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Mathew K. Jallow – The Gambia loses an icon

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With the death of Mathew Kali Jallow, the Gambia has lost quite an iconic journalist-cum-activist, who fought so long and hard for justice and fairness for the down-trodden people of this country. He was also quite a formidable participant in the struggle to free the Gambia from the Yahya Jammeh dictatorship.

Mathew, who died on the 4th January, 2024 in Madison, capital of the US state of Wisconsin where he had been living for the past few years, hails from Sare Gainako in Niamina West district in the Central River Region. After completing his primary education at Mount Carmel school in Sare Gainako in the early 1960s, he proceeded to St. Augustine’s High School in Banjul. He later attended Yundum college to train as a teacher in the late 1960s.

Like many other young people during that period, Mathew was very much influenced by the student activism making the waves in the United States and Europe, and he also embraced leftish ideology, particularly those of Mao Zedong in China and the Cuban revolutionary leader, Fidel Castro. He became so engulfed in student activism and revolutionary ideology that he was nicknamed Mao by many of his contemporaries.

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As a result of his involvement in student activism, Mathew became so radicalized that he never completed both his high school education and his training at Yundum college. In both institutions, he was expelled at his final year, on both occasions, for leading student strikes that disrupted courses in those institutions.

After his expulsion from the Yundum College, Mathew went on to do other things, and he later travelled to Europe. However, while in the US, he attended the University of Wisconsin and graduated with a masters degree.

After spending a few years in Norway, he returned to the Gambia and among other places, he worked for Freedom From Hunger Campaign (FFHC) and later the Action Aid as construction manager. The Daily Observer was the last place that he worked before he left for the United States in the mid-1990s.

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In addition to being a prolific writer, Mathew was also quite active in the struggle against the Jammeh regime, being a member of different groups at different times. However, on many occasions, he operated as a lone wolf, writing articles critical of the regime and proffering radical solutions to many of the problems.

I can vividly recall how he once angrily reacted to a profile of him written by Sheriff Bojang published by the Daily Observer, describing him as a “Rebel Without A Cause”. He was indeed a non-conformist who did not hesitate to critique many of the practices and norms accepted by society.

Considering the prominent role that Mathew played in the struggle against the Jammeh dictatorship, and his demonstrated patriotism, everyone had expected at least a different reaction from the government to his passing. It is therefore quite a surprise to many people that the government has so far not yet issued at least a statement to acknowledge his role in ushering in the positive changes.

His funeral takes place in Madison on Tuesday, 9 January, 2024.

D. A. Jawo

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