Sam Phatey might be young in the defiant ’struggle’ of Gambian diaspora political activists. But if there’s a leaf the older ’strugglers’ could borrow from him, it’s to stop the political rascalism and embrace tact and diplomacy in handling differences. Sam tempted the wrath of his fellow strugglers when he shared a table with Ambassador Sheikh Omar Faye. They didn’t susprise. But in this exclusive interview, he expresses his resolve not to be deterered in pursuing a path he feels is right.
What's On-Gambia: What made you decide to meet the Gambian Ambassador in Washington DC, Sheikh Omar Faye?
Sam:I wanted my government to hear from me as a Gambian, to know what my concerns, for them to listen to me and to acknowledge issues that are affecting our country.
What was his exact response when you requested to meet him?
He was very forthcoming about my request, which was in fact made in the very last days of my stay in Washington. Ambassador Faye welcomed me and we had a very frank discussion.
Frank discussion about what?
We discussed rights issues in The Gambia and economic opportunities for youths, which were primarily my concerns. We also talked about the embassy to meet diaspora Gambian communities to relay their concerns and demands to the government back home.
Did you notice that your meeting with the ambassador didn’t sit well with your colleagues in the Diaspora?
Well, that is not a surprise. It was expected.
What do you say to them?
I have heard them and acknowledge their concerns and I am very respectful of their opinion of my meeting with Ambassador Faye and they do have the right to critic it but I will continue to take a course of action that I believe is the right approach to addressing issues in The Gambia.
One thing I will not do is to spread hate, act immoral, immature and irresponsbile by going to the embassy and using profanity or causing unnecessary tension for the pleasure of people with no solution to our problem. That kind of behavior has not gotten us anywhere and it will not. And that kind of behavior is not the kind of Gambia I am yearning for either.
Some of them described you as an "attention whore". What's your response?
For doing what does not sit well with them, as long as I know it is the right thing I am not bothered about that. I am a new breed of Gambian. I am not allergic to insensible criticism but my thinking has built a strong immunity to it. Demeaning comments do not disgust me, they’re actually very encouraging.
Sam, what is your honest opinion about the struggle?
I believe we have come a long way, but we have a lot more to do. I cannot use the action of 10 or 20 people to brand people who have sacrificed so much for the freedom and liberty of our nation but I am also worried about the future of my country – if the very rights we are fighting for will be guaranteed – when people who disagree with what you make threats towards your person. But when I look at the potential future generation of leaders and how we settle our differences, it keeps hope alight.
Why are most of them incredibly judgemental and intolerant? Any idea?
I have no idea but I will call for greater tolerance, respect and mature approach to difference, especially when it is political. It will take us a long way. People like me are not populists. I will always challenge the status quo and conventional approach to things. It might not sit well with some and I do not expect it to. It is doing what I strongly believe is right. That is what frees your mind from bondage.
We must change our attitude and be the change we want to see. As Charles R. Swindoll, an American author puts it: "attitude is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, money, circumstances, than failures and success, than what other people think, say, or do. It is more important than appearance, ability, or skill. It will make or break a business, a home, a friendship, an organization. The remarkable thing is you have a choice every day of what your attitude will be. You cannot change your past. You cannot change the actions of others. You cannot change the inevitable. The only thing you can change is attitude. Life is ten percent what happens to you and ninety percent how you react to it."
Describe Ambassador Faye?
Faye is a warm person, personable and very charming. He has a charm offensive but I think I do too (laughs) but that is expected of a diplomat. He has shown me a great deal of respect and humility even though we have strong opinions on our political and policy differences. It was so humbling of him to have waited for hours to hear from me as a Gambian. It is very untypical of Ambassadors in Washington to do that. I am grateful for the audience and his assurance that the door of the embassy is open to all Gambians.
Any plans to visit The Gambia soon?
Hopefully so… Let me give the naysayers more to talk about (laughs). But on a serious note, you never know. I am not a good planner when it comes to traveling. I just get up and go. It will be one of those things.
Are you missing home?
Home is where the heart belongs and I love The Gambia. I am missing home like many other people, especially when some of your best childhood moments come flashing through. But I wish I could be better at home and we can make it better.
Finally, what is your 2016 presidential election prediction?
Oh, you're taking it there! But this election is a crucial one and it will say a lot about our opposition to President Jammeh. We must have a coalition and with that I mean two ballots only. Our opposition is already weak and divided and failure to secure a united front means it will stay as such, which only guarantees President Jammeh a fifth mandate.
Thank you and greetings to your wife!
Thanks Mr. Khan! It was my pleasure!