High Commissioner Dembo Badjie
Friday, January 20, 2012
Born to the family of Mankamang Badgie [one of the trusted men of the staunch jihaddist Foday Kabbah Dumbuya] and Nyako Sanneh in 1952, Dembo Badjie is a seasoned administrator, diplomat and committed civil servant who had and is still devoting his life to the service of nation building, having served the country since 1970 to date. He first joined the government in 1970 after completing his senior secondary school.
With further studies in the United States of America where he obtained a degree in political science as his major and economics as his minor, as well as postgraduate studies in development administration at the Glascock University, Badjie returned to The Gambia to lend his expert support to the cause of national development.
He rose through the ranks in various capacities at various sectors of the government machinery both in the First and Second Republics respectively, to his current position as Gambia’s chief diplomat to India, a Bric country that is undoubtedly one of the new superpower economies. Badgie is no doubt a technocrat, a real administrator who was one of the most senior permanent secretaries in government before his redeployment as The Gambia’s high commissioner to Sierra Leone in 2004.
Father of the current minister of Health and Social Welfare, Fatim Badjie, Dembo is currently exploring to the maximum the economic relations existing between Banjul and Delhi, using the policy of economic diplomacy. He has and continues to convince and accompany groups of potential investors from India to the Gambia with an overriding objective of exploring the nation’s investment opportunities.
Below we reproduce the full interview this columnist had with him at his Kanifing Estate residence during his recent trade mission to the country.
Bt: High commissioner, it is a pleasure to have you on the Bantaba, but may I begin this interview by asking you to share your background with us and other experiences that helped to shape your destiny?
HC: I come from three dimensions – my father Mankamang Badgie was originally from Kangkuntu Badjie Kunda, Bwian and he was a typical Jola. My mother Nyako Sanneh comes from the Sannehs in Bansang and Basse and Georgetown. She is a Mandinka. My wife comes from Banjul and she is a typical wollof. So this is why I said I come from three dimensions – Jola, Mandinka, and Wollof.
So I was born in Bansang in1952 and at the age of seven I was brought to Banjul to my late uncle who brought me up from that age to date. So I did all my school in Banjul. My father, originally from Bwiam, was one of the best and trusted men of Foday Kabbah Dumbuya in those days. Foday Kabbah in those days had some lieutenants who were strong men, fearless men and he was able to identify my dad in those days, visited him on many times and tried to convince him to join his Kingdom in Fulladu.
After some years of consultations with the families in Bwiam, Kalagie, and so on, my dad decided to go and serve him for a while. When he wanted to go back to Bwiam, he [Foday Kabbah] said “look I want to give you a territory in Fulladu where you can stay; and you may go and bring some of your family members.” So my father went and consulted the family – some agreed and some disagreed but he then gave it a trial. So he went and gave him first chief but my father rejected that.
Then he [Foday] said okay now we will give you a territory called Bansang. That time it was not like this. So my dad took it and went to bring his people. But because he was a Jola, who was being given a territory in Fulladu by that man, he did not feel safe that he should be there. So he also decided that in the course of time, he brought the Wollofs, the Mandinkas, the Fulas, and this is what constitutes Bansang – a town of all tribes and all cultures.
I have been in the service [public] for 32 years plus. After the completion of my high school I started working at the Custom Department as customs officer from 1970 to 1973. I was then given a study leave to go to the United States of America to the university in Mississippi and after four years, I graduated with a degree in political science as my major and economics as my minor. Then I came back to the Gambia and worked for two years when I was given another scholarship to go the Glascock University to go and do my post-graduate in development administration.
When I finished that I came back and worked in the administration as assistant secretary at the then Ministry of Local Governments, Lands and Mines. Then from there I was sent to Kerewan, North Bank Region as the assistant commissioner under Lamin Samateh as commissioner. I was there for one year from end of November 1977 to end of 1978 when I was moved to Banjul.
I then started rising in the ministries from assistant secretary, senior assistant secretary, deputy permanent secretary, to permanent secretary which took me for over 26 years. In those days there was no quick jump – you have to go through the system and you have to go through the ladder; and you will never be permanent secretary unless you are disposed to provincial administration.
