Letter to my nephew

I greet you with my spear held aloft in our warrior traditions of old. Great Chief you may be, but you are the son of my sister and I have things to tell you. Open the pages and read! Read the story of Luqman, the pivot of whose philosophy is the ‘golden mean’. Know that you are one in a million, chosen by Him that is greater than all to lead His people. You are not an accident; you are a design. You were taken to the parting of the mountain attempted the ascent. And you must, because you are destined to.

Open the pages and read! In all things, be moderate. Do not be silent but do not talk too much, for when you talk too much, words drop from mouth that should never be spoken. Do not be cowed down but do not be arrogant for you cannot tear asunder the earth nor can you rival the mountain in height. Have humility and patience; they will give you constancy and reasoned determination to carry on your struggle. I know your faith is your handhold. Drop your sword and hold it – your handhold off faith – with your two hands. It shall never break. But listen to your people. God speaks in their voices. Remember the ancient prophet who asked God to tell him what kind of man he was, and he was told: ‘you are what your people say you are!

You, My Nephew, will cease being the chief the day any man can just get up and tell anything to you in your face, but, when you call dialogue at the bantaba, let him who speaks dissent speak out. Remember, words should be a little wild sometime for they assault the thoughts of unthinking men. People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when darkness sets in; their true beauty can only be seen from the light within.

There will always be those who love you and those who hate you as there are those who are hated and loved by you. Remember, there are people who hate even God who created all things. They walk the earth and revel in their rebellion and he has not struck them down with a thunderbolt. You, My Nephew, what can you do? You are sans power. Even the tiny anopheles mosquito can kill you, what can you do that He Who created all things Himself has not chosen to do? Why pile up the anger in your belly? Remember, the rights and lives of men come not from the generosity of the state or from your hand but from God.

Remember, it is good sometimes to suffer opposition and men think bad of you and misjudge you even when you know you mean well. Such things are an aid to humidity. They would preserve you from pride and vainglory, for are we not more readily inclined to turn to God as our witness when men despise us and think no good of us? Open the pages and read, Son of my Sister! There is no monopoly of truth of ideas and of wisdom. Drop your sword and your rosary beads and raise your two hands to the mighty heaven and pray, like ‘Isaac Kujabi’, to Him who created all things to grant you the wisdom of governance as He granted to Solomon and those kings He had anointed in their youth who came before you. Only mercy of God can lead you unto the straight path.

Take counsel from your counselors. God gave you one mouth and two ears and that means you should listen twice as hard as you speak. Listen to the voices of wisdom and of knowledge. Our elders say, ‘one fist cannot cover the sky.’ You cannot be everything and you cannot do everything. Sit in councils and take councils and take counsel and rule according to the laws as you have pledged in the covenant with your people withour fear or favour, ill will or affection. Remember, God sees all things done and all things that are hidden in the breast of men. And remember, the national anthem of hell is, ‘I did it my way’.  And Remember, you cannot win every battle. And even if you do, there will come a day when you will, like the fourth century BC King Pyrrhus of Epirus, lament: ‘One more such victory and we are ruined!’

Son of My sister, there was a man called Thomas-a-Kempis who said: At the Day of Judgement, we shall not be asked what we have read but what we have done.’ Another man, Thomas Moore, who was beheaded by an English king, Henry VIII, for refusing to sanction the break from the pope, told his daughter, Alice, not to spend all her days reading because ‘ there is no end to the making books.’ But didn’t God Himself begin His last revealed message with the command: ‘Read!  This same imploration has been the mantra of my Chinese godfather, Professor Edgar Lin, every time we meet. Reading, he tells me, waters the flower of new ideas and the ideas that reading generates are catalytic to change. As Horace cries, Atque inter silvas Acadedemi quarere verum! Seek the truth in the groves of Academus! The academus that is the universal school. Anyone who opts not to be a reader in the quest for new transformative ideas will become the classic victim of hubris.

You have great faculty, Son of My sister. You have the ambition of the Two-Horned One and the energy of a supernova. But you must conserve it, purify it and direct it. And always remember the law of the golden mean! Drop your banal philosophy of: ‘The World is Three Days’ and those rent-a-quote philosophies of the little minds with heads like Nik Nak who surround you. Discard those visions whose missions are impossibilities. Read! Read the good books and find wisdom and new ideas therein. You will not find your ideas in the oysters of the playwright Robert Bolt, but in the hard nuts of the kernels of the poet Derrick Walcott. Those arrays of philosophies, theories and systems you have been propounding have failed your people. They will all collapse. You live in a world of ideas. Without new ideas you will remain prey. To survive, you must learn to be the predator, like the cougar. Look for new ideas of creating wealth of your people and for your people. You can build your republic, your Utopia, your Civitas Solis but you must first open the pages of the book and read.

Read about the wisdom and about the unwisdom of those leaders who came before you. Read and understand why governments and rulers engineer policies contrary to their interests: why the Trojan rulers allowed the wooden horse inside their city walls despite all their suspicious; why Charles XII, Napoleon and Hitler successively invaded Russia; why Montezuma and his 300,000 warriors refused to believe that their attackers were men and not gods; why the British refused to regard ‘The Great Soul’ as anything but a little ‘naked fakir’; why Jawara supplanted BB Dabo with the much-maligned Saihou Sabally; why Mambuna Bojang, King of Kombo, ceded the island of Banjul to the English for a drum of rum, a few pounds and a box of tobacco leaves; why Tony Blair chose to be the shadow of an ignorant and fundamentalist former governor from Texas.

Son of My Sister, tell me, why have you chosen for your whipping boy those people who regard themselves as ‘Those Who Come From Manding’? These are a people bellicose in their pride. Leave them to their history, whatever they say it is. What profits you to say otherwise? Know that historians do not make good kings and good kings do not make good historians. It is the law. Look across the sea to Côte d’Ivoire and see the tragedy being wrought by a former history professor, Laurent Gbagbo! Your people are one, indivisible under the eyes of God. You are the chief of all. Do not form division.

Remember, you shall be loved and hated as you love and hate. It is the natural scheme of things. These people do not hate you. Have you forgotten about Jawara? They fought him even though he was one of them. Leave wooden-headedness to the Trojans. Remember the story of Philip II of Spain who died from sitting too long near a hot brazier, helplessly overheating himself because the servant whose duty it was to remove the brazier could not be found. You Son of My Sister, should be a Solomon, not a Rehoboan who told his people: ‘Whereas my father laid upon you a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke. Whereas my father chastised you with whips, I shall chastise you with scorpions.’ Open the pages of the book and read!

First published in the Daily Observer on Friday, 11 July 2004. Watch out next Friday for Letter To My Nephew: Redux.

Author: Sheriff Bojang

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