It was with immense joy that I learnt of the Dr’s coming to town. If you do not know which Doctor I mean then this essay is not for you. I remember the last time I attended a Youssou N’Dour event and I was in a brown suit and tie dancing to his tunes at a gala dinner, dropping it like it was hot! It had taken me hours of negotiations with my management to secure the extra table which would ensure my attendance seeing as I was a huge fan of the man and his music. However, after reading the recent release in the papers, I kept wondering what sort of PR blunder had led the organisers (in this case SSHFC Staff Association) to announce the fee they had signed the Dr with. I mean, come on! There was no point in announcing the figure; nothing to gain from it! 3 million staggering dalasi will always seem like a lot to the layman. Even where people like me understand the value of creative content and the pecking order in the arts and entertainment industry in our world, is it not enough to say that the Dr will be in town? SSHFC Staff Association should fire their PR Officer or whoever it was that advised for the figure to be announced. What exactly was their motive in doing that? Were they trying to look wealthy, or trying to seem generous? Now, I applaud their choice of artist for their fundraiser. There is not better musician for entertainment business in Gambia now than the Dr In the last few years, his scarcity as a musical commodity has led to an even more exponential increase in his value. It reminds me of a show I went to at Alliance a few years ago when the Dalasi was tunneling underground and things were tougher than the Kilimanjaro. A crew of over-enthusiastic showboats was at a show at Alliance spraying banknotes on a band for close to 30 minutes! It was a hungry crowd that night and I watched as blood shot up the eyes of my compatriots (for lack of a better word). It was a tough period for our nation economically and these “people” had lost a sense of economics. Knowing that the show had died off as the crowd started to wither away, I walked up to one of the gentlemen spraying the cash who happened to be an old friend and I advised him to ask his “crew” to “halt proceedings” and that it was better to donate the cash in private. I am in no way discouraging the “aada ak chossan” of spraying cash on the “guewel” but different situations must be approached differently! This time, it was SSHFC Staff Association spraying it on the Dr in front of a crowd that will have to save and spare a bit to see the show. Does Dr Youssou N’Dour deserve 3 million Dalasi? I think he deserves 5 million. Should Gambian artists take it personal? In my opinion, No! I believe it was someone wise (or was it The Bible?) that said, “Know Thyself”. Knowing oneself is an important part of the redemption process. “Xam sa borpa si jaamu ya’Allah la borka”. As an industry, we’re getting there but we’re not quite yet there. It is my hope however, that SSHFC recognize the growth that has been made in the industry enough to compensate the local artists performing with a rather handsome amount which won’t amount to chicken change! They already let the cat out of the bag and damage control would dictate that they reward our local artists handsomely for their contribution.
Are the doctors coming?
Talking of letting the cat out of the bag, Ebola has hit the West Coast hard! I know it is not a funny topic and perhaps should not even be in a column with the word “Nonsense” engraved. I am all for “eat meat for what it is” but why in God’s name are we still eating bats in Africa!? I mean just look at them! They’re not attractive; they look like a dark version of Arsene Wenger (picture! Picture!); they sleep during the day and fly at night (meaning we catch them in their sleep – how cruel!) and they’re one of the skinniest creatures I’ve ever seen! Bats! Are you kidding me! So apparently, La Guinea has advised people to eat “fewer bats” and advised restaurants to “be careful” of the bat meat they serve. I mean so people actually go into a restaurant and ask for a serving of “grilled bat with pepper sauce”? Well unfortunately my hungry friend, someone ate the wrong bat and now an entire sub-region is panicking at the result. I am not blaming anyone for this outbreak. It would be cruel of me to blame a corpse at this point. In fact, it would be inhumane, would it not? All I can say is, follow the medical guidelines to protect yourself against the virus. It is only contagious after the symptoms begin to show, which include high fever, diarrhea, blood vomiting and bleeding from body cavities. Remember to wash your hands frequently and seek medical attention as soon as you start feeling sick…and no matter how hungry you are, stay away from bats, chimps, monkeys etc! Do not eat them! Not for a while anyway.
Internet doctors sans frontiers?
I had wanted to dedicate a full essay to asking the “viber/VOIP” question but I think a short paragraph will suffice. There seems to be a fundamental problem with Gamtel which no one can put a finger on. I was discussing with a friend the other time how weird it is that even though the developed world relies a lot on landlines and public phone booths, we have made them obsolete. I remember as a kid playing games with the phone booths on Kairaba Avenue. You know the game where you stick a coin in, make a call and then retrieve the coin? I know it’s criminal but as kids weren’t we allowed to be stupid? For some reason, the coin system was cut and replaced with the card system. The card system also lost its taste after a while and we were stuck with making international calls via landlines and heaping up rather high phone bills. Soon after came the “jamano” which was supposed to be the new thing but it never truly kicked off in my opinion, so we had to stick to our cut-throat GSM operators. Now with the internet, anything is possible…including the permanent secretary for ICT not knowing what’s going on at Gamtel or with our GSM operators. I didn’t say it, he did! I once said it; to keep our nation clean, our Municipal and City Councils must provide alternatives for trash disposal. The current problem we’re experiencing with VOIP apps can be attributed to a number of reasons so I will not rush to judgment. However, for the permanent secretary to not know the reason is rather baffling. We live in the age of the internet. Faster connectivity is the spine of growing economies around the world. ICT companies around the world have made money on the availability of fast connections regardless of the presence of VOIP apps. In fact, using VOIP apps should logically be good business for GSM operators as callers spend a fortune on the internet they provide to have the most unnecessary and nonsensical of conversations that they wouldn’t have had otherwise. I have not seen the numbers but if financial insecurity is the reason why VOIP apps have stopped working, then someone isn’t doing their homework. If they haven’t been stopped (a.k.a blocked) and internet connectivity is to blame, then the ACE project must be looked at to ensure that faster connectivity is provided. The internet is supposed to be a tool for economic growth and not an enemy of it. The Gambia is not the first country to be experiencing issues with VOIP apps. Where some countries have gone blunt in blocking certain apps they feel are a “threat” to national security, others have gone generic on blocking VOIP apps simply because they do not see the economic rewards trickled down to other sectors and others still, like our neighbor Guinea Bissau just have internet speeds too poor to allow for free VOIP communication. There is yet to be an official statement on which category we belong to but if the reason is not one of a national security concern, I honestly do not get what’s happening…a good start would be letting us know what’s happening.
A Dr is gone
Talking of the internet, it was on one of its platforms that I learnt of the death of Dr Saja Taal. I met the learned Dr sometime in 2003 on a road trip and immediately saw why he was respected by so many. He was one of two older gentlemen that was with us on that particular trip and he was quiet for quite a while before he warmed up to the loud teenage noises in the bus. As the trip continued, he turned out to be a gentleman of true knowledge and one many of us could learn a great deal from. Since then, we have shared some intellectually stimulating conversations whenever we crossed paths. I saw him as a man difficult to understand but easy to appreciate. Like many great minds, he was different. He was not your regular Professor or Doctor and that was what made him stand out. Over the years I have met him as he strolled from his house to Kairaba Avenue and how he still remembered my name even with our few and in-between conversations was amazing. I know many eulogies will be dedicated to his memory from people who knew him better and were much closer to him. I seek however to acknowledge his “beautiful mind” and his tolerance of my “confused thought” the few times we spoke. A “teacher” has departed but his memory remains in the minds of all those he has touched. May his soul rest in perfect peace. Amen