Q | So where do African solutions lie in terms of making sure that the monetary value of these natural resources remains with Africans, ordinary Africans in particular?
With regards to natural resources, the solution lies in African leadership. There are some leaders who really fight for their people, but there are also those who just say yes sir, yes sir to foreign powers. These are the type of leaders we never hear being criticised by the Western media. These are their people! And they come to preach to us about democracy. Democracy, is it a 21st-century invention? No, it’s not! You come from Zambia, don’t you?
Yes, I come from Zambia, the copper rich country.
When I was in Form 5, our geography lessons talked about copper in Zambia and our Sierra Leonean teacher, Mr Camara, would tell us how the copper in Zambia was one of the most expensive metals in the world. And since then, up to today, Zambia has been the largest producer of copper in Africa, but is there much to show for it?
Q | You talked about the royalties being 3% to 5%.
Yes, and I know, that tells a lot. But as a leader, you have to be brave enough to say, “I’m not going to accept this.” For me in The Gambia, I have made that very clear.
They have cited to me all the countries that accept 3% or less for natural resource royalties, and I said that is not for The Gambia. So my only crime is standing up to them and saying I am going to defend Africa. They can call me any name they want, they can pay Gambians or other people to criticise me, I don’t give a damn! What I care about is the welfare of my people, the dignity of my people. Unfortunately, the British sold the greater part of our country, for the elephant they met in 1578 and they turned The Gambia into the small snake it is today.
But The Gambia will never be enslaved again or colonised again. That is never going to happen again, and I wish my colleagues in Africa would also stand up and ensure that their countries are not enslaved or colonised again.
It may not be physical colonisation, but it can be for example in the exploitation of our mineral resources of which I find the deals they offer us insulting. And if you stand up to them, they turn against you and call you a dictator.
But it is better to fight for the rights of your people and be called a dictator than being a puppet that they will discard when they don’t have any need of you any more.
Remember the Zairean leader, Mobutu Sese Seko, who was at one time the most important ally of the USA and the West in Africa, and how he was used to prolonging apartheid in South Africa. Mobutu was the bastion of all the anti-African elements that supported apartheid, and sponsored by the West. South Africa was free to use Zaire to attack countries like Zambia and Tanzania, that supported and hosted the African freedom fighters.
Mobutu was the most important ally of the West and when he outlived his usefulness, they sent another of their so-called leaders to kick him out. In the end, they called Mobutu a dictator, and when he died, just four people buried him in Morocco. Why don’t we Africans learn lessons from that? If they could betray their staunch ally Mobutu, who served them so faithfully to the detriment of his own country and people, who is safe in their hands?
Q | So you have a real problem with deals being offered to exploit Gambia’s oil?
Of course I do. We African leaders deprive our people from benefiting from their God-given resources because we accept ridiculous deals that prevent us from earning enough to improve the lives of our people. This is the problem. Because if they come and give you 5% and tell you how much the president is going to get, we agree. But the oil resources do not belong to the president, but to the people. So I will not accept 10% on behalf of the Gambian people. If I did, how would I explain to them that we have 10% and the foreigners have taken 90%? [scoffs]. Why would they want me to accept 5% for 35 years, do you understand?
Unfortunately for most of us, when we want to become president, we promise a lot to our people once we become president, we turn around and believe that the West is god, [thinking] if I don’t please the West, we will not rule for a long time. And as long as Africans turn their backs on the real God and their own people, this status quo will continue, unfortunately.
Q | How would the question of living in a so-called globalised world come in then, a globalised world where you have to work with partners and foreign investors to help develop the natural resources of your country?
Well, globalisation doesn’t mean we have to give away our natural resources for a song. No. And I am not saying that all companies are bad, but we have to make choices. This is where being truly independent is very important, and working with countries who have moral values, who know that this wealth belongs to Africa. We have heard many times about how China just gives to African dictators without regard to their human rights record.
I was going to come to that.
But then the same Western countries turn around and accept the same Chinese capital investment. If the Chinese should pull out their capital investments in the USA today, the American capital markets would collapse. But they think Africans are stupid. No! We are not.
The advent of China in Africa has given the Africans the latitude to choose who they want to work with. And this is a threat to the West, to their hedge funds and so forth, so they will do anything to discredit China.
Today, we also have the Gulf states, we have Asia and the BRICS [Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa], but what is more important is to work with whoever has a conscience. I am not saying that all the Western countries are vampires, there are people and countries there who have a conscience, who have always stood up for African interests, but they are very few. But importantly, let us take control of our countries, our resources, and then from there we will decide who we want to work with.