Fatou Jaw-Manneh Dame of the "Flaming Pen"
Source: The Independent (Banjul) -- June 25, 2004
October 23, 2005 If the pen were a flaming sword, she would have been its sheath.
Fatou Jaw-Manneh is one of the few Gambian women who has made her mark in
journalism as a career. As a reporter for the Daily Observer, when that paper was on
top of its world in the 90s, Fatou had distinguished herself as being of a class of her
own, at a time when a generality of her peers were struggling to find their feet in a
stereotypical Gambian environment, riddled with the vagaries of gender
discrimination. She had cult a level of her own where many had failed. Now living in
the United States, Fatou's fiery zeal with the pen could still be gleaned from her
despatches to The Independent.
Q: Who really is Fatou Jaw-Manneh?
A: I am a 36-year-old Gambian born and raised in Sukuta/Foni Bullock.
Q.Can you briefly explain your educational career?
A: In my formative years I had schooled in The Gambia. Just started a Masters
degree program at the John Hopkins University Washington DC Campus. We were
informed that you were among the few female journalists who served at the Daily
Observer, how did that come about at a time when that area has been largely
uncharted by women and girls? It was through the Daily Observer mail, precisely
letters to the editor that I was able to arouse the attention of the editors. It was a
very exciting period for me. At the end, Kenneth Best requested that "anytime she
comes around with her mails, send her to me, I want to meet her". When we met he
convinced me to join the paper.
Q: What motivated or inspired you to write?
A: Political stagnation at that time, corruption and nepotism mainly motivated me. I
also believe that no human being should sit on their ideas, especially when they
could respond to the problems of the time. I like to make comments on what I see
around me, political, social or anything it might be.
Q: Are you related to the late Ansumana Manneh?
A: Yes we are first cousins. His father is the older brother of my father. I wonder
how you knew that. Not many people know that about me. You are branded one of
President Jammeh's bitterest critics. Why such gripes about the regime? Betrayal.
Jammeh is tearing our beloved country in shreds. He debunked our hopes and
became a thorn in every issue that relates to progress in the Gambia be it social,
political or economical. Worst of all, he is a bundle of terror. There is the need
therefore to speak out against his tendencies, which re inimical to progress. If you
look around the Gambia, particularly at the conditions people live in, you will see
what I mean.
Q: We were told that you participated in a demonstration at the Freedom Forum,
Virginia in which you directly provoked Jammeh. Is this true?
A: True. That was a while ago though. The drama started when his Gambian
security details thought I should not enter the building because I was a security
threat, you know, the usual bull-crap. Then at the meeting, he got irritated over the
questions concerning Koro's death and some journalists who were arrested at the
Q: How would you evaluate the Jammeh regime since 1994?
A: It is a total failure. The APRC leadership is a complete sham. It has become a
business entity. They all became treasure hunters, free for everyone that has access
and a total set up of megalomaniacs -cum-paramilitary democrats period.
Q: If appointed or offered any position by the Jammeh regime would you accept it?
A: God forbid it. What is amazing is how Gambians are still lined up for these jobs.
The more they are fired and humiliated the more they are hoping to be recruited. I
think every citizen should be proud to work for his or her government, not in the
case of the Gambia where the president thinks that he is the be-all of government.
This paranoid president hires and fires depending on his mood. How can you even
know the progress of a minister in six months or eight months? I believe people
should be given room and some independence to be able to accomplish certain tasks.
But some once bitter critics of Jammeh are now serving him. Do you think one
should trust you? Like who?
Q: Dr. Amadou Janneh?
A: Good luck to him but he should get his Timberland boots ready because all his
predecessors are all on the run. It is no crime for anyone to work for your
government but if you consider the magnitude of humiliation that civil servants
succumb to, you wonder why they are dying to get jobs by Jammeh if not for greed.
Q: What are you doing in the US?
A:For now, studying.
Q: Some quarters pointed out that you had some political ambition and wanted to
form your own party Is that a statement or a question?
A: It is both Oh Lord, I wish. What shall we call it? Free the Gambia People's Party.
Not for now, but we are discussing the possibility. Let us see what happens. For
now we are all going to throw our support behind the Coalition to salvage the
Gambia from this present day Pontius Pilate of a Gambian we are blessed with as a
Q: What is your take on Gambia's political future and the Coalition (Alliance)?
