The Gambia’s daring political talk show host. Interview with Bakary Fatty

Written by Alieu Khan

Bakary Fatty

Politics on national radio stations in The Gambia is considered to be a no-go area, but Bakary Fatty, a law student at the University of The Gambia, has successfully pushed the boundaries with his Civic Engagement Hour, a radio show backed by the youth group, National Youth Parliament. But the programme doesn’t end without controversies and here in this interview, he explains how it all happened. 

What’s On-Gambia: Tell us briefly about yourself.

Bakary:My name is Bakary Fatty, and I come from a tiny village in Upper Nuimi called Jurunku. I was raised and schooled in three different communities, namely Bundung Borehole, Nuimi Berending, and Banjul.  I come from a humble background, and shared two of my parents with my seven siblings. I have a great passion for the search of knowledge and politics. I am currently pursuing an LLB Degree in Law at the University of The Gambia.

As a prospective lawyer, I like activism and unionism. Despite my utilitarian views on certain issues, I still like to speak against injustice, inequity and indignity. However, I always want to observe and follow the rule of the law. As an activist and a unionist, I served in many capacities in furthering the course of these groups.

In 2012, I served as the Technical and Logistic Minister of the University of The Gambia Students’ Union and tried to secure two buses before the end of my term in office. In the same year, I was also elected as the Legal Adviser of the National Union of Gambia Students’ (NUGS). During my term in NUGS, my executive came with the first National Forum for Gambian Students, which brought together twenty-five tertiary institutions and four other universities in the country to discuss issues like Quality Assurance, and Role of Students in National Development.

In the year 2013, I ran for the office of Presidency of the Faculty of Law of the University of The Gambia Law Students’ Association, and was elected unopposed.   In November 2014, my executive organised an annual Law Day, which was described by the former Vice Chancellor of UTG, Dr. M.O. Kah as the best Law Day in the history of the Law Faculty.  In 2015, I contested the presidency of the University of the Gambia Students’ Union and came second among the four contestants. Despite irregularities, I took the results in good faith and I am currently working with the President as an honorary member of the 14th Executive Council of the UTGSU.

How and why the Civic Engagement Hour on Capital FM?

The Civic Engagement Hour is a one-hour radio program that I used to anchor on Capital FM every Wednesday, from 7-8pm (GMT). The program is part of six other radio programmes that the National Youth Parliament-The Gambia is running as part of its Civic Involvement in Legislature and the Popularization of the Local Government Act project. The objective of the radio show is to provide a congenial platform where Gambian citizens will be able to engage with their elected representatives and other policy makers in the country.  The program looks at areas like politics, policies, and other national issues that affect citizens in The Gambia. It must be clear that none of the political parties is sponsoring this program. As indicated above, the program was part of NYP’s Civic Involvement in Legislature and Popularization of the Local Government Act project, which is funded by the US Embassy-Banjul. The program is here for the political parties who wish to share their agenda with the electorates. Therefore, it is not here for any single party or person.

Bakary Fatty

What impact did the program create in the political life of the country?

Since the beginning of the program in November 2015, a lot of successes have been registered, both in terms of policy direction and the level of participation of people with less interest in politics. For example, when we started the program less than five hundred listeners were following us on both online and on air. Today, more than hundred thousand people are following the program, both nationally and internationally. According to our recent SoundCloud statistical data, Gambians and non-Gambians in more than hundred countries globally are following the program. This is positive in terms of our success rate in the area of our followers.  Before the program started, many people in the country do not know their elected representatives, much more having the opportunity to talk to them directly about issues that affect them daily. However, since the commencement of the programme, hundreds of people made live phone-ins to express gratitude for the opportunity to talk to their elected representatives directly about their problems.  

When it comes to policy direction, we have equally registered positive results.  For instance, mid last year when the Government came up with a policy to stopping Local Government Authorizes from collecting taxes, we invited members of the affected authorities on the show for them to share with the public how and why that policy affected their work. Less than a week after our fourth program on the same topic about tax collection power of the Council, the Government revoked the policy and described it as ineffective for purpose. 

The other occasion was when the IEC came up with the Election Amendment Bill 2015 to increase the nomination form fee across all contested positions in The Gambia; we invited all the political parties to express their views on the Bill. After many discussions and debates, the IEC decided to reduce all the contested positions by half the initial price. We have also managed to influence the establishment of a Tender Board, the selling of rams at Westfield became a promise that it wouldn’t happen there next year, and it helps elected representatives to be aware of issues in their communities and the country at large that they were not initially aware of.  These and many other significant impacts were the things the program was having on people.

