Imani Muhammad is an African-American Muslim author who lived in The Gambia for nearly three years. In this interview with What’s On- Gambia, she talks about her love for former President Jammeh, among other things.
What’s On-Gambia: Can you please tell us briefly about yourself for those who don’t know you?
Imani:My name is Imani Muhammad. I was born in Haiti and grew up in Brooklyn, New York. I also grew up Christian but reverted to Islam in 2010. After tracing my DNA to the Fulani tribe, I moved to The Gambia with my family in 2014 to start a new life among my African brothers and sisters.
You are back in the USA after two and a half years in The Gambia. How would you describe your time in the country?
The Gambia is a beautiful country with a lot of good potentials. Although I never took the opportunity to visit any tourist sites, I think it was the best way to experience my stay there. I was able to live like the average Gambian and faced many of their challenges. It was a huge cultural shock for me and my family. We had to adjust to many lifestyle changes. I love the food and some of the people genuinely loved. Sadly, there were many people who never quite welcomed me as a sister. They still called me toubab regardless of my colour. It was a little hurtful because I expected to feel more welcomed.
You commented on our website that former President Yahya Jammeh is a great leader. Can you please elaborate?
Former President Jammeh was a leader who led by example and a leader who lead without fear. He demonstrated the same dignity he hoped his people would have for themselves.
Former President Jammeh constantly encouraged the Gambian people to work hard and not even his enemies could say the man did not work hard. He worked the farms and ran various businesses. Critics can speculate and spread rumours all they want regarding the money he made from all of his hard work. But that is all they can do. Spread rumours. Why don’t they try doing the same hard work? The Gambia would have been better if they did. One man can only do so much.
Former President Jammeh was a fearless leader. I don’t know any other African leader who is not dictated by outside forces on how to run their country. Yahya Jammeh was the last leader to ever have the courage to say no to outside powers, “No. I will not let you tell me how to run my country.” If the head of a compound in The Gambia could not make changes to the compound without getting permission from someone outside the compound, is that head a true head? Realize ECOWAS had to get PERMISSION from European leaders in regards to going in after Yahya Jammeh when he refused to leave. Yet, one man, Jammeh, asked permission from NO ONE. He even broke all of the deadlines they gave to him and he TOLD THEM when he would be leaving. What a leader! What a man! As far as dignity is concerned, it really takes a certain level of character and faith to stand up for what you believe regardless of the opposition faced. Many Gambian people don’t have that. When faced with true threats and opposition, many run or submit to the wrong.
Mr Jammeh came into power without shedding blood and he left power without shedding blood. People need to remember that spreading accusations without proof is not liked by God. Be very careful.
Anything more that attracted you the former president?
I loved the fact that Mr Yahya Jammeh refused to make deals with the devil. African people as a whole fail to know who their true enemies are. That is why we are still struggling. Mr Jammeh did not receive a lot of help from some organizations simply because he did not want to go against his moral values for a few dollars. He put the dignity of his nation and his moral condition of his people above all. Not many leaders have the courage or spiritual strength to resist such things. Just like I suspected, now that The Gambia has new leader who is willing to allow things that could threaten the moral condition of the country, they release millions of dollars to help the country prosper. Let us hope they have enough care for the people to actually use that money for the people. That is what makes Yahya Jammeh stand out to me over all other African leaders. He is a man of faith and a man of strong character. He cannot be bought. EVERY other leader is bought and sold.
Since you became a visible supporter of Jammeh have you encountered any fierce criticism from coalition supporters?