A: I think it is going to be interesting. We do not know what this Coalition is going to
be like or what can be expected of them. We have been hoping for some bridge to the
ideological gaps between the different parties. We are still very sceptical about its
effect and unless they are strongly united, the prospect of removing Jammeh will
just remain a fantasy. The Jammeh government has failed in every aspect of good
governance. So any topic of discourse is going to be at the Coalition's advantage at
this moment. The Coalition if there is going to be one, should realise that
independently as a political party they have neither the clout nor the resources to
give the APRC a run for their money. Remember, the APRC civil servants or is it
Jammeh's servants will go with all their vehicles to join the campaign trail.
Q: You think it will be hard for the coalition to beat Jammeh?
A: That will depend on their strategies and time definitely is not on their side.
As a group they will make an exceptional mobilising force. Ousainu Darboe is very
well respected with the elites and the locals alike but he portrays himself as very
slow, naive if not lazy alternative. If you want to be Mansa, you have to have a
mansa attitude. This guy by now could have written a book on the pro and cons of
Gambian politics from his experience from the last elections. Come on the guy is a
lawyer. Gambians are not going to collect votes and bring them to either of these
parties. In this case Muhammad should go to the mountain. You hardly hear from
him from any corner. The Independent Newspaper is not a political organ. We will all
get our share of publishing our voices and make our points across but the bulk of
the work and the most complicated is how these independent political parties
stabilise their political ideas in the mainstream Gambia or at the grassroots level.
These parties should utilise their comparative advantage in their leadership abilities
to convince the average Gambian that the APRC does not cause rain to fall, actually
for ten years they still cannot provide food security for its population. They should
have the courage and faith to throw this government out of power. Let Halifa and
Ousainu tackle the cities and Omar Jallow , Waa Juwara and Hamat with their
broader appeal deal with vast outside constituencies. Then sunshine will visit the
Q: Who will you give your vote to if you are to vote?
A: The coalition.
Q: You think the Gambian people missed the Jawara government?
A: Hell no. Not me. I support OJ not in the PPP context, but because he is real,
practical and accommodating. We need leaders like him. In Gambian politics, we are
at a crossroads. We are all gauging the situation but please let the PPP era be
consigned to the past. Actually the APRC is a by-product of the PPP. Like father like
son minus the brutality of the APRC.
Q: What is your prediction for the coming election? You think Jammeh will win?
A: It depends on the energy that will be coming from the opposing side. Gambians
are desperately in need of an alternative to this egoistic frosty imam of the APRC,
Jammeh. But there has to be a group that understands that it has a common task at
hand, as difficult as compromising might be. Jammeh has great chances to win too. I
think there is quite a percentage of Gambians that think he is the right guy for us,
scary as that might sound. He is full of energy but very negative energy and he
totally lacks direction. All he needs to do is come clear to the Gambian people that he
has failed us all miserably, that he will be doing everything to revitalise his promise
to the Gambian people, excuse his 10 years in office, rather than forcing us to like
him or forcing us to recognise developments that do not exist. We should all
understand the Gambian psyche by now. Seventy percent of voters equally support
both Jammeh and the opposition alike. Twenty percent are going to be sitting on the
fence and creating hell for everybody, and only ten percent know exactly where they
want to put their vote and will have the courage to do so. What the Jammeh era has
surprisingly shown about most Gambians is our unreliability, indecisiveness,
timidity, hypocrisy and our possibility of acquiring multiple personalities on issues at
the same time. This will be a challenge to all the parties involved.
Q: As a Mandinka, what do you think of the tribal remarks from Jammeh?
A: Embarrassing and bewildering. You will wonder if the guy got extra chromosome. I
am half Mandinka. My mum is Fula. The reality of tribalism is always embedded in
people consciously or unconsciously. You do not just exploit it for political gains or
as a power-accumulating tool. I hope Gambians do not buy into it. When push comes
to shove he will be helicoptered for refuge to Morocco, we the average Gambians are
going to be the losers trekking to neighbouring villages for shelter. Practicing tribal
malice is always a lose-lose for all. He cannot take all the Mandinkas to Baba Jobe's
hotel as he claims, because not all the Mandinkas are going to offer themselves for
humiliation. Unfortunately he cannot do anything about the Mandinka population.
