By Dr. Mannet
I seldom contribute to online debates about people or events happening in our country in spite of my strong views about the direction our country is heading. Today, and may be for the last time, I am writing, driven by my conviction to set the records straight about the Amadou Samba I know. I am also choosing the pen-name – Dr. Mannet – to symbolize that key protagonist in Charles Dickens’ celebrated novel – A Tale of Two Cities.
Within a period of 7 days, I have seen two articles portraying Amadou Samba as The Gambia’s angel that deserves our respect, sympathy and commendation. Without doubt, people are entitled to their opinion but caution demands that such opinion be given on solid facts. After reading the two articles, one written by Ebrima G Sankareh and the latest by Sam Sarr, I realized that both authors either do not know Amadou Samba well enough and consequently wrote out of ignorance, or they have simply chosen to ignore what is obvious even to the most casual observer of events here in The Gambia. As a Gambian living in The Gambia and going through the daily hardship without complaining for fear of reprisals, I do not know what both authors’ motives were but I can assure them one thing: their respective articles have shattered their public credibility especially Mr. Sankareh, who I had previously regarded as an icon when it comes to journalism in The Gambia. I will now reveal what both authors do not know or have chosen to ignore about Amadou Samba. This is knowledge gathered first hand and, in some cases, through people whose paths in life had, at one time or the other, crossed that of Mr. Samba.
I hold no grudges against Amadou Samba but I passionately hate his arrogance and Mafioso-like character which is mostly known only to those in the business world and those who have worked under him. Amadou has been variously described in the two articles as a generous, kind-hearted and nice person who is creating jobs for Gambians through his businesses. I do not know for others but my understanding of generosity and kindness is that they begin with those close to you. If those close to you see only the ugly side of you, then your generosity and kindness are nothing but what my people call “Samba Alarr”, a charade. Please let the authors do their research by seeking out those who have worked for Mr. Samba in one of his numerous companies in this country and sound their opinion about the treatment including the threats and abuses regularly dished out to them by their “generous” and “kind-hearted” fellow. How does it feel when you use the labour of a person for 30 days and it was time to pay him but instead you either hold the payment for a couple of weeks or sack the worker altogether without salary for very flimsy excuses? Amadou Samba used to own a company called Gamsen that was involved in the Airport construction alongside Pierre GoudiabiAtepa, a well-known architect from Senegal. How many people worked for Gamsen in that airport project and what has been their monthly experiences working for that company? After the completion of work and the handing over of the airport, the terminal building continued to leak like an old basket. Was Mr. Samba or Gamsen the most qualified to win that contract? If not, how did he win it? We understood and appreciated the sense of patriotism in the then Chairman Jammeh who, at the time, argued that it was better to give the project to a Gambian company to ensure the creation of jobs and to support the local economy as the money would stay in the country. A sensible argument at the time! If we were to “turn back the hands of time”, borrowing the words of R. Kelly, there would be a re-cogitation of that decision. Yes the money indeed stayed but for whose benefit? Ask the workers of Gamsen for answers.
The same Gamsen Construction was involved in the construction of the headquarters of a new bank owned by some Nigerian investors along Kairaba Avenue in the late 1990s. In August of 1997, the initial structure that was under erection on the same site by Gamsen miraculously crumbled to the ground killing several of the workers. It rained heavily on that fateful day which was part of the factors said to have affected the building. Please ask the relatives of those workers who died in that incident what has been their experience with Mr. Samba since that sad event. As if this was not bad enough, the same Mr. Samba failed to complete the new building for the bank on time as agreed with the Nigerian investors. Decency demands that you compensate the counterparty when you fail to deliver your part of a bargain. However, in this case, the “decent Amadou Samba”, in his wisdom and good judgment, decided to avail the Nigerian pioneers and their skeletal staff, his 3-storey St Mary’s property at Cape Point for on a rent basis. This is after the Nigerian investors had already paid him upfront for the whole construction work. When the bank staff finally moved in, they had a terrible experience in the first year. The whole roof of the building started leaking seriously. How did I know? I used to work for a construction company whose services were sought to repair the leaking roof as Gamsen, we later understood, failed to fix the problem even after several alerts by the officials of the bank. The first day my team went to the site to work, Amadou got informed and he came in insulting everyone at the scene including the bank officials for asking someone else to do the job without his consent and before he officially handed over the building. My team had to pack and immediately leave the scene as the situation was getting nearly ugly in full public glare. In the Gambia, these are the “decent” people who get congratulated with a pat on the back. What message is being sent to the younger generation of Gambians?
We all know Mr. Samba is in the water business. For those who do not know, he owns Gamwater Company employing Indians and some Gambians. Before and after him, some other entrepreneurs emerged in the same water business. Amadou did not stopat using his influence to scuttle these competitors but of moresignificance, he skilfully employed a combination of threat and dishonesty to cow these competitors and limit their market share. You dare not market your water in places identified as a Gamwater territory. There were other investors that had, in the past, chosen Gambia as a destination thanks to the efforts of GIPFZA in attracting foreign investment. In a few cases, some of the investors strayed into the wrong hands of Mr. Samba and in no time realized that Mr. Samba’s message was very clear: any threat to his business interests cannot be tolerated and therefore the ultimate option was to change course and find other suitable options. What was the opportunity cost for Gambia and Gambians?
Even bankers have not been spared Mr. Samba’s arrogance. Talk to Mr. Samba’s relationship managers in the various banks to understand who that seemingly smooth operator in dark glasses really is. He is also involved in the Foreign Exchange business and employs people to run the business for him which puts him in direct competition with banks for foreign exchange. In the past, the Dalasi has shillyshallied in relation to other currencies and the government blamed the operators in the foreign exchange market for the swings in the value of the Dalasi. In the end, a number of foreign exchange bureaus were closed. They were accused of speculating on the Dalasi leading to the erosion of its value. What the government did not know or maybe chose to give a blind eye to is the deep involvement of Mr. Samba and his foreign exchange outfit in the business of speculation. But the bureau still exists. The above incidents are just the tip of the iceberg.
I have intentionally left out Mr. Samba’s relationship with President Jammeh because I have very little or no knowledge about that and cannot speculate on things beyond my knowledge. However, given the recent Press Release aired on GRTS about the incident involving Mr. Samba in Dakar, and the position taken by The Gambia Government in this case of a private citizen, I am left pondering whether it is not a typical Animal Farm scenario of some animals being more equal than others. How many private citizens have been assaulted or killed outside of Gambia and, in some cases, their cadavers flown home for burial without any Press Release or acknowledgement by the government? Why has this latest one attracted such a reaction? Most of us in The Gambia only became aware of the incident through the GRTS news broadcast and the question my type have been asking since then is: what is the nexus between this supposedly private citizen and the establishment warranting such a release and stance? What interest does the government have in this case to the extent of wanting to risk their relationship with Senegal, which surrounds Gambia on the three sides?
Mr. Samba is said to be a lawyer by training. Therefore he is familiar with our common Legal parlance on the Clean Hands doctrine that “He who comes into equity must come with clean hands”. So how clean are the hands of Mr. Samba? Warning: If the victims of Mr. Samba were to come out one by one to narrate their side of their encounter with this man, people will not only be amazed but “dekabi defaa toj”.