So I also served as commissioner NBR in the First Republic. In 1986-7, I was moved from the administration to the Foreign Service when I worked in the then Ministry of External Service/Foreign Service. I was then posted to the Gambian Embassy in Belgium as first secretary. I served there under Abdoulie Bojang as ambassador. After almost two years in Belgium, I was promoted and transferred to the United Nations in New York where I served as counselor for five years.
Having done six to seven years in the Foreign Service, I was brought back home and I worked in the Office of the President as principal assistant secretary for almost a year when I was sent back again to provincial administration as commissioner. Having gone round all the administrative systems working in seven to eight different ministries, then I was transferred back again to the Foreign Ministry for the third time; this time as the deputy permanent secretary and I was in that position up to June 1994; I was lucky to be among the four officers who were to be promoted as permanent secretaries and the change of the government came.
But luckily for us in spite of the change of the government, the new regime did not stop our promotions. So we were promoted a month after the take over as PS. I served in the capacity of a permanent secretary for 10 years in the Office of the President, in the Ministries of Local Government and Lands, Youth, Sport and Culture, and so on respectively and I was the most senior permanent secretary in the Gambia government up to March 2004 when I was brought again for the fourth times to the Foreign Service.
This time I was appointed High Commissioner to Sierra Leone and ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary to the Republics of Liberia, Ivory Coast. I was in that capacity for six good years in West Africa as ambassador when in July last year , I was moved to the Republic of India as High Commissioner and I was also accredited to Myanmar and the Republic of Bangladesh. I have since been in that position for the past one year three months. So I have spent my whole life – 32 and half years both in the administrative and diplomatic service.
Bt: Sir 32 years is not 32 months. What is the energy that keeps you going this long in the public service?
HC: Well, first of all, when I finished my first initial studies in America, I had made up my mind that I want to come back and serve my country. I was never inclined to study and live abroad; my aim had always been to come and serve my country. Since I came back, it was my oath that I want to stay and work in my country; I never thought about quitting to go and work overseas. No matter what happened, I decided that I must stay and serve my country.
So I had that motivation with me since my initial graduation in 1977 and still belief that I have to serve my country because we cannot allow people to come and develop the Gambia for us or we sit down overseas and expect that development will happen overnight in our country without our inputs. We have to come here, stay here and work for the country. So that is the energy
Bt: Let me take you back to the First Republic where you served in various capacities. How was it like serving the country in those days given the situations in those days – grossly underdeveloped?
HC: Well serving in the First Republic was quite exciting and there was not much development as compared to today. But at least we had the chance also to exhibit our professionalism and we had also the chance to at any time review the Civil Service and try to make sure that it is fine-tuned with the current happenings, trends, development, and administration and so on. So we had that chance.
The only problem in my own view and experience was they [First Republic] were slow in implementation. There was too much planning and the implementation was too slow. You formulate policies, designed projects and then implementation becomes a difficult thing. So the professional and intellectual side of it, everything was okay but implementation side was difficult. It was unlike the present government where implementation was very fast.
If you look at what has happened from 1994 to now, the unprecedented rate of development is amazing. There is no question about that and that can tell you that one spends too much time on planning and the other one spend too much time on implementation. So therefore the impact for one that is spending too much time on implementation is very fast than the other one.
Bt: Having served as a commissioner in the First Republic, what is your take on the provincial administration in those days compared to now?
HC: Provincial administration is a very difficult one but also it is a learning experience even for the commissioner himself because the sociological position of the people, the cultural location of the people, the way people see administration is sometimes different from the scientific one that you and I know. So you have to understand the mentality of the people; you have to understand their cultural setting and you have to understand their development needs and you come up with policies and programmes that are centered on those needs.
But provincial administration would be more effective if the local authorities have power; voice and they are involved in the decision making process – then provincial administration will makes a bigger impact. If the alkalo has the power to come up with decisions concerning the village or certain developments that should take place in the region all the way to the village if he is involved in the process, it tends to go down well with the people than when it comes from top-bottom and comes on them.
So what does well in provincial administration is bottom-up approach than top-bottom approach. So really local authorities were very much empowered and they could take decisions in the councils, and sit with the commissioners and give advice on situations in the region and how they feel certain developments or issues can be tackled such as land disputes and so on. The moment the provincial people are involved in the decision making process then the impact of whatever decision are made becomes greater.