Sorry. I think his remarks will be a terrible shock to all the Mandinkas that voted for
him, lost their families and friends in the process. Now this is what you call perfect
betrayal. The remarks were not too surprising after all; whatever he says or acts is
always a blunder. If leadership is going to be evaluated in the Gambia by tribe, I
think Jawara and Jammeh so far are the worst for the Gambia. Jawara was bonkers
when it came to development. Jammeh says he is pro-development but
unfortunately he lacks the vision, the crew and the patience to deliver. They are very
empty on ideas. That is why tribalism became his last resort. And the weirdest and
most embarrassing of all is that he thinks he can sell development by party
affiliation. That is backward.
Q: Why did you attack Baba Jobe and Fatou Jahumpa Ceesay?
A: I did not attack their persons. That would have been a different ball game. I do
not know either of them in person. These people are public figures and we have all
rights to condemn their actions especially if those actions fall ill of what is to benefit
society. Baba Jobe and his style of support of the APRC was an impediment to
progress for all that was striving to democratically get rid of the APRC. Now the very
crocodile he thought could be made a pet swallowed him. We are now left to inherit
the slander and the squander. Baba's case is your typical Gambian case study, the
darling and the lion of the APRC is now recognized by none, friend or foe. When
push comes to shove, Gambians will most likely kill the messengers and spare the
dictator simply because of cowardice.
Either way I think keeping him in jail is a very senseless move for the APRC.
Whatever Baba did, was fantasised out of the APRC apparatus and aggrandisement.
They are the same egoistic, grandiose, political misfits anyway. As for Fatoumatta
Jahumpa, I think she is just sycophantic. The colour of the flag will not matter to
her taking a closer look at her political portfolio. If China decides to invade the
Gambia tomorrow, Fatoumatta will be the first to speak Chinese on GRTS. What I
could not understand was how a very well renowned lawyer can be shot, and above
all the statements that could have been made, she chose to propaganda for the
APRC that week. That was beyond me. That was the lowest she could get to. Silence
would have even fared better. She is excellent in self-degradation as a politician.
Q: What is your opinion on the latest debate about the term limit of the Presidency?
A: For heavens sake Africans should be serious and realistic about this total craze
for power and step down and give chance to others. Jawara became president when
maybe Jammeh was not even born, and now Jammeh wants to take us from midlife
to eternity. Let us be real. They try to cloak it under Vision 2020. For Heavens' sake!
It gets on our nerves. Can you imagine being with the APRC for the next 20 years?
God forbid. I think a term limit is very important in the upkeep of democracy. Giving
chance to others who can bring a different perspective and focus to government
should always be welcomed. I think leaders even when they are doing very well
should have the urge to give way to others.
Q: How would you evaluate the state of the Gambian media?
A: Battered but still steadfast. I think the Gambian media is trying hard under all
these abhorrent circumstances to hold on to the banner of informing the people
come what may.
Q: You condemned the arson attack on the Independent. Were you surprised by it?
A: Not at all, but you know only fools will attempt to kill ink!! These crimes are
committed by vagabonds who are very low on self-esteem. After the attack, Dr.
Amadou Janneh gave a quick statement clearing the Government of any wrongdoing,
which I think was very inappropriate and premature to make any judgment out of
the case at the time. He was only two weeks in office!!! It is still pending and we are
still waiting to the architects of this malfeasance.
Q: What would you say to assertions that any time the Independent publish
your article they get into trouble?
A: Really? If that is so then I think there is part of the audience that is not happy
about what I write. The Independent should buckle up. There are more articles
coming. I do not carry the view of the Independent and vice versa, unfortunately. I
do not write to garner applause or insult, I write because I simply do not bite my
tongue or sit on my ideas on issues simply because it is not going to sit well with
certain quarters. Sorry. That is not what I was taught. I hope you guys are not going
to be bullied to your knees.
Q: What do you think of the National Media Commission and how it will affect the
work of journalists?
A: The NMC Act is a draconian law by a predatory government. I think friends of the
media and journalists have already exhausted themselves on this topic. Why all this
energy from the government on this obnoxious Act? The economy is laying flat, the
mood of the country is very down, the security of the country is at its lowest with
crime and gun culture on the rise. The education and the health system is in
shambles, the morale of the civil service is pathetic, not to mention the moral
decadence in society. Is the Media Act going to ease these problems or is the
government avoiding the snake and hitting on its mark on the ground? Please, the
debate on this Act is just diverting peoples' attention from the hunger, the confusion
and the want, consuming the nation.
Q: Your last word?