The Momodou Sabally case: – An enigma for a system, translation and interpretation


A recent case which has had so much publicity and expression of public concern is one that has involved quite a vocal and vibrant young politician whose utterance has seemingly been translated and interpreted to connote a criminal offence. The case was seen from different legal, and perhaps political, angles that have been expressed in the social media.

Some views were expressed from a more superficial derivation in relation to a perceived demeanor of a character or person. Others were more concerned with the overarching aspects of rights of any individual within a system of governance.

Apparently, the case was reported to have emerged from a severely edited video of a much longer speech by Mr Sabally where a word in Mandinka was taken up by the governance system in place to connote a possible criminal offence of a serious nature.


The written laws of this country and the lingua franca are the English language. Thus, the translation of a word from a local language, like Mandinka, in order to capture its legal English equivalent for the purpose of a serious criminal offence, naturally, should require a professional linguistic ability and a very cautious consideration.

In addition to the context of a speech, translation requires a high proficiency in grammar and a great understanding of the culture of both languages, in order to make a fairly accurate meaning of the spoken (or written) word (s).

In other words, it requires an outstanding aptitude to comprehend and a deep knowledge of both languages in order to understand the context. Words and the context within which they are delivered are intricately linked.

Professionalism in translation and interpretation requires the possession of an extensive vocabulary – in this case, in both English and Mandinka – in order to be able to clearly and precisely express the context from one language to the other.

(En Passant – the standard of English that is nowadays being churned out even from government institutions is indeed, well – something else. There has been a somewhat consistent “Mind Your English” exposé in the social media).

The level of professionalism directly affects the integrity and reliability of the output of any institution or individual. It requires adequate training, dedication and most of all utmost objectivity.

In a democratic dispensation, where consideration is being made for establishing a criminal offence in such a case, the question of translation should be more than a subjective curtailment of a speech in order to satisfy a perceived theory or a coincidence of some event.

The underlying feature of the Sabally case is one of an enigma of translation cum interpretation for a system that is expected to impartially uphold democratic standards of governance in a professional manner. Thus, it should be a perspective that should go beyond the character or personality of a person or any political affinity.

It is more about a concern for the dispensation of justice within the ambit of human rights that should emanate from an objective processing of raw information into an intelligible output that is fit for an equitable procedure and dispensation of justice.

Addendum: – How do you translate “as white as snow” for a Baddibunka”?

Lamino Lang Coma