By Alhaji AM Sering Secka, MRG and Hassoum Ceesay, ORG
National honours are given deserving Gambian men and women who have rendered distinguished services to Gambia in various fields and careers. During the colonial period, people close to the colonial government and were well trusted in all the colonies and Dominions of Great Britain were rewarded. These included chiefs, senior civil servants, mainly. In The Gambia, the Governor through the Colonial Secretary in Bathurst will make a first list of nominees which was then submitted to the King or Queen for endorsement. Those awarded were informed and the awards and decorations were made on Empire Day at the MacCarthy Square in Bathurst.
Grade of the honours and decorations
During the colonial period, we had Honours, Decorations and Medals. Honours are used to recognise merit in terms of achievement and service. Decorations tend to be used to recognise specific deeds. Medals are used to recognise bravery, long and/or valuable service and/or good conduct.
The highest rank during the colonial period was the Knighthood, which only a handful of Gambians ever got; namely, Sir Samuel Forster, Sir John Mahoney, Sir Dawda Jawara, Sir Farimang Singhateh and Sir Alieu Sulayman Jack. The knighthood had various grades but which we cannot discuss here.
Below the knighthood are also many grades and ranks, but for Colonial Gambia the most common were the Commander of British Empire (CBE), Officer of British Empire (OBE), Member of British Empire(MBE), and Companion which was given to people who excelled in arts, religion, sports and so forth. A Gambian soldier named Ensign Hodges was awarded the highest military honour, the Victoria Cross, for exceptional bravery in 1866 at the battle for Toubakolong, in Niumi. Chiefs like Mama Tamba Jammeh got the OBE; Chief Matarr Ceesay of Njau also got the MBE among other chiefs. Alhaji Ousman Jeng, first Muslim Member of the Legislative Council, was an MBE; Alhaji Sheikh Omar Fye, Member of the Legislative Council, was an OBE and Hon Abdou Wally Mbye, also Member of the Legislative Council, was an OBE.
Until 1970 when The Gambia became a republic, these were the awards, decorations and honours awarded to deserving Gambians.
But who are the ‘deserving’ Gambians? Well, this is a good question, because from 1994 to 2016, we saw all kinds of people get national awards only for them to end up in jail or in humiliation. This needed not have happen if those who really deserved the awards were given it. For example, age mattered before a Gambians got an award. Usually it did not go to people still in very active service but mostly to those in retirement so that the possibility of the law catching up with them for corruption, and so forth, would or may not arise. But during the past 20 years, we saw simple drama groups being given high awards like ORG, and other shady characters getting it and then ending up in legal or professional humiliation.
Under the PPP the awards were refined in 1972 after Republican status was attained into GCRG, GORG, MRG and RGM. The first awards were duly awarded in 1972 on Independence Day. For example in the 1972 ceremony held at State House, Banjul, the Vice President SM Dibba, Speaker Sir Alieu Jack were awarded Grand Commander of the Republic The Gambia(GCRG); Assan Musa Camara, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Eric Christensen, Secretary General at the Office of the President, and ML Saho, Minister of Justice were awarded Grand Officer Republic Gambia (GORG); Alhaji Yaya Ceesay, Minister of Agriculture, Harry Evans the Police Inspector General and Dr SHO Jones, retired Director of Medical and Health and Alhaji MB Njie, merchant were made MRG.
In those days, only a few got the awards in one particular year, not more than 10 for example, and were drawn upon vetting by the Chancery under the Office of the Vice President. But since 1994, we have seen 200 people being awarded at one go! This is indeed a strange thing, to be most respectful.
Under the new government, we wish to suggest that the Chancery be re-constituted so that the awards can be revived and restored to their sanctity and glory. Under the Second Republic, all attempts were made to denigrate and water down our national insignias. For example, between 2012 and 2016 no awards were made! What a shame this was! Also, those to get it should be properly vetted so that our national honours are not given to those who will cause embarrassment to their country one day.
National Honours are a symbol of our independence and sovereignty. No one should disrespect them. Every civilized country should be proud, when necessary, to decorate her deserving citizens who have done much for their country and people in all the human endeavours. Gambia may not be able to give her good citizens money, car or house but can give them one of our national honours in appreciation for their patriotism.
Only a country without patriots can live without a national honours award scheme.