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Thursday, February 29, 2024

Breaking the omerta: One woman’s recount of her MOJA activism (part 4)

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And the provocateurs?

At first sight, they can cause the revolutionary movement terrible losses. But is this really so?

Due to their help, the police can, of course, multiply their arrests and the “liquidation” of groups. In given circumstances, they can counter the most carefully-laid political plans. They can do away with valiant militants. Provocateurs have often been the direct suppliers of the hangman. This is of course all terrible. But it is also the case that provocation can only wipe out individuals or groups and that it is almost impotent against the revolutionary movement as a whole.” 

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Victor Serge, ‘What Everyone Should Know About Repression’


So coming from the country-side with Saiks and arriving in Banjul via Barra by ferry, I went straight to my friend Ndura Njie’s home at 11 Dobson street: Family home to Mr ‘Fisco’ Conateh and Police Inspector Wally Njie. Wally is Ndura’s older brother and Ndura is like my elder sister. We were very close. She was married to Star Jallow (footballer) who was then in the US. Ndura’s place was always home. I took a quick bath, changed clothes and was ready to continue home to my grandma in Brikama. As I started to distribute some of the groundnut gifts from the trip so walked in Musa Sey from Basse (R.I.P). ‘Father Mose’ as he was fondly known was teaching at Muslim High School. There and then he told me there was a vacancy at the school as one of the teachers was going on maternity leave and I could apply to teach. I was like, “are you kidding me?” But Musa Sey had confidence I could deliver. He gave me details as to where to send my application letter; in fact convinced me to write it right away and he would deliver it. I did. A week later I was in front of Muhammed Jah (QCell) and his form three classmates as they raise their hands to ask questions or answer them. They were calling me ‘Miss Bah’. That was my first salaried job. 

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I taught at Muslim at the same time as Alpha Robinson, but for a shorter period. As I mentioned earlier, we were in our final year in high school when we were groomed to form the Organ of the Revolutionary Students (ORS); a paper that would be fighting for students’ rights. How we were to go about that became a major bone of contention. Was it going to be clandestine or overt? We finally moved the motion that due to fact of the low level of tolerance from the authorities we had no option but to go covert in addressing the issues at hand. Like teachers’ impregnating schoolgirls (Armitage High School was a classical example), abolition of corporal punishment, more GPTC bus services for students, affordable school fees, book bills for poor families, more study hours for students who need extra help to cover their syllabus, freedom of speech. We should be able to voice out our grievances without fear of being arrested, the list went on… Alpha Robinson did not continue with the ORS, but he made history at Gambia High School (GHS). Alpha was the head boy. We are talking 1983 end-of-school-year and the speech day is here. Alpha wrote his speech, well prepared to stand on stage and address his public. When the principal, Mr Hassan Jagne got wind of the contents, he requested audience with his head boy thereby putting in red and omitting the “best” part of the well-written lines. I can still remember an agitated Alpha in front of the grounds of the National Library opposite Marina International School. We had an emergency meeting debating as whether to accept Jagne’s corrupted version or Alpha’s original. You see the guest of honour was going to be His Excellency, the Vice President, Bakary Bunja Dabo. Jagne does not want to be embarrassed by one of his students. The reputation of the school was on the line. True to our sense of a higher call, we unanimously agreed that Alpha Robinson was going ahead and presenting the original masterpiece. And that was exactly what this fearless student activist did! The rest is history!

In 1999 when I met President Yaya Jammeh for the second time after he seized power, he reminded me exactly of this scene. The weird thing was I could not for the life of me remember Yahya Jammeh being a part of that discussion group. But he gave me a detailed description which only a person present could recall, for example the route we took and ending up exactly at the beach in front of the State House… The ORS started going to print and its first publication/distribution was like a tsunami! It shook the educational establishment to its core…

My Father never wanted me to attend formal school. He truly and sincerely believed I would grow up a better daughter and a good Muslim if my brain cells were nurtured with writings from the Holy Qur’an and hadith. He wanted me to read and understand the Divine Scriptures: to strive to excel in the straight and narrow direction of Siratul Mustaqim. Attending school he thought would corrupt that dream and transform me to all that is diametrically opposite the compass facing qibla

My Father hails from Guinea, a place called Timbi Madina. A direct descendant of Almamy Timbo. I started reading the Holy Qur’an before I enrolled in school. Learning the holy verses continued until in September of 1983, the year I finished high school. My father was a businessman. He traded in cattle; lots of cattle, herds of cattle. His business took him from Darsilami, Kombo, to Ziguinchor in Casamance. Twice he threatened to get me married to one of his younger business partners, but appeals from my mother, family and friends rendered the threats futile. Yet my father loved me dearly. He called me Neneh-galleh and everybody followed suit. Reason: I was named after my maternal grandma. In Fula tradition, you cannot call your in-laws by their name. Neneh-galleh means “Mother of the compound”; (the guardian of the threshold) a sign of respect.                       

It was a lot of pressure not to let down my parents. Every progress report in school, every achievement was cause for my father to call to question how long was I going with “ngol jangu gol?” meaning “this education thing?” The more my efforts were questioned by him, the higher I raised the bar in moral discipline and peak performance in school. He was respectfully referred to me as ‘Modi Sulaymana Bah’ (Mr Sulayman Bah).

I took my teaching job at Muslim High School very seriously and put my soul into delivering the best I could to all my students. Even though I was just a few years older than most of them, they showed much respect and were attentive and eager to learn. . I was teaching three form three classes. I remember one of the late Sherriff Mustapha Dibba’s sons was also a student in form three at the time as well as then minister, Omar Jallow’s (OJ) wife’s sister called Matty Saine; a  very sweet and hard-working student. Matty was staying with her sister and OJ in Serekunda. She once invited me to their home to braid my hair. She not only did a great job with my hair but when I was leaving OJ pulled D30 (thirty dalasis from his pocket – newly printed notes) and handed them to me. That was a lot of money then. It was not a bribe but a symbol of appreciation for teaching Matty. OJ has always been a generous man, one of the secrets behind his success as a politician.

Teaching is a challenging career, yet a much fulfilling and very respectable job. You have to be on top of your game all the time. You cannot deliver half-baked theories or answers and be taken seriously. For me it meant becoming a student one more time. Doing more research and making sure I had the correct and most logical conclusion to questions. Sometimes you have the Teacher’s Aid to furnish you with the answers at other times you have to work out solutions on your own. I wanted to avoid embarrassing myself in front of my students and surprised myself that I enjoyed every second of my stay at MHS. Mr Pi was responsible for stationery and Mr Njie was the Vice Principal. As I noted earlier, this was the era with chronic rice shortages, but as a teacher at MHS I was lucky to have a bag of rice on credit. That brought much joy to my grandma.

As my time at Muslim drew to an end, Mr. Njie wanted me to extend my contract and continue teaching but I had already written an application letter to The Gambia National Insurance Corporation (GNIC) briefly explaining that I was on temporary employment as a teacher and expressed with sincerity how much I wanted to work for the Company. I pledged that I would do my best if accepted. The application turned successful. This was a job that I got by my own initiative. I was so happy with their reply that I could not write back to the GNIC to retrieve my application letter and accept Mr. Njie’s generous offer. So, as soon as my term ended at Muslim, I visited my parents over a weekend in Farafenni to inform them of changing jobs and on a Monday morning I reported at work and clocked in. They have just introduced the system. 


Author: By Jainaba Bah, Sweden


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