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Thursday, March 4, 2021

Berkeley Rice on IM Garba-Jahumpa (Excerpts from Enter Gambia, Birth of an Improbable Nation)

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 The “international body” also made gifts to the party of a tape recorder, duplicating machine and public address system. Mr N’Dure accused Jahumpa of selling the tape recorder and duplicator, and of renting out the PA system.

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Mr Jahumpa has also acquired a reputation for borrowing titles. During a trip to Dakar in 1953, as Mininster without Portfolio, he told officials there that he was mayor of Bathurst. In 1961, when he was Minister of Agriculture, he introduced himself in Ghana as Gambia’s Chief Minister. In 1963, when he was no longer a member of parliament, he presented himself to the Colonial Office in London as deputy leader of the opposition.

Despite Mr Jahumpa’s efforts, the Congress Party has fallen on bad times. It has no seats in parliament, and two of its four members on the Bathurst City Council recently resigned from the party. Even the party’s idols had bad luck. Mr Jahumpa had always urged party members to follow the teachings of Algeria’s Ahmed Ben Bella and Ghana’s Kwame N’krumah, the foremost exponents of his brand of African socialism, both of whom were recently deposed. Despite the Congress Party’s decline, Jahumpa still worries the few American officials assigned to worry about Gambia. He is the only avowedly left-wing political figure of any stature in the country, and his frequent trips to Algiers, Cairo, Moscow and Peking raise eye brows in Washington. Most Bathurst politicians feel such concern is unwarranted. “Jahumpa is dead issue,” says one of them. “He has no power at all.”

To learn what a powerless political leader does about such a state of affairs, I went down to Congress Party headquarters one morning to visit Mr Jahumpa.

 Headquarters is at his home, a small cement building on Hagan Street, with a red and white party flag flying from the gate post. Inside, I found Mr Jahumpa in a sitting room furnished with a faded Persian rug, a few wooden chairs, a table, refrigerator, a huge console radio, and dozens of photographs on the walls. Most of these showed Mr Jahumpa on  various ceremonial occasions. There were also fading pictures of Egypt’s President Nasser, Kwame N’Krumah and John F Kennedy.

Ibrimah (Abraham) Momodou (Mohammed) Garba-Jahumpa is a heavy, round man, with a pudgy, light -brown face. Gazing out through thick tortoise shell glasses, he looks like a tired, benign owl. On the morning of my visit he wore a rumpled double-breasted blue suit and chomped on a chewing stick throughout our talk. He rose from his low chair with some effort when I entered. Though only in his mid-fifties, Jahumpa is something of a grand-old-man of Gambian politics. As a teacher at Bathurst’s Mohammedan School in the ’30s, he had as a student a young Mandinka boy from up-river named David Jawara. 

After World War II he concentrated on politics. “The year 1945 was very important in my life. I went to London to take part in the Fifth Pan-African Conference. There I met Doctor N’Krumah, and we became friends up to today. Jomo Kenyatta was there as well. After I returned to Gambia I engaged in politics organizing, and trying to awaken the political consciousness of the Moslem community of Bathurst. Some friends and I founded the Bathurst Young Moslem Society and entered the first election for the Legislative Council, in 1951. I was elected. I am also the longest-serving member of the Bathurst Town Council – from 1946 till now. In 1959, when we were allowed to elect our own chairman, I became the first Chairman of the Council. I was invested with the chain of office. There it is there, hanging on the wall. For many years I was also Minister of Agriculture. Then in the 1962 election, when we merged with the Democratic Party to form the DCA, I lost my seat to the present UP Member for Half Die –  Mr Joof, the most dormant Member of the House. He’s never said a word in the House since he was elected.”

“Why do you think you lost to Mr Joof?”

“I lost that election because my own party members sabotaged me. And also, the UDP paid for many of its votes. After the election there was great dissatisfaction spread down to the rank and file of DCA, culminating in my resignation. I broke away and organised the Congress Party. Now we are active in reorganising and spreading in the provinces, in readiness for the next general election.”

“Does the Congress Party have a national programme?”

“Yes. We accuse the PPP of practising tribalism. They have been indoctrinated by the colonialists. The government now appoints only pro-PPP chiefs. They will only be chiefs if they toe the PPP line.”

“What do you spend most of your time on?”

“Well, since withdrawing from the DCA, I have done a great deal of traveling. I have been everywhere but America – People’s Republic of China, North Korea, Algeria, Ghana, Cairo, USSR, Czechoslovakia. In 1963 I spent three weeks in Russia. I was invited by the International Institute of Peace to attend the World Peace Conference. I was invited to attend the Asian Economics Seminar last summer in North Korea. Then I went on to Peking. I had been expecting to go to Cairo soon, but I ‘m afraid it is not going to materialise. I hope to go to Accra in May for the Afro-Asian Solidarity Conference.”  

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