In our maiden issue, Mustapha Kah as a Youth Activist and Social Affairs Commentator is our guest on the interview. Isatou M. Ceesay had this rare and exclusive interview with him.
Your name is commonplace but it’s been difficult to get hold of you for an interview of this nature. How about an introduction?
My name as you know is Mustapha Kah. I am a youth activist and a social and current affairs commentator. I have been involved in youth activism from a very young age. I served in leadership positions throughout my educational career. I was vice president, University of The Gambia Students Union, Secretary General, National Union of Gambian Students, President, UTG Debate Association. In 2014, I became the first person to represent The Gambia in an international debate championship after which I formed Debate Gambia Association.
I am also the CEO of Banjul Open Debate. In 2015, I became the first Gambian to be elected Vice President, ECOWAS Youth parliament. I have won a number of national and international awards for my work. In 2015, I was honored with a citation of honor by the Pan African Universities Debating Championship.
In the same year, one of the debaters I trained won the best country speaker in the African championship. In 2017, I was a nominee for the first ever youth of the year award organized by The Gambia Radio and Television Services. I was also a contestant for the 2017 National Assembly Elections. I have degrees in law and political science. I am currently pursuing a Master’s degree in law. I am also a fellow of President Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative.
What role have you played in national development?
Firstly, I think national development is a very wide arena. It is not something that comes about without hard work and strategic planning. This is why I have been playing different roles in national development. I have often wondered why after 50 years we are still where we are. I think this is where my contribution to national development comes into play.
As a student, I got involved in the welfare of my colleagues. I felt that I could serve them and improve upon their condition. That’s how I began to be involved in politics and student leadership. I learned many skills along the way including debating and public speaking. I have also used those skills to train and develop my colleagues.
Some of the many young people I worked with were allergic to public speaking. But I worked with them sharing experiences and they eventually became the best debaters the country has ever seen. Many of them eventually became leaders. I have also been a teacher. In 2010, I was among the pioneers of the National Volunteers Teachers Project. I was posted to a village 48 kilometers after Basse for one year where I taught English and History.
You have contested for Member of Parliament. What was your vision and what motivated you to try your hands in politics?
I saw what happened inthe last regime and I came to the conclusion that some of us who are blessed with leadership qualities need to serve our people. I often look at some of the countries we gained independence with at the same time and it makes me sad. Two years ago I travelled to Singapore. This is a country that got independence the same year with the Gambia. But today they are a ‘First World’ country and we are still wallowing in poverty.
You can imagine what we have done to ourselves and our country. This is why I contested. I believed that I had the skills to serve my people and improve their lives. With my background in law, political science and debating, I was sure I fit in perfectly well in parliament.
Unfortunately, I didn’t win, but I got my deposit refunded to me by the IEC which means I did very well. I was amazed by the reaction to my candidacy. Many people appreciated my ideas. I stood as a change agent. My focus was not politics as usual. I was a solution centered candidate and I am happy that I inspired many people particularly youths and women.
Will you contest in the next elections?
Nobody can predict the future and that’s why I don’t like to say never. I believe that everything happens at the right time. The next elections are four years away, meaning that anything can happen from now till then. I love what I am doing at the moment particularly focusing on academia and youth work. Often I do not like to do things without getting the blessings of my parents and my people. The last time they helped to convinced me to contest. If they do same in the next elections I may as well contest. But for now, I want to say that Allah is the best planner and he knows what is best. I will seek his guidance.
Are you in a relationship?
I am single at the moment. As I said, my focus is on academia and I am happy with that.
Tell me about the debates you organize?
I have always loved public speaking and debating since I was a child. As a self-taught debater who has won many awards I wanted to share experiences with fellow youths. I participated in the Third Ghana Tertiary Debate Championship in 2014 reaching the quarter finals. It was a tough competition and believe in me, I was debating against the best in West Africa.
The reason why I started Debate Gambia was to train a lot of young people on public speaking. I didn’t stop there. I realized debating is all about practice too. In 2016, I initiated the first ever national debate championship called the Masters Round Debate Championship. It was followed by another debate tournament called Banjul Open Debate.
We have not seen much youth participation in the coalition government. Can you shed light on that?
Well I think that’s unfortunate. Youths are 64% of our population. And they are as capable as the elders who were appointed. In most cases, they are far more competent than many of the Ministers. So I don’t see any reason why they should be sidelined in top appointments. Many young people gave up a lot to see the change happen. Many of them died.
Many were tortured and jailed. I also feel that it’s not just about the appointments. It’s also about the policies to address the problems of the youths. Unemployment is still a problem in the country. We can’t continue to sidestep those issues.
For the youths, I want to say that political power is not something you get on a silver Platter. It’s something you have to fight for. And until we are ready to fight for our own, we will remain where we are. So it’s time to join politics and seek elected office. That’s the only way we can change our plight and make policies that work for us.