Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara was the first President of the Republic of The Gambia in 1971, after serving as the First Premier in 1963 when the Gambia gained self-rule.
He wrote Kairaba, giving a detail story of his journey to politics until he left after the 1994 coup. The Ghost writer is Nana Grey-Johnson
Excerpt (pp 220-241)
In the throes of politics
The year 1959 ended with the good news that Jombo and Famara Wassa were sending back from their tours on bicycle, into towns and villages of central and eastern Kombo. They were spreading the good news of the founding of the Protectorate People’s Party. These two indefatigable pioneers were well on their way to launching across the Bintang Bolong into the lower river regions, working diligently and setting up PPP branches in towns, villages and hamlets as they went. They were nailing down the principles and beliefs that the constituent power of the new movement was the people. They were relentless in their scouring of the niches and before long they had covered the whole country. In Kantora in the Upper River Division, a joining patron was so delighted with the energy and determination of the two men that he arranged the marriage of his daughter to Jombo. There could not have been a happier ending to a tough mission to introduce our party to the people.
When the 1960 rolled in, the pulse of the people was already beating with the excitement of that great achievement of a party forged and ready to get into action. What was even more thrilling was that the first-ever general elections with full universal adult suffrage for both the colony and protectorate were already planned for May. Jombo and Famara Wassa had thus laid the groundwork in the protectorate and when the Sanjally Bojang thought up an even more flamboyant campaign tour, it was an idea borne out of its own necessity. Sanjally gathered masses of the new breed of party supporters and set off in lorries for a countrywide tour to ask an already eager and receptive electorate to vote for the PPP.
However, it was not an uneventful tour. When the campaign reached the Upper River Division, where tribal, chieftaincy and other family issues divided the supporters, things turned ugly. The reception almost turned violent in places where our presence was resisted with a passion. Kantora and Basse were particularly hostile to the PPP and it would take us a number of years of committed work at the grassroots to turn the tide in our favour in those areas.
1960 also opened with the announcement that the British government was considering introducing a bill that would be enacted as early as January 1960 to extend the loans for colonial development programmes. It was a good enough promise to encourage Governor Windley to set up a committee to consider the areas that the increment in development funds would go to. He appointed the financial secretary to chair the committee. He also appointed Henry Madi, J L Mahoney, Seyfo Karamo Kaba Sanneh and Seyfo Landing Sali Sonko to assist him in examining proposals and to submit recommendations for improving government departments and expanding public services. The committee also invited ideas from the public as well to be considered for the 1960-1965 development programme.
For the members of the Protectorate People’s Party all development efforts by the colonial government were of course welcome. Although for obvious reasons I restricted my participation to clandestine meetings, I followed the outcomes of the more public gatherings of the party whether at Brikama or at the Ritz Cinema or at 4 Jones Street in the capital where the party often met. Whatever suggestions were submitted to the development committee improvement of facilities and conditions in the protectorate was a central issue. There was also new thinking brewing which was coming straight out of what the more radical elements within the PPP were reading in the daily bulletins of British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan’s positive comments about Nigeria’s “year of destiny” during his rousing visit to Lagos on 12 January 1959. That was perhaps the most public declaration of London’s readiness to consider independence for Nigeria. If there could be a year of destiny for Nigeria, why not one for The Gambia?
The annual chiefs’ conference was scheduled for Basse that year and the Veterinary Department busied itself all month long preparing demonstration kits. My colleague Fergusson Mahoney was busy putting together a presentation to draw attention to our work at Abuko. It was important to us, especially as it was connected to the new designs for mixed farming and livestock improvement proposals the agriculture and veterinary departments had collaborated on. We waited anxiously for the return of Governor Windley from Kenya where he had gone to give evidence in the trial of Rawson Macharia whom the colonial government in Nairobi had charged with making false declarations in the evidence he gave in 1952 during the trial of Jomo Kenyatta and the Mau Mau.
The governor returned from his former colony and shortly afterwards presided over the Basse conference. On that Saturday morning on 14 February 1959, the PPP came away finally recognised as a bona fide political entity and accorded its rightful place alongside the old parties from the colony. We boarded the Lady Wright that morning with bridled enthusiasm. Among us civil servants the discussions about the new phenomenon, the PPP, were muted in contrast with the animated discussions among the rest of the passengers.
There were other important matters raised and resolved in Basse, e.g. feeder road construction and the introduction of VHF Radio. There was also the quest for district authorities to continue giving grants to mission schools and that the livestock improvement officer and the cattle marketing officer get together with district authorities to discuss a mixed farming system and demonstrate improved methods of hides drying at the main slaughtering centres around the country. There were also important decisions taken on education and health. Until we arrived at Bathurst on Monday, the topic of discussion on board was more about the future of this new movement than it was about government or the far-reaching recommendations that came out of the conference.
It will be helpful to paint the picture of the political background in the country in which I had been working already for five years, happily trekking and inoculating livestock and making the Veterinary Department a household name in the rural communities.
For eighteen months during 1958 and 1959, the governor recommended an All Party Committee comprising chiefs, elected members of the Legislative Council and the leading lights of the political parties. The committee was chaired by Henry Madi with Kebba W Foon as secretary, and charged with the formulation of ideas to amend the constitution to reflect social and political developments in the colony. On 2 June 1959, Secretary of State for the Colonies Allan Lennox-Boyd arrived here from Sierra Leone to attend an official meeting to which he had been invited to study proposals for constitutional change which the All Party Committee had sent to London.
At the meeting with the secretary of state on 3 June 1959 the All Party Committee was informed that the British government had rejected nearly seventy-five per cent of the recommendations. Some frontline party people were not happy with that situation. At the official reception at Government House grounds in honour of Mr Lennox-Boyd and his entourage some members of the committee announced that they would hold a mass rally the following day to draw up a plea for redress that they would put before the distinguished visitor.
