Pa Nderry Mbai: An agitator uninhibited by the nuisance of ethics

Pa Nderry Mbai: An agitator uninhibited by the nuisance of ethics

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I first met Pa Nderry M’bai under circumstances that define him. online newsletter created to cater to the anti-Yahya Jammeh diaspora crowd, became a place of conflict between Pa and some contributors to the platform. It was the first, but certainly not the last time I’d witnessed Pa butting heads. Little did I know I was looking at the nature of the man over the next two-and-half decades. 

The rancour at had reached fever pitch when I jumped in the mix as the peacemaker. But there was no peaceful resolution to the antipathy, and Pa Nderry made a life altering move that would impact the course of Gambian politics under the regime of Yahya Jammeh. He started a media platform that would haunt the Jammeh regime for the rest of its tenure, thus impacting politics in significant ways. 

When Pa launched his signature Freedom Newspaper, I lent a hand, volunteering to write and edit articles of contributors. For this gesture, he designated me associate editor without consultation, and I made no fuss about it. By the end of the first year of publishing, our relationship was tested by disagreement over the editorial content of the online newspaper. The newspaper took a turn that conflicted with journalistic codes of conduct. In failing to dissuade Pa, reality struck me that Pa Nderry Mbai would continue to do what Pa Nderry wanted, undeterred by journalistic norms, and unconstrained by logic and ethics. Along the way, Pa Mbai understood that sensationalism in journalism attracted eyeballs to his new online media platform. The savvy salesman never looked back.


Pa systematically reinforced his grip on Gambian readers sold to his brash and often disagreeable journalistic style. As luck would have it, the early 2000s was a period of profound global change, with the invention of more media platforms, and radio, first invented in 1900, was about to get a makeover. Online radio was still relatively new when Pa ventured into this new broadcasting platform. Pa wasn’t known to seek, need or keep friends, as it restrained his ability to turn on anyone on a dime, if it became necessary. This latitude he created for himself was his concept of ‘fair and balanced’ in media, a quote he would take to his grave. A rather tempestuous person, Pa responded to every slight, real or imagined, with vengeance borne of his mercurial temperament, and used both his online radio and newspaper editorials to demonstrate his perennial displeasure with people he had axe to grind with. Overtime, a long list of well-wishers came to Pa Nderry’s aid and volunteered to contribute to his one-man media platform, but Pa wasn’t made to allow someone else to grow with him on this platform. The desire to be recognised as the singular architect of the success of Freedom Newspaper was self-consuming for Pa, and any perception outside that false reality handicapped his ego, and his sense of his intellectual and creative flair. Pa’s online radio interviews were legendary, and his news sources back in The Gambia were for the most part reliable, but Pa could not help add his spin to the tips that he received from home, through exaggeration, omission and downright embellishment. In all, his overriding objective was draw readers to his online radio and newspaper platforms, and add to his new found clout. 

Pa’s acclaim very often came at the expenses of others, and over the years, criticism of his hubristic style reached crescendo. When Yahya Jammeh abruptly arrested several Gambians as informers for Freedom Newspaper, Pa was quick to boast about it in an article. For some reason, he saw it as a bragging right, overlooking the dangers those arrested faced. And in response, I admonished this behaviour as inappropriate. I went further to ask him to write denying that those Yahya Jammeh arrested, provided information to Freedom Newspaper, in light of the dangers they faced. He declined. It is fair to say Pa was inebriated with his popularity, and challenged everyone who crossed his path. Meanwhile, stories in Freedom Newspaper were becoming an increasing liability for some Gambians at home. It was contemporaneously reported that many stories that appeared on the pages of Freedom Newspaper, landed many Gambians in trouble with the regime. Consequently, Pa had been threatened with multiple lawsuits, including from prominent Gambians at home. But this didn’t make Pa flinch; on the contrary. Pa Nderry hated my guts for condemning some of his stories, mostly in defence of Gambians who could not defend themselves. But that’s not the only thing Pa disliked. He was not a big fan of sharing the limelight, and made several attempts to handicap some startup online Gambia media platforms. Pa’s circumspect posture towards other media platforms almost bordered on spite, judging from the way he shaded them. His running feud with Fatou Camara of the Fatu Show readily comes to mind. And at one time or another, Pa wasn’t above getting in the mud with almost anyone who challenged his opinions, both on paper and radio. 

Despite the intensity Pa brought to every encounter, some of us found a funny side, which spared us from dwelling on the vehemence of his reactions. And we laughed about it. A lot. One time, I wrote an article he found hard to comprehend, and next thing was, he wrote an editorial shading me; comparing me to Baba Galleh Jallow. In effect, insinuating that Baba Galleh was better educated than me. In such instances, Ebrima Sankareh, Yankuba Jambang and I often spoke and laughed our hearts out about it. In that way, Pa provided momentary comedic relief. Pa was not amenable to amending his belief system, as he believed this would make him look like a weakling, and so he stuck to his guns, regardless of whether he was right or wrong. What started as Gambia’s protest media determined to combat the worst excesses of Yahya Jammeh, soon turned to a pot of gold for Pa Nderry. Earlier on, before anyone else, Pa realised the potential in monetising his media. He realised he could make a living doing what he was doing with Freedom Newspaper and radio. And before long, he put the ‘protest’ media aspect of his platforms to the back-burner. Making a living became his issue of overarching concern; but never completely relinquishing the pro-patria shade, which gave legitimacy to his Freedom media enterprise. At one point, Pa dreamt of going home to The Gambia and being received as a saviour, but he was also aware of the threats to his life from angry and disgruntled Gambians he touched very unfavourably. In the end, Pa Nderry Mbai left a vacuum very few Gambians could fill; better still, even fewer Gambians would be willing to replicate in its entirety. Pa Nderry was one of a kind; someone imitated, never duplicated. Rest in Peace, Pa.