By Sheriff Bojang
I am a matinal. Like Henry Perowne in Ian McEwan’s 2005 novel Saturday, I am a morning person and I began my Thursday at pre-dawn. On Tuesday I received an invitation to a book launch on Saturday. I called the author for a preview copy and the following day it arrived. I didn’t have the time to read it, yet I promised to write a review for Friday’s edition of my newspaper The Standard.
How presumptuous! I had not written anything like this for over four years and writing is like a muscle in the body, if you don’t flex and exercise it, it atrophies and becomes vestigial.
Over the past year, every few days, I’d run into someone, get a telephone call or a message in my quotidian email demanding to know why I ‘stopped writing’. Of course I stopped because I was appointed a cabinet minister by my nephew Appai. Why I have not restarted ‘writing’ since I stopped being addressed as Mr Waziri (Minister) two years ago, I have no idea. Certainly it’s not the lack of something to write about. With apologies to Aristotle, in this our little town, it is now ex Gambia semper aliquid novi, “from Gambia always something new”! Maybe, like Yankuba Colley, I’m still reeling from the shock and trauma of our ouster by the good people of our little town!
Writing for me is like going on a journey of magical realism, a game of playing midwife to my imagination, a passageway to a sacral realm of my own derring-do flight of adventure. So A Date With Destiny by Demba Ali Jawo offers me the much-needed catharsis that writing gives me.
Slung in my easy chair in my library early Thursday, I picked up the book cast in deep tone pantone blue and opened the pages. I have known the author for many years. I was in Kenneth Y Best’s office that morning when he announced at a morning editorial meeting his interest in hiring Mr Jawo. When he joined us, he became the lodestar, around which everything naturally orbited. A finer gentleman has not been raised in Niamina. As a journalist, he has been a professional of the first order and as a person, there is no pretence about him, no priapic ego, much like Besenty Gomez from Kitty. He is as authentic as they come and I like him. But even without these sterling qualities, I’d still like any man who had at two different times married two Bojang women, my sisters.
The DA – as he is fondly called – I know was many things, but not a storyteller. As a writer, he is not a bel spirit like our master Nana Grey-Johnson or our students Talib Gibran and Saikou Jammeh. His gift is in the simple power of his conviction, which he forthrightly puts down without dropping D50 words in every alternate sentence like yours truly.
Yet from Chapter 1: An Accident of History to Chapter 21: Devising Coping Strategies, he managed to weave a seamless story about his life as a herds boy in the thickets and grasslands of Niamina Choya to the post-tumescence of life as a Mr Waziri. Perhaps because certain periods of our lives eerily followed similar paths, I am able to relate and appreciate his autobiography more. But even if you have never met the author or known him personally, you would have found A Date With Destiny a captivating read. On the canvas of 150 white pages, Jawo paints in small black hieroglyphics, stories of a romantic past; the warps and wefts of the daily grind of a young boy, and later adolescent, forced to live away from his parents in the quest for the golden fleece (education); Banjul ethno-cronyism; running-ins with the police and perils as a fiercely independent journalist in both the First and the Second Republics life in exile as a journalist and a ‘Struggler’; return and appointment as a cabinet minister serving at the pleasure of “an accidental president”; the intrigues and unedifying palace politics at No 1 Marina Parade; being knocked off the parapet; and finally putting together his recollections in writing this book.
Justifiably so, a great path of the book is dedicated to a narration of his achievements and shortfalls underlined by the many hindrances put in his way in the execution of his functions as the Honourable Minister of Information & Communication Infrastructure and government spokesman. In between, he discussed without any inhibition his views on his proud Fulani patrimony, feminism, animal cruelty, the environment, religion and so forth.
Having worked and known him for a long time, I have always suspected his proclivity for atheism or at least agnosticism. Reading A Date With Destiny has given me an insight in how he gestated his so-called ‘progressive’ and ultra-liberal views on religion, but it has not answered the question: Is he or isn’t he? Given the forthright candor and brutal self-effacing honesty with which he had discussed everything from the ringworms on his head as a kid, to the hunger that bedeviled him during his student days in Banjul, one would have thought that the author would have answered the question about whether he believes in the God of Abraham or not. But perhaps there is no point in rehashing this issue. And I must admit I’m biased. For the record, I do not subscribe to either the characteristic spirit or the tenor of the secularism brigade. I believe we should Islamise the Gambian society, which of course includes the government.
But whereas he might appear diffident in discussing private matters in a public book, he critiqued with steely candour his former boss and the government without appearing to be condescending or the least impudent. This is the Jawo that his readers including a then innocent Adama Barrow, over the decades know and came to respect and admire. Like the vinegary column As I See It in The Nation which he used to author under the nom de plume ‘Jamanka’, Demba Jawo told it as it is in A Date With Destiny.
Standard Rating ***