On 4 June 1959 the Gambia Democratic Party took the initiative by inviting the other parties to a meeting at Albion Place, a venue that would become very important in the political life of the colony and the pre-independence movement that would soon emerge. Of the 3 party leaders, only Rev J C Faye (leader of the GDP) attended and addressed the rally after which the organisers asked him to go home and leave the rest of the evening’s activities to them. The crowds began to chant: We Want Rights and Justice! as the organisers led them towards Government House. Soon the chanting crowds added the now famous lines: We Want Bread and Butter! this gave the name Bread and Butter Demonstrations to the event that has become a historic one in the political development of The Gambia.
Police Superintendent John Patrick Bray was on hand and announced from the balcony of Government House that the secretary of state was out on official engagements and asked the demonstrators to select six representatives to meet with Lennox-Boyd the following day. The organisers insisted they would wait no matter how long it took to meet with the secretary of state. Bray read the riot act and warned that on the third reading, if the crowd was still there, orders would be given to disperse them by force. The crowd did not budge and true to the superintendent’s words, the Force units charged.
The crowds threw stones. There were ugly scenes and before the police gained control of the situation many people had been injured. In the morning, the leaders of the demonstration, Crispin Grey-Johnson and A E Cham Joof of the Democratic Party and Melville Benoni Jones of the National Party, came out again circulating leaflets calling for another mass meeting at the same venue. At this point the police arrested and charged them with incitement.
In the background, the unfortunate fracture between the old parties over the demonstrations played into the hands of the Windley government. We will see P S Njie and Governor Windley becoming close allies against the other parties so that the UP would not take part in anything to challenge any programmes of the Windley government. The UP would later on take along the GNP as its satellite party. The Muslim Congress as usual sat on the fence. The Protectorate People’s Party was too new to influence that confusing scenario. Besides, it appeared to us that the new ideas being suggested for constitutional change well accorded with our objects of enfranchising the people of the protectorate and of bringing them into the mainstream of the political life of the country. The PPP continued to address some of those issues at district and town meetings and kept a regular assessment of the fall-out of the demonstration.
A close friend of mine at the time, the youthful and fiery advocate, A S Bamba Saho, took up the case as defence counsel and soon got Grey-Johnson, Cham Joof and Benoni Jones out on bail. Later, he successfully argued in court for a quashing of the case against them on the grounds that the political leaders were expressing their constitutional and human rights when they peacefully marched to see the secretary of state at Government House. The men were freed. The tension that had gripped the town since the arrests blew over while word was anxiously awaited from London as to the way forward.
Finally, an answer came in September 1959. The British government had decided on measures contained in the governor’s dispatch No 366/59 of 15 June setting out the recommendations which arose out of a conference of the All Party Committee held in March 1959. The governor, on his leave of absence to London, had taken away with him those proposals and the recommendations he made on them for discussion with the Foreign Office.
The PPP was thrilled by the salient points finally approved in London, which Governor Windley reported to the Legislative Council. Every citizen over the age of twenty-one years had the right to vote. The Legislative Council would become the House of Representatives, whose membership would increase from twenty-one to thirty-four. Five members would come, one from each ward from Bathurst, two from the Kombo St Mary’s districts and three would be nominated. Of the twenty representing the protectorate, eight would be chiefs or their representatives.
Governor Windley announced to the legislature the far-reaching decisions on the future of our country. He emphasised that with these developments there was a great need for all Gambians to think cautiously on the steps in their political development for the future so that those should be in the interest of the country and not influenced by sectarian interest or personal ambition. He said the constitution must be allowed to develop flexibility and such a development must be along the lines of greater self-government.
The governor was using language that the PPP was slowly writing into its own body of rules and regulations. It was clear in the minds of all the members what self-government would entail but it certainly was beginning to become obvious what possibilities and responsibilities lay ahead. Meanwhile, the music to our ears was the consideration being given to the measures which were necessary to enact the new Electoral Ordinance for the colony and the protectorate. Registration of voters was expected to begin before the end of the year and from the governor’s own words elections would take place in May 1960.
It was a good thing that the new law, while it required two passport-size photographs for colony voters, did not ask that of protectorate voters. The technology of passport photography had not reached the provinces and the demand would have posed huge problems for villagers and virtually nullified the advances of the new and welcome franchise. It is necessary to highlight this because when the tables would turn in favour of the PPP, the UP limping out of office would ignore the origin of this long-standing order, as central to the hollow petition charging us with vote rigging in the 1962 elections.
With such fundamental new regulations coming from the governor there was nothing more to do than to increase the frequency of our party meetings and invite people with the gift of the gab to come along on tours with us through the Kombos. While the party leaders scoured the countryside, I kept my nose on my job and helped my wife to cope with bathing and feeding our two infants. On 12 December, Sheikh Omar Fye, the revered Muslim scholar and father of my old schoolmate, Mustapha, died. The successful trader and Muslim scholar was already eight years into his retirement from the Legislative Council. It was the biggest funeral I had seen in Bathurst.
For most of 1958 and until I left the department in 1960, I was defying the rules barring civil servants from political activity. Under cover of night, I would accompany Jombo Bojang and Famara Wassa Touray and other stalwarts in the PPS to meetings. I had felt that my financial contributions to the society would have gone a long way towards covering some expenses. But they were certainly not enough considering the work at hand that needed some personal attention. We visited people at the bantaba and homes alike and I assured many compound owners and heads of kabilo that the future of our country was bright; it was one that would bring provincial people once and for all into the centre stage of national development.
