“…a tiny group formed around persons like Lamin Janha, Junkunda Chaka Daffeh, Musa Bittaye, Koro Sallah, the late Dawda Faal and Tamsirr Jallow…the Kent Street Vous, formed around people like the late Saul Jarra, late Saja Taal, Saihou Taal, Baye Mass Taal, Saul Samba, the late Seedia Sanyang and several others. There was also the Dangaro group formed around people like Saihou Sanyang, Adama Cham, the late Mustafa Jangum, one Fidel, Sainey Faye, James Alkali Gaye, Habib Choye and several others. We also had the National Pioneers with guys like Saul Sillah, Ahmat Sanneh, Ousman Manjang, Sulayman Kassama and several others.”
The story below is a flashback to the political history of ambitious Gambian youths, some of them are now inactive, some dead and others moved on. The piece is written in a dialogue form, hope you give readers a reflection of the past connecting it to the present. We try to connect black liberation movement in the America to that of our own.
Of Selma, Fifty Years Ago, of African Underachievement And Inadequacies.
Recently, another jubilee memorial of the worldwide Black liberation struggle was marked. This time, on the 7th March 2015, it was the fifty years since, “Bloody Sunday” in the Alabama town of Selma. Those were difficult times for the activists of Black liberation everywhere in the world, was it in Soweto, Katanga, Salisbury, Porto Prince, Harlem or Lusaka, the heavy hand of white western imperialism was raised to turn back the hand of time and to maintain its hegemony over colored and colonized peoples everywhere. Selma, like Pijiguiti before it and Mai Lai after, was only one of the sign-posts of this factor of what Mandela called white domination. Martin Luther King Jr.’s March 25 speech in Selma proclaimed, “Segregation is on its deathbed in Alabama.” He urged the over 30,000 of supporters gathered to continue protesting: “Yes, we are on the move, and no wave of racism can stop us,” an echo of the wind-of-change speech announced by former British Prime Minister Herald Macmillan, about eight years earlier.
Addressing crowds gathered to remember 7th March 1965, less than a month after Gambia had got its flag-independence, when hundreds of black, hymn –chanting peaceful demonstrators, many coming straight out of church, were attacked by rioting Alabama State Police on horseback carrying truncheons, “Bloody Sunday,” President Obama said, “If Selma taught us anything,” it’s that the work continues.” The first black American president added “this nation’s racial history casts a long shadow over the present day America.”
It was a guest, a middle-aged Gambian, on a brief medical visit to the United States, I had launch with at home while watching television, who was straightening things out for me as we looked at a program on Black Sunday history. The roles were like reversed. This gentleman, on his first trip to America this February 2015, talked on the annals of black liberation as if I was the one on visit and he my host.
When I pointed out this irony to him, chuckling, he retorted, “But you guys have been long lost, so long your generation alone cannot be held responsible, we must be take our blame too. But to be honest I do not know where we should start looking from.”
“I do not yet know to what extent your sports, here, I mean basketball American football, or boxing have become source of social distraction but back in The Gambia,” the old man continued in his Queen’s English, “football is a huge national distraction. Source of huge national loss almost everyday, I must say.”
The old gentleman knows I am a media enthusiast but did not mind because he knows I will honor my promise of his anonymity; that under no circumstances would I blow his cover. He might not have trusted me because he knows me fairly little but he knows I had been paddy to his nephew since our childhood days.
I cleared my throat before embarking upon the journalistic exercise on him, “Ah Uncle, your points on the weaknesses of my generation are held by many. But please allow me to ask what about yours putting up with the P.S. Njie’s telephoning Queen Elizabeth, or Jawara that the provincials will replace the urbanites as an independence promise and the fact that from what I gathered there was never been any successful national strike action since 1983, with Jallow Jallow, you know?
Answer: Well let me correct this, I was a bit younger than the generation of P.S. Njie. I have seen P. S., been, to his evening broadcasts but I was not adult then. But let me tell you this, we who were in our late teens in both the so called Protectorate and Colony at the time of Independence, I must say without any boasting, we were worth our salt and made of different clay, for not to say, better clay.”
“Yes but how? How can….”
Let me land. Don’t make this a rigidly formal tit for tat interview, this is just an informal chat about our history that you can publish, or do whatever you want with, but be flexible and do not interrupt with unnecessary and therefore unwarranted comments or questions. That mixes up my logic or sequence.
“Yes sir, I am sorry, I am all ears sir. Please go on.
Thank you so much. Yes, I was saying, Ah! That objectively my generation was of better clay than yours, this is if I can speak frankly with you. We stood up to the challenges of our time, while you boys, what you do is to refuse to even recognize those challenges. Look at this thing we are now watching on television, at the time, fifty years ago all the boys in Bathurst knew about the Selma atrocity and the others like it. We all knew that Bull Connor, Alabama governor or police chief or something else was an abominable racist thug in uniform. We all knew the racist roughneck by name. Now you go today all over the Greater Banjul Area, from Half Die to Abuko, or even to the university campus, make an awareness survey among the young and schooled, about say name of personalities in the Ferguson, Missouri police department, I bet it would be less 0.003% of the interviewees, if randomly chosen, would pass the mark. You chaps know more the names of members of an English football team than the names of members of cabinet in Banjul. All your generation knows is how to escape. The forms of escapism invented by you are numerous; drug and alcohol abuse, deafening rap or other types of music, football, gang warfare, crazy jihadism and all what not, plus of course through undocumented migration to spots of green pastures. All, escapism of various forms in order to elude responsibilities to oneself, family, community, nation and others.
