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Thursday, September 24, 2020

Rev. J.C Faye, an ‘unsung hero’ revealed in a book

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“The Very Reverend JC Faye: His Life and Times” is a 350-page book authored by Dr Jeggan Senghor, a senior research fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, School of Advanced Study, University of London, England. 

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Born in 1907 to a Serer father and a Wolof mother, JC Faye was a leading political personality in the decolonisation process through the early post-independence era in The Gambia, setting up the first ever political party.

According to Georgie Thomas, a family relative, Faye’s involvement in local politics started when the colonial government, under Governor Wright, started to open up the political space for involvement of the protectorate. 

“The protectorate was divided into four communities, to be represented by four people in the Legislative Council. In those days, it’s difficult to have from the protectorate people who were well read up. When they went in search for them, they had only three: Mama Tamba Jammeh, Karamo Sanneh and Matarr Ceesay.”  

He said this was when the senior commissioner at the time suggested that JC Faye, who was an Anglican school headmaster in Kristi-Kunda in Upper River Region, represent one of the protectorate communities in the Legislative Council. Faye, he added, initially turned down the overture. 

“The governor himself, after consulting with the Anglican Bishop, went after him all the way in Kristi Kunda. That served as the threshold of his entrance into politics.”

Thomas explained: “By 1949, he had had a liaison with Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana and Namdi Azikwe [of Nigeria]. By 1951, he set up the Gambia Democratic Party, which had the highest votes in the first national elections. I remember participating in that. After that success, he told a few of his former party members to go and create their own parties. That was how [Garba] Jahumpa formed his Muslim Congress Party and later on PS Njie developed United Party.”

Although JC Faye was elected into the Legislative Council in 1954, his political support was gradually bottoming out, and alliances with other parties brought no restoration of a lost glory for him. It was his last election victory.

“By this time,” Thomas said, “other people started having interest in politics. Things started taking adverse turns for him when the field became crowded. In 1964, after the constitutional reforms, Jawara felt that well, he deserved more than he was getting. So, he posted him to London [as Gambia’s representative].”

However, his tenure was shortlived as things soon fell apart between JC Faye and Jawara. As confirmed in the book, Faye’s family attributed his fall from political grace to ‘serious miscalculations’ on his part.  

Thomas said: “The mistake he did was when he stood as an independent candidate in 1966. You stand in ’60 and lose, in ’62 you lose. Then, you clubbed up with others and later pulled out. You lost your alliance base and original base and yet you stand as an independent candidate, you’re asking for trouble. That was a tragic flaw.”

While in the Executive Council in the colonial government, JC Faye served as works minister. The major infrastructure works carried out during his tenure included the relocation of the power station to Half Die and construction of a new Denton Bridge. 

“The most outstanding work was the construction of the Trans Gambia Road,” said Faye’s eldest daughter, Adele Grace Njie. And to Adele, there was more to his father than politics. He was a caring father and husband, a humble reverent, an educationist and a philanthropist. 

She said: “Tony Blair said location, location. But for my father it’s education, education and education. He founded the Gambia Teachers Union. When Bishop Daly got the House of Transfiguration, my parents were the foster parents. In this house you have Christians and Muslims. Amang Kanyi, Dr Palma, Assan Musa Camara, Dentist Njie were all from this house.”

Of her father’s sense of religious tolerance, she said: “He lived in Gloucester Street, near the mosque. On Friday, around 6a.m they would be there sweeping the veranda, ready for overflow from the Mosque. One day, I went there and I was amazed. Mats were everywhere. I asked him what happened. He said ‘today is Friday. When I come from here, I will go to the altar’. He said to me ‘my heaven is sure, I have it both ways’ and he laughed over it. And he was close to his Muslim friends. He gave some of their daughters hand in marriage.”

Behind every successful man, there is a woman. For JC Faye, it was Cecilia Faye. “I must pay tribute to this woman,” Adele said of her mother. “She was a wonderful woman. Many of us were embraced by her. She, a Creole girl from Bathurst who went into the desert [Kristi Kunda]. There was nothing growing there. No trees, no bird. When she lamented that, my dad told her when you start pounding the grains, the birds would come. She described the first bird she saw there. And because of that I became a bird watcher. So, there would be no JC Faye without Cecilia Faye.”

According to the family, the book is part of a project that seeks to put on record the life and times of ‘unsung heroes’ of the past. 


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