he was inspired to become a politician, his agenda, among other things, Please read on:
Daily News: Thank you Honourable Ousman Sillah for granting me this interview! First, who is Honourable Ousman Sillah?
Hon. Sillah: I am a Gambian, African, a human being who lives in the Gambia and wants to be someone who is relevant to himself and to the lives of others particularly in the Gambia and others at large.
Daily News: Honourable, can you please tell me your brief biography.
Hon. Sillah: I was born and brought up in Banjul in the 60’s where I did my schooling; I started at Kampama Primary School and I also attended Muslim High School. After completing my schooling, I worked with a local NGO (Youths Against Drugs and Alcohol) from where I joined the Foroyaa Publishing Company which was a political organ of PDOIS and after the 1994 Coup, it was transformed to be an independent newspaper. I became an active journalist and since then I was an active journalist until the year 2017 when I was elected as the National Assembly Member for Banjul North. I have undergone series of trainings in Journalism and I have also travelled and attended many international forums in different countries of the world. I have also been working in the Gambia with many organisations and personalities. Of course politically, I have been an active member of the Peoples’ Democratic Organisation for Independence and Socialism (PDOIS); I have been active since 1986 when it was formed. Basically this the brief profile of Ousman Sillah as a person.
Daily News: What prompted you to abandon your journalism career for politics?
Hon Sillah: I did not abandon journalism per say because journalism was just a profession which served as an instrument for me to communicate with people, to share in the enlightenment process because I am part of the school of taught that our countries are at this stage of development because of lack of awareness; awareness in the sense that to know that sovereignty resides in the people. In politics sovereignty is key. If you look at the history of the people who struggled until the Gambia achieved independence, sovereignty was the determining factor. The people are the sovereign, which means were are the co-owners of this country as such it is our voice and wish that should prevail, of course in a political context. I did not abandoned journalism but I moved to another level of empowering the people in terms of awareness in order for them to know who they are and in order to be able to live in prosperity, peace and development. This is just an extension of what I was doing, I was engaged in journalism in order to make people to be more aware and empower them. Journalism served as a medium but now I am an active participant in helping to bring that process; now is from words to actions. Journalism is the words and political activities are the actions; am actually engage in the actions so that the people will know who they are and then determine their future. That is what has happened.
Daily News: Honourable, what actually inspired you to join politics?
Hon. Sillah: I happen to come from a family where you know starting from my mother; I have a mother who regards every person as part of the society from that environment, I also developed that social interaction and social accommodation which is accommodating everyone. It also coincided with having a brother who was very active in politics, Ebou Madi Sillah, he was well known in the circles of Banjul and the Gambia at large especially the political class. During the time for the struggle for independence, they were dubbed as the radicals because they were organising movements that challenged the colonial orders by then as well as the PPP order trying to bring radical transformation of the society. He helped me a lot in exposing me to political ideas; he was someone who has read widely so I was also reading from his materials. I was in that environment of course I have also interacted with many people who made progresses in the society; this has helped me to develop politically. It helped me to develop a political outlook that is geared towards forming an egalitarian society where there is equity, where the resource owned by all benefits all. My sister, Amie Sillah also married to Sam Sarr who was also in the struggle which also helped to shape my political outlook and also my work with the youth fronts where I was exposed to many things and I was also in charge of the Banjul Newattan. This also helped me in enriching me in terms of experience and exposure in terms of knowledge. I feel that Gambia is state with commitment and clear directions or agendas, we can transform the country, even in terms of geographical size it is easy to be developed; Gambia can be a model in the world. I am with the conviction that Gambia can be developed political, economically and socially where others in the world can copy from. The Gambia is not difficult to manage but the problems are the poor leadership and the level of awareness of the people. We don’t have leaders who are ready to sacrifice for the people, leaders who have vision and then people are aware of who they are, who know what their entitlements are and what their obligations are. These are the two negatives that exist in the Gambia which left the country in this state. All is not lost, we have a generation of people who are committed because of this nation to ensure that poverty is eradicated, Gambia to be transformed into a prosperous, peaceful, harmonious and united nation. There are some people who are committed and I believe I am part of those people, I am part of a party that has basically this vision and commitment, as you can see our utterances and practices (activities) are there as a clear manifestation. We are not boosting, but we are acting towards seeing a better Gambia. Gambia is currently in a transition, we have a government that was elected on the bases of a coalition, no party owns it and there is no party that claim ownership of the coalition and if there is any then it will be PDOIS because we are part of it. I was the campaign coordinator in Banjul and Kanifing Municipality during the campaign for the presidential elections campaign. During the political impasse, the whole country can attest to the role PDOIS played so we have done so much and we are not claiming for anything but we are a stakeholder in the whole process. We believe it is a transition; people have not given any party or person a mandate per say until after the coalition. If the coalition ends, the people will then give mandate to a person or party to run their affairs.