That’s what I have seen and it was very exciting in the sense that commissioners had a role, and their role was recognized and accepted by the people; chiefs had a role and such was recognized and accepted by the people; the same goes for the alkalolou. So therefore decisions coming from the village level to up were very important for the people.
Nowadays, the people tend to a bit disrespect the provincial administration system – I don’t know for what reasons but sometimes some chiefs voice will not stand; some alkalo’s voice will not stand; some commissioner’s voice will not stand. But these are some of the experiences that I can sense.
But the government came up with the Decentralization and Local Government Reform Program which would have resuscitated how provincial administration was and how it could be effectively carried out. But the only problem with that is that if you don’t take the trained manpower and put them in important positions in the provincial administration, such as governor, chairman of area council, members of the area council committees; it could sort of defeat the purpose of the Decentralization and Local Government Reform Program because the purpose of that program is to strengthen capacity at the local level. So at any time you put weaker people in charge of provincial administration, it impacts negatively on the administration of the region. So this is my own experience
Bt: As you already stated, you served under various ministries as permanent secretary and one of the longest serving PSs. What was the motivation during those moments?
HC: Yes firstof all I was lucky to be one of the few technocrats in government that has always performed; wherever I was taken in whatever capacity, I deliver. So the government’s expectation for the Civil Service is to deliver the goods because the Civil Service is the administrative arm of the government. It is responsible for the implementation of policies of the government.
So those who are in positions to implement, they have to be effective, efficient and it has to be recognized by the government and the people that sector x or y is actually delivering. So one advantage I had throughout my Civil Service career is that wherever position I am taken to, I deliver and this is known and recognized by people. This is why up to this day I am talking to you in my capacity as a high commissioner. That is my motivation – to deliver and to make sure that wherever I go to I leave a legacy there that I have done this and that.
Bt: High Commissioner what is the current state of relations between Banjul and Delhi?
HC: Well, the current state of relationship between Banjul and India, I must say very frankly that it is very cordial at the moment. This is because during the past few years we have had very important projects approved by the government of India forTthe Gambia. That has contributed to the strengthening of ties between the two countries. We continue to collaborate with India at the international fora and we try to take common positions in the context of Non-Aligned countries; in the context of South-South cooperation, and in the context of Gambia-India relations.
So we try to harmonise our positions as much as possible at the international level. So at the bilateral level it is going on very well. The Indians now are very keen to come to The Gambia to invest and the Indian government also is willing and keen to support the Gambia government’s development agenda under the vision of His Excellency the president, Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr Yahya Jammeh. I have been there one year three months, and I can say for sure that it is steadily progressing.
Bt: You are now representing The Gambia in a country that is one of the Bric nations and the ninth largest economy in the world by nominal GDP. What are you doing in your capacity as the high commissioner to boost economic relations between Banjul and Delhi?
HC: Yes that is very important. Well since the beginning of the year , this is my third investment and trade missions to the Gambia in which I bring companies and investors from India to come and do something in the country. By that way, it would boost economic growth and create employment for Gambians.
So I primarily believe that my main focus should be to attract as many businesses and investors from India to The Gambia because as you know they already members of the Bric – India and China are now on the world stage and that is where business is now focused on. They have the capacity to expand beyond India and so I am trying with my staffs to make sure that in expanding to Africa, we bring as much as possible to The Gambia.
You heard recently that I came with a group; I have another group that I am bringing January 19th; I have another group that I am bringing first week of February; and I also have a project for the Gambia Women’s Federation. So this is what I want to focus on – economic diplomacy because there is the new strategy now to international diplomacy which is based on economic considerations.
I feel that the Gambia most positioned itself to get as much as possible from our dealings with the Indians. So far economic wise everything is going on well. Now that I was able to witness the launching of the PAGE [Programme for Accelerated Growth and Employment], that is also going to be my blueprint for mobilising external resources, investments that will enhance the performance of that PAGE.
Bt: India and The Gambia are two nations that were both colonised by the British, but the former has climbed far in terms of socio-economic development than the latter. In your view what do you think The Gambia can tap from its once sister-colonised country in terms of experience towards much development?
HC: That is a very good question. Because India was just like The Gambia – just another third world country. But there are two areas that I could see that India had focused on which paid dividend for them. One is agriculture, because if a population of 1.2 billion people are able to feed themselves, it is a clear testimony that their government had given strong emphasis to agriculture and it is paying off. They have sufficient food to feed themselves and even export the surplus. So that is one area that The Gambia should emulate from to make sure that we are self-sufficient in food and export the surplus.
