23 September 2007

Creating Our Own Foundations: The History, Present, and Future of Gambian Literature

by Rosamond S. King, Ph.D.
Adapted from a Presentation at a University of The Gambia Seminar Co-Sponsored by The US Embassy in The Gambia, 23 May 2007, Kanifing
Usually when I tell someone I am researching Gambian literature, their response is – is there any? Unfortunately, even other Gambians are not aware of our novels, poems, and plays. There is indeed Gambian literature, and it includes more than 75 texts published over 200 years! This brief essay, adapted from a talk I gave in May at the University of The Gambia, will share with you some of my research – an overview of the literature’s history and its current trends. In the original talk I also showed clips from some of the more than a dozen interviews I conducted, dvd copies of which are now part of the National Library’s Gambiana collection.
The title of this talk is taken from interviews I conducted with Nana Grey-Johnson and Swaebou Conateh. When I asked Grey-Johnson to describe the state of Gambian literature, he said “We are creating our own foundations.” And Conateh compared writing to constructing buildings – putting words together is, he said, like building blocks. I think the phrase “creating our own foundations” also works as a metaphor for our literature – The Gambia is seen as having very little that does not come from abroad or is not overwhelmingly influenced by foreigners. But Gambian literature was and is, by definition, created by Gambians. Gambians themselves have built the foundations for present and future writers. I hope my research in some way also contributes to these foundations.
My research focuses on published Gambian literature written in English for a number of reasons. Most importantly, the majority of written (as opposed to oral) Gambian literature is in English, and English is the country’s chosen official language and medium of educational instruction. I strongly encourage criticism of the small but growing numbers of written texts in other Gambian languages. Gambian orature, the rich oral traditions which include poetry, stories, praisesongs, and riddles, can be linked to literature, but it is a genre unto itself and deserves separate analysis. I also want to say a word about the term literature – Gambians tend to think of literature as any kind of writing published in book form. My work, though, focuses on creative writing, that is poetry, fiction, and plays.

21 August 2007

DREAM KINGDOM

New and Selected Poems
Published March 2007
by Tijan M. Sallah
Dream Kingdom is a fascinating selection of the Gambian poet Tijan M. Sallah’s poetry, which in his own words reflects “the mystical and mythical basis for all poetry.” This book includes selections from most of the poet’s four collections of poetry: When Africa Was a Young Woman (1980), Kora Land (1989), Dreams of Dusty Roads (1993), and Harrow (unpublished). It also includes some unpublished new poems. The poet notes, “the volume is a backward gaze at midlife, a selective stocking…” “Midlife” the poet reflects, “is the peak of the mountain of life. I look down and fear the fall. Dreams descend from their unrealism to the ground.” The poems in this selection reflect a rich and generous imagination, spanning over twenty five years of poetic artistry, ranging from personal experiences of coping with adversity; ordinary experiences of family, love and friendship relationships; to struggles with African politics; to journeys to Persia and ethical musings on America and global injustices in Bosnia and elsewhere; to intellectual flirtations with the mythic and the mystical. These poems are deceptively simple as they are amazingly rich, and they paint the imaginative world of one of Africa’s most talented poets of the post-Achebe and Soyinka generation.

28 July 2007

On My Knees Before These Mighty Heavens

Walsworth Pub Co (June 29, 2007)
ISBN-13: 978-1578640669

By Momodou Ceesay

In this book, the protagonist Issa Kujabi seeks an audience with God, in order to lament on the condition of African people today. The book speaks of social injustice; the cold-heartedness of the ruling elite in Africa; and the phenomena of Africa s demise, but done with poetry and art. Two distinct expressions of creativity are combined to put forth a powerful and moving story; a story of an African man s spiritual journey. The work uses excerpts from Hebrew Scripture and the Koran to describe the searching for a better life for African and African American people. Momodou Ceesay adds to the virtual reality of the story line by delineating the poem with 36 of his original paintings. Through a dialogue , the poem begins with the particular destruction, genocide and suffering of African people and of their descendants in the Diaspora. The scope is then widened to include the negative forces that seem to grip the planet as a whole. It moves from despair to vision as the dialogue progresses, ending with a revelation giving reasons for suffering and what the future holds for Africa and the world as a whole.