Many of the initial support cells that grew up to be branches of the consolidated People’s Progressive Party (with emphasis on people’s) in later years started off this way. When the change of name to an all-inclusive national party was agreed to in 1960, Jombo and Famara Wassa had already known the path their bicycles would take to bring in the expectant harvest of members. We were in fact setting the tone for standards and attitudes that would later give character to our party constitution similar to that which the government and old parties were busy constructing at the national level with the Constitutional Conference that was held from 6 to11 March 1959.
In retrospect, the March All Party Conference established some advanced features that pointed to an already growing democratic atmosphere in the country. It would be appropriate at this point to pay tribute to members of the commission for coming up with advanced proposals that significantly improved upon the 1958 Wyn-Harris Constitution. With the colonial secretary presiding and aided by the attorney general, the conference was attended by nine seyfolu – Karamo Sanneh, Landing Sonko, Muhammadou Krubally, Koba Leigh, Moriba Krubally, Matarr Sise, Tamba Jammeh, Yugo Kasseh Drammeh and Fabakary Sanyang. Henry Madi and James L Mahoney sat as Independents, while Rene A Blain and J E Mahoney represented the UP, Henry J Joof and Kebba W Foon, the GNP, Sulayman Beran Gaye and I M Garba Jahumpa, the GMC and Crispin Grey-Johnson and J C Faye, the GDP.
The commission’s recommendations which were adopted included universal 0suffrage for all Gambian citizens who had reached the age of twenty-one years. They created the residency clauses and set up the electoral units of Bathurst with five one-member constituencies – the Kombo St Mary with two and the protectorate with twelve. They set the rules for eight chiefs to represent their peers and those for the disqualification of candidates. They confirmed English as the language of legislative business, established the positions of speaker and deputy speaker and named the assembly the House of Representatives. They determined the composition, powers and duties of the Executive Council. They proposed seven ministerial portfolios but got six approved in addition to four ex-officio members.
But, first things, first. The party had to be sold to the constituents countrywide. The masses declaring their support had to be taught the unfamiliar and truly daunting new territory of voting by the casting of marbles. As Governor Windley himself put it to Her Majesty’s Government in London, we were a rural electorate “new to the mysteries of the ballot box”. The introduction of the marble system by the attorney- general was acceptable to us; it was an easily manageable method of elections which so wonderfully suited the largely illiterate, calm temperament and small size of the country’s population.
While we seemed assured of scoring big points in the protectorate, there was something intrinsically bothersome about the nature of our party that was inhibiting our access to the homes and hearts in the colony. It was the Protectorate People’s Party, ironically restrictive in name, but with national intentions. The country, having reached a crossroads, it was with a great sense of urgency that I mounted the platform at a mass meeting the party had called at Albion Place in Bathurst, to justify the need for a very important change in the name of the party.
I explained that events had overtaken the original name that now lingered with a limiting feature about it. The Protectorate People’s Party carried a parochial aftertaste and presented a politically incorrect image which needed immediate correction to avoid disaffection within an urban public whose sympathies we absolutely could not afford to do without. It was a blessing that the tradition of democratic consensus was already bearing fruit. Thankfully, the party was built on principles that derived authority from no other source than the people.
The meeting quickly saw the need for a name that properly reflected the national character of the party, and accepted my suggestion to retain the already recognisable abbreviation PPP – which would henceforth stand for People’s Progressive Party. This opened doors to the hundreds of people who joined enthusiastically in Bathurst. A number of faithful people spring to mind as I write and it means no disregard for the hundreds of others who came to sign up in the party. Abel Samuel Charles Able-Thomas, the old headmaster, immediately accepted to stand as the party’s candidate in New Town West. Sister Julia Williams, Louis Chery, an accountant with the CFAO, Joseph Francis Cole, a GPMB executive, Mrs Hannah Forster, a businesswoman and her daughter, Mrs Catherine Collier, a radiographer, and others flood my memory now – ordinary as well as distinguished folk who shared our mission and vision and joined in unreservedly.
Dr Reynold Carrol and his wife, Delphine, became members. Reynold, who later became my dentist, reminded me recently that he and his wife were Members No 10 and No 11 on the PPP register in Bathurst in 1960. He said his argument for joining was that it was right and democratic for the majority people of the country’s populace to take their rightful place in national politics away from the monopolistic features of the colony parties which were simply duplicates of each other. Such detail of memory and the fondness with which he recalled them was indicative of how much some of the influential Aku people in the capital came to embrace the party very early.
We also campaigned vigorously in Bathurst. Augusta offered to speak at public meetings and in fact proved to be a very convincing public speaker. She and her caucus groups made house-to-house visits and spoke to women’s groups. Through the Gambia Women’s Contemporary Society which she founded and did great work for girls’ education, she was able to build the necessary consensus that drew many supporters to her and naturally to the party.
Augusta’s public presence would not go unmarked at social events and the occasional sporting gatherings such as the Female Athletic Meeting organised by the Gambia Athletic Association. On 19th November 1962, I accompanied Augusta to Dakar where she was attending a seminar on the Advancement of Women in Africa. The Senegalese government in collaboration with UNESCO recognised her interest and work in adult female education and invited her to represent The Gambia. Apart from having blazed the trail of standing in parliamentary elections, she was already well known for her work in the advancement of women. Under the pen name of Ramatoulie Kinteh she published a popular play, Rebellion, supportive of women’s reproductive health and education. Her other literary works and her fiery political speeches had already written her into the annals of political activism.
As Assistant Secretary and Treasurer of the Gambia Women’s Contemporary Society, Social Secretary of the Gambia Women’s Federation, Organiser of the Banta Sunkutu Kafo, a rural young women’s association with a membership of some nine hundred young women in Bakau, Brikama and Faraba Banta, she led these organisations with education in all its forms as the basic emphasis for the members. After the Dakar seminar, Augusta broadcast a report on it on Radio Gambia on 4 and 5 April 1963 enumerating the gains women particularly in The Gambia and Africa in general were making.
