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Thursday, August 11, 2022

S.H.M Jones (1923-2017) Gambian pioneer civil servant, diplomat and educationist

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By Hassoum Ceesay

It was late last week that I learned of the death in the UK of Sam Henry Maurice Jones aka S.H.M Jones, one of the pioneer Gambian diplomats and civil servants who saw active duty during the last decade of British rule and helped to nurture the newly independent Gambia after 1965. Mr. Jones was also a writer, columnist and church historian in his own right.

He was among the first Gambians to enjoy a British Commonwealth scholarship in the 1940s when he was sent to study in the UK, returning in 1952 to teach at the prestigious Methodist Boys High School in Bathurst. Later, as the British were convinced that Independence for The Gambia was inevitable, Mr. Jones was among the few Gambian graduates chosen to start a career in the civil service. He was in the same league as Mustapha Sosseh, H.R Monday Jr., Salieu Cham, Hardy Fye who were the first Gambian Executive Officers in the years leading to independence in 1965.

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In 1962, he was appointed the first Gambian Commissioner to the UK. He opened what is today the Gambian High Commission and served an illustrious 15 months at this post until he was recalled in late 1963 to serve as Director of Education, the first Gambian to occupy this post. He added the portfolio of Permanent Secretary Ministry of Education in 1966. He and his boss Education Minister, Paul Baldeh, worked to define the first Education Policy 1964/1966 which created the Secondary Technical Schools. When students of Gambia College rioted in 1964 and when Gambian teachers embarked on their first and so far only nationwide strike in 1966, Mr. Jones handled both crises with diligence and tact which helped to diffuse the issues amicably. In 1970, he retired from The Gambia civil service to take up appointment as head of the London office of West African Examination Council (WAEC). He stayed there for more than a decade. He was one of the Pioneer experts who founded WAEC 1953 .

Mr. Jones was an excellent writer. I saw his contributions to Gambian newspapers as far back as 1952; in that year, he published what I consider the first ever book review by a Gambian in the Gambia Echo newspaper in Bathurst. He continued to publish his pithy and well written contributions in the local press on matters of national interest until the late 1990s when goons attacked his house in Fajara after he published a damning critique of the excesses of the former regime. His command of the English language made his write up pleasant reading always. He published a short history of the Anglican Church in The Gambia in 1983.
I met him several times and even when he and his late wife had re-located to UK, when he visited Gambia he will come to see me at the National Museum. When the name of James Island was changed to Kunta Kinte Island under the orders of the ex-president, Mr. Jones called on me to complain. He grudgingly appreciated my explanation.

He came from a respectable Aku family, the Maurice Jones, whose ancestor was a Gambian business magnate and merchant who competed with the European trading firms to make money from trade along the River Gambia in the late 1800s. One of his elder brothers was permanent secretary in Sierra Leone until the rise to power of Siaka Stevens. Mr. Jones therefore epitomized the close cultural and family ties which the two countries share.
(S.H.M Jones, Gambian pioneer civil servant, diplomat and educationist, born in Bathurst 1923, died in UK 24 December 2017).

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