Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Sidi Sanneh interview with Maafanta ( March 2013 )

Sidi Sanneh, Former Executive Director, AfDB
Maafanta's Fatou Jaw Manneh

To the numerous readers of the sidisanneh.blogspot.com who've been sending questions and inquiries about my background, professional experiences and the like, I thought it might help answer some, not all, of your questions I have been receiving from readers if I should reproduce the only interview I have granted to an online newspaper.  reproducing it here also places the interview in the permanent record of the Blog. The interview was conducted in March of 2013 with Ms. Fatou Jaw Manneh, the proprietor and Managing Editor of Maafanta, one of the leading online newspapers that specializes on Gambian politics and social and cultural affairs.

Gambian/American technocrat Mr. Sidi Sanneh  shares his experience with maafanta. He worked for both the PPP and APRC governments. Gives a very interesting perspective on the current poltical sitiuation in the Gambia and some bold ideas as how to move Gambia forward. For a start he said he has no political ambitions. He is not a politician. He is not endorsing anybody either because he does not know 'them' enough. Enjoy.

Hello Mr. Sanneh. How are you? Good encounter on facebook
For some of us who never met you before , Who is Sidi Sanneh?

Sidi Sanneh is the only son of the late Police Inspector and Head of the Criminal Investigation Department, Morro Sanneh and the late Aji Mallen Gaye. He was born in Banjul in 1947.  He's a husband, a father and grand father to beautiful kids and grand kids. He was a member of the first batch of pupils who started Gambia High School in 1959. He attended university in the U.S.with majors in Economics and Political Science and a Masters in Agricultural Economics. He returned home in 1977 but not before working as an Assistant to the Mayor of the City of Madison, Wisconsin, then as his Public Service Employment Administrator and finally as the Coordinator of the Community Development Block Grant for both the City of Madison and the County of Dane. He returned home after the passing ofhis father and joined the civil service, rose to the rank of Deputy Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Finance and Trade before taking up a job with the African Development Bank, becoming a Member of the Executive Boards of the African Development Bank Group.   He left the Bank in June 2001 and became Senior Advisor on Resource Mobilization with the UNDP Regional Bureau for Africa.  He later became Foreign Minister and then Ambassador to Senegal with concurrent accreditation to Mali and Burkina Faso.  He left Government service in February 2006 and returned to America a year later.

You sound educated, experienced and knowledgeable.  What is your line of work?
Experienced, yes.  Educated and knowledgeable, I am not so sure.  What I do know is, I have been around, and blessed to have been part of some of the most important, exciting and transformational periods in the histories of the United States and The Gambia. The 60s in America was transformational - the Vietnam War, the protest and hippiemovements, the assassinations of Robert Kennedy ( whom I campaigned for in his run for the Democratic nomination in1968) and Martin Luther King, Richard Nixon and his Southern Strategy in reaction to the 1965 Voting Rights Act.  

In The Gambia, the period posed a different set of challenges - a transition from a mono-crop economy to a diversified one, a process that has, unfortunate, stalled under the incompetent regime of Jammeh. I was fortunate to have been part of the newly created Ministry of Economic Planning and Industrial Development, known simply by its acronym MEPID under the late Dr. Jabez Langley, and very privileged to have benefited from being supervised by some of the most seasoned administrators and professional economists of the day.

From MEDIP, I went on loan ( secondment ) to the Ministry of Agriculture to help return the scandal-ridden Rural Development Project (RDP) to credible standards after UK's IDA - now DFID - and the World Bank threatened to withdraw financial support.  At the end of my three-year secondment,  I decided to return to MEPID rather thanexercise the option of extension for a second tour of duty.  I guess I did well enough a job to be asked by donors and government to recommend a successor, which I did, to head the successor project renamed Agricultural Development Project (ADP).  

