By Madi Jobarteh
Demba lived a difficult life nonetheless in Banjul; hunger was his constant companion. Without parents around and with poor guardians, DA had to watch with watery mouth as richer schoolboys would buy ‘nyanbeh nyebeh’ while he gazes incessantly because he had no money to buy for himelf.
In exposing the life of DA, ‘A Date with Destiny’ also gives an account of the story of a host of individuals in the 70s who would become the movers and shakers of the Gambia years to come. From Crab Island to Gambia College and eventually into the teaching field, DA built acquaintances with a myriad of folks who would become part of the future leaders of the Gambia. Some became comrades in the fight against dictatorship and others became targets of his resistance!
His college mates included former APRC Vice President Isatou Njie Saidy, former PPP Minister Alkali James Gaye and former IGP Pa Salah Jagne while former Cabinet colleague Badara Joof was not only a friend but was in fact part of his inner circle of friends known as ‘The Gang of Four’ whose other members were Abdou Rahman Sise and Momodou Lamin Faye. It is interesting to note that DA was also a student of the current TRRC Vice Chair Adelaide Sosseh at Gambia College and before that, at Crab Island. The late former Minister Omar Sey, the late Mrs. Belinda Bidwell former Speaker as well as the late Ralphina de Almeida all taught Demba at college! But also, during the first year in teaching practice in 1973, he also taught the current ambassador to the EU Tenengba Jaiteh. The Gang of Four of course expanded eventually to include Imam Baba Leigh, Samsudeen Sarr former deputy CDS under Jammeh and others!
An insight into the nature of the PPP Government came to light as the author moved out of the teaching field to pick up a job in the then GUC, Gambia Utilities Corporation. Not only did he encounter discrimination, favouritism and denial of opportunities but he also became a person of interest because of his writings in The Nation newspaper and his association with its publisher the late William Dixon Coley, the doyen of Gambian journalism! At GUC and living in Haddington Street in Banjul DA’s apartment became know as the ‘Temple’ – a meeting place of many young radicals and an avenue that saw him become hugely active in youth and sporting activities.
While serving as a staff of GUC the author continued to publish articles in The Nation until sometime in 1979 when he was arrested and detained by the police for publishing a very critical article about police administration. It was clear that indeed the time has come for him to abandon his Government job due to harassment and suppression and enter into the journalism field in full to pursue his convictions without fetters.
William Dixon Colley is undoubtedly one of the Gambia’s foremost and bravest, if not the leading human rights and democracy activist ever! It is no wonder therefore that the moment DA encountered this great man, he could never rest until today!
William had an immense impact on DA in every way imaginable and the author loved and respected and admired this patriot beyond measure. In fact many people even came to consider Dixon Colley as his father! It was his association with this great man, at whose office at No. 3 Box Bar Road in Banjul that DA would spend his entire time that he also came to meet many more young people as time went by who were also attached to the doyen!
Among these young people included current presidential adviser Mai Ahmad Fatty, current National Assembly Member Halifa Sallah, former ambassador Sarjo Jallow and former MOJA member Dumo Sarho. DA was scheduled to meet Koro Sallah eventually who was seeking to recruit him to join MOJA when the Kukoie Samba Sanyang insurrection took place in 1981 thus thwarting that meeting in Half Die. Consequently, DA could not become a member of the left-wing group as Koro himself was eventually implicated in that incident and had to flee the country.
Here is the bombshell: Demba Ali Jawo was a founder member of the People’s Democratic Organization for Independence and Socialism (PDOIS) and much more; it was DA who designed the PDOIS flag! Wow!
A Date with Destiny is therefore not just a book about the life of Demba, it is a documentation of the socio-political history of the Gambia. Think of any Gambian of stature in government or business and society today and you will find his or her name in this book! However out of principles and dedication to service as a journalist. DA had abandoned all political affiliation to PDOIS and never to align himself ever again with any political party. This is a trait of all great journalists who wish to remain independent and credible in the eyes of the society that one cannot belong to any group, no matter how well meaning they are! Journalism is DA’s destiny and he has fixed a date with the profession for which he does not wish to betray!
A Date with Destiny is hugely about journalism and one cannot find a more up to date account of the trials and tribulations of the Gambian media than what is provided in this book, particularly with the advent of the military coup in 1994. Not only is the account quite detailed but it is also glaring for the fact that DA was himself a key participant in all of the ups and downs that the media went through under the dictatorship.
In the first place DA described the emergence of the Daily Observer as the beginning of the golden era of Gambian journalism as we saw for the first time a newspaper printed on newsprint and not on an ordinary A3 size xerox paper! But also, in terms of content the earlier emergence of Topic magazine of Nana Grey-Johnson and The Point newspaper of the late Deyda Hydara, the late Baboucarr Gaye and Pap Saine all contributed, together with the Daily Observer, to witness a marked turning point for the Gambian media into modernity, professionalism and recognition!
The life of a journalist in the Gambia is a bitter-sweet story. While Daily Observer in practice also became a school of journalism as it massively churned out large numbers of smart young journalists, at the same time the Jammeh dictatorship ended becoming the beast that also nearly devoured the media to extinction! Yet it was the Gambian media that stood its ground, as a protagonist as well as a tool to be employed by many other forces, not least our political parties to fight that monster to extinction! In traversing the plains of journalism the book gave an interesting account of the various actors, incidents and issues including the disappointments and threats in which we witnessed physical assaults, arson attacks, assassinations as well as closure of media houses and mass exodus of journalists!
Hence the killing of Deyda became a watershed moment in the life of the media and journalists. As the author narrated, that assassination generated fear, but DA refused to be silenced as he continued to write critical articles against the Government to the discomfort of his family and friends afraid for his safety. Even when DA had a very good paying job in Dakar, he insisted on coming to visit family in Kanifing periodically, against the wishes of his wife, just that Jammeh does not think that he had succeeded in banishing all journalists out of the Gambia.
To be continued