Encounter with Oko Drammeh
Sunday, November 11, 2007
Oko Drammeh, a reknown Gambian music promoter was born and brought up in the city of Banjul.
He first started as a political activitist, then became a sportsman, musician and finally became a promoter. He has travelled far and wide in Europe, Africa and America and has vast experience in music. In this encounter with the Daily Observer's Ousman Darboe, Oko speaks about the 1981 coup, African culture, President Jammeh's administration and his ambition to become the Mayor of Banjul in the future. Below is the excerpt of the encounter.
You are not new to Gambians as a musician, sportsman and politician. Can you share your experiences with us in the political arena in The Gambia?
Well, I would like to talk on youth politics in the country and the advancement of politics and political education in The Gambia. I came from a political family. My mother was at the secretariat of the then Gambia Muslim Congress, which was a Muslim party, and the United Party which was a Catholic party, as well as The Gambia Alliance Party, which was an Anglican Party. So, you could see that each of the religions had a political party.
I came from the Muslim party, and I observed a lot of political development by studying all the different political groups in The Gambia. I came out of this political heap or what you call a political cloud, which gives me a clear dimension of Gambian youth in African politics.
My involvement in politics, of course, came in the pre-independence era, when The Gambia was in search of independence. During this period, the whole of Africa had one voice. I was lucky to be part of this movement, wherein a lot of newspapers, magazines and other political journals throughout Africa came to The Gambia. Although Ghana had independence, The Gambia was very close to Ghana in terms of political unification and development. This is how my mum, together with Kwame Nkrumah, IM Garba Jahumpa selected many youths here and sent them to Ghana for education and other training so that the whole of Africa becomes one with the perception of free independence. We were all hoping that after independence, Africa would be one continent and country. This is my political drive.
As I was born in Banjul, I observed that lots of Gambian youth were icons in the continent. The Gambia was an intellectual country in Africa and many Gambians played major roles in Africa ranging from sports, music, education and politics. I was very fortunate to witness the rise of prominent Gambians in many important situations in Africa. Most of the youth at that moment devoted their time in symposia, conferences and debates, and these were our regular activities at that time in the British Council and MacCarthy Square.
This is how we were nurtured at that time as political individuals. Apart from knowing about the events, we were also informed about the American civil rights movements. We also had good knowledge of the cold war and Western ideologies because in The Gambia, there were representations of both parties. We had African-American cultural activities, and were represented in Bulgaria and the Soviet Union. So The Gambia was a very dynamic country, which was the essence of our symposia, debates and political lectures.
I was involved in the civil rights movement in America, more so than during the cold war. I joined many organisations, which later established the Movement of Justice in Africa (MoJA), and I took part in many of the pocket meetings and we had radical groups that even sabotaged government utilities.
Most members of MoJA were arrested during the 1981 abortive coup led by Kukoi Samba Sanyang. Why?
During the 1981 coup, MoJA was not very strong but, prominent names like Koro Sallah and others were targeted by the previous regime and demonised, and that was the reason for their arrests. We were not seen as MoJA, but we were seen as outcasts before the advent of MoJA. We were all arrested and detained. Even if you were not a member of MoJA, but you had a beard and mustache you were identified as a political character, hence your arrest. If you were also found with political books in your house, you got arrested. They collected the books, journals and papers and burnt them, just as Hitler did. If you were arrested with political books, which were against Western capitalist ideas, the government prosecuted you.
Were you arrested and prosecuted then?
I think that we have a lot of similarities in the way forward and we all want to embrace the continent of Africa, which we think is the richest continent in the world. All the museums in the world are full of African arts and culture. If you go to any botanic garden in the world, you will find out that it's full of African plants, flowers and herbs. So, if the West colonised us, we should not allow ourselves to be re-colonised again. Many Africans are now deviating from the family values and cultural norms. Many of us are trying to imitate the West.
Before independence, Africans had a purpose and vision, but remember one thing: the intellectual approach taken by Africans should be a concern. There is a massive attack on Africans. The West wants to control us. We are the machines that make the wheel turn. If Africans were by now self-supportive, self-sufficient and widely connected, we would not need anything from the outside world. The poverty of Africans is artificial. Africa has something that the world needs, so you will not be surprised that all the chaos and migration in Africa is man-made.
Did you actually fight in the 1981 coup?
I mean were you armed?
Yes, I was armed with a machine gun. I put my life up and as a political activist, your secret in life is to have no fear. I was not afraid. Of course, it is premature to ask whether I was one of the initiators. One thing I do know is, I will not hesitate to fight for my people because I matured as a politician and I had all the information and every action is important, relevant and useful because the country will claim her own dignity again from the hands of the minority who are not entitled by right to what they seized from the ordinary people who do not have good education. Not everybody can be a surgeon or scientist but it does not mean that because you are more educated than them, you grab all their land.
Was your involvement in the coup the reason for your arrest and detention?
As a politician, what is your assessment of President Jammeh and his government since its inception in 1994?
I like his government because there is massive development that is taking place. When I was in Jamaica and heard of his takeover, I made lot of cassettes in Kingston, Jamaica and sent them to the whole world about the able leadership of The Gambia. The Gambia has to change and support Jammeh's call on Gambians to change their attitudes. I have the same ideology as President Jammeh. I have seen development in the area of construction, education, health and agriculture among many others.
The Gambia cannot develop at all times in one period. If President Jammeh is given the chance and opportunity, he will take this country to high heights. The people of this nation should love him as the national leader and give him all the necessary support he needs. We need to give him more fuel, there should not be any interruption of the way he is handling things. A minority should not distract him from the job he is doing for their own interest. Many people have not got the technical know-how to multiply and teach people about his ideologies. He is doing it by himself.
By this time, they should have come out with his books, his ideologies and in schools, there should be his green books. By now, the doctrine of President Jammeh should be in the minds of all soldiers and they should be busy educating people about the ideas of Jammeh even at the school level and in the community. I would like him to focus more on the unification of Africa. It is nonsense for some people to say that the unification of Africa will be corrupted by greed.
Author: By Ousman Darboe