My next stop - Ministry of Education - to take over yet from another British expatriate manager of the World Bank Education Project whose contract was not renewed.  This time, I asked and received a transfer ( rather than secondment ) which allowed me to retain my position as Under Secretary in additon to my PM post. The project which by this time was 100% Gambian was able to complete the GTTI, MDI, the Regional Educations Centers and prepared the Second Education Project financed, this time, by the ADB. We built primary schools, built and equipped BPMRUat a new site, The School of Nursing, The School of Public Health where built under the Health Ministry with ADB funds with technical inputs from the Education.  The picture that emerges from these investments is the heart of what is now the University of The Gambia.  To claim otherwise is disingenuous at best.

In 1989, I was asked to move yet again - this time to the Finance and Trade Ministry as Deputy PS.  As I said in my first response, I left government service for ADB in Abidjan January in 1992, eventually to the U.S, via UNDP, Ministry of Foreign Affairs.   I left the Bank in June 2001 but stayed in Abidjan as UNDP's Regional Bureau for Africa as SeniorAdviser for Resource Mobilization.  I returned to Banjul in 2004 and became Jammeh's Foreign Minister from October 2004 - March 2005 and his Ambassador to Senegal, Burkina Faso and Mali from November 2005 - February 2006.  Istayed in Dakar and worked for a private company until my departure for the U.S. in January of 2007.  Since my return to the U.S. I have been working in the private sector.  Presently, I am a Partner in a consulting firm in Washington DC.

You currently reside in the U.S. or Africa ?
I am a full time resident of the U.S. 

And now that we share the Yahya Jammeh predicament, what do you think should be the first diaspora move?  Where do we start?

Let me say at the onset that I am not a politician.  I have never voted in Gambian elections in over twenty years. However, I am a keen observer of the political scene and can assess the mood of the electorate with some degree of accuracy; at least on economic matters which is 90% of what voters care about anyway.  My first observation of the Diaspora scene is what seems to be the proliferation of organizations.  I appreciate that some are social service organizations and NGOs dedicated to servicing the Gambian communities and thus apolitical.  Even with that in mind, I still believe that is a need to consolidate.  I have seen a move in that direction with the formation of the GCC which must be linked to similar groupings in Europe and Dakar.  It appears that the consolidation phase is taking place in the U.S. Dakar can consolidate, and I think they are, without problem.

I have answered the second part of your question - we should start with ourselves by consolidating, establishing linkages between the three main centers ( US, Europe and Dakar ) to ensure everyone is on the same page.

Why did it take you so long to join the struggle against Jammeh?
For someone who is 65 years old and has retired from the Gambian civil service over a decade ago, I consider it a compliment to be considered part of the struggle against murder including extrajudicial killings, torture,disappearances of journalists.  I have been maintaining the same level of engagement.  The only difference is that I am now maintaining a Facebook page and a tweeter account and the response has been great from a young and energetic group of Gambians. I am very proud of my modest contribution to society both as a civil servant, as development finance professional and, now as a private sector operator.  This sentiment is shared by those who matter in my life, my family, friends, colleagues, and most importantly,  by those I tried to help through my work and whose lives have been impacted - and that's what matters a great deal to me.  What I can assure you is that I will continue to pick my fights selectively that guarantees yield high dividends or returns.  Jefferson Waterman International was one such target and I am ready and willing to collaborate with anyone who shares my approach to solving problems. I have always been results-oriented. I am not going to change now.  At the close of day, I'd like to list my accomplishments and failures with the view of vowing to do better the next morning.  

How do we manage the Gambia opposition hurdle?
As I said earlier, I am not a politician.  A degree in political science does not make one a politician. In fact, the best Gambian politicians I come to know over the years had never been to school.  However, they had something that most folks do not have or doesn't come naturally - the ability to 'connect' with constituents, feel and share their pain a-laJefferson Clinton.  To connect with the people, one must, in my view, have a degree of sincerity, which must politician lack, unfortunately,  and a high degree of believability. if you will.   You cannot move a population if you insincere, and no one believes a thing you say.  Of course, politics without money is like Gladys Knight without The Pips. The two are inextricably linked, one without the other almost always spells defeat at the polls. 