Daily News: why don’t all the PDOIS National Assembly members take the vehicles that were given to all the National Assembly members?
Hon. Sillah; I am someone who does not have a vehicle to do all my transaction. Everyday people come to my office and give complains which I run for them. I am always engage in the peoples’ affairs and I need a vehicle for mobility. For those vehicles at the Assembly, I don’t think they are meant for us. As National Assembly members, we are the people responsible to approve budget allocations, the President through the Minister of Finance presented to us a budget estimate for approval and we went through the budget ofcourse we don’t have all we wanted in the budget but something’s were approved. From that budget, nothing was approved for vehicles for the National Assembly members. Secondly, the source is not from the government because we as national assembly members have not approved any budget for vehicles for national assembly members. Officially, I am yet to be informed that there is a vehicle that has been allocated for me as a member of Banjul North nothing like that happened and as far as I am concern, it is hearsay and officially, I am yet to be informed. A vehicle allocated for Ousman Sillah is hearsay because I have not seen anything formal. If I am to receive any gift then I must know the source.
Daily News: What is your political agenda?
Hon. Sillah: For me, I am in politics; I have not seen anyone who is ready to sacrifice in terms of representation as I am. I believe that in Bnajul North, they have many people who served them but I have not seen anyone of them who was ready and committed to serve as I do. If there was any, I will not have contested, if you see us in politics is because we have not seen a force that is also ready to do what we are doing or ready to do what we are doing. Politics is not a profession but rather a duty that every person owe the people in order to serve the society or community. People participate in variety of ways in politics such as voting and serving the people. We feel that the country needs to change in order for them to own themselves. If you look at the Constitution, Gambia is own by every person because of it is sovereign state and it is not own by any sections of the society, tribe or religion. Politics is entrusting your resources and power to persons who have more time, energy, honest, ideas, and others to help you transform that power to empower you, to utilise those resources to promote your welfare and prosperity. Politics is not about sectionalism, ethnicity or tribalism but rather what we own. We need to cultivate the culture of protecting and defending rights because rights are not gifts but enshrined in our laws. We (PDOIS) believe that the people have the ultimate power to elect and remove representatives that is the main reason why we initiated the talks to form a coalition. PDOIS we are not losers and we have never lost any elections in the Gambia.
Daily News: What do you have to say about our current democracy because many people said there was no democracy in the past 22 years?
Hon. Sillah: Gambians must accept this that we are in a transition; it is a coalition government. The people mandated the coalition that encompasses of different persons with different ideologies and visions about transforming this country to serve them. For us PDOIS, we went round the country and told them that there are two forms of changing the former government that is either system change or regime change. PDOIS believes that it is system change that is more sustainable because it brings more dividend to the people as it empowers them. It is the system that overhauls the old system and brings a new system that empowers the people, rule of law, development and democracy. The people, who were to decide that, were not convinced to support one political party to bring a system change but rather, they were calling on political parties to unite and form a coalition. The people were very disparate about how to bring change in the former government and they called for a coalition. From there, we initiated the talks between political parties that led to the formation of the coalition where Adama Barrow was voted as the flag bearer of the Coalition. President Adama Barrow committed himself to serve three years in which he will be in consultation with the coalition members in bringing effective reforms such as legal, institutional and administrative reforms. Despite the commitments we are yet to see them. Although it is a transitional government and that it cannot fix all the problems but there should be proper institutions in place, good laws, enabling environment for the public and private sectors to operate to create opportunities for the young people. The government is making much efforts but the expectations are not met wholly.
