Alagie Manneh: Your father was mayor of Banjul, and now you are mayor, where did you cut your political teeth?
Mayor Lowe: I did not learn politics from my father. I started doing politics – I mean in a serious context – when I joined the UDP. Before that, as you said, my father was a mayor and I was young and sympathetic to PDOIS. I was a sympathiser. When the UDP emerged, I became a member of the party, the party I believe stands firm for the people of The Gambia.
After the removal of Jammeh, you came and threw your malan in the political fray. Why did you choose to join UDP instead of, for example PPP, where your father was a lynchpin?
I was never a PPP supporter; I was a sympathiser of PDOIS. If my father was PPP should, I be PPP? I am an independent woman, searching for my own throne. I cannot allow anybody to micromanage me in politics. At least I have a sister who still believes in the ideology of PPP.
Your victory literally broke the glass ceiling as first female elected mayor of the capital city, personally what did it represent for you?
It gives me the opportunity to achieve what I want to achieve in politics which is to change certain policies, especially about women and youth empowerment. This was a campaign slogan for me. To be quite honest, I took this position having at the back of my mind that there were things happening… things I think and believe I can change. Basically, I took the position on humanitarian grounds to enable me change certain policies and the lives of people. So, this means a lot to me. I am grateful to the Gambian populace, especially the women folk, who stood by me during those tough times. I thank the populace of Banjul and by extension the Gambian people.
How difficult is it for women to successfully contest political office in The Gambia?
I would say it’s difficult and at the same time not difficult. For example, if women try to enter politics and lead, you would hear so much of the bullying, so much of the stereotyping. This is because our traditional and cultural norms are such that these things are instilled in us. I call it blackmail… trying to tell us women, we belong to the house and are responsible for taking care of children. But once upon a time, women were the rulers and they did extremely well. In fact, they were rulers before men, and what they brought is unity and peace. This was why during the traditional days, they were more of rulers than men, but when the colonial days came, women were removed from the political scene. To sum it up, it’s very difficult as a woman to rule in a community or nation where it is instilled in us that the political arena is a male-dominated arena. For example, if you look at what’s trending on Facebook, that is all geared towards trying to silence a particular woman, who is independent in thought and perspective. I don’t want to call names here but…
You are saying you are disturbed or perhaps even worried that a dangerous precedent has now been set by those bent on silencing women by every means necessary?
That’s really, really, uncalled for [to expose a woman in that fashion]. But I want it to be clear that that the person in the photo is not her. I am 1000 percent sure it’s not her. I know the individual personally, and I can tell you, from my experience with her, that’s not her. I’m not here to defend her but this is an attempt to stop her from doing or from thinking how she thinks. It can be me tomorrow. This is how vulnerable women are. This is the way they think they can silence women who are vocal. Even though we don’t agree on policies or in the same camp, that doesn’t mean something like this should happen. I deem it necessary to retaliate, to put emphasis on this.
Mayor Lowe, before joining politics, you were already a rich woman, how did you make your money?
I will not say I am rich, but I am contented. I worked so hard for it. I think I am the first female Gambian, who supplied hotels in their big quantities. When I started my business in the hotel, I didn’t have any Gambian competitor, all of them were Chinese or Indians. I believed in myself and in what I was doing.
You gave the women of Banjul D10M, where did you get the money from?
[Laughs] I told you I have been working so hard since 2000. You know, some people think 10 million is a lot of money, I wish I could give them 100 million. I’m happy the Women’s Enterprise Fund is coming and every woman should be proud that they will be able to start something now with a very small interest rate. Some people are saying the money is from the president but this is not from the president or any other politician. This is a money given by EU for the women of The Gambia.
Your recent ascendancy as president of the African Capital Cities Sustainability Forum, ACCSF, came as a great boost to your image, how will it impact BCC and Gambia in general?
A lot. Putting Banjul in the limelight means a lot. This is not a bluff but when I first traveled to Morocco to attend a congress, some mayors didn’t know Banjul existed. This put not just Banjul, but The Gambia in the limelight. Who would ever think that Rohey Malick Lowe and Bill de Blasio, the now elected mayor of New York, would be in the same newspaper? It will take the city all the way to the global platform.
Since you declared your intent and entered politics, you continue to attract admiration and dislike in equal measure, what keeps you strong?
The people who believe in me keep me going. I have passed through a lot. I used to say that I am one of the most insulted politicians in the country. But that cannot stop me. They have tried and tried. And now, we have also a mechanism in place; you give it to us, we give it back to you.
Those who like you said you have a strong fighting spirit but your critics said you fight too much and its unbecoming of a mayor, what do you say to that?
I think people forget so easily. I don’t know in which context they are saying Rohey Malick Lowe is a fighter. But what do you want me to do? For example, the Banjul project, they said it’s not your business, it’s not your problem but they came all the way to my house, threw stones and left and people expect me to be quiet? Should I be quiet?
You are already half way into your mandate as mayor, looking back, what are some of your achievements?
Normally, I don’t like to talk about my achievements. I leave that to the people to say what our achievements are.
And what about your failures?
I will be happier to talk about what I could not achieve. One thing that I wanted to see possible and still could not make possible is to have a state-of-the-art hospital.
You are rumored to have an interesting life as a young woman in Europe, having to go to prison and stuff, has that experience had any effect on who you are today?
This is what I am saying, here comes the stereotyping again. I think it’s very, very important if you are talking about these things you bring forth evidence. [People who are peddling these], can say whatever they want. This is what I was telling you with the cyber bullying as well. It’s just sad in The Gambia one can sit and talk about whatever one wants or even put stuff on the internet and would not be charged with anything. That’s the saddest. I think it’s advisable when people say something they come up with evidence. I don’t waste my time on these [allegations] to be honest.
So, they are false?
As I said, I wouldn’t even waste my time talking about… you know, rumors. No.
There are also reports that you were involved in drug dealing…
I have been hearing this since I entered politics. I want to ask you something, do you think the other women politicians coming up will not face these things? How many times have I been talking about this? Be prepared, the next thing that is coming, is my nude pictures. Haven’t you seen a picture of me and Mai Fatty going to a hotel in Dakar? I think Mai was in France at the time and I, here on a campaign. And they brought that picture. I expect anything and I am happy when they bring it up. Let them call me a drug dealer. Let them put it on CNN and BBC. Did that stop me from winning the election? Some people were even saying domola, she flies.
They said during your incarceration, you were the subject of sexual assault by a prison warden, is that true?
This is what I am telling you, they will say all these. There’s nothing that I didn’t do. Even my house, they said ‘no, that’s not her house’. They said I have been noticed to vacate my own house. They’ve been doing a lot of talking.
How do you stonewall all these?
I don’t care. You think I have to live like this forever? At the beginning it was difficult because my child, my mother… but now, let them bring it up every day. Who cares? Let them bring it. When I was coming to the arena, I didn’t have a husband. When they started saying she’s a drug dealer, a witch, a chagha [prostitute], the gentleman said okay I want to have somebody who is a chagha, maybe she can do something on the bed better than what I have.
You have been known to be fighting for the strengthening and independence of local councils, is the central government responding?
About local governance, I am tired of the fighting. Please, let the sleeping dog lie. I beg you.
So they are not listening?
No, we have now ceased fire. At least they have paid three months’ salary. So, we ceased fire for three months.
How has the rift between Lawyer Darboe and the central government affected your work?
The problem is, the central government is so politically minded. Everything they take it so defensive. They always take everything and try to politicise it. We are used to the fighting. I think they are tired, and I am tired. We will start again in January.
You were shown in the media confronting the works minister about the much-criticised Banjul Roads Project, do you still believe that project was shrouded in secrecy and that something was wrong with it?
I am still of the conviction that Banjul City Council deserves to know and should have the project document. Even after life as mayor, I will not forgive them for hijacking the city and not respecting the City Council, who deserves to know what they are doing. This is something that I just cannot forget.
Because due procedure wasn’t followed?
Because they disrespected me to the core. Again, that didn’t stop me from telling them that the way it [the project] happened was corrupt to the core. They are still trying to hide things from Banjul City Council. That raises red flags. But this can only happen in Gambia.
There are rumors that your relationship with Lawyer Darboe may not be as rosy as it once was, what happened?
I actually do not have any problems with Darboe. Absolutely no problem with Honourable Ousainu Darobe, to be quite honest.
So why then did the UDP refuse to congratulate you, publicly, on your ascendancy as president of ACCSF?
Who told you they haven’t congratulated me? Why do you think it’s a must for UDP to congratulate me? You think it’s a must for them to congratulate me? Darboe congratulated me.
But why didn’t the UDP congragulate you?
Maybe UDP think… or maybe it’s an oversight or that perhaps they think it’s not important. I don’t even know how to put this. I don’t want to think anything to be quite honest. I am not somebody who is afraid to speak my mind, of course. It was for me, irrelevant [there perceived failure to congratulate me], and I was just happy hearing from my dad Ousainu Darboe congratulating me. But then I was hearing this becomes a topic on social media. I am human. At first, I said okay, but then family members and friends started calling me about the issue. It was then that I reflect and then Gunjur Online also called me about it. Another journalist came to interview me on the issue but I declined. You are just one of those journalists who is very smart that even after an hour, you didn’t mention anything about that. This is what they [the UDP] want to do. What can I do? At the end of the day, if you look at it, I have thousands of congratulatory messages even from my own UDP comrades including opposition members. This was just a statement from UDP which I could appreciate a lot to say okay this comes from my executive and sent it to my colleagues like the mayor of Dakar did when some statements from her party came in. The mayor of Rabat was also congratulated by his party. Should I go to my party and say hello, write a statement and congratulate me? No, I wouldn’t do it. When I won the African Capital Cities presidency, there was no statement from the [UDP] executive. Again, the Global Parliament of Mayors, yet no statement from them. Even if I happen to be elected secretary general of the United Nations, I will not have any congratulatory messages from them.
Almamy said UDP didn’t want to be self-congratulatory, what do you think?
I am happy that Mr Taal [UDP spokesperson] said that they don’t want to be self-congratulatory. I want to tell Mr Taal that it’s so sad you don’t celebrate your own but you go all the way thousands of kilometers to celebrate somebody else.