On Saturday, the death of Ousman Bassi Conateh was announced. His remains were laid to rest at the Jeshwang cemetery. Thousands of Gambians from all walks of life accompanied him to his last resting place. It was not because of recklessness or disdain that they defied the ban on public gatherings announced by government in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.It was because of the love and reverence they feel for the departed.
The term “a man for all seasons” has become hackneyed and threadbare with overuse, but if there truly is one such a man in The Gambia, it was Ousman Bassi Conateh, known to many by his endearing sobriquets ‘OB’ or ‘Fisco’.
Ask his family and Kumba, her sisters, brothers and their offspring will tell you he was the best father and grandfather anyone could have. Ask his friends and Kabba Jallow and the slowly diminishing members of their brotherhood will tell you he was the most loyal and trustworthy chum. Ask his business partners and they will tell you he was a gentleman of the first order.
OB Conateh was an industrialist and businessman who worked hard to make his money. But he did not stash it away in local and foreign bank accounts or fritter away on luxuries for his family. He shared it with everyone. Every day of the week, scores of economically-challenged people in Banjul, Kombos and even beyond would throng his office front to ask for money to buy a bag of rice, pay for a medical bill or settle a child’s school fees. And no one who ever went to him, returned empty-handed. He always gave with a smile and never made fuss of his generosity. Frequent visitors to his house or office would often meet him eating from the same basin with beggars and others regarded as social rejects or untouchables who called on him.
OB Conateh was a patron of art and culture and supported many Gambian artistes including Youssou N’Dour who composed the hit Xarit as an ode to celebrate his patronage. He was a community leader who supported mosques and Islamic initiatives and annually hosted an Islamic conferences attended by hundreds from The Gambia and Senegal.
OB Conateh loved sports. He was a champion athlete as a cyclist in his youth and went on to become a great benefactor of sports, notably football which remained the biggest love of his life. He groomed, mentored and developed some of the best footballing talents this country ever produced for his beloved Wallidan FC and The Gambia national team. Today, some of his mentees have become very successful professionals in their careers after they blew their last reveille as footballers mainly thanks to his financial support and guidance.
It was not for nothing that he was referred to as Baï Banjul – The Father of Banjul. But in his death, it is not just Banjul that has been orphaned, it is the whole of The Gambia. Farewell good man!