The second aspect is that India started with small-scale enterprises or industries. You see on the way to Banjul, I saw a construction site and I asked what it is about; they said making an industry so that they can make chicken feeds. India started light industries like that – making fertilizer, chicken feeds, making some small scale fabrics from cotton, and so on. India started with light industries and encouraged the development of small scale business enterprises and from there they kept expanding and eventually took off to become a full industrialized country producing everything now.
So these are the two areas that The Gambia can emulate from – agriculture and the setting of light industries like groundnut extracting oil productions, fruit processing industry plants, plantation, processing and exporting, and so on. You can encourage some cash crops which can be processed here lightly for the domestic economy and later on it can be boosted by a large scale enterprise to further enhance production to the extend that we go beyond domestic to export. So really these are the two which I think helped India to be where they are today.
Bt: Mr. Badjie, what can you remember as your most memorable achievement in the diplomatic service?
HC: My most memorable achievement in the diplomatic service is that since 1997 I think it was announced that the Gambia has oil possibility but since then no real movement yet in the exploration or exploitation of the resource until in 2009 – 2010 I was able to bring a Nigerian oil businessman to come and negotiate with the government to get a petroleum license to start onshore exploration.
That is Oranto Oil. I was the one who brought him to the Gambia on two occasions and I led the discussions and negotiations all the way until he came last year, November  and signed an agreement with the government. So I think I can count that as one of my achievements in the diplomatic service.
Then the two companies that are working right now on offshore – Buried Hills and African Petroleum, I was the one who brought African Petroleum to The Gambia and I worked with the African Petroleum people and the Ministry of Petroleum all the way until they eventually signed the partnership with the Buried Hills in which they became the major shareholders and they are now engaged in petroleum exploration on two blocks offshore. Oranto was interested in onshore, but these ones are interested in offshore in the sea.
So Buried Hills were here and were given a license for four years and up to three years they could not accomplish anything until I brought African Petroleum to The Gambia. So when they [Buried Hills] realized the capacity that the people I brought have, they decided to agree on partnership with them and my people agreed but on condition that they will be the majority owner of the partnership.
So they agreed and they signed the agreement and now they are into partnership and are engaged in offshore petroleum exploration. I want Gambians to know that I brought Prince Arthur Azy of Oranto Petroleum who had been given a petroleum license to The Gambia.
Bt: Sir, how about the challenges of diplomacy because it is a very sensitive service. What are your most difficult challenges that you can remember in your career as diplomat?
HC: My most difficult challenges I have faced in the diplomatic service is that when you are asked by the authorities in the country in which you serve about certain issues concerning your country, if you are not acquainted with what is happening in your country or if you are not able explain it in a very defensive manner you will run into problems. That is a very difficult challenge. Sometimes also when you are overseas there some dissidents or frustrated Gambians who will like to criticise the country, the government and the head of state.
So for me at anytime I always say what the truth is. So that is another challenge because you will always come across some opposition elements and as a diplomat from your country, your role is not shut up your mouth but you have to face those challenges, defend those policies, defend the integrity of the presidency, the country and so on. Another most challenging task also is like when you are pursuing multilateral assistance or donor assistance, you have to defend some of those submissions by your government.
If a government submits a progarmme and request for assistance for whatever agenda, you must be able to pursue it and in the process you must be able to be articulate and defend that request by your government to succeed. So that is also one of the challenges. Then another issue is the welfare of Gambians.
In some countries Gambian issue becomes very problematic and the diplomatic mission cannot sit down and fold arms. You have to get up and look into their problems and see how best to solve them. Like when I was in Belgium, every two or three days, a group of Gambians will run from Germany and come into Belgium because they wanted to get hold of them and deport them, but they managed to escape and come to Belgium.
When they come to Belgium, they come to the Embassy and tell you that they wanted to deport them. So you have to get up and do something. Some of them also run into some very serious criminal problems and because of these the image of the country is at stake because they have state documents on them which are found with them in illegal activities. So you have to get up, defend the country and resolve the problem. There more challenges but these are the few that I can mention.
