It is local government and city council elections time in Norway and politicians are busy selling their programs to the general public. One of those vying for a seat at the city council in Oslo on a Labor Party ticket is Channeh M. Joof. She is originally from Gambia and has been living in Norway since 1986. Kibaaro News caught up with her in Oslo and she shared with us her background, experience and political goals. We hereby reproduced the full interview conducted by kibaaro’s Oslo desk.
Kibaaro News: Thank you for giving us the opportunity to interview you. Can you start by telling us a little bit on your background?
Channeh M. Joof(C.M.J): I am Channeh Maram Joof from Gambia West Africa . I am from Bakau and I came to Norway in 1986. Before I came to Norway I was engaged in voluntary jobs and at the same time I was very interested in politics. As many Gambians know my father was a politician. At an early age I started going around attending political rallies but it was fun then. My political career started in 1993 when I became a member of the labor party in Norway. In the beginning I was not very active but gradually I became deeply involved in politics especially when I moved to Oslo in 2003
Kibaaro News: Can you brief us on what really motivated you to get into politics, what kind of seat you are vying for and what role you intend to play?
C.M.J: What really motivated me to get into politics is when I came to Norway at an early age I didn’t have people in society to guide me and this is one of my motivation into politics to guide others. I am very much interested in helping the youth and I can see that youth need guidelines, they need ways and areas they can find jobs, built up their careers and be exposed to different issues that will make life easier for them. At the moment I am a deputy member at the city council but my main aim is to become a permanent member. I’ve been a deputy member for 4yrs and I am running for a 2nd term to be a permanent member. There are lots of things that are within the society that need to be addressed. Things happening to the youth like lack of job opportunities. Many youth are highly educated and well resourced but are discriminated in the job market. Such issues need to be addressed. Another issue had to do with kids. Although the school system is good but there are lot of things that are so difficult for minority kids. I want them to be aware of such things and help them fulfill their education. Child welfare issues also need to be addressed. Many immigrants are having problems with child welfare system. Most of it is because of cultural misunderstanding. The Norwegian society does not know many cultural codes of foreigners likewise foreigners too don’t know the cultural codes of Norway. In order to solve such problems there should be continuous dialogue to find common solutions.
Kibaaro News: You are someone from an immigrant background and you are vying for a city council seat can you tell us about your campaign team?
C.M.J : I was so lucky. I came to the Mosque about 3weeks ago and had a meeting with people mainly from West African backgrounds; Gambians, Senegalese, Guineans etc and they decided to set up a campaign team that will help me in the campaign trail. I really appreciated it. Running for city council elections and even securing a seat is not only for me but for everyone in my community. Even though I am interested and engaged in politics it is for the benefit of all of us, our kids and grandkids. It is Omar Drammeh who is leading my campaign team together with many others like Saikouba Samateh, Alieu Njie, Ida Mboge and many others. I can see that they are doing all what they can to help me achieve this goal and I really appreciate it. They are not only talking to Gambians but also people from other nations. It is indeed important to focus on people from other nations because it will make it easier for me to achieve my goal.
Kibaaro News: It looks like your campaign team comprises of people of immigrant background. Have you to tried to reach out to native Norwegians?
C.M.J: Yes that I have also done because right now I am the leader of the local labor party at Furuset and I have some contact with Norwegians in the committee. I have a big network comprising of Norwegians and people of other nationalities. When Omar put my profile on facebook many of my Norwegian friends were very happy to see it and most of them wrote to me telling me that I have their votes. Using social media is also a way of reaching out to Norwegians. Even though I am from the minority it doesn’t mean that I should only contact the minority, the majority is extremely important and I am not leaving them out.
Kibaaro News: You did mention social media as a campaign tool, what other means do you use in your campaign? Do you do door to door, etc?
C.M.J : The labor party is well known for door to door campaign strategy and I join them in different areas. It is not only social media but embarking on door to door is also very important for us.
Kibaaro News: This topic is very hot one and it involves the influx of refugees into Europe. We are experiencing the worst refugee crises since 2nd World War. Your party has succeeded in having an agreement in parliament to resettle eight thousand refugees from Syria in the next 3yrs. Can you tell us what you will do to facilitate resettlement at the city council level?
C.M.J: I think it is a disaster, the way things are going right now and it is painful to see many people suffering especially children. Yes we agreed on 8,000 Syrian refugees but I wish it was more than that because Norway can take more than 8,000. It is something that really bothers me too and I hope that I would get a chance to contribute in reducing this crises. Politics is not easy and mostly involves give and take. When we had our yearly nationwide meeting we agreed on 10,000 Syrian refugees but the other parties didn’t agree on that amount so we had to negotiate to get at 8,000 instead.
Kibaaro News: Last but not the least, there is a problem with speedy resettlement of refugees from asylum camps to permanent apartments. If you are elected as a permanent member of the city council would your job have anything to do with helping refugees to have something over their heads?
C.M.J: There would always be engagement with such kind of issues and these are issues that are discussed within the party and I alone can’t change such procedures. I will engage myself with such issues to see how things can change but I can’t promise right now that whenever I’m elected I will make such and such changes.
Kibaaro News: Thank you very much Channeh for granting this interview to Kibaaro news and we wish you good luck in your campaign trail.
C.M.J: Thank you too and I want to thank the Gambian Diaspora, Senegalese Diaspora and everyone lending a hand to my campaign. This is an opportunity not only for me but as I said for everyone. Thank you.