By Alieu Badara Demba
“Death never comes at the right time, despite what mortals believe”. The death of our beloved father, Alhaji Ousman Bassi Conateh, to many Gambians is trending on social media with so much appreciation for his life and achievements. The family is thankful and finds solace in the unprecedented pouring of condolences. People are generous in their praise for his kindness; they remind us that he was a father to many Gambians, and this moment of sorrow is shared widely.
Journalists, historians, friends, and good Samaritans will write amply about his public image, achievements and contributions. His impact on the progress and evolution of Gambian football, cricket, entrepreneurship as Managing Director of NPE, and generosity will not be lost.
For us in the family, we see a man who epitomised leadership, drive, hard work, family and kindness. Daddy OB was born at 11 Dobson Street, Banjul, on November 1, 1937 to Ya Mam Munow Begay Bah and Alhaji Bassi Conateh. At a very early age, below 10 years of age, his father returned to occupy the chieftaincy in the region of Segou-Sama, Mali. Daddy OB was then largely left under the tutelage of Alhaji Kebba Demba, his brother and the eldest of Mam Begay Bah’s children. Alhaji Kebba was my father. We grew up hearing Daddy OB referred to as “Bortoh”, until his long and lifetime spouse, Ya Bouye Ndeye Fall, gave him the name “Daddy” with the birth of Sainey. By the time Kumba, Ya Awa and Alagie Boy came along, and much later Pa Bassi and Ya Mam, everyone had clicked to the name “Daddy OB”. Fisco was the name reserved for some of his friends including Uncle Pa Cham, Uncle Tapha Ngum, Uncle Kabba Jallow (May Allah SWT continue to preserve them), Uncle Abu Denton, Uncle Sidi Jow, Uncle Nurainu Carew (Chef), Uncle Chamsu Coker, Uncle Housainou Njie, and Uncle Ebou Taal all of blessed memory. I have failed at the temptation to not list names, knowing full well that I will have missed more than a few other friends.
With only a secondary school education, Daddy OB took pride to have been raised by his older brother, Alhaji Kebba Demba, and rose to the pinnacle of Gambia’s leadership. This wonder of achievement is not accidental; he was destined to be successful.
Daddy OB and I share a special bond, crystalised at my birth. In the late summer of 1964, Daddy OB suffered the devastating loss of a son, Alieu Badara Conateh, at sea. Alieu Conateh, was named after Daddy OB’s close friend, the late Alieu Kah. Young Alieu was last seen swimming at “Waffi Njagor” before his body was found a few days later at the shores of the upper river. Because I was born only a few weeks later, my father found it appropriate, and in part consolation to his younger brother, to name me after Alieu Conateh. I was to serve as the return of Daddy OB’s son. Both Daddy OB and the late Alieu Kah took a special liking for me. It was therefore normal that my father surrendered all my affairs to Daddy OB. He handled every aspect of my education; from my school uniforms, negotiated my entry into Gambia High School, and wrote a check for my college study abroad to join Ebou Conateh (Cona) in the USA.
I am confident that I speak for many people about this generosity, which had no family boundaries. As a young man coming of age, Daddy OB was assigned the arduous task to get me settled down and married, a pressure that we all know too well in our culture. At age 30, with a graduate education and entry into the work force, he gave me a stern warning and threatened to find a wife for me if I didn’t do it. It didn’t take long before I brought him much joy when I heeded his warning.
He was shocked with joy when I played him in the naming ceremony of my son. I made him believe, up to the very last minute, that my son was going to be named after my late father, Alhaji Kebba Demba. He instructed me to do so. But just like a magician, I pulled a rabbit out of a hat and named my son, Ousman, after him. I remember him tearing up with sheer appreciation and joy! Many have done the same for Daddy OB; half of the family members are named Ousman! In much of my over 35 years living apart in different continents, I have never dared to travel out of the US without his consent and prayers for the journey. He guided and counseled me throughout his life.
