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Saturday, October 31, 2020

My tribe is my newspaper

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Yet, he did lose his nerves, right in my face, as he dropped the Wolof proverb: “Let your mind, not your sentiments, guide your conduct.” His words of wisdom, unfortunately, fell on the deaf ears of those of us whom he had trained to be like him; to be thoughtful and professional in every conduct of ours; and to agree to disagree without any rancour. Now, belittled by those who are supposed to glorify him, the veteran sank in his seat, seriously blinking through his goggle-eyed lens. In his mind, he wondered, what would happen to his legacy when he inevitably answers the call of nature, someday, before us. 

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It was three moons ago. The term of office for Chairman Bai and his team was over. Chairman Bai wanted to stay, at least for one more term, but the Sankandi Militia men would only see that happen over their dead bodies. Unleashing their pent-up frustrations, some genuine and some others selfish, they ranted and harangued without any regard to the cries of the elderly whose words would have guided us to the straight path. Have we not known that if not for the respect he has for these people, Mansa Appai could have trampled upon us without a hiss? 

My profession, which Uncle Jongkunda tells me repeatedly, is the best was measured by our misguided conduct. My face was muddied. 

There was one of us, Mr Yesterday, who studied well before the day. He took his time to make his points in very clear English language, with destabilising effect on Chairman Bai. 

There was another, Papa Young, who thought that Chairman Bai was sailing a La Jola, and suggested that he should hop out to at least receive a decent burial over land.

There was another, my own mentor, Mamadou, who alleged that life under Chairman Bai had gone so bad that even Uncle Dixon was turning in his grave. 

There was another, Mr Dwarf, to whom Chairman Bai was not qualified to lead us because he was a BBC – born before computer. 

There was another, Mr Representative, who was spitting the words placed on his tongue by someone else. 

There was another, Mr Hats, who accused Chairman Bai of turning the Union into Illuminati. 

There was another, Mr Douto, who alleged Chairman Bai of using his trusteeship to cure his bourgeois weakness. 

And there was another, my friend, Kabu Kabu, who stood up to talk, but shook his head in agony and gave up.       

I looked at Chairman Bai, trapped in a cage of a hall of his own creation at the hotel. Obviously, he does not have the aura of Mansa Appai. He spread his hands to command executive atmosphere, yet he could not occupy the available space in the plastic chair. His lieutenants, flanking him, stared across the audience like a lost puppy suffering from chronic pneumonia. 

I wonder where he put the money he’s alleged to have chopped. For, his clothes, most often, have been in different stages of wear and tear. He only recently bought a new leather shoe worth D300. His belly, unlike Lamin Cham’s, has shown no sign of protruding. Unlike me who paid a round trip, he probably took a bush taxi and paid D8, because the nose of his new shoe which was showing under the table was dusty. Was it not also possible that the Sankandi Militia have seen money where there was none, I wonder.    

I, too, had something to say; to tell some of my people not to be blinded by their hunger for power; to tell them to be objective and to judge Chairman Bai and his team on account of the totality of their conduct in office. 

Chairman Bai might be weak from the outside, but has he not challenged bulldozing Mansa Appai; and risked jail many times on our behalf? Chairman Bai might be a BBC, but has he not built us a school, so that as had happened with us, our brothers and children would not come from classroom to newsroom; and we will have more journalists than join-the-lists? 

But Alas! Where Uncle Doyen’s voice was drowned, tact and prudence guided little me to keep my mouth shut. Uhuh, I was disturbed. My flesh, like lump of mud, sat in the hall. My mind was far, far away. It had taken a trip down the lane, racing back to one of my non-negotiable Saturday bookings when a familiar woman entered ‘our house’. It wasn’t her first time, but something about her on that day was quite strange. The smile with which she blasts me whenever she opens that door wasn’t there. As if she was on an urgent mission, she dropped her ‘walking mini market’ of a handbag, headed for the wall poster which she came face to face with. Gone are the days when I would decorate ‘our room’ with the photo of a gun-holding DMX or even CR7. It was that of Deyda Hydara’s. She had seen it before, many, many times. I never thought it bothered her. “Daddy yaw denga degerr bopa – you’re strong headed,” she muttered accusingly, as she pulled the wall poster down, and then flipped it so that Deyda’s photo would face the wall and we would take comfort in looking into a blank sheet. She reclined in bed, face buried in the pillow. 

I never met Deyda in flesh. I don’t know who killed him. But I know that it was a murder most foul. I also know that, no matter the difference in the eye colour of the perpetrators, the reason Deyda was killed was the same reason Chief Ebrima disappeared; the same reason Daily News was shut down; the same reason Kenneth Best was sent away; it was the same reason Musa Saidykhan was tortured; and it was the same reason Sainey Marenah fled.   

Explaining to your family why you’re part of a struggle to eliminate such unwarranted occupational risks associated with your calling is not an easy task, and I definitely did not have one at hand. I stared for effect, swam in the sea of conflicting thoughts. Primed for counselling, I held her silky smooth hands in mine. “I would be here for a long time, babe,” I finally said with a lump in my throat. She lightened up a bit, and looked up for her eyes to meet mine. “But if it rather was I who was killed, would you want the world to forget me, to turn its back on me, like you want us to do to Deyda?” 

She buried her head under my hands and collapsed into tears. “Daddy, you’re going nowhere, right? Nothing is happening to you, right?” she managed to say in between her sobs. Wipe her tears I did, like a sophisticated husband. We spent the day as if kulu nafsin will never mawti in our end.

The job of a journalist is to tell the truth. It is a profession recognised as legitimate by the people of the book. For, when the bird, as was told in the books of Abrahamic religions, came to Solomon to tell him about the powerful and colourful woman ruler of the Axumite Kingdom, it informed Solomon that I have news for you. Sticking with the truth, siding with the downtrodden, amplifying the voices of the masses, and driving the country’s development agenda, has endeared the journalism profession to all except few powerful. It is a reality that forces us to club together to form a union, regardless of whether or not our media landscape is polarised. The force that forces us to unite is far greater than what divides us. 

When I inspire interested ones into the profession, I do tell them that I did not sign up because I want to be killed. I will not be killed like Deyda; I will not disappear like Chief Ebrima Manneh; and when I have my media outlet, it will not be shut down like Independent newspaper. I had hope because not only has our society finally agreed to settle its difference with journalists through dialogue, but also because the GPU was there. 

When the union was founded in 1979, Uncle Dixon made sure that Mansa Diko did not succeed in his attempt to regulate the media with state-backed media commission. When Uncle Deyda took over, in the era of Mansa Appai, he also made sure that the second attempt failed. D A Jawo came and went, Madi Ceesay came and went, Ndey Tapha came and went, and then Chairman Bai. The union has never been  satisfactory; but at least it remained intact, and has never hesitated to react to situations most crucial and the future has never been any clearer. I do not fear change, but I fear change for the worse. Three moons ago, I saw revolutionaries chanting revolutionary songs, marching their own march. Three moons later, I see briefcase trotting politicians in journalist clothes attempting to take over. I swear if we surrender the Union to Mr Kankurang, I will renege on the promise I had earlier made.    

 

Because,

Someday, I will be killed,

For a cause worth dying

And no one will remember me

Someday, I will be raped and hacked

No one will seek justice for me

Someday I will disappear 

No one will rescue me from Bambadinka 

Someday, my media house will be shut down

Someday, I’ll be arrested and detained and tortured.

There will be no GPU

My tribe is my newspaper

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