Bakary Fatty

What is your take on the current political climate?

Politics in The Gambia is getting more and more interesting in my own opinion. As someone who has been constantly following Gambian politics for the past one year by engaging politicians from different parties at different level, I believe that the real image of politics has not yet being unveiled. With all honesty, the level of joke and pretence is high in the political scene of this country. Many politicians take advantage of the high level of unawareness in both educated and uneducated people of the country. Most of their actions go uncontested and not well subject to media criticism. And even most of the ones that are contested, the percentage of procedural improprieties are always high. Both politicians and non-politicians should know the proper procedures when solving issues. This is what keeps a county moving and holds power to account when it fails to deliver the goods it promises. If this type of social consciousness is absent in any society, its political system becomes doom.  This is exact political climate that The Gambia is experiencing.  Issues are not well comprehended. But little effort is also employed by many to engage their elected representatives individually to make them understand. This takes us to the command the theory so common in our political stream. You barely see politicians from the establishment taking stand on issues base on their individual conviction that affect their people instead they will wait for the command of the party head and not those who put them into those positions. This does not help the concept party representation. I spoke to many young people in the country who express the need to have some form of changes in our political system, but doubted the credibility of the alternatives that are currently visible in our political scene. This, I believe, is the common rhetoric people have been echoing since the First Republic under President Jawara’s administration.  The only solution to it is education, self-confidence and handwork. And I hope the younger generation will be doing much of that.

What are the calibers of guests that you hosted on your show?

Since the beginning of the program, we have had many prominent individuals on the show that are responsible for either the making or the influencing of policies in the country. For example many National Assembly members were invited, including the Majority Leader Hon. Fabakarr Tombong Jatta, Minority Leader Hon. Samba Jallow, Hon. Alhagie Sillah, Hon. Soulaiman Joof of Serekunda Central Constituency, Hon. Mam Cherno Jallow of Upper Nuimi Constituency, Hon. Seedy Njie as a Nominated Member, and Hon. Bafai Saidikhan as member for Jarra West Constituency. Among the Councilors were Pa Sainey Jallow as Head of the Business Community within the Kanifing Municipality, Councillor Sheirf Sarr of Jaswang Ward, Councillor Pa Ousman Fatty of Latrikunda Ward, and Ousman Jallow of Bakau Ward. Other people like Madi Jorbateh as Director of Programs at TANGO, Jibairu Janneh as executive director of Gambia Press Union, Amadou Camara as Associate Editor at the Standard Newspaper, Ablie Jabang as Junior project Manager at Concern Universal, Ensa Njie as Graduate Assistant at the University of The Gambia, Mery Jonson as Legal Adviser to Gambia Food Safety and Quality Authority, Amie Bodjang of GAMCOTRAP, Papa Secka of Gambia Standard Bureau as the Executive Director, Lamin Jarju as law student at the Gambia Bar School, Samba Bah as Speaker of the National Youth Parliament, Hon. Halifa Sallah of PDOIS, and Hon. Hamat Bah of NRP.

Why was Darboe’s appearance cancelled at the eleventh hour?

I was informed by the radio management that the program will be discontinued if money was not paid for its continuation, because the timeline for the initial payment had elapsed. I wrote a letter for them to give us three month extension while we work on the issue of the money and it was approved. After inviting Lawyer Darboe already I received a text massage that the program was not going to take place unless the money is paid and no free air time will be offered too. This is how Lawyer Darboe’s appearance was cancelled at the eleventh hour.

Three main questions you’d have asked Darboe and why?

First, I would have asked him what are his party’s programs and policies towards 2016 presidential election. Second, what is his views on the current government’s economic policy, and third, why is he still insisting on running for the position of presidency after knowing the caveat on age limit in the Constitution.

Do you think Capital FM was fair in ending your program?

That answer can to some extent be subjective. However, what I do know is that they have all rights to stop the program when payment is not effected because it is commercial station. However what I am less pleased with was that after writing to the Managing Director and Proprietor, he gave me green light to continue and before my program started he changed his mind again. This showed inconsistency in his words and that does not help a leader. 

Your favoritepolitician and why?

My favorite politician on the show was Councillor Pa Sainey Jallow, a nominated member for the Business Community within the Kanifing Municipality. He is a strong politician who fears less for the media. He is the only politicians who will not only buy credit to call me to come on my show, but will come even if he is informed five hours before the program. Despite being a nominated member, Councillor Pa Sainey Jallow strongly fights for the business community within the KMC.