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He fought, sacrificed all for change in The Gambia: Interview with Pata Saidykhan
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He fought, sacrificed all for change in The Gambia: Interview with Pata Saidykhan

Pata is one of the most ardent critics of the Jammeh regime in the diaspora. He literally invested sweat and blood to see Jammeh packing to his ancestral village of Kanilai. Hot on the heels of the opposition victory, he granted an exclusive interview to this medium.

What’s On_Gambia: Hello Pata, first of all thank you very much for accepting our interview. Could you please tell us a little bit about yourself? What got you into politics?

Pata:Pata J. Saidykhan. A Jarranka. I attended Armitage Senior Secondary School. I had my undergraduate from the University of The Gambia before pursuing a graduate program (MBA - Finance) at Bellevue University in the US. The 'chaat' of my mother (Rest In Heaven), which evidently makes me a mamma's boy.

I do love politics but not sure I am into politics. I consider myself a Liberal Democrat, but absolute Leftist, for Justice for all. So I am more comfortable with the Activist tag than a politician. Like most young Gambians, our involvement in our national politics was necessitated by the lack of freedom and damn near absolute impunity for the past decades. Even when most of us were not personally affected by this government, indirectly every Gambian was. And it was only a matter of time before the Dracula devours all of us because we were left at his mercy. Therefore, my conscience was never going to let me be quiet or indifferent. Most definitely, not going to even tacitly endorse or support the status quo. However, none of this was personal for most of us.

You are one of the activists in the Diaspora that campaigned hard for Adama Barrow. What were you thinking when he started racking up huge victory margins in key constituencies?

Before Adama, I was Team Gambia. By that I mean, I was advocating for Change by any means necessary, especially after we had seen the regime constrict the political space even further. To be honest, there was a point in recent history that I almost thought political change was impossible. The regime was shutting all doors for peaceful change, with aggressive and arrogant clamp downs. Then after APRIL 14 and 16 events that led to the death in detention of Mr Solo Sandeng (rest his soul) and the subsequent arrest and persecution of Darboe and the UDP executive, the fight went beyond party politics for most Gambians. I saw in the faces and their (silent) actions that this is not sustainable. Once the opposition political party leaders started serious consultations, I began to believe. I started believing that we would have a great chance to win the confidence of the disaffected majority and succeed at the polls. At that point, I was like 'I am going to ride with anybody, as long as they get the backing of their peers'. That was how and why many including myself gave Adama our support. And when the campaign started and I saw the numbers, my belief got cemented. I was nervous throughout the night because we were working on defeating an incumbent who had 72% in the last outing.  But when 'battleground' results started coming out, I was jumping up and down on my couch. I said 'Gambians have spoken. They are ready!'

What do you think are the reasons why Gambians decided to turn their back on President Jammeh?

These factors are many including the economy, unemployment and the amount of time Jammeh had in power. In as much as his stay was not illegal since we do not have any term limits in our laws, I believe the young Gambians had had enough. Some of us remembered how the PPP overstayed. 'Accountability' and 'probity' were the theme song of the Military junta, and continued to be even today. Well, these went out the window in his two decades of incumbency. But primarily, I think people voted for their security. Once their rights got stifled with threats of arrests, detentions and torture graduated to death and threats of mass murder, Gambians recognized and accepted the gravity of what was at stake. They stuck together and spoken with their tokens in unison.

Could this have happened without social media?

It would have been almost impossible. State and private media were either controlled or censored, so we lived in a dungeon not knowing how our affairs were steered. I think president Jammeh was very lucky that 2011 elections did not have Gambians too connected on the social media. That would have been our 2016. Fortunately for us and unfortunately for him, when he executed the prisoners in 2012 that was when things were never to be the same again. Whatsapp, Viber, Facebook, Twitter became daggers in the heart of the 22-year regime.

Should Jammeh be pardoned and allowed to live in Kanilai for accepting defeat graciously?