The registration of voters ended in early April and the electoral registers were compiled towards the end of April. There were 114,724 voters. The PPP had become a force to be reckoned with and took its place side by side with the more seasoned competitors of the UP, GDP and the GMC, who now, suddenly feeling the threat that woke them up to the potential of our party under the new universal suffrage, coalesced in their desperation and became known as the (Gambia) Democratic Congress Alliance (DCA). The two ministers and heads of the two parties, the Rev J C Faye and I M Garba Jahumpa, were forced to mend the fences they had broken back in 1952 when the latter defected from the GDP, which they had co-founded, to form the GMC.
All of a sudden, they needed each other to take on the challenge posed by our new party. The constitution had now given the franchise to all citizens, 21 years and over, to vote and be voted for. We made campaign promises that we would increase workers’ wages. We called for more radical amendments to the loopholes that still remained in the 1958 Constitution.
While we fought tooth and nail to win support in the colony, Sanjally Bojang was making waves in the provinces on his countrywide tour. Undaunted by the hostile reception in the URD and energised by the continued increase in the following from district to district, he turned the march, already in a carnival atmosphere, back westwards along the north bank. The tour and the speaking stops could only be likened to the famous post-war whistle-stop campaigns made by American politicians on board trains and buses decorated with their party flags and bunting. Sanjally had neither trains nor buses. He had lorries that were filled with merrymaking party militants, hangers-on and busybodies, with sikko band music into the bargain that took the message to the people about the new lease on the political and social life of the country.
We came out with the solid understanding of the sacredness of the cause of the PPP to bring all the peoples of the protectorate into the mainstream of life in the country, involving them hand in hand with the people of the Colony in building a truly united nation. This would ultimately bring development to the doorsteps of every Gambian. Nearly five years later, in 1964, when I was prime minister, the message was still consistent when, on the insistence of critics, I expounded on what type of government we were running. I pointed to the litany of experimental ideologies that were bubbling around in Africa’s newest states. I argued against the dogmas of socialism and communism and explained that we were building a socially responsible system that was based on self-reliance.
Through self-reliance, we could, for example, look forward to a time when government would be able to guarantee advances from the banks to enable cooperative societies to purchase more and more of the farmers’ produce. This would be distributed by their own organisations leaving room for radical changes in the function and preoccupations of the Gambia Oilseeds Marketing Board. This was resonant in my campaigns, be they at the annual dinner of the Chamber of Commerce in 1963 or at District Council meetings. What came to be rounded off as the battle cry for self-reliance, I called Tesito – a philosophy morally consonant and demanding of all citizens to play their part honestly, diligently and transparently in national development.
Sanjally’s march went well as the throngs progressed on the north bank through Darsilami, Kuntaur, Kaur, Farafenni, Nja Kunda, Kerewan and at stops in between, and all the way down to Barra. When Sanjally and his supporters arrived back in Bathurst on the ferry from Barra, he finally abandoned the lorries and decided on what some people vividly remembered as ‘the Blue March’ – so called from the sea of blue flags and uniforms, the colour the party had adopted. From the ferry terminal at Half Die, through the busy Hagan Street and Clifton Road, the teeming masses walked behind the party executive to a rousing reception outside Sanjally’s residence, which had become the de facto PPP headquarters. No witness to that march through the town was left indifferent to the presence of the PPP.
We closed our campaign and the country went to the polls in May 1960. The PPP took 50 per cent of the votes. I won the seat in the Kombo district where I stood unopposed. The PPP won nine of the twelve seats in the protectorate but promptly lost one to defection when Michael Baldeh, for reasons best known to him, switched immediately after he won to join the UP where we had long suspected his allegiance to be. Andrew Camara, the Independent candidate, won the Kantora seat in the Upper River Division. The United Party won seven seats, including two seats in Saloum and Niumi.
Our performance in the colony was not as dismal as had been expected. We won handsomely in Bakau. The UP gained all five of its traditional seats, bringing its national total to seven. The co-leaders of the DCA, J C Faye and I M Garba Jahumpa, both lost their seats in Bathurst where Alieu Badara Njie won DCA’s only seat in Jollof and Portuguese Town constituency. The PPP had more seats than any other party. Governor Windley at this point held on and did not announce his intention of forming the government. He did not announce the appointment of a chief minister either. We were keen to see what he would do and, accordingly, waited on his pleasure.
Meanwhile our party rejoiced over our inroads into the capital – once the domain of the old parties. In Bathurst, Augusta ran on the PPP ticket for the seat in Soldier Town constituency. She polled 232 votes and lost to Bathurst stalwart Melville Senami Benoni Jones of the GNP who won the seat with 644 votes. Augusta’s performance was nonetheless encouraging for a campaign of only a couple of weeks. Putting it in a larger perspective, it told us of great possibilities for the PPP among the more conservative voters in the capital when compared with the combined total of nearly one thousand votes the people of Bathurst cast for the PPP.
Not only did the PPP show signs of placing a significant foothold in the formerly parochial niches of Bathurst, it was also winning a first by putting up a woman candidate to run for public office. The Gambia Echo of 6 June 1960 graciously welcomed Augusta’s participation in the elections and even dedicated an editorial paying tribute to the pioneering spirit of both the party and the candidate: “We take off our hats to Mrs Jawara who has demonstrated that all intelligent and decent persons in the community can contest elections in spite of the terrible barrage of abuses aimed at opponents by some political parties.”
