Pierre Gomez was born in Dobson Street in Banjul and studied at Sheikh Anta Diop University where he graduated with a double major in English and French. He proceeded to Besançon in France to do an advanced diploma in education in which got distinction. He proceeded to Limoge for a master’s in arts and philosophy degree with distinction and later got a PhD with distinction in comparative literature centered on Gambian literature. He worked at the college as a lecturer up to 2005 when he finished his PhD and transferred his services to the University of The Gambia where he is serving as the acting dean of the School or Arts and Sciences. Following the launching of a video documentary ‘The Emergence of Gambian Literature’ on Monday, he talked with The Standard editor, Sainey Darboe.
Why did you have to go beyond the border in Senegal in search of the golden fleece?
At the time I was going to university in Senegal there was no university in The Gambia. There was no University Extension Programme. You had to go to Senegal, UK or Fourah Bay College in Sierra Leone where I did part of my PhD research as well as SOAS (University of London). Prior to 1994 the highest institution you can go here for studies is the college. It was after some of us left that that the university came.
What does your work as dean of School or Arts and Sciences constitute?
My role is to coordinate the academic work of the school, monitor the teaching process and make sure there is quality assurance. We have two main divisions: the division of physical and natural sciences which includes chemistry, biology and mathematics. We also have a division of humanities and social sciences, political science, development, English and French. I coordinate and make sure that lecturers and students work in a conducive environment in addition to teaching.
What have been the notable achievements since you took over?
Well, we have reviewed our programme in order to bench mark it based on international standards. We have also tried to recruit more lecturers through the support of the administration. We are running three master’s programmes in African history, French studies and mathematical modeling. This is a very good achievement because for the first time we have homegrown mathematician at master’s level. We have many graduates who are in the system too who are teaching. Just last month one of our students, Abdoulie Jabang, returned from St Mary’s College in the US and he got A in all his subjects as a development studies major. Prior to that one of our students Fatou Kinneh also there doing mathematics and got A in all her courses. We have students who went to Linnaeus University in Sweden and they all got distinction in their programmes. We have students as far away as Korea and Edinburgh doing well at master’s level and PhD.
Due to their perception as potential vehicles for dissent, the political sciences and arts faculty is believed not to be getting the full support of government. Is this true?
That is people’s misconception because they do not understand what political science is all about. It is not about being a politician because most politicians did not do political science. With political science you are trained to know how governance operates. You know how to run institutions, trained to be au fait with international institutions, diplomacy and foreign policy. You are trained to have skills that can help you work in the public and private sector while understanding the world order. The students that come out are trained to analyse and come up with answers.
But some political science students grouse you are starved of funds and not in the desired state as a faculty?
No, no, no. Rome was not built in a day. Things evolve and there are lots of transformations taking place at the University of The Gambia in general. For the UTG to be like Sorbonne and Harvard right now is not possible but what is clear is that every day you see progress. Every day you see, despite the limited resources, that people are doing a lot of things. If there was no quality our students would not have gone to France, US and UK and be getting distinction. So, that fact contradicts what you are saying. Most of our students are now holding key positions in this country. They are running the affairs of state. You cannot go to any sector without having a UTG graduate there even in your own media house. They are everywhere. People have to understand that development is the sum total of our individual contributions so you cannot sit down and expect government to be doing everything for everybody. The new type of Gambian we are looking for is the type that will sit down and reflect on how to change the destiny of the country. I do not believe in the notion of developed and under-developed countries. However, I believe there are under-developed people. We have to refuse to be categorised as under-developed people because we went to the same schools as those now considered as developed? Why do we now surrender our integrity at the altar of mediocrity? We have to refuse that. We need to be at the centre, reshape our mindset and refuse to be at the periphery.
The vice-chancelor Professor Kah said that the university set up by President Jammeh almost 15 years ago is the best thing that has happened to The Gambia. Is this true and why?
Professor Kah is right and any genuine Gambian will accept that. A former slave in the US Frederick Douglass in his book the Narratives and Times of Frederick Douglass said education is the road to freedom. So if President Jammeh decided to build UTG to allow children of poor Gambians to have access to education is something that should be cherished and supported. Before the university started there was a minimum of three reports that said The Gambia was not ready for university. The only thing that could happen was to send people to neighbouring countries like Senegal, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Ghana while children of certain families would be sent to UK and America. So the children of that elite would come back and replicate the system. What the president has done is to democratise education and bring it to door steps of many Gambians. The UTG is a replica of Gambian society with the children of poor and rich people. It has created a lot of opportunities and all segments of The Gambia are represented. We have to build on that transformation.
Going down memory lane, most people recall that during the time of the former regime scholarships were mostly given to the children of the rich and well-heeled?
The situation has changed now because there is a proper scholarship board now – I am not saying the former ones are not proper – and all segments of society are represented. The teachers, ministries, private sector are there. You are graded based on performance even though priority is given to the sciences. How many people have got education through government scholarships even though their mums sell fish at the market? There are many.
You recently launched a documentary on Gambian literature. What is the state of Gambian literature?
A new generation of writers have emerged after that of Lenrie Peters, Tijan Sallah, Nana Grey-Johnson, Gabriel Roberts. After the Ndaanan generation, we now have a new group of young Gambian writers. The biggest challenge is the absence of publishing houses because we do not have proper ones here. We have Fulladu Publishers but they have not completed the whole process. If you go there and pay they will do the job for you but that is not the whole essence of a publishing house. They do not buy rights like Macmillan used to do and Larmattan. That is one of the challenges. A lot of Gambians do self-publishing and it is like computer garbage in, garbage out. What they write in their rooms is what they take to a printer to publish without going through the peer review process to look at the grammar, diction and everything. We need more Timbooktoos in each region so that people can buy books. The National Library authority in Banjul is doing a great job but we need more libraries in places like Soma. When you talk to Mr Jagne of Timbooktoo he would tell you people don’t read here. People will rather buy a bag of rice than a book but knowledge is the food of the brain. Man, by essence, needs to nourish the brain because the most important thing in a human being is the brain. It should be nourished all the time and the best way to nourish that is through books. This way we can share knowledge with others like Sheriff Bojang does with his writings.
What is your take on Prof Kah’s leadership?
In every institution there are ups and downs but I can tell you that under his leadership the University of The Gambia has experienced a lot of transformations. It is not perfect and we still have a very long way to go but we have a very positive success. People have to be patient with us and sooner or later we will be there.
I will take you back to the reading aspect because that is where my passion lies. I would like Gambians to know reading is very important. They should see reading as pleasure not punishment. Sembene Ousmane stopped at primary school but today his works are studied at universities. He produced excellent films. If he could do that what about us who finished at high school and university levels? Gambians have no time to wait and be citizens who beg in style, to paraphrase Lenrie Peters. We are not parasites. We are committed people and ready to serve humanity and contribute to development. That is the new Gambian we want.]]>