About the Author

Momodou Ceesay was born in Banjul, the capital of The Gambia, in West Africa, in 1945. His early education was received in Banjul, but in his teens he was granted a number of scholarships to study abroad, at Suffield Academy and Wesleyan University in Connecticut. In 1970, he received a Bachelor's Degree from that University, having majored in languages and literature. He has also received diplomas from the University de Poitiers in Tours, and La Sorbonne in Paris, both in France, for studies of the French language. After these academic pursuits, Ceesay decided to pursue a career in art. Essentially self-taught, the artist was able to, from the beginning, bring forth a highly individualist vision, as seen in the uniqueness of his style and use of colors. This trend is seen in his numerous acrylics, watercolors, and serigraphs. Ceesay has exhibited extensively, and is in major public and private collections around the world. In the United States, his works are well known through the Heritage Collection card series.

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04 June 2007

Reading the Ceiling

By
Dayo Forster
www.dayoforster.com
www.africanloft.com/reading-the-ceiling-with-dayo-forster

Synopsis


Ayodele’s life will tread a different path depending on a decision she makes on her eighteenth birthday, on the cusp of womanhood; but how will she choose?

One path will send Ayodele to Europe, to university – and to the pain of first love. Another will have her travel the globe after suffering immeasurable loss. Still another will keep her in Africa, a mother and wife in a polygamous marriage. And in each of Ayodele’s possible lives we see how the interplay of choice and fate determines the shape of our lives. What part of us would be different if we had made different decisions? And what part of us would stay the same?

An Excerpt from Reading The Ceiling

In the slit between my bedroom curtains, I see a long triangle of sky more grey than blue. The light changes with each sweep of my eyelids. At this time of year, when the harmattan blows straight off the Sahara, not even the wide expanse of the River Gambia can add enough wet to stop it in its tracks. It has coated the mosquito netting on my window with dust. Today is my birthday. It is also the day I have decided to do The Deed.

“Remember, they are only after one thing,” my mother says. She advises me to stay aware of what men want; that I need to practice light prancing, à la Mohammed Ali, keeping my butterfly just out of their reach. Keep myself. For what? At eighteen, why do I need to keep to the butterfly dance? Why exactly?

“Otherwise everyone will think you are loose, cheap.” That’s the answer my mother would give.

Osman’s radio starts a low volumed griot wailing, a sound that always seems to be around, melding with the air. The plucking of the kora strings weaves around a mellow baritone voice. I find it strangely comforting as the sound soaks into my skin. Today the singer is telling of Sunjata Keita, a warrior king whose exploits in the savannah have been erased by tropical sand and hot winds. But whose deeds are played on, retold over the years in the memories passed through mouth and ear of the people who hold our histories in their heads. The griot sings,

The Sunjata story / Is very strange and wonderful.

You see one griot, / And he gives you an account of it one way,

You see another griot, / And he gives you an account of it in another way.

The radio moves and a clanking joins it as Osman picks up his kettle. The griot continues,

Cats on the shoulder / The hunter and the lion are at Naarena.

A minute later, I hear Osman at the tap. The water gushes into the kettle, sounding hollow against the metal, then drowns itself by the weight of more water.

Osman is our family’s night protector. He is paid to watch while we sleep. Now he has to greet the day with sleep soaked eyes before getting ready for his real job, shifting sacks of rice, flour, or sugar at the Port. A few ships dock this week, conjuring jobs for men with muscles who don’t mind the work being irregular.