I have great respect for Gambian opposition politicians.  They are operating under the most difficult of circumstances,usually under threat of arrest and other forms of intimidation.  Their constitutional rights to assemble are being infringed daily with the constant threat of arrest and imprisonment.  All of them have been locked up at one time or other at Mile II or the notorious NIA headquarters over the 19-year tyrannical rule of Jammeh.  I understand the frustration within us, leading some to rethink the current relationship between the diaspora and opposition parties.  It is natural, it is healthy as it is smart to take stock and decide whether to continue investing in a stock that has been in steady decline over a 19-year period or shift resources elsewhere.  However, before you shift resources, you must decide on overall strategy. I think this is where we are.  I think it is also time for the opposition to self-assess and decide whether they should continue doing the same things over and over again with the same outcome - defeat. Their inability, and some would say, refusal, to unite against the APRC is baffling and a source of frustration from diaspora opposition supporters.

Personally, I am open to discussing the option of turning a new page with a new political party of an amalgam of the new and the old, with the new leading the Party or the Movement, as some would prefer to call it.  Under the current rules most, if not all, of the present opposition leaders will not be eligible to run for President anyway.  It is time to consider change.

Do we help the opposition or do we have to bypass them in the struggle against Jammeh?
I believe I have responded to this question in my previous answer.  We cannot continue to pretend that all's well on the Western Front.  The opposition has been losing ground instead of gaining.  This downward slide has been going on since the first presidential elections in 1996. As I said before, I am open to a considering the option of a new realignment along the lines I suggested earlier.  Of course, it is up to the politicians, young and old, to decide the future of opposition politics in The Gambia.  What is evident and inescapable is the need for change in the current state of affairs.  

What do you think are the complications ?
I think I have touched on the complications, as I see them as a Gambian.  All of the opposition leaders have invested time, money and their personal liberty since 1994.  It is not easy to walk away from it all.  It is only human to want to see a project through to it successful conclusion.  However, we must also be realistic enough to be able to smell the coffee, and call it a day.  As democrats, we respect the right of the individual to decide on matters of this nature.  But it is also incumbent on the representative of the people to step down when he or she can no longer effectively represent the interest of people. Politicians owe us that much.   Retiring from leadership position is not synonymous with retiring from politics.  They can assume advisory roles in their respective parties or run for the National Assembly if they cannot take the substance called politics out of their blood streams.  I understand from some practitioners that politics is addictive.  Well, some may have to go cold turkey to make room for the young. 

If you think we should strengthen them, where do we start because all the groups I have known in the diaspora for the past 10 years cannot make them reach consensus ?

What's important to note is that folks in the diaspora with interest in politics, especially those in the U. S., are passionate about their support for their respective political parties.  These dedicated individuals have committed their own resources in support of the opposition.  Therefore, they are entitled to a seat at the table.  However, some feel they have their wishes have been ignored, and for too long, by leaders of the opposition.  It is a very frustrating feeling to experience, and to demand change is not an unreasonable proposition.  It appears that some opposition supporters have decided to turn a new page with a new agenda and poised for a new approach, including the formation of a new political Movement. 

How do we work with them?
I think diaspora political activists underestimate the leverage they have over opposition parties.  The monies raised in the U.S. is substantial compared to what the parties raised internally.  The figure is more impressive as a percentage of total intake dedicated to presidential elections.  My advise is use this leverage effectively to gain the desired results.  Otherwise, its going to be, as they say, same ol', same ol'.

Do we have to repatriate or do we just stay here, collect a lot of money for the opposition and let them chase Jammeh out? I think the leverage I spoke of should be used more imaginatively.  Why not refrain from supporting individual parties financially or otherwise, and commit funds only to a coalition of two or more parties.  This way you will be forcing them to come together.  I really cannot think of any other rational way of achieving a unified opposition so desperately needed to compete against the Jammeh machine.  Repatriation is an individual and personal matter, but it should always be in the mix of options available to those wishing to see an end to a very repressive regime. 

Do you have any interest in running for office of the President or leading the Diaspora movement?
The answer is NO. Do I want to lead the Diapora organization NO. Do I have a candidate. Frankly, No .I do not know them well enough. 