Yes. Coalition supporters constantly try to tell me about all of the bad things they say Jammeh has done. I know the man is not perfect, but I also know that accusations without solid proof are very dangerous to play with. So far, not one coalition supporter has presented any proof of the so called “evil doings” of Mr Jammeh. Sure, “victims” have come forward. So called “accomplices” have come forward. But what intelligent person simply takes the word of one human being over another’s without solid proof? So far, even the coalition supporters admit to the good that he has done (and we see the evidence of those good works). Even among the coalition, their stories are not straight. Mr Fatty, in the beginning, threw the accusation of money being missing from the bank, yet Mr Sallah immediately after that claims he confirmed that all the money in the back were intact. The real problem many opposers had with Mr Jammeh was that he punished those who slacked in their commitment to their posts--even his own family members got fired if they did not do their job. He even hired people that used to strongly oppose him. So, he obviously had no problem with those who did not agree with him all the time. He hired people of various tribes. So, he obviously did not have problems with those who were not Jola. So, every accusation the coalition throws out about Yahya Jammeh can easily be crushed with evidence of the opposite. In fact, many of the things they accused the former president of doing, THEY THEMSELVES WERE DOING IT. Opposers love to say, “The President is stealing money!” Yet, that same person knows a friend or family member who confessed to him that he himself is stealing money. I personally know people who have told me they have friends who steal money from the system. And that same person is accusing the president of stealing. Which story do I believe? The admitted thief or the accused thief without proof?
President Barrow has now been in office for over six months. What are your thoughts on his presidency so far?
His Presidency is the typical kind. In fact, he is not even a president, according to his own spokesman's words. He is a “transitional” leader (3-year term). So, therefore, President Barrow is simply keeping the seat warm. Why is this the case? Because, sadly, the coalition’s ONLY agenda was to remove Yahya Jammeh from power. They never had a plan to help improve the lives of the Gambian people. May God help Gambia survive the effects of this “choice” that was made.
Do you support his government’s idea of building stronger ties with the European Union and America?
Absolutely not! Any intelligent person must analyse the condition of all African countries who have strong ties with America and the European Union. Senegal and Nigeria were strong pushers behind the removal of Jammeh from power. The value of the Gambian Dalasi is more than the value of Nigeria’s currency and Senegal’s currency.
Senegal and Nigeria deal with terrorist activities in their countries. The homosexual lifestyle is in your face in those countries. Even worst, many countries that have strong ties with America and EU end up in a lot of debt. Remember that all the help comes with strings attached. Basically, my point is that Gambia does not have many of the problems that come with strong ties to certain outside forces. If Gambia learned from the example of Cuba, they would not have lost faith in the method of focusing on doing what is best for the people instead of making the country “appear” successful. Yes, Cuba had a long hard road to reach their success, but, it was real and not just a fake image of success.
During your stay in The Gambia you worked in a school admin department. Do you have any suggestion on how to fix the deteriorating education system?
Gambians need to start hiring based on qualifications instead of hiring people because they are their friends or family members. I have seen many unqualified teachers hired and others not fired for the sake of better education. The people have a habit of calling people wicked if they fire someone. How will the system ever improve if we don’t make room for qualified workers? Remember, the teachers are who prepare every other worker in the country. Everyone must go through school. The country will not prosper if the education system does not improve.
They used to blame the former leader for the condition of the education system and I know many will try to blame this current administration. The real problem is you. The president does not hire teachers or admin personnel. So stop hiring unqualified people to run Gambian schools and to teach our children. And please, show up for work. My son used to tell me that some of his teachers barely showed up to work. I thought he was exaggerating until I started working in a school. Teachers need to realize that their friend’s marriage ceremony is not as important as a child’s education. Seriously.
Do you plan to return to The Gambia?
Yes, I do. I hope to visit occasionally and I hope to possibly retire in The Gambia. My daughter is Gambian by birth and she needs to be familiar with her country. I hope the Gambian people make decisions that are best for the people. Stop judging the success of other countries based on outer appearance. Do real research. You may be doing better than you think.
Finally, what do you think is the way forward for the New Gambia?
Hold the leaders accountable. Force the leaders to commit to their promises to the people. Also, the Gambian people need to be willing to do the hard work required to prosper as a nation. There is no way around it. The government cannot change your life for you. You have to do your part. It is easy to point the finger and blame the government for all the wrongs in the country. But ask yourself, “What am I doing to help my country?”