Today marks the 24th  anniversary of the founding of our great party  – The United Democratic Party (UDP) . Unlike previous years when we would gather as crowds of comrades to celebrate and reflect on the enduring journey we have embarked on to build a Gambia that is as good as the diverse people that  constitute it , the challenges of a raging pandemic requires that this year we commemorate the founding of the party differently.

I want to begin by acknowledging the valiant efforts of our frontline health workers who at great risk to their personal well-being and with very little resources available to them are exerting tremendous effort to keep all of us safe. It is a matter of grave concern we continue to see sharp increases in the rates of infections as well as hospitalisations and fatalities. I call on every citizen and residents of the country to recognize the presence , scope and serious consequences of this deadly pandemic and strictly follow the prescribed guidelines issued by our health professionals at all times. Compliance with rules and regulations that interfere with normal routines of life is not an easy proposition but the alternative scenario of flouting professional advice designed to control a highly contagious pandemic either through denial of its existence or opting to dispense with the inconvenience and difficulties associated with compliance would only make the situation worse for all of us. A situation that risks lives demands unprecedented sacrifices from every individual: and I am urging all of us to choose the difficult but necessary route of compliance, endurance, and inconvenience.

But that does not absolve government of its core responsibilities to help the citizens face and cope with this deadly pandemic. At the leadership and strategic level, the government has failed miserably to plan and execute an effective and comprehensive approach to this deadly disease. It wasted time and resources on bureaucratic half measures that has taken much needed resources from hospitals, patients, equipment and frontline workers.

The recently announced decision of designating the Serrekunda Hospital as an exclusive Covid 19 treatment center risks jeopardising access to healthcare  for the large number of patients that rely on this facility for the treatment of non-Covid illnesses at a time when our  already over stretched health facilities have difficulties coping with their existing patients loads . The net result would be a denial of easy access to medical care for treatment of other illnesses. A  better alternative would be to release to the Ministry of Health the big air conditioned tents that Yahya Jammeh purchased with our funds currently sitting on statehouse grounds and position them at a suitable locations, properly equipped to be used as a treatment center for Covid 19 patients. It can accommodate a large number of patients and their caregivers with some augmentation of materials and other resources. This will allow our limited health facilities to see a cross section of patients battling non Covid serious illnesses as the identified Covid cases are referred to the designated treatment centers.

It is sad that during this pandemic far too many of our citizens especially the poor and the vulnerable have been left to wither in the vines without even the token food supplies purchased  from Covid 19 funds  reaching them – the  deserving beneficiaries. We must all demand better of our government to uphold their primary duty to the citizens and step up by bringing in independent experts from the large pool of our talented citizens to manage and better organize our approach to this deadly disease. To help our experts better manage this pandemic I implore each and everyone of us to present ourselves for voluntary Covid 19 test inorder to determine our status.  I have submitted myself to the test and thanks to Allah I have tested NEGATIVE.  We should all do the same.

Today as we commemorate 24 years of  the party’s existence,  I pay homage to the men and women , young and old , spread across the length and breadth of our beloved Gambia and to our compatriots  across all continents of the world . I am especially pleased with the sheer number and diversity of very talented and experienced professionals who have joined our ranks over the years. These are among the best in our country and their membership of and support for UDP give me great hope about the future of our party and the country to which we are all committed. I extend my profound gratitude to our vigorous and hardworking chapters spread across the globe for their dedication, superb organisational skills and laser beam focus on what is best for Gambia . UDP diaspora is and has been essential to the history and future of our party.

On this special occasion of our anniversary, I take great pride to introduce and launch the newest unit within our party  – the UDP Students Wing . These dedicated, energetic and intelligent group of youths in the University of The Gambia and other tertiary institutions inspire great confidence in their commitment to democracy and the role they are carving for themselves in its pursuit . They are fully engaged in the entire country with focal persons in every community. This unit is the disciple that preaches UDP’s values to their peers, exchange ideas with them and encouraging each other to be  agents of change in diverse ways. They are leading voluntary efforts in helping spread awareness regarding the pandemic, spearheading our face mask distribution efforts and working with others to help the needy. These youths have heartily adopted the ethos and selfless commitments of those  who preceded them in the persons of comrades like Solo, Shyngle,  Lang Marong, Femi, Solo Koroma, Kanyiba, Sarjo Kunjang, Kunda Camara, Papa Touray, Ebrima Janko Ceesay and many others no longer with us.

The  support, encouragement, hard work and dedication of our entire membership over the years is what has helped sustain the resilience of this party despite all the efforts, violence and terror directed at our party  and people . With all these, you the members and supporters of UDP have endured with courage and dignity.  You partnered with like-minded citizens to continue to write the history of our nation.  I want us to continue that tradition forged in the believe of the moral rectitude of our cause.

I wish to reiterate my repeated counsel to UDP members, supporters and friends and that is to respectfully engage, seek the support and dialogue with every Gambian with utmost humility and decorum. Our task and objective is to persuade our fellow citizens about the efficacy of our ideas regarding our shared goals of making Gambia better for all. Whilst I am confident that we are not bereft of goods ideas and indeed of the best of ideas, we do not claim or pretend to have a monopoly on good ideas and therefore we must all be willing to listen to ideas different from ours with the hope of learning and building consensus . We must all refrain at all cost from the politics of bitterness, insults and polarisation. Let us reflect on the sacrifice of our heroes who are no longer with us but their enduring legacy of commitment to ideas above and beyond their personal needs remain in our hearts and that of a grateful nation.

The journey to defeating a vicious tyrant in 2016 was the culmination of a 22 year effort of prayers, hard work, blood, tears, exile, disappearances, imprisonment, torture and economic ruin of several people. Our people fought in all these categories as part of a necessary battle selflessly, courageously and with passion not in the quest for what they can get for themselves or their family. They were driven by love for country and the firm believe that Gambia deserved a democracy and a government that was as good as its people. Those who wish to peddle the counter factual history that the victory of democracy over tyranny in 2016 was a three month transaction led by an un-known lion killer fool no one with their delusions but themselves. Our collective freedom was delivered in 2016 by those who never gave up on the promise of democracy as an instrument of change and the capacity and experience of ordinary Gambians in its utilisation for peaceful change. Those are the people who would stay up till two O’Clock  in the morning to receive a UDP delegation in their villages or like minded citizens in the diaspora working across party lines and with unaffiliated independents  to support a united front to flush out a tyrant. They gave money, voice and deliverable political capital here at home through family and community intervention to defeat a tyrant and restore democracy.

I will conclude with a note of gratitude to all who share our ideals for a better Gambia. UDP is more than a party to the faithful. It is an idea etched into our hearts and founded on the principles of sacrifice, fidelity to the rule of law and a firm commitment to honest and transparent leadership. I invite all Gambians to join us in this enduring journey to make our country better, seek and bring out the best ideas from our best brains wherever they may be to address our challenges and expand our opportunities.

I pray for Allah to see us through this difficult time, heal the sick and protect the healthy. We pray for next year to find us in better circumstances and for the country to have an opportunity to seek a different direction.

Thank you and always follow all the guidelines of the Ministry of Health and WHO so that together we can contain and beat back what has appropriately been described as “THE BEAST”

Happy anniversary to all our members and supporters