That reference to ‘the barrage of abuses’, in my view, was putting it too lightly. It was one filthy and disturbing element of the campaign as far as I was concerned. The UP, GNP and DCA held nothing back in abuse and utter slander of their opponents during street ‘broadcast talks’. I urged all the PPP candidates that issues and policies were what the people wanted to hear, and not abuse. Throughout the campaign, unnecessary vilification and abusive language was used to ruin the decorum expected of people who wanted to take up seats in government. This was most worrisome to me. Speakers would set aside the real issues and speak disparagingly of their opponents’ parentage and blood line. They vilified those with caste labels about them, especially those of the gewel caste or the oudeh or the tegga caste – as not fit for leadership in government. I simply treated such puerile notions with disdain and always wondered what caste had to do with one’s ability to serve one’s nation.
Even when I moved into the Prime Minister’s Residence at Number 1 Marina, I could hear slander directed at us through the loudspeakers screaming through the night from three hundred metres away at Sam Jack Terrace or a little further away at Albion Place. Most of it was fallacious diatribe about my being of the lineage of leather smiths and too low in social rank to run government. It was also the irrational cause of arrogance among certain elements within the PPP who saw their chiefly lineage as their right to office and leadership in the party, no matter how crude their vision or unlearned their methods. The PPP was far from being an ethnic party. It was a national party and could not be ruled by such unacceptable standards that considered people inferior on account of the caste into which they were born.
I find it a negative concept that is destroying the lives of millions of people in places such as India. I had very sound reasons for not addressing it at all in my time in government. I deliberately ignored it and insisted on its futility, convinced as I was and still am that it has no place in modern society. It is therefore of great satisfaction to me that the new millennium generations are damning the concept and marrying across castes all over The Gambia and most effectively ridding our civilisation of one of its most despicable social scars.
My father grew up as a farmer and through his own enterprising nature opened up business opportunities for himself. He became rich though he later lost most of his wealth along the way. He lived the great life of a philanthropist and aged gracefully as a respected man until he passed away in 1961. I remember his death coming at a time when I was deep in the struggle in the political wilderness for the adoption of the 1961 Constitution. His prayers were answered because it was those changes we had struggled for that brought the PPP into power in 1962 with a resounding majority that established a sound and democratic government and made me premier.
The people in a culture that would rain insults on someone on account of the kinds of labour skills that a great grandfather used honestly and creatively to keep his family alive must be a group of people that disrespected honest labour and the expression of latent skills. Provocation had to have its limits. Before long the idea of revenge brewed within our party ranks. When party marketing and public relations thinkers and strategists came up with a platform to reply to the abuses, our musicians found work cut out for them. The idea of the campaign band Sanjally had used for his tour and on the Blue March became the answer. Sikko Gambia, as the folk band became known, came complete with singers, clappers, metal shakers and a big bass drum. The music boomed under the frenzied direction of energetic young men and women who staged public displays and musical extravaganza at popular locations in the towns and villages. Their compositions included scathing jibes at opposition characters.
Sikko music was used to set the scene at our political rallies. At times, the band played all night with spontaneous lyrics that lampooned opponents of the PPP. Any social scandal the singers knew about them would be made into a dance song. A famous venue for the street carnivals in Bathurst that competed with those in Serekunda and Bakau-Katchikali was 48 Grant Street, the house of Farimang Singhateh, where our headquarters had moved after we had broken up with Sanjally Bojang and left his Jones Street residence. Singhateh was rewarded for his services to the party when he became our country’s first and only indigenous governor general in 1966. He always enjoyed the unfailing support of his wife, Lady Fanta Basse, who had been a keen PPS member in the early days of our movement.
At last, on 20 June 1960, nearly a whole month after the general elections, Governor Windley announced appointments to the Executive Council. Of six ministers, two were from the PPP. I was offered the portfolio of education and social welfare and Sheriff Sisay was appointed minister without portfolio. Omar Mbakeh, the head chief member of the council, and Andrew Camara, an independent, were also ministers without portfolio. Howsoon O Semega-Janneh, another independent candidate, who later switched his sympathies to the UP, became minister of agriculture. Alieu Badara Njie of the DCA was minister of communication.
P S Njie, the leader of the UP, promptly refused his appointment as minister without portfolio. He queried the decisions and, at one meeting of the Legislative Council, led a walkout with his supporters. What we waited for with bated breath and which did not seem forthcoming up to this point was the appointment of a chief minister to lead government business.
The governor ignored the approved details in the 1959 Constitution on the delicate appointment procedures that clearly stipulated that “… the governor, when the election results were known, be required to ascertain whether any member of the House of Representatives commanded an effective majority. If there was a person with such a majority, that person should be designated chief minister and should advise the governor on the selection of members to fill ministerial posts and the allocation of ministerial portfolios among them”.
We may not have had “an effective majority” to form a majority government with our nine seats to UP’s seven but that situation had the benefit of tradition to fall back on. An unbiased governor would have been guided by tradition that the leader of the party with the largest number of seats, democratically, even by a majority of one seat, should have been invited to begin negotiations with the other parties for a coalition government or propose the means by which his party would govern. It was not the right of the governor to tamper with the constitution to satisfy a personal reservation he had nursed and which was blown out to full force against me and the PPP when we proposed more constitutional development that included our quest for self- government, which must lead to ultimate independence.
As recently as 3 May 2007, the protocol and tradition we expected was as exactly as unfolded when the Scottish National Party, with only a narrow majority, time in its history outvoted the Labour, Liberal and other parties in Scottish Parliamentary Elections. The National Party leader, Alex Elliot Salmond, was sworn in as first minister in albeit a minority government. The SNP won by the smallest of margins (47 seats, 1 more than the Scottish Labour Party). But on 16 May Salmond was nominated to head a minority SNP administration. As far as the British system is concerned the party that wins by a majority, however slight, is given priority. Governor Windley ought to have known this tradition but decided to do otherwise in 1961.