Daily News: what is your take that Barrow should serve for three years?
Hon. Sillah: For me Barrow made the commitment in the manifesto that was submitted to the IEC which is a legal requirement and he also signed some agreements with coalition partners that he will serve for three years. Whether Barrow honours the commitment or not is up to him. For me, it is not a problem is left to him to honour his commitment or fail it because there are issues of integrity in it but is left to him to decide. The argument that he cannot serve for three years is really untenable because the president can decide at any point in time during his tenure in office to resign. That cannot be a defence because he can resign voluntarily or by default. It is for Barrow to honour his words and commitments and also it is left to the people to decide the type of leadership they want.
Daily News: Honourable, looking at things currently, is it possible for the country to hold another elections in three years?
Hon. Sillah: What will prevent the Gambia from holding another election?
Daily News: With the on-going Commission of Inquiry and other commissions that are already established, do you think the Gambia can hold another presidential election in three years?
Hon. Sillah: Those commissions, can’t the new government continue with it? Are they not institutions that were legally created? Remember that laws are there to stay unless we found that they are not serving the purposes in which they were intended for; so a new government can continue with it.
Daily News: Do you think the government of the new Gambia will embark on violation of the rights of the people like the way Jammeh’s government did to the people of the Gambia?
Hon. Sillah: In what sense? We need to tell the people that the country belongs to them and that we are the owners of the country; they are the sovereign. We also need to tell them that they have the power to determine the type of leadership that they wanted. If we start from here, then reconciliation will come into play and the people will know that every person has a right to support any political party of their choice. For crimes that were committed, we must that there is a due process, a process that is credible, a process that’s outcome will be recognise and accepted by even a perpetrator. The perpetrators will accept it in a sense that there was no atom of biasness and people will be convinced that the outcome of the case is legitimate and not bias; an outcome that enforces Justice. The common saying that justice must be done and must seen to be done by everybody in the society.
Daily News:How do you assess the Barrow government following one year in office?
Hon. Sillah: As I said earlier, the Coalition made series of commitment and it is going to be based on those commitments that people are going to assess their performance. The commitments are yet to be fulfilled and they need to be fulfilled.
Daily News: Honourable, your party PDOIS is one of the oldest and one of the most respected political party in the Gambia but it has not won any presidential elections and not many seats in the National assembly, what do you think is the problem?
Hon. Sillah: There is no problem with PDOIS. Let me give you an assignment to go and see which party is growing faster in the country and the party whose votes have never gone down. We are not losers and we have never being losers. We are ready to serve the people and if they are not ready for our service, the ultimatum is on the people to decide. We are not packing our bags because we are not satisfied with the situation of the country and we know that it is our duty to do it and no one will do it for us. For us qualitatively, we are growing like I said we (PDOIS) we don’t engage in praising ourselves and praise singing but what we have done is there for the people to see especially our contribution in the coalition from the formation which makes us one of the most respected political party in the Gambia. We are known to be people who are principle and honest in terms of our dealings with the population especially being committed to the people. For us, PDOIS is not how long it takes or is not a question of accumulating wealth or being in power but we are committed in serving the people. For us how long it takes, is for the people to determine like I said we are not losing because we are ready to sacrifice for them. We never loss an election and we will never loss an election and we are a party that is growing.
Daily News: What is your advice to the people in terms of reconciliation?
Hon. Sillah: those who voted for PDOIS or any other political party are all Gambians and for me am a legislator who represents my constituency and the country at large. What I am telling every Gambian is that this country belongs to each and every Gambian. We all have rights and we must recognise the rights of others and if we recognise this, then peace will prevail in the Gambia forever. Gambia belongs to all of us regardless of our differences in terms of religion, ethnicity and other differences. I am a Gambian and I don’t belong to any tribe.