In my time we identified not only with the peoples of The Gambia and of Africa but with “All Black People, The World Over” as in our parlance of the time. We had pictures of Eldridge Cleaver, Malcolm X, Mathin Luther King, Angela Davis hanging on walls in our rooms. We read Rapp Brown, George and Jonathan Jackson, Professor Mathews, Gerald Chailand, Guevara, Franz Fanon, Nkrumah and we chose to make the efforts of the oppressed everywhere our affair.
Some of us got together into groups to promote the idea of solidarity first with the struggles of African –Americans and then to the anti-apartheid struggle of South Africa, Rhodesia, Angola, Guinea Bissau and Mozambique. When Nkrumah died some of us organized a moving mock funeral in the streets of Banjul. When Senegalese President Senghore tried to pay a state visit to Bathurst in 1968 or 1969 we were able to stop it because his army was in constant border incursions into Gambian territory and also because, in our eyes he was a “Western puppet.” Our take on Senghore was not only political, it claimed to be also on the intellectual and artistic levels. We echoed Soyinke’s critique of the then Senegalese leader’s theory of negritude, saying, a tiger doe’s not boast about his tigritude. We criticized one of his poems telling of the feeling Portuguese blood flowing through him.
A group of student returnees from Ghana after the fall of Nkrumah formed what they called the Black Brotherhood. They were tiny group formed around persons like Lamin Janha, Junkunda Chaka Daffeh, Musa Bittaye, Koro Sallah, the late Dawda Faal and Tamsirr Jallow. With Black Panther inspiration, they had a publication called Fansotoe, if I remember well. Chaka Daffeh was called the Prime Minister of the Black Brotherhood, which never managed to expand out of small exclusivist urban group of radical youths. But even before their arrival there had been a local group called the Kent Street Vous, formed around people like the late Saul Jarra, late Saja Taal, Saihou Taal, Baye Mass Taal, Saul Samba, the late Seedia Sanyang and several others. There was also the Dangaro group formed around people like Saihou Sanyang, Adama Cham, the late Mustafa Jangum, one Fidel, Sainey Faye, James Alkali Gaye, Habib Choye and several others. We also had the National Pioneers with guys like Saul Sillah, Ahmat Sanneh, Ousman Manjang, Sulayman Kassama and several others. There were many other youths grouped in other less organized formations but with no less ardor. Some of the groups were of spontaneous making and engaged in clandestine activities like the Black Scorpions who secretly brought down the emblem of the state, in the form of a crown, which used to hang in front of the state administration building called Quadrangle. The cars and homes of some prominent government officials were targeted for arson attacks.
Protest demonstrations were often organized but almost always ran into street riots in Banjul and other towns. Activists were subjected to harsh police brutality and the political police, then called the Special Branch. One incident involving Modou Sidibeh in early 1972, when a Lebanese business tycoon, the late Toufik Masseray, irritated by Sidibeh’s asking for lift, just ordered the police to have him arrested. He was arrested and remanded in prison, a group of youths marched to attempt and get him free. This led to a tumult that closed down most of the cities and towns for business. About three dozen activists wre rounded up by the then paramilitary Field Force, tortured and drilled for days before taken to court where a number were sent to jail, including the late Mass Jobe. Some including Baye Mass Taal who had a head knocked into a mess or like the late Mam Bala Joh, who had an arm broken.
Then came the younger generation who founded the Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Foundation, joined by chaps like present UDP official Femi Peters, Halifa Drammeh, Sam Sarr, currently of PDOIS, Ousman Manjang, Koro Sallah, Ousman Secka and several others. Symposia were held almost weekly were salient social and political issues were discussed. There was a climate of extraordinary intellectual preoccupations and the then Methodist Book Shop provided up to date political literature including books like Mini Manual Of Urban Guerilla Warfare by Carlos Marighella, Wretched of the Earth or Black Skin White Mask by Franz Fanon, Obsolete Communism And The Left Wing Alternative by Daniel Cohn Bendit, Essay On Liberation by Professor Herbert Mathews; etc, etc.
To put it in a nutshell, my generation was standing up to the challenges of the time and helped produce sufficient human material for the cadres for the future politics of our people. People like Femi Peters, Sam Sarr, Seedia Jatta, the late Tamsirr Njie, Dawda Faal, Foday Manka, Tamsirr Jallow, Chernor Sonko all belong to that group of precious citizens who, in their different ways helped shaped the country\s body-politic.
I agree with you that, Gambia’s slip into political tyranny in 1994 as well as the 1981 adventurist onslaught are both indications of weaknesses of our generation but we did not fail due to inactivity or any cuddling to tyranny with your wave of “We don’t want no old pa” thing.
The way I see it the failures are bigger than our generation in The Gambia, bigger than Gambia itself, the whole Africa and even the whole Black World. It is, in a way, the same failure that Obama moaned about when he talked to those who took time to mark the events of Selma. Despite five decades of militant struggles, the conditions of African Americans have improved a little. The police murders of unarmed black teenagers in Ferguson, the Justice Department’s mind-bugling report on systemic racism in the Ferguson police Department, the killings of three unarmed men in 2014 by the police and just last week’s killing of another unarmed African American in his own house in March 2015, all go to show how little has been achieved in the United States over the last fifty years, as far as racial equality is concerned. It is the same under-performance and inadequacies that have followed Africans from their continent of origin to wherever they might have migrated, North America, the Caribbean Islands, Middle East and, you name it. It is an exceptional condition experienced by no other race of humans. And it is time we look at it squarely in the face and try to search and identify its causes and remedies. Available orthodoxies, from Marxism to neo-liberal theories, have nothing offer that is not based on assumptions of a euro-centric, uni-linear pattern of social evolution and the model of white western affluent capitalist consumerist society as the only desired template for development. Thank you.