In the months ahead we would define and redefine our policies choosing the more patriotic line of sovereign independence. Jahumpa supported the Malta Solution by which The Gambia, like the Mediterranean island of Malta, would elect and send delegates to parliament in the UK. It was a system well known in the French territories where delegates from the colonies served as deputies in the French parliament. Blaise Diagne and Leopold Sedar Senghor after him had been deputies in Paris for Senegal as had been Houphouet Boigny for the Ivory Coast.
The Malta Solution was far from our party’s stated policy of full independence. Nor was the full merger with Senegal an option. There was little point in even considering the other hair-brained proposals that contrived to have The Gambia function as part of Nigeria to be administered from the distance of Lagos just as West and East Pakistan were before the declaration of Bangladesh independence in 1971. We came into the political limelight with a firm resolution to go all out for national sovereignty. We knew that the way towards establishing the foundations for it was to ensure victory in the general election.
As was to be expected, the young party was immediately faced with the challenge of being complete strangers in the colony, that is, in Bathurst and Kombo St Mary. If it should win the forthcoming elections, all those social and political hurdles would need to be cleared. To do that the party would have to have a foundation in the capital and a following large enough to capture such important seats as were being held by the indigenous big names on the opposing party tickets. It seemed a daunting task but we knew that only robust policies and exemplary showcasing would make our party a household name in Bathurst within the few weeks left until the elections. Those policies must include making our party an even more inclusive movement, reducing the parochial connotations of provincialism, enhancing the local economy, improving the living standards of the people and guiding the direction The Gambia would take to independence – not a merger with Senegal as was apparent in the hedging behaviour of the colonial government and in the agenda of some of the politicians in Bathurst.
The sad spectre of this tendency to give away our nation to a merger was picking up steam at a time when developments around us in West Africa had seen Ghana become master of its destiny in 1957, a country that was already working on building up its own national shipping and air lines and launching its own national currency. Guinea Conakry had also become independent under Sekou Touré demonstrating clearly that national will and determination could overcome that country’s horrific abandonment by France.
There were other great examples that made union with Senegal a very important matter to get into gently and soberly; not with any parochial search for ethnic sympathies as envisioned by some politicians but with coherent, historical, equitable and well-thought-out considerations on the table.
On 1 October 1960, Nigeria became independent. I was selected to represent The Gambia at the celebrations. While I packed my bags to leave, I had the draft of a document, entitled The Independence Manifesto, in which were spelt out the details of a programme towards independence for The Gambia. Although I took the original document with me, I was surprised to discover that while I was in Lagos, details of the document had leaked in Bathurst. Nevertheless I printed a few hundred copies of it and brought those back home with me. I went straight into serious private discussions with key leaders and militants in the party and shared with them my consideration of the need to force the governor’s hand on the issues we considered important.
The party organised an extraordinary meeting at Albion Place where, for the first time, I publicly addressed the issue of independence. I drove home the urgent need for the government and administration to work on the finer points of the proposal for the Gambian people to become masters of their own destiny. The party secretariat staff distributed hundreds of copies reproduced for the purpose. In a short while the crowd had taken up all the copies. Many who could not wait to sink their teeth into the document left the meeting to go and read it. The document poured fuel into Windley’s raging fire and that of Civil Secretary Kenneth G Smith.
That document was the blueprint for the achievement of self-determination by the Gambian people. It opened with the boldest declaration that The Gambia could not afford to remain much longer in the backwaters of African political advance. While the whole continent moved to its destiny of freedom and self-determination, the right place for The Gambia, it said, was the mainstream of that movement side by side with Senegal, Mauritania, Sudan, Sierra Leone, Somaliland, Ghana, Gabon, Guinea, Nigeria, Madagascar and others.
The People’s Progressive Party, I wrote, had pledged the achievement of The Gambia of self-government by 1961 and the means to fulfil that pledge by constitutional means if possible. The people of The Gambia had an undisputable right to freedom and self-determination. They should be free to negotiate in freedom and equality with Britain, Senegal or any other country matters which affect the economy and social, cultural, military and political destiny of their country. The argument was not valid that because of its small size and its lack of natural resources The Gambia dared not claim its freedom. All peoples, rich or poor, were entitled to freedom and no right-minded person in the 20th century would deny the Gambian people their claim to fundamental human rights.
Gambians could not be denied the same freedoms that their sisters and brothers were already enjoying across the border in Senegal where independence had been granted a few months before, in June 1960. It was unnatural and unjust, and sooner rather than later, that denial would be resisted. The manifesto was explicit in its presentation of the PPP’s consideration of the urgency that The Gambia talked with neighbouring African states in the spirit of brotherhood and equality to determine their common future. It was therefore imperative that independence for the country should not be delayed any longer than the time required to prepare for the physical transfer of power to the Gambian people. It called for internal self-government based on the party system and that should be followed by the fulfilment of the destiny of The Gambia as a people and a nation – and that was independence!
The people adopted the manifesto immediately while the governor and his aides found in it exactly the kind of excuse they were looking for to brand the PPP as brigands and as unworthy of leadership. I was no longer that great gardener and host the governor and his wife had visited at Yundum. I had become a rabble-rouser despite all the democratic processes I followed in presenting the document to the party executive and to a public meeting for discussion.
I cannot agree more with The Voice of the People – The Story of the PPP in its description of the situation that existed and which the government was ready to use to paint the PPP as the bête noire and to frustrate its every plan:
“To achieve the sinister design, they concluded that it was necessary to isolate the troublesome party. In that regard, the UP, which always saw in the PPP the only threat to their dominance and their ambition for power, could readily be counted upon. The DCA was easily written off as enjoying too little influence to matter much. Of greater significance in that sense were the chiefs, the only other influential bloc. It must be remembered here that, in terms of attitude to the PPP, the 36 chiefs had different leanings depending on the levels of their political sophistication and on personalities. At one end, the educated chiefs appeared anxious to preserve their elite positions and to secure an enhanced role for chiefs at the national level. The more ambitious among them even saw themselves as naturally destined to play second fiddle only to white masters and to no one else. However, the majority of chiefs had no formal western education and some of them only feared the PPP because of the perceived destabilising influence of some of our ways.”