I was not expecting anything but for him to concede to the will of the people, if he loses. But I have never been vindictive in my life. Was I frustrated and angry with President Jammeh for oppressing and violating our people? Sure! Did I have any issues with Yaya Jammeh the man? NO! So there was no need or motive for me to seek revenge or pardon Yaya or anybody. It is not my call or any one person's to decide what happens to Jammeh after he leaves office. However, I would want to see Jammeh and all who held public office be held accountable, in competent courts of law without prejudice or ill will. We would want a National Truth and Reconciliation to heal, but that would have to go with Justice for victims and their families. Whether he goes to Kanilai or not does not bother me.

So what do you think of Barrow?

I do not know the man. I see a lot of humility in him. He also crossed me as a good listener and team player. Plus the good thing about this Coalition is that it is not partisan. And if you read their signed MoU, not even the president would have absolute powers. If that is safeguarded, that is a great measure against tyranny. And the planned programs they want to work on in the next three years, which are mainly Reformation, are pretty decent and doable. I think Adama will do well.

Are you hopeful for the future?

I am absolutely very hopeful for the future. If I was not, I wouldn't have been this invested. I have faith in our ability and capacity as a nation to revamp and remap our path. I can see a very vibrant future for our kids and youth. I am convinced that they will possess the knowledge, skills and confidence to be competitive in the country, region and on the global platform.

Would you accept a job offer from Barrow?

WHAT?! YES! Director of Single Ladies' Department. (jokes). Seriously, NO! Who would offer Pata any position in this very important period of our time? Nah! There are more competent and seasoned Gambians who are ready and willing, with the tenacity and track record to steer us back on path to reform and rebuild. I am not interested because I am not ready.

What do you think would happen if Barrow fails to live up to his promises?

The good thing about Barrow and his incoming government is that they are transitory. It is for only 3 years and, predominantly tasked with reformation and correcting the system. It may not necessarily be development focused. That is not to say we are not expecting any developmental projects. So we would have to be realistic and patient enough. Notwithstanding, if he fails to live up to expectations, Gambians would decide when and how they let another person continue from where he stops.

When are you visiting The Gambia?

I would love to be in The Gambia for the inauguration of the new President. I would want to be part of that to share the joy of our new found freedom. Unfortunately, that may not be possible. However, I hope to visit home the soonest I could. I am in no rush. Until then, I will live vicariously through jubilant Gambians on the ground.

What do you miss the most about home?

Family, friends and the ambiance. And the simple 'Naada' with tilapia that Jarrankas are best known for. Aah! You have no idea.

Any places in the country you longing to visit?

My mom's grave in Jarra. It's been one year on November 2, and I cannot wait to put flowers on her grave and tell her how much we missed her. Give her virtual hugs and show her a tattoo of her name that I'd have on my chest. She was the coolest woman I'd ever known.

What about Jammeh’s mighty Petroleum House?

Where is that? Would that be the building along the Senegambia Highway? I had seen one when I was in The Gambia few years ago? Well... I really do not know. If it is Jammeh's and he earned it, let him have it. If it is not, I expect the state to do what is right and just.

Any final words?

I am very, very proud of Gambians. I have never doubted their ability and capacity to change their condition. They have proven that in the most peaceful of ways. Gambians by nature are decent and peaceful. What we have seen in the last two decades does not define us as a people or nation. Let us heal. Let us reconcile. . This feat that we achieved was not one person, party or group's. It was brought about by ALL Gambians, especially those on the ground with the voter's cards. But every Gambian played a part.

I would implore all to be wary and active in the affairs of our nation. We all must be interested in politics because it is how we are governed. Let us not fall back into that jar of comfort and make another tyrant or king. The president and all elected officials are our servants. We can respect but we must not worship them. Let us cherish and appreciate the cost of what it takes to get here. Folks died in the process, others jailed and tortured. They paid for our freedom, and we must not take it for granted. I pray that we have a very tolerant and prosperous Third Republic.


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