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Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Baa Tarawale -A tribute to an icon

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With the death of Mr. Baba Musa Tarawale (as he spelt his name), commonly known as Baa, The Gambian media fraternity has lost quite a strong pillar. In addition to his journalism career, he was also a Jack-Of-All-Trades and a master of many of them indeed. He was at home in teaching, politics, trade unionism and of course journalism, among many other areas.

Born in Banjul (then Bathurst) at the dawn of the 1930s, like most educated Gambians of provincial extraction at the time, Baa began his public career as a school teacher. One of the first places he was posted to was Balanghar Primary School in Lower Saloum District in the then McCarthy Island Division (now Central River Region). He no doubt must have made quite an impact there as not only he always spoke with a lot of nostalgia about his time in Balanghar, but many people from that area continue to speak well of him as well. Many of his former pupils from there later became important personalities in the civil service.

Baa always narrated how he gradually got into journalism by writing letters to the editor and contributing articles to the few cyclostyled news sheets that existed in this country at the time. However, in the early 1960s, just before the Gambia attained independence, Baa founded his own newspaper; The New Gambia, which became mouthpiece of the PPP. Like most newspapers at the time, however, it was a cyclostyled A4 size news sheet which, in addition to political commentaries in favour of the PPP, also contained mostly opinionated commentaries on contemporary issues. He had also been a founder member of the Gambia Press Union, becoming its first treasurer.

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As a friend and confidant of former President Sir Dawda Jawara, Baa meddled into politics by becoming a member of the ruling PPP, but that did not prevent him from writing critical articles about Sir Dawda and his government. It was one of those critical articles that eventually landed him into trouble when he accused Sir Dawda of using slave labour in one of rice farms up country, and he was eventually charged with libel and sedition, tried and sent to jail and his newspaper was proscribed.

After he came out of jail, Baa became an ardent critic of the Jawara regime, joining or sympathizing with the growing number of anti-government groups. However, after sometime, he reconciled with Sir Dawda and he later helped to set up the PPP political organ; The Gambia Times, with his close friend, Jay Saidy.

In addition to his journalism career, Baa was also a historian and social commentator who helped to document The Gambia’s political history, working with some renowned historians like Arnold Hughes and Dr. David Perfect, who wrote a lot about The Gambia, including compiling the Historical Dictionary of the Gambia.

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As a veteran journalist, Baa continued to contribute articles to various newspapers and publications as well as mentoring the young ones up to his very last days. Despite his old age, he was still quite active in writing and one of his pet projects was to upgrade a Mandinka/English dictionary that he had helped to compile much earlier.

I had always been reminding him to find time to write his biography as his rich life history would have been a lesson to many young Gambians. Even though I understand he started something in that regard, but unfortunately, he could not complete it before his death.

Rest in perfect peace Baa Tarawale.

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