I returned from the independence celebrations in Nigeria only to find the party in turmoil on account of a plan to have it merge with the other parties in what its architects called the Gambia Solidarity Party (GSP). The idea appeared most hurriedly thrown together under the lamest pretext of being a common front to put forward demands of national import to the colonial authorities. I found the GSP ready to launch and with the decision to involve the PPP taken apparently by one man, Sanjally Bojang. He had not even tabled the subject for a decision by the party’s executive. I was devastated. Sanjally was deep in collusion with leaders of the DCA to undo all the work we had so painstakingly achieved since our grassroots work began in 1958.
It was clear that apart from Windley’s destabilising work among the chiefs, the majority of whom were now convinced that the PPP was set to destroy their influence and privileges, the DCA had also been at work behind the scenes roping in Sanjally, the PPP kingpin, into an unholy common front that would destroy our party forever.
We discovered that money had changed hands. They promptly rejected the offer. The old-guard leaders of the DCA seduced our national standard-bearer to refute the political direction enunciated in our manifesto. The authorities were deeply disturbed by our manifesto. The same governor who had paid me a visit at my modest home at Staff Site No 3, Yundum, was now working on a common agenda with the old-guard politicians whom he had previously considered dangerous. But now preferring their slower and accommodating policies and interest more palatable than the PPP’s firm stand on independence, he changed his mind about the provincial novices he had erroneously thought would be more pliable. It was his way of choosing the lesser of two evils.
Independence and national sovereignty sent the two propelling concepts that sent the government scurrying back to the colony parties. London did not want to encourage national sovereignty; total unification with Senegal was the preferred development and J C Faye and I M Garba Jahumpa had long swallowed the bait. Now they needed to break our resolve and the way to do that was to rope in our standard-bearer into an unholy alliance. It was a great pity that Sanjally was game to such treachery after all the work he had done to set the party on its feet. From all sides, there was a willingness to subvert the party with bribery and ideological contamination, targeting, most of all, its national president.
P S Njie rebuffed the hair-brained proposition for the UP to join the GSP. That left Sanjally squarely in the company of Faye and Jahumpa who promptly went with him on a broadcast tour of Bathurst by Land Rover. They spoke in turns, broadcasting their message through a megaphone. Sanjally, speaking in Mandinka, announced to his bewildered hearers: PPP teh ta! – PPP is broken to bits! He likened the party to an egg in the middle of his palm and all he had to do was to let go and the PPP would be finished – smashed on the pavement! On that day as I passed by the Albert Market, I was more sad than angry to see these three gentlemen – Sanjally, Faye and Jahumpa – passing the microphone among them betraying their open treachery against their colleagues.
To call the bluff and counter the treachery, I had to move very quickly to launch a vigorous damage-limitation exercise and to effect immediate repairs to the fabric of our young party. There was the man who had marched through the same streets in a sea of blue back from his successful tour of the country to sell the party to the people! There he was again, barely twelve months later, driving through the same streets, offering our opponents the rewards of our hard work. Naturally, Sanjally did not understand the issues of independence if all he had on that account was from Faye and Jahumpa. As soon as I had gone to Nigeria on an official mission, he showed his true colours. He deluded himself into believing that his rank as national president was powerful enough to lord it over the people who made up the party.
My immediate reaction was to save our party and to protect social and political cohesion. Sanjally’s message of a broken PPP reaching the people in the provinces would have confused them. Sanjally must have missed the mood since the mansa bengo in Basse; to have allowed Faye and Jahumpa to convince him that the GSP was a better alternative to the PPP.
I had to take the risk of bringing the charismatic and popular president of our party to book. I called for a public meeting at Brikama. The party assembled with urgency a couple of miles down the road from Sanjally’s village home in Kembuje. In putting the case forward, I did not mince my words. I explained the threat to the cohesion and, in fact, the whole life of the fledgling party the actions that Sanjally and his cohorts had undertaken. I called for the firmest commitment of the members to the central idea that set us off in 1959 and whose gains we were already reaping with seats in the heart of government, especially in our noble quest for independence. Sanjally’s treachery was set to reverse those gains that would be countered only by one decisive act – to expel him from the party. That act that I was convinced would deal a decisive blow against the scheming triumvirate.
The house broke down, so to speak. Although I strenuously argued for his expulsion, a thorough and prolonged debate was to follow. There was no better way to practise the seeding of the democratic culture of discourse within the rank and file of the party than this occasion. We discussed all sides of the issue. At the end of a flurry of diatribe, tempers cooled and the house resorted to the democratic showing of popular opinion. The people voted to expel him. It was a bitter experience for all. But when the sun broke again above those ominous clouds and the party began to sail again in calmer and more directed waters, many of the former sceptics were thankful for the firmness and resolution of the leadership. Nothing more was heard of the GSP.
By the end of 1960, the mind of the ordinary Gambian had been well oiled for self-government. Independence was only one constitutional step away. Although the word itself had become common usage, it was the PPP’s policy to walk democratically up every step so that the importance we attached to it would be realised. Attaining it would have been worth our toil to give tangible meaning to our freedom.
We came into a new year – 1961 – already a pariah party for publishing the Independence Manifesto and for insisting that the governor take responsible democratic decisions. After the storm of Sanjally’s expulsion had blown over, we went back to work thankful to have escaped the terrible damage that the near-disaster could have caused us. Just out of professional interest, I kept my eyes on the Veterinary Department reports on the immunisation against rinderpest and I was glad to learn that things there were proceeding well with the exception of minor outbreaks. Otherwise I spent the greater part of my working day concentrating on running the Education Ministry, patiently waiting for Windley to make an announcement on his selection of chief minister.
