Sait Matty Jaw is a social justice and political activists with over 15 years’ experience. He holds MA in African History and a BSc. in Political science from the University of The Gambia where he taught introductory courses in Politics and History. In 2014, he was arrested and remanded in jail in connection with a study on good governance. His arrest and detention attracted global campaign #FreeSaitMatty. He is currently pursuing a second MA degree in Public Administration under the Student’s at Risk Scholarship at the University of Bergen, Norway. In this interview, Sait maintains that, the election for many Gambians was just to tell the incumbent that Power belongs to the people. On the role youth played in the election, Sait posits that youth at home and in diaspora played a pivotal role in the success of the election. At the same time he acknowledged the powerful influence of social media in fostering positive change in our community; as it gave Gambia youth the platform to mobilize, organize and engage themselves.
What can you say about the just concluded election?
The just concluded election is historical. For the first time since independence Gambians have been able to change a government through the ballot. It is exciting time in Gambia and around the world particular for the forces of democracy. This election to many Gambians was an opportunity to end a dictatorship that did not only kill, torture, abduct and exile many of the crème de la crème of Gambian society, but also attempted to divide Gambians based on ethnicity and religion. Something Gambians never experienced. So, this election for us Gambians was to end all these vices and to celebrate the heroism of leaders like the late Solo Sandeng who was reportedly tortured to death by the regime. It was also to say thank you to Ousainou Darboe and his party members for putting their lives on the frontline for democracy and human rights. So, this election for many Gambians was just to tell the incumbent that Power belongs to the people.
Would you say the electoral process was transparent? And what could have been done better?
According to many reports the electoral process was free and transparent. Gambia has a very unique voting system that is cheap and cost effective. This year they introduced counting on the spot which made it even easier and more transparent. However, the only glitch is the absence of second round of voting. Our system is majority takes all and this is not always very representative. Usually there is a huge tendency that the winner will sideline the other side like what we have experienced with the incumbent. I won’t fail to reveal that this was instituted by the current regime and we hoping that the new one will fix this as we usher in the third republic.
Oh great! How was the turnout of Gambians?
The turnout was pretty low compared to last election. Only about 53% of the registered voters showed up to vote. The thousands of Gambians engaging in illegal migration could be a huge factor. Also, some Gambians feared that there was going to be post electoral violence so the crossed the border to Senegal. However, this election brought the youth folks on the front. It was evidence in the campaign trail and how much they use social media to communicate and engage each other.
What was your greatest fear?
It is always difficult to change a dictator through elections. To bring down a solid regime of 22 years that have used fear and intimidation to hold onto power is not an easy task, especially when the leader vowed to rule for a billion years. My greatest fear like many other Gambians and people that followed Gambia’s election was whether the incumbent will concede or not. I have been asked many times by both Gambians and non-Gambians if he will. Gladly he did and he conceding makes a great difference. We are proud that our fears did not come through.
Do you feel differently now from how you felt before the election? And why?
Many young Gambians including myself are currently on exile. This elections change everything as it will give us the opportunity to return home and continue the good work we were doing in our communities. I feel hopeful and determine that we will move ahead as a nation. I saw the signs coming that this election was going to make or break Gambia. We are happy that it made us stronger and more united.
What role did Youth play in the election?
Youth at home and in diaspora played a pivotal role in this election. Thanks to social media, they were able to mobilize each other. Young people in the diaspora invested resources and contributed cash to the electoral process. The bottom line is young people were in the forefront of the campaign. This is what was expected of them and they did not fail. After all, the next years ahead are more about them than the older generation. Hence, the decision to shun fear and put their lives on the frontline was remarkable.
So, what’s your expectation from the new Gambia with the new President?
I expect the new government and the president-elect to be the president of every Gambian, to come with a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to mend the wounds that have been opened and to a large extent divided our small community, to put forward rule of law and review all the colonial laws and laws in general that makes it possible for the rights of the citizens to be violated, to put first the rule of law. I am not at this point expecting him to create jobs and all that. It is going to be a very tough period. He came through a platform of a transitional president and I hope that this period will be used to create a befitting foundation for our beloved country. Of course, we as young Gambians are not going to let them do the work alone. We will continue to engage and also make sure that we have our rightful position in the decision making process of the country. We are fired up today more than ever before.
Your last thought to the Gambian Youth.
Winning the election was a huge step in determining what direction our country should take. We have shown the whole world our commitment to peace and stability. The next stage of the journey is to rebuild our country. We cannot leave the job to the elders. We must do our part. Whatever we do today should reflect what we want for tomorrow. We must continue to engage in the process. We should NEVER allow dictatorship in our homeland. We have the power we can do it.
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