I write to pay my sincere tribute to the departed Pa Nderry Mbai, editor, journalist and activist, who died this week, in the USA. I knew Pa since 1999, then an editor at the Daily Observer with Sheriff Bojang, Ndey Tapha and Lamin Cham I worked on his scripts with delight as he wrote in bih characters. As a reporter, Pa had a particular knack for digging up for stories from then Royal Victoria Hospital, where he once worked before taking up news writing with the Observer. He was a most prolific and hardworking reporter. In any issue of the Observer at the time, Pa will have one or two front page headlines! ‘Darboe, Others Granted Bail’; ‘Rex King Retires..’ ‘Four Killed in Kiang Accident’ were all his banner stories in three consecutive issues in June 2000. Our ebullient Editor-in-Chief Sheriff used to tell us ‘please make sure the issue is not a Pa Nderry issue’ as I and Ndey Tapha chose the stories to fill up the next day’s edition.
When Sheriff left the Observer in 2001, and a staff crises followed,Pa left the Observer where he was already staff reporter, and decamped to The Point. He guarded his independence jealously.
When he left for the USA in 2004, he soon started a new brand of ambush journalism which spared no one, especially in officialdom. His brand should be an interesting discussion points in our journalism schools for it was innovative as it was daring and almost beyond the limits of objective journalism. But it was imposed on him; the tyranny was opaque as it was brutal towards the press, so a way had to be found to fight it and shine light into the deep recesses of our Republic. He survived the maelstrom but his good colleague at the Observer newsroom, Chief Manneh did not, for example.
His role in the demise of the old regime is gargantuan; the politics played its role, but Pa Nderry too played a key role as it de-masked it and pointed to the regime’s ugly spots.
I always had nice working relations with him as his editor. He was always bubbly and business like. He only came to the news room at the Observer to write his stories, and would disappear to his next assignment soon after. In his demise The Gambia has lost a great consistent and uncompromising activist-journalist in the mould of Hon. Edward Francis Small of The Gambia Outlook and Senegambia Reporter.
To his family, relatives, especially to my Uncle Mr. Fafa Mbai, and many colleagues, I convey my condolences and pray that his soul rest in perfect peace.
Hassoum Ceesay, ORG
Historian, Museum Curator, Biographer,
Director General, National Centre for Arts and Culture