Both sides of this watchman deal are grateful. Osman gets extra cash for his family in Mansakonko, with additional sprinkles of tightlipped help from my mother when his unexpected emergencies arise. Such as:

#1. The new baby has malaria.

#2. The middle boy was sent home because he didn’t have his school uniform.

#3. The mama’s leg isn’t getting better from that dog bite.

In exchange, my mother gets the security of a man about the compound. Someone who can run to our rescue if a gang of toughs ever smashes its way into the house. In case any of her emergencies arise, unexpectedly or otherwise, our muscular, manly, hired Osman is around.

So, here I am awake, one in a household of four females protected in the night by a wiry thin-faced man from Mansakonko. The drumbeats of other kinds of dangers are in my ears, while the other women in the house sleep, dreaming like butterfly dancers.

The flame coloured cockerel at the Salani’s is shrieking hoarsely. Its loud nasty echoes fade into still air. My mother is soon awake. I hear her shuffle past, her bedroom slippers muffled against the tiles in the corridor. A yell out of the window,

“Ozz-maaaan. Demal jainda mburu.” Go and buy some bread.

“How many?”

“Nyeta.”

Number of hot, stub-ended stretched loaves needed for breakfast: three. Number of unloose women left in the house: ditto.

Who should I choose from the four on my list? It’s scary to think through the options knowing I have to decide on one. My possibilities begin with Reuben. Why is he on the list at all? If the idea comes creeping that I need him as a fallback, my failsafe option in case it turns out that the others don’t want to be chosen, I will swat it away. He’s there because, well I guess, because he fancies me. I’m not exactly breathless with desire, but a list is a list and it therefore needs entries. So he stays. With one of his front teeth showing bigger than the rest, jutting halfway up his gum. With his thick framed glasses that darken whenever the sun casts shadows over his even toned, blunted oval of a face. Reuben has a plank-flat bottom and wears brown crimplene trousers. An ex-Boy Scout, not ugly, but not what you could call a catch. Reuben does not seem to know how to angle his body properly as he lounges on the short school wall. He’s not yet safe in his own body. I wonder how he’ll be about touching someone else’s. But how can I ever know that kind of thing about someone, without trying him out?

Another option is Yuan Chen. Last term, everyone at school kept saying he was my boyfriend because we were always together during break, but he’s not really. He can seem sexy if I try. His Chinese father came over to teach our farmers how to grow paddy rice. Then he stayed and his wife eventually came over and they stayed some more. When our government got tired of Mao style paddy farms, his parents started a restaurant called Green Bamboo where they cook a lot of white rice.

Last year, he asked my friend Remi and me over to his parents’ restaurant as my birthday treat and he made sure we got a platterful of freshly fried springrolls which are my favourite. I watched his lips form the words: “Good springrolls need the pastry rolled so thin you can see through it. The filling has to be cold so it doesn’t stretch the pastry and make it tear.”

Maybe it was then that he started to creep into my consciousness as a Possible. Remi protested that those instructions were not clear enough: “They never turn out right, even if I leave the stuff in the fridge overnight.”

He laughed, eyes bending up at the corners, his floppy black hair brushing his eyebrows,

“To cook, the oil has to be really, really hot so it singes brown almost as soon as it reaches the pan.”

I think he’d be gentle. When we were at the beach after Tunji’s party, Yuan and I were leaning against his car as we waited for the others. It was quite dark as the moon was not yet up and the stars pinpricked the sky’s velvet. There was a bit of a breeze off the sea and when I said I was cold he took his sweat top off and put it around me in my strappy dress. He tucked me in under his shoulder and it felt kind of cozy.

