Mr. Chairman of the Occasion
Madam Jebel Jawo widow of the late Assan Musa Camara, Mustapha, Bubacar, Aisha and other Members of the Family of the late Hon. Assan Musa Camara
Some two weeks ago the nation paid tribute and laid to rest the Father of the nation, His Excellency Alhaji Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara. Today we honour a man who preceded him to the hereafter some six years earlier, but one who had been his close partner and collaborator during the struggle for independence, during the early years of building the foundations of the Gambian State and in the ebbs and flows of multiparty politics in the Gambia since independence.
I refer to the Honourable Assan Musa Camara.
Between his birth into this transient world in April 1923 at Mansajang Kunda, Basse in what is now the Upper River Region and his exit from it to return to his maker on 15th September 1023, Assan Musa Camara devoted the nine decades of his life to imparting knowledge, inculcating discipline and good citizenship in and to generations of young students first as a school teacher and then as an education policy maker as minister of education during both the colonial and post colonial era; devoting his time and energies to the successful project of the emancipation of his people from colonialism into freedom and independence; as a cabinet minister from colonial times to the post independence era with responsibility successively for important government portfolios such as education, works and communications, finance and foreign affairs; as Vice President for some twelve years (1970 – 1982) and immediate assistant to the President in the formative years of the First Republic ushered in by the 1970 Constitution; as an ardent politician and grassroots mobiliser, for over fifty years in the United Party (UP), the Peoples Progressive Party (PPP), and eventually the Gambia Peoples Party (GPP) which he himself founded in 1986.
This very brief outline, although setting out the significant milestones in the life of the late Assan Musa Camara, may not capture in its fullness the very richness of the life of a true servant of the people. I am, indeed we all are greatly indebted to Jeggan .C. Senghor for his excellent biography of this man of the people, to Fafa Edrissa M’bai for his erudite review of Jeggan’s book. To all the previous speakers- Alhaji Yaya Ceesay, Alhaji M.C. Cham…………………………………….., all of them colleagues whose recollections give us a better understanding of the life, and of the times, of Assan Musa. And to the Camara family and their friends for their decision to establish a Foundation to promote the ideas, the values, the principles and the personal character attributes for which Assan Musa Camara stood and for which he will always be remembered.
My tenure in government did not overlap with that of Assan Musa but I knew of him in government and I Knew him personally and interacted with him often times.
Three things standout in my recollection of him which I believe current and future generations should pay heed to and emulate: his humility and modesty, his integrity and his patriotism.
It is perhaps not difficult amidst the trappings of power and influence for persons in authority to become arrogant and to be aloof and distant from the daily lives and tribulations of the grassroots.
But it is nonetheless reprehensible. Despite all the high offices of state that he held and all the trappings of power that came with them – much of which he disowned- Assan Musa continuously remained a man of the people, leading a modest life, accessible to all and with a hearing and sympathetic ear for all.
Despite several decades of high-profile positions Assan Musa remained uncorrupted by power. He retained his integrity.
There have never been any allegations of any misconduct against Assan Musa. He will always remain for the nation a role model for honesty and integrity. Assan Musa’s life remained unblemished by any allegations of dishonesty or misconduct.
He remains today a worthy model for those who occupy or aspire to public office.
Probity and honesty by those entrusted with public affairs are indispensable elements for any democratic system, any system of good government.
Acts of dishonesty, corruption, misconduct or abuse of power by public officials constitute a very big danger to the integrity and efficiency of the public service.
They sapp state institutions and undermine the structure of governance and the very fabric of the state. Such conduct- or should I say misconduct – should not be allowed to flourish; it must be vigorously discouraged and the virtues of honesty and probity actively promoted through appropriate measures, particularly in the public service.
Beyond his role in the struggle for the independence of the Gambia, Assan Musa demonstrated his patriotism during various crises in the post-independence period of the Gambia.
When in 1981 a rebellion by the paramilitary supported by some civilians threatened the constitutional order of this country and caused much violence, loss of life and widespread damage to property and at a time when the President was out of the country, it was the valiant resistance spearheaded by Assan Musa then Vice President, with the support of colleagues such as late Alhaji M.L. Saho the then Attorney General and Mr. Abdoulie Mboob the then Inspector General of Police and other loyalist forces which held the fort until the arrival of friendly local and foreign forces .
The nation owes them all a debts of gratitude for their courageous resistance which saved us from slipping into tyranny and dictatorship.
Assan Musa – and his colleagues- risked their lives, indeed were ready to sacrifice themselves in defence of the nation. As true patriots’
When some thirteen years later in 1994 the military took over the reins of power Assan Musa, despite by now having parted ways with Sir Dawda politically and being in the opposition rose above partisanship and, recognising the broader and overriding national interest, maintained a steadfast and again courageous opposition to military rule.
The relationship between Sir Dawda and Assan Musa provides lessons too for us even today when both are no longer with us.
Despite the parting of their political ways due to political differences, both statesmen were mature enough to recognise that political pluralism, a corner stone of democracy, requires that political opponents relate to each other with respect, courtesy and with peace.
So we see, despite their political differences, Assan Musa as narrated by Senghor describing Sir Dawda as ”a very good leader and an exceptional human being”. We see Sir Dawda at the bedside of his political opponent, paying respects to him, comforting and praying with him in his final moments.
A great lesson for all us today politicians and non- politicians alike. Political and other differences are an inevitable feature of political pluralism and of daily life; such differences however need to be managed in a responsible manner with courtesy and respect for opponents and above all managed in a peaceful and lawful manner.
Political differences do not need to lead to conflict. Difference are there forever, and very often are healthy for the body politic; they need to be and can be managed in a mature, peaceful and responsible manner.
Assan Musa’s entire life was one of continuous service to the community- whether as a teacher, a public policy maker, or political leader.
His story should remind us that life is not about service to oneself; it is and should be of service to others- to the family, to the community. One is not remembered for what one has done for oneself.
Public remembrance and public reward lie for those who devote time and energy to public and community service. One is remembered and rewarded for what one has done for others.
Amidst the shifting times and fashions and changing values it is important for us to remind ourselves, individually and collectively as a nation, of the ever constant relevance- indeed the necessity of respect for the values of humility and modesty, of honesty, integrity and probity in public life, of patriotism and of service to the community, based on the foregoing values.
Publications such as ”Assan Musa Camara – Servant of the People” by Jeggan .C. Senghor and the establishment of the Assan Musa Camara Foundation which we are about to launch today give us the opportunity not only to know the lives, the personalities and contributions of our historical figures but also enhance our knowledge of the history of the Gambia and with such knowledge of the past, empower us to better manage the present and to better prepare for our future.
The publication of books such as ”Profiles of Gambia Political Leaders in the Decolonisation Era” and of ”Assan Musa Camara – servant of the People” both by Jeggan Senghor and of “Kairaba” by Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara and some others, are significant stages in the publication of the literature in this field.
The challenge remains to continue and accelerate this process. For there is much more to be done; more stories yet to be told, particularly with regard to publishing the recollections and reflections of persons who have played important roles in the public affairs of this country.
I see amongst them here in this gathering veterans such as Alhaji Yaya Ceesay, Alhaji .M.C Cham, Alhaji Lamin Kiti Jabang and Omar Jallow (OJ).
The challenge is primarily for the academic community and particularly the University of the Gambia to embark on such a project that will facilitate access to our history as well as provide a guide to current and future generations.
Members of the Assan Musa Camara family, and distinguished guests it is my great pleasure and honour to launch today both the book tilled “Assan Musa Camara: Servant of the People and the Assan Musa Camara Foundation.
I thank you for your attention.