Alhassan Darboe’s recent visit to The Gambia might be his fourth since settling in the US, but it apparently offers him one of his unforgettable moments. From the transitions of his native Gunjur village to the exodus of young people and hurly burly of local politics, read this interview for first-hand account of the triumphs and tribulations as Alhassan saw it in The Gambia.
What’s On-Gambia: We noticed that you were recently in The Gambia. How would you briefly describe your holiday?
Alhassan:Great, phenomenal and amazing are the words I can mildly use to describe it. I stayed at my ancestral village of Gunjur and met my one-year-old daughter for the first ever time. I have been trying but still can’t come up with the right vocabulary to describe that amazing feeling. I also had the opportunity to go do some hunting (childhood hobby growing up in the village) and it was amazing to trace old hunting grounds where we used to run after rats or ‘Diks’ and stuff. I was also able to visit a garden “Naako” where I used to do “Naako” (growing vegetables) with my mom and brothers and it helped me reflect a lot on my life.
Was it your first visit since you settled in the USA?
Actually about the fourth. I try to go home every year ever since I started going home. It’s amazing and I always return back to the US motivated and wealthier for the experience.
You were known for attacking the Jammeh government in your writings. Did you have any fears of being arrested when you decided to visit the country?
No, not all. I knew I had been objective with my criticisms as they were constructive. Most of what I wrote about was from my experience at the University of The Gambia before I moved to the US and some research I have done. I am not a direction-less, trash-talking cyber warrior that writes for the sake of criticizing the Gambia government and Yahya Jammeh. I also knew he issued an amnesty for all his critics abroad after the failed December coup and I have not offended ever since (laughs).
What about The Gambia has surprised you the most?
One thing that blew up my damn mind is the unprecedented fleeing of young people in the Gambia for the shores of Europe via Libya, China, Hongkong, Mauritania, Algeria and even Russia. I have never in my life seen such a level of migration in The Gambia. The government needs to declare an emergency. Another is the consumption mentality in The Gambia by both Government and the people. Gambia government needs to think bigger and put in place massive systems and infrastructure to manufacture most of what we eat and use. For a people and country to be so dependent on imports/foreign goods rather than producing them at home is a dangerous situation to be in, especially for our local currency.
What about your home village, Gunjur?
Gunjur has developed into a city already. (I wonder why it is still called a village). With 24/7 electricity, pipe borne water, super friendly folks and beautiful sandy beaches, nowhere in The Gambia beats it. Thanks to a project initiated by Gunjur VDC and Marlborough link, youths of Gunjur are now able to get interest-free loans to establish their own businesses and anyone who wants to go to GTTI to acquire skills are sponsored by TARUD through Marlborough Link at no cost to them. Perhaps we should naturalize some Sukutarian youths in a bid to help them qualify for the personal development project our VDC is doing to educate and engage the youths of the Village. The level of development and entrepreneurship in Gunjur is extraordinary! Everyone is an entrepreneur of sort.
Can you advice our readers in the Diaspora on how to stay on budget when in The Gambia on holiday?
(Laughs) This is a controversial subject because everyone has different approaches to money abroad and when visiting Gambia. I used to be so flamboyant on holidays in Gambia but now I’m a ‘simplicity movement’ convert. I love using public transportation mostly, ride bicycle to move around town and occasionally town trip when it’s necessary. I don’t try to satisfy and impress people with money and material things because I cannot. I don’t try to solve financial problems and obligations I didn’t plan for. I Just be myself, respect and relate with all human beings especially my childhood friends.
We are in an election year and all political parties are trying to win public support. From your observation during your stay, do you think Jammeh stands a chance of winning reelection?
I think Jammeh will win the upcoming elections hands down. He is no match for the disunited and weak opposition thanks to the propaganda tools at his disposal. Jammeh may have just a high school diploma, but he is obviously politically sophisticated (read 48 laws of power, he mastered it). His propaganda machines including GRTS, Daily Observer, regional governors, Alkalos, Seyfolous Yai compins, green youths and bill boards everywhere guarantee a land slide for Jammeh. The opposition has no better vision than Jammeh for The Gambia. If he improves human rights records, the economy and stop bizarre pronouncements at home and abroad, he could become the best president in Africa.
There are a lot of things said online about Jammeh and his government. Was there anything that you thought was true, but turned out not to be?
A lot of it. Sometimes if I read online news outlets, I’m tempted to think Jammeh might be dying the next day, checking in at Campama Psychiatric hospital, Gambia is in chaos and people are starving to death, but when I visit The Gambia the picture is totally different.
As semester from USA, were you also picking and dropping young girls during your stay?
(Laughs) No, I’m in a solid relationship, proud father of a beautiful daughter, so my focus is on my relationship and daughter. I’m such a loyal partner. If you’re ever looking for a loyal partner, go no further. I’m so loyal to my beautiful lady.
Did you meet any interesting people? Can you tell us about them?
Charlie Tremendous Jones once said that “you will be the same person you are in five years except for the people you meet and the books you read”. I love meeting interesting folks and in The Gambia I met Lamin J Darboe, an erudite Gambian scholar and legal practitioner, one of the best legal minds to have come out of Africa. I also met my mentor Bisenty Gomez who mentored me and gave me books to read that changed my life. Amazing and intelligent human beings I would pay a million Dollars to meet.
What was the best food you ate and who cooked it?
Plasas…OMG, my lovely and ever beautiful lady cooks the best ‘plasas’ that I have ever eaten…mmmm.
When are you visiting again?
December, with Allah Subhanahu Wata’Allah permitting. Amen!
Any final words?
I would say, keep up the great work. Keep entertaining and educating. One more thing before I forget, please leave the ‘back way boys” alone. I love them.