Okay Mr. Sanneh. Now i have a few follow up questions
Mr Sanneh, If i understand you correct, you are open to discussing turning a new political party of an amalgam of the new and the old. It looks like the political parties at home are not ready to open up to new leaders. If they are, i have not heard or read anywhere. You think the political parties back home will make room for that or be open to that suggestion??

I do not know if the opposition will accept.  Given the desperate situation they land themselves in, it is worth trying.  The present status is untenable. 

I can see you work for both the the PPP government and that of Yaya Jammeh. Some of us  credit the PPP for a peaceful, but yet corrupt and nepotistic government. Jammeh's we'll credit for buffoonery , cruelty and greed. You worked for both, Please compare and contrast for us?

The corruption under Sir Jawara pales compared to what obtains under the Jammeh regime.  The two governments are not comparable.  I will choose the PPP regime over the A(F)PRC any day.  There is no need to compare and contrast.  Those who have lived under both governments, even the most ardent opponents of Sir Dawda will attest to it. 

Why did you work for the Jammeh government in the first place and why did you leave???

I accepted the appointment - an appointment I neither yearned or lobbied for - because I thought I could make a difference in changing the direction of the regime.  Call me naive but if you recall, between the years of 2004 and 2005 the cabinet was filled with experienced retired international civil servants from UNEP, FAO ADB etc.which I thought was a signal for change.  I was obviously wrong in my assessment.   My decision to accept the Ambassadorial appointment afforded me and my family the opportunity to move away from the scene.  I was fired from both posts, and no official reasons were advanced.     

And Mr. Sanneh, the new politicians and active participants in the struggle are mostly Jammeh rejects or mainly Gambian intellectuals who have abandoned our plight and join the Jammeh government. Only to return back with vigor after their dismissals? We do not have a scintilla of trust in them. The country is divided on associating with them. What is your honest take. Do we pat each other on the back forgive and forget and move on  or what do we do?

I am aware of the criticisms.  The critics are certainly entitled to their views but they are not to entitled to their facts.  In my case, what was being peddled as fact was the figment of the imagination of an individual whom I have never met, cannot tell him from Adam.  He claimed that I was fired because of corruption.  That I was a subject of the Paul Commission that found me wanting.  Let me say here and now - I have never been a subject of the Paul Commission or any other Commission, ever.  I was never asked nor did I ever fill out any form listing my assets.  I have never met Justice Paul.  I cannot pick the guy from an identification line-up.  These are all false malicious claims.  While I'm on the subject of Commissions, I was the youngest member of one of the two Review Commissions appointed by President Jawara in 1981 to review the cases of those detained as a result of the coup.  I was Foreign Minister for 4 months, 80% of that time spent travelling outside Gambia.  I served roughly the same - 4 months - as Ambassador, many a time I had to dip into my pocket to pay for items, including gasoline for official vehicles to travel back to Banjul and paying for air fares for stranded officials on official mission or so they say.  By the time I left  I had maxed out my personal credit card.  May be I should form a Commission of Inquiry for the purposes of recovering monies owed me by the Jammeh regime.  I will defend my good name anywhere.  I am proud of my record and I will put it against any of my critics', anytime, anywhere.  

Ms. Manneh,  I am a retired public servant residing with my family in the U.S. trying to grow a start-up with great partners.  I have no time for politics of personal destruction or idle talk. Granted, I am a keen observer of the political scene but not for the interest in or pursuit of public office.  I have been there, done that, as per the lyrics of the song by the same name.  If I have to relive my life, I will live it exactly the same as the previous 65 years - no regrets, no apologies.    

How do the new and the old meet , the angry and the optimistic form this amalgam??

The two will never meet if no one is willing to give an inch - just look at what's going on in Washington DC. They cannot all be President of the Republic of The Gambia, all at the same time. 

Thank you Mr. Sanneh 

Thank you Ms. Manneh and Maafanta.com for inviting me to this interview.  It would be remiss of me not to acknowledge the valuable services you and proprietors of other online papers are rendering to Gambians and those who follow Gambian affairs in this critical juncture of our history.  Thank you, oncemore.