Our dear Aunty/Bajen Dunamba Conateh, mostly known as Bajen Mammy Conateh, and Daddy OB’s younger sister, once told us this story. In a quest for Daddy OB to reconnect with his father, he made the then long and difficult three days journey to Segou (Mali) in the early 70s. They were received with ceremonial hospitality, like the return of the prodigal son. They arrived late at night and as the night gave way to the early morning sun, Daddy OB had an audience with the elders.
Villagers were so happy to see the return of Ousman and Dunamba. Unfortunately, and sadly, he was informed that his father had just passed away a few days earlier. A very sad and disappointing moment as they visited the grave of his father. After much and extensive discussions among his family members, it was then decided that Daddy OB was the right heir to the chieftaincy. It was a tense period as he weighed his traditional obligations against his personal aspirations. With much grief, he informed them that he would not inherit the chieftaincy and would return to Banjul to make a living. Bajen Mammy told us how difficult this was for Daddy as he was trembling through the conversation. The point of the story is the “choice’ that Daddy OB made, which I believe explains and shapes his character, that we all speak of so much now. He would always say to us “work-hard, work-hard and work-hard and leave this world better than you found it ”.
He would chose his vision to explore the uncharted opportunities in The Gambia against the luxuries of chieftaincy. It is of course no surprise that he would pioneer the fishing industry and became one of the most successful businessmen in The Gambia. In fact, through NPE he empowered and transformed the lives of many women who were employed in the fishing operations of the company. He took risks to invest in the youths. He would single-handedly fund Wallidan, one of the most successful football clubs in The Gambia. And at the same time, he would also help and fund other rival teams. His generosity transcended all boundaries.
But that is just a part of his story. He was destined to see and understand the virtues that lie beyond the success of his business. He had a calling for philanthropy, generosity, and kindness. For every dalasi he earned, he would give it to anyone who asked or needed it. And yes, there were always endless lines of people both at the office and at home and none will be turned back. Kumba and I were always amazed about the number of rams Daddy distributed to families for Tobaski. Through his kindness he has touched many individuals and families. He demonstrated that “we make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”
Uncle Saul Njie, Daddy OB’s surrogate brother, reminded us that Daddy OB’s purpose and destiny was to help people. That purpose, he has amply achieved. He has taught us that kindness and generosity can be the most important legacies. The remarkable aspects of Daddy OB’s life are that he achieved greatness but remained humble. He was blessed with fortune but was never pompous or arrogant. Indeed, he used his wealth to uplift the youth and the less fortunate in our society. He invested in enhancing social welfare and most importantly, assisted the elderly and religious leaders who are the moral anchors of our society. It is our hope that his kindness and service to humanity will be rewarded infinitely by the Almighty Allah (SWT). I join those who say that his place in heaven is made ready.
I am sure I will be speaking for every member of the family in acknowledging our mother, and aunt Aji Ndey Faal-Conateh. Over decades she has been the pillar, source of strength and cheerleader of Daddy OB. To the entire family, she is Ya Boye Ndey, the designation accorded her by Alhaji Kebba Demba because of her care and compassion.
His surviving elder brother, Alhaji Bakary Conateh, and the entire Conateh family, the Demba family, the Juma Ndure family, the Faal family (his in-laws), the family of his late Uncle Alhaji Abdoulie Ceesay (Sinchu Alhaji) and the Kebba Njie Juma of White House family are immensely grateful to Daddy Ousman Bassi Conateh, their son, brother, husband, father, and uncle.
Grieve, we must do as the occasion calls for. But on deep reflection and realisation of all his outstanding achievements and exemplary service to humanity, one cannot help but accept that this moment should be a celebration of a life well lived. “They say you die twice; one when you stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on, when someone says your name for the last time”. His name is etched in hearts of men and women and will live long because we will never stop saying his name. Farewell Daddy OB, and rest in perfect peace.