Bt: Sir, we are almost at the tail end of the interview, but before taking leave of you, we know that your daughter, Ms Fatim Badjie, the current minister of Health and Social Welfare is the youngest minister ever to be appointed in The Gambia both in the First and Second Republics having first being appointed around the age of 24. How do you feel about this?
HC: First of all I feel honoured and grateful to His Excellency the president Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr Yahya Jammeh for identifying such a young person to be in cabinet. That is one of the qualities of His Excellency the president; once you are a Gambian and seen to be performing in whatever area you are, and once you are articulate and especially you are young, he has that support for youth empowerment.
So here is a young lady who has come back home, got a job at Comium and she was making a big impact at Comium and was liked by people who could be a very big role models for the young people. So the president in his wisdom decided to call her and appointed her first as minister of Information and Communication and now minister of Health and Social Welfare.
So we can only be grateful as a family to His Excellency and make sure that she follows the footsteps of her father to deliver to expectations; to make sure that she understands the agenda and vision of the government and the president; and do her level best to deliver the goods because that is what I have attached to my job for the past 32 years. As long as she is delivering and she is loyal and faithful to the government and the head of state, I think it will be good for all of us Gambians, and family in particular.
Bt: How is your interaction with Fatim?
HC: Well interestingly we don’t talk about my official matters with her and she too also doesn’t talk about her official matters with me. So we always talk about family matters, social issues. But her role she doesn’t talk to me about it. Where it is difficult and she is young, and she needs a technocratic advice, then she will consult me having spent all my life in administrative and diplomatic service. But otherwise we hardly talk about either of our official matters.
Bt: High commissioner, The Gambia has just emerged from a democratic process in which President Jammeh got a landmark 72 percent. What is your impression of this process?
HC: I think the democratization process is taking a steady course since 1994 and that has led to the country hosting four successive [presidential] elections so far in a very peaceful and transparent manner. With the respect to the recently concluded election, I am of the view that the 72 percent achieved by His Excellency was an expression of the determination of the Gambian people to move ahead with development under President Jammeh’s leadership.
I keep telling people all along democracy is not by being angry or fighting; as a government deliver to the people and the country and when the day of recording comes, your administration will pass the test on the records of its achievements. So the administration of President Jammeh has passed the test on the records of its achievements. So I am very impressed that the whole process went on very well in a very peaceful manner and the peoples’ verdict has come in favour of President Jammeh and that is a signal to more developments coming for The Gambia.
I was a commissioner for the North Bank Division during the First Republic. I remember when we have official meetings or guests coming to me; after six o’clock the ferry closes down. So they either have to go to Darsilami to spend the night or go to Barra and spend the night until the next morning. But today if there is a christening ceremony in Kerewan at 10 0’ clock, you can leave Banjul and meet up with the ceremony. Today you can drive from Barra all the way to Farafenni very quick.
But in my it is not possible and between Kerewan and Farafenni it will take you almost two hours drive almost in certain times after 6 0 clock you are scared to take the road. But now there is nothing like that and the Gambia in its entirety is developed today. Today if any body is honest, even if a blind man comes to Gambia, he must feel the dynamism of the development done by President Jammeh.
No body can deny this fact. It is not a change that brought empty promises but a change that has made a significant impact on the landscape of this country. That is the fact. So politics is not about the next world, but is about this world. Anybody who brings development to you is the answer.
Bt: That does it for this interview. But before taking leave of you, what are your final words?
HC: Well my final words are as we settled down into a new era [after election], I think now the healing of the wounds, and reconciliation and peace becomes an indisputable prerequisite to sustainable development. Now everybody in The Gambia should put everything behind, rally behind the president and the government’s newly adopted development agenda [the Programme for Accelerated Growth and Development] and support it to the fullest for the common good. When the country is developed; it is not developed for Mr. Badjie or Mr. Kinteh, APRC or that party; it is developed for the common good. All Gambians should be positive in working for development. I think this is important
Bt: Thank you so much for High Commissioner for taking your time to talk to the Daily Observer’s Bantaba.
HC: Thank you too, and I am quite impressed with the journalistic level that the paper has assumed in recent years and we shall continue to be keen readers of it. We encourage you to serve your nation by giving people the information, education and so on. Definitely the paper has seen marked improvement in the recent years which is as a result of your hard work and professionalism.
Author: Hatab Fadera