While he dragged his feet, courtesy demanded that we commiserate with him when he had to rush home from his leave in England to be at his wife’s bedside. Lady Windley had taken a fall in January 1961 and suffered spinal injury. She was flown to Dakar to connect to London where she was admitted at Guy’s Hospital. We extended our wishes for her speedy recovery. Just at this time, the news broke that Patrice Lumumba, the Prime Minister of the Belgian Congo, had been killed. For us trying to make sense of politics and government in The Gambia, the news was disturbing.
We certainly were not going to go the way of the Belgian Congo, where foreign interference and internal betrayal had led to the fall of the government in December 1960 and the assassination of Lumumba and his companions, Joseph Okito, the deputy president of the senate, and Maurice Mpolo, the information minister.
The death a few months later, in September 1961, of UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold in a mysterious plane crash only five days after his visit to Leopoldville (Kinshasa) was deemed not unconnected with the seething crisis that forced Kwame Nkrumah to insist on keeping Ghanaian forces in the Belgian Congo to police what he called ‘European vandalism’ of the politics in that vast and resource-rich country.
But The Gambia was part of the fabric of that bigger picture. Therefore the complexity of the political developments in the Belgian Congo with its size and economic potential and measured against those of The Gambia did not make the struggle of the two countries any different. Respect and dignity and the sanctity of sovereignty were common issues for both. Perhaps the only difference was that, while dialogue had broken down and guns were speaking in place of the human voice in the Belgian Congo, in The Gambia, the parties and the colonial administration were engaged around a table and talking, as we did in May and July 1961, to unravel the political impasse that arose from the governor’s appointment of a chief minister had woven.
We were in the middle of praying for peace in Congo Kinshasa and stability in our countries for growth to be realised when within our own backyard the Gambia Workers’ Union called a general strike at the peak of the trade season. In a matter of forty-eight hours, M E Jallow and the GWU had turned the streets of Bathurst into a battlefield. The news of the unrest and economic disruption baffled the Colonial Office.
On 16 February 1961, it was my pleasure as minister of education to assist Windley when he cut the ribbon to open the new buildings at Armitage High School in Georgetown. Sixty new pupils were admitted, thanks to the new and improved facilities. The upgrading of the protectorate school was of tremendous importance to me and my ministry in its fulfilment of a long dream for a secondary school in the provinces. When the school celebrated its thirty-fourth anniversary, it was a sentimental and quite fulfilling honour for me that my home division, the McCarthy Island Division, could now boast a secondary school. In my address I emphasised the dawn of a new era for the protectorate people in particular and the nation at large. I called on parents and guardians to endeavour to send their girl children to school. The education of girls was crucial to our development. So, we had better make it our duty to educate them if we did not want to be found wanting in neglecting 50 per cent of our collective national talent and energy.
I returned from the provinces to find a note verbale on my desk. Windley had convened a meeting of the Executive Council for 4 March 1961. It had already been ten long months since the elections. At the Meeting the governor explained that after careful consideration he had reached a decision on who to appoint as chief minister. He announced to the council that he was pleased to appoint P S Njie as Chief Minister of The Gambia.
At that point, I reached into my jacket pocket and laid an envelope before the governor. It contained my resignation as minister of Education. The next day, Sheriff Sisay, my PPP colleague, resigned. A week later, Alieu Badara Njie of the DCA also resigned. The governor quickly filled the vacancies with independents and UP members to complete his government. He had, in fact, by this singular act created a deep political crisis that constituted his biggest error ever in his three short years of service in The Gambia.
My resignation sent me into the opposition side of the House; it was the boldest stand for me to take to drive home the fact that democracy and constitutional tradition had been transgressed. The administration was tottering on the brink of political explosion through April. Striking the iron while it was hot, we called an all-party meeting in Bathurst in May 1961.
In July 1961, we went to London for the Constitutional Talks. In a bid to get to the bottom of the crisis, the Colonial Secretary Iain McLeod called Windley and me to a private meeting with him. I seized the opportunity to have my say. I narrated the true details of how the governor had subverted the age-old Westminster traditions just to suit his own grudges against me and my party for daring to publish our independence manifesto. I went into the details of his machinations in the background to have the old-guard parties break down the PPP. I literally went to town with Windley. At one point in my tirade the fully blushing and agitated governor shot up to his feet as one who had been badgered enough: “Sir,” he screamed, “Mr Jawara is accusing me of …” The secretary of state did not allow him to finish and asked him to sit down and to allow me to finish what I was saying. I was deeply consoled and pacified by the opportunity to tell it all in the presence of his boss.
While the constitutional crisis persisted in Banjul, the PPP withdrew from the limelight to set its house in order. Sheriff Sisay and I retreated from government into full engagement with party colleagues in consolidating our gains. Our principled act of resigning from government gained the PPP popularity and great respect.
We used the time wisely and waited; it did take all of ten months before the general elections. We used the intervening period to strengthen the party structures. We set up branches in new and vital corners of our support base and consolidated executive and administrative mechanisms to ensure a well-governed political movement. The party’s fullest authority continued to derive from the people with each party member solidly linked with the Central Committee and the National Executive Committee through branches that elected delegates at divisional, district, ward and village levels.
I walked away vindicated from that private protest consultation in London and from the more public Constitutional Talks with a winning decision in my briefcase. That was a bigger scoop for us than any which the opposition was able to imagine. We went to the polls in May 1962. The PPP surged into power and was poised to change the face of politics in The Gambia for the next thirty-two years.