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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

The Story of Modou’s Life

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Yet thinking about it all over again of late, I thought this is a story to be told and not to be kept. Indeed Maya Angelou is right, there is no greater burden than bearing an untold story. As a young Gambia who has received so much from this great country; the least I can give back is a story. But so I may be misunderstood as to the purpose of this story; yet the American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson suffices me for a responder to the skeptics: “Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.” Let the story be told then with biblical refrain, those who have ears let them hear:

If I say laybone, I expect your lupain. But if you do not understand that language then my ntaaling ntaaling, should evoke your ntaaling deemaa: There is a boy whose father left his occupation of farming from a village called Kataba in the region of Sabach Sanjal and migrated to Banjul in search of greener pastures. He settled in the city and got hired as a dockworker at the Banjul Port. His wife, a cousin of his was to join him later and after renting in Banjul on many streets like James Senegal in the house of Ya Gass Jarra, they settled at 84 Old Perseverance Street and had a son named Modou. The boy grew in the streets of Banjul playing games and doing the customary haala bologaan with kids like Alagie Petteh and had fun around the street king called Pim Pim. He enjoyed a childhood in Banjul spiced up with kaanay limong at Daara Pa Ablie but his fun was to be cut short when his foster father decided they should relocate to the village of Lamin.

In Lamin he went through the Mandinka version of the daara called karantaa where he and his friends went to the bush to collect firewood that would be used to light the open ground where they all studied the Quran at night. He then attended nursery, primary and high schools all in Lamin under very tough conditions including going to school with an empty belly sometimes and using melted candles mixed with cooking oil for his body lotion. His foster father also happened to be a dockworker at the same port where his late father worked and his mother who used to sell porridge in Banjul now shifted to selling vegetables and other condiments like “tamateh lohoti” at the market at Lamin. With this background in a polygamous family that numbered about 20 plus the occasional guests coming from the Badibu’s and students from upcountry coming to share their homes, Modou’s life was definitely not one of milk and honey. Yet he strived to stay in school even though he never had a complete set of textbooks.

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When he finished his O’ Levels in 1992 from St. Peter’s Technical High School, his mother insisted that he must get a job so that she could enjoy the fruits of her labour. This, because among his mother’s five children he was the only one to have finished high school. The only other sibling to have completed Secondary school was Gass who graduated from Crab Island Secondary School and enrolled in the Gambia Police Force. So Modou’s mother requested help from a relative then a member of Cabinet who also solicited the support of then Tourism Minister Alkali James Gaye to try to get him a job at a hotel. Before the job came, admission was open at Gambia High School for what was then the highest institution of learning in the Gambia, the hallowed 6th form. He enrolled alongside the likes of Omar Njie (now CEO of Nice Gambia), and Lamin Ceesay (Lawyer, head of Solie Law Chambers). There were others like Sabelle Jallow and Mariam Khan-Senghore, not forgetting the twin sisters Aji Kumba and Aji Ndey Daffeh.

After two years of battling with Mr. Djazimatu’s physics and applied math, with a modicum of Economics from Mr. Lucas, Modou finished at the top of his class but there was a problem. It was difficult to get a job and there was no university in Banjul. The hand of fate quickly struck and the tables were turned in Banjul amid great apprehension about the coming of a ruling council of young military officers whose oldest was about 29. A year later, the AFRPC Government under the dynamic leadership of then Lieutenant Yahya AJJ Jammeh opened the doors to university education in The Gambia. Modou was among the first to be enrolled. His mother was still eager to enjoy the fruits of her labour so she contacted Ousman Jammeh then Permanent Secretary Ministry of Agriculture to help his son get a job. But Modou persisted in his education and by February 1999, he made history by graduating with the first batch of university students to be trained on Gambian soil. He was the valedictorian of this historic class. He was to write the story of his education at the Gambia’s first university programme in his trailblazing memoir “Jangi Jollof”.


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With a degree in mathematics with a minor in Economics, Modou got a job at the Central Bank of The Gambia as Research Economist, a job he held from 1999 to 2009 when the country’s Finance Ministry requested his services to become the Director of Budget. By then he had been shortlisted for a job at the UN Headquarters in New York but his patriotic zeal and the desire for practical knowledge and a sense of balance in his profession as a macro-economist led him to settle for the Budget job at the Ministry of Finance. He has undergone extensive professional training at the IMF Institute, the Central Bank of Switzerland, Central Bank of England’s Center for Central Banking Studies, The Kennedy School of Government – Harvard University; and holds a masters degree in Economics from Georgia State University in the US.

Alongside his official work, the boy also found a niche in motivational writing. He has a deep feeling that the potential of Gambian youths is grossly untapped and therefore writes motivational books and essays and also does speeches to inspire young people. Perhaps one could say the epitome  (so far) of his writing career was his double book launch on March 2, 2013 when he released “For The Gambia: Living the National Anthem” and “To The Gambia: The Smiling Coast”, the former in prose and the latter in verse. It was on the eve of this double book launch that his fans named him “The Gambia’s Pen”. Throughout his writing he gets inspiration mainly from his mother who has taught him the wisdom of the ages through proverbs. His desire to make his mum proud is also a spur for his prolific writing. Perhaps it is his connection with this great woman Kaddy Jammeh that also inspires his zeal to celebrate the achievements of Gambian women like Fatou Bom Bensouda whom she celebrated thus: 



Lady of the high court of The Hague

Guided by the light of will and faith

You stand tall on the trail you blazed

Keeping the world staring amazed…


Keep up the flag, Gambia’s pride

Our young shall follow your giant stride

Your star keeps shining forever bright

And none shall fear for the path is clear

 – To The Gambia: The Smiling Coast, p. 58


In another poem he celebrates a list of high achieving Gambian women including Janet Badjan Young the woman who built the country’s first Theater and Mrs Harriette Ndow proprietor of the Ndow’s group of schools whom he calls the Golden Ndowen. The ordinary village woman whom he labeled “mother at the Faro” is also celebrated and I need not tell you that the mother of the author was not left behind in the celebration of Gambian women:


Gambia Muso

A rousing anthem for Gambia muso

Mother, sister, wife and bajen

True livers of our national anthem

Who strive and work and pray:


Lady of the High Court of the Hague

Bearer of the torch of excellence

Liver of the principle of persistence

Making the whole world fans in rave


Holder of the torch of the theater

Blazing a trail in our cultural order

Janet, we salute jigain bu mun gorr

You stand tall cherished like urus


Bearer of the torch of enlightenment

Taught our children true excellence

That now stand in society as monuments

Trees from the nursery of the golden Ndowen


Mother at the faro, our ultimate foro

Doing your best to live off your sweat

Forsaking your bed so children get fed

You are respected for passing your test


Mother of the author, you are my doctor

Gave me the vaccine to grow in season

My striving is thriving, you are the reason

Why writing worthy words will weather

Every storm that comes in my life

To give you more pride for your stride

– To The Gambia: The Smiling Coast, p. 17


Still trying to give back the love that his mother gave him and in his bid to make this woman proud, Modou dedicated his book “To The Gambia” to his mother. The story goes on but we have to cut it here for Youssou Ndour is right “lu nex du doi”.



I am Momodou Sabally, The Gambia’s Pen and I testify that this is a true story of my life up to June 2013. Alhamdulillaah!


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