I don’t want to wait for this falling in love business, or aim for passion, even though it sounds attractive enough in Mills and Boons romances. I want to get this sex thing over and done with so my life can move on. Among the girls I know, some already have done it. Amina and Mahmoud did it behind the school kitchens when we were still in the third form. She needed to go to the nurse for a spare uniform as stuff had leaked onto her skirt. I remember that after school, she walked funny all the way to the bus stop. Now, when Amina talks about boys and men, she seems to be having a great time. She says sex can be mysterious or straightforward, either a fantastic experience or as simple as what dogs do. Her cheeks climb up her face, her deep dimples show as she talks. It seems as if she’s defying life itself, as if the choice has been hers all along. She’s able to brush off what my mother, and probably hers, might think. She’s started to claim life in her own way.

Moira, on the other hand, says she’s going to wait for the right one, she won’t do it until she’s sure. She has a crush on Idris, who bounces on and off my list. When we’ve talked about him, she does that “oooh, he’s so cute” thing. I can see that Idris obviously has the experience. And everyone seems to like him. Girls like Moira giggle and the Amina types look him up and down. The shape of his back, his shoulders in his white school shirt as he walks away down a corridor catches my eye. I tend to keep very still inside, not wanting to let any smoochy type of longing jump free. Sometimes I ache to be noticed by him, wanted and pursued. Yet at other times, I feel like I’d just be another pair of knickers in his drawer, taken simply because I was there.

And the largest mango in my pile? The biggest bonga on my stall? My best friend’s father, Frederick Adams, forty two years old with a pot-bellied future, a short full beard, hair closely trimmed to his head and fingers which can make the skin sing. Nothing much’s happened yet, of course. Just one leaning-over-to-open-the car-door touch. Just one let-me-introduce-this-youngster-to-Motown dance.

“I bet you youngsters don’t know about this kind of music. Want to dance?” he’d said. But he hadn’t stuck to the usual avuncular version – at arms length. He’s on the list because I think he might teach me quickly. This is so obviously one of the things that will have to remain secret, be doubly hidden and buried from my mother (and Remi), with me having to pinch my words. But just the once with him might be enough.

It’s almost as if I can see a list of names in my head, with mini head shots alongside, each taken in a studio with a full glare of lights, so that as I peer into each photo, I can see the pimple above Reuben’s eyebrow, notice that Yuan’s eyes are set slightly too close together, linger over the pout in Idris’ lips, observe the sheen on Frederick Adams’ face. I can choose whether to put a tick, a question mark or an x against each name on my list. It’s in my power, it’s up to me.

The story behind the book

“How do you think your life would have been different if you had stayed in The Gambia?” This chance remark made by a friend and my interest in mathematics led me to thinking about how to conceive a novel around alternative lives.

I drew up a tree, which I vaguely based on Boolean logic, of a choice that could only have two outcomes. Then I devised a series of choices and picked out episodes in a life of a created character, Ayodele, which would meander to each choice and, sometimes be linked to another chapter further on. I also used an all-knowing voice, representing some higher-order intelligence, that would be able to see through the entire tree of her life, and intoned about the vagaries of fate at various points.

In a rush of energy I wrote the first draft in four months, each chapter being a day in the life of Ayodele, at the end of which she had to make a choice which would lead to one or the other branch of the Boolean tree. However, the structure only worked to a point. It was unwieldly and rather difficult to understand. A year later, I had abandoned it, not knowing how to improve it. I reworked the first chapter into a short story, which was accepted for publication.

Armed with new ideas and strongly supported by new found literary friends, I completely reworked the novel, and made the structure subject to the story. I simplified it to having a single choice at the beginning of the novel, and restricted myself to working with three lives, which had to tell individual yet complementary stories of the protagonist. I strung together various existing chapters into coherent lives but found huge gaps in each. As I shifted the focus to story telling, only a third of the original draft stayed … and the elaborate mathematical structure receded in the background.

Hopefully, some of the mathematical ambition is still retained in the final story, for readers to stumble into.

I started the novel in 2001 and finished it in 2005.


About the Author

I was born in The Gambia, a tiny strip of a country in West Africa’s coast. We lived in a house that overlooked a medical research centre which contained huge cashew trees. A taste for tree climbing and adventure developed in order to go cashew