By Lamin Njie, Editor-in-Chief
Essa Faal and Halifa Sallah used their closing statements to lash out at each other in extraordinary fashion in a presidential debate that is unprecedented but will also be remembered for most of the candidates not showing up.
The nation’s six presidential candidates were billed for a big showdown on policy ahead of next month’s presidential election organized by the Commission on Political Debates.
The debate held at the Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara Conference Centre lasted two-and-a-half hours featuring only two of the six candidates – PDOIS’ Halifa Sallah and newcomer Essa Faal. President Adama Barrow of the National People’s Party, United Democratic Party leader Ousainou Darboe, Gambia Democratic Congress leader Mamma Kandeh and Nattional Unity Party leader Abdoulie Jammeh all missed the debate and their debate podiums made for only a decoration.
Mr Sallah and Mr Faal battled it out on five key issues – the economy, infrastructure, health, agriculture and education. Mr Faal however spent the entire time dismissing his opponent’s ideas as socialistic and said they could not work in The Gambia.
“His is socialist and mine is capitalist. It’s just like Nokia 3310 and Iphone 13pro,” Mr Faal talking about Mr Sallah’s ideas said at one instance to laughter in the debate room.
During their closing statements, a completely unhappy Halifa Sallah remarked: “This is not the type of debate I wanted to engage in, it is very combative. I expected something different. But then when personal assault comes, I will hit the person right in the face and people must be careful. There is nothing in a republic that can turn the country into an ideological state.
“So all those people who are saying those things are misleading you. I am a member of ICP-OACP assembly, I sit with European parliaments, they listen to me. People who are hoodwinking you that what they are saying reflect the ideas of Europe are deceiving you. Europe will speak for itself, Africa will speak for itself but not these people who are misleading you to believe that when a particular person is in power…
“Even Jammeh could not be isolated because of international politics. He was getting grants, pretending not to, he was getting loans, pretending not to. How many roads have been built by the European Union? So you must bear in mind when you’re running a government, now we should not talk about ideology because we have a constitution and the Honourable Gentleman knows that. I was appointed as a minister when the coup took place and I rejected it. And when that happened eventually they closed all chapters of political parties. I struggled against it. Whether briefcase lawyer or whatever, he was there, among those people who were prosecuting me.
“He should know how I value democracy, how I value the republic. I fought for it, I have lived for it and I will die for it. We will build the most democratic country in this continent. That’s what we intend to do. People should love the republic and they should love the people.”
Responding, Essa Faal said: “I am really surprised that Mr Sallah appears very angry. I must apologize if I have said anything that riled you up. That was never my purpose. It was a simple where we exchanged ideas and I challenged some of your ideas.
“But let me tell you Mr Sallah, I would not apologise for having views that are different from yours. Gone are those days when we are indoctrinated and caught in awe of some of these statements you have made. We have come of age and we must free ourselves from that shackle of domination. We are now able to think for ourselves and look at things and not awed by the language that we use but rather we scrutinize the content of what is said and I do not apologise for having capitalistic views for I believe it is the system that will make the world run and not archaic and dogmatic and old systems that did not even work where they are created let alone in this country.
“So I am not talking about ideology. I am talking about practical ideas that would work in this country. And Mr Sallah let me tell you: like you, many of us have also made sacrifices for this country. I have left a great deal to come and do this truth commission that is being talked about everywhere in the world and it was a personal sacrifice. So we are all in this together. And I respect you for who you are, I respect you for what you have done for this country. But equally, you must respect other people for what they have done for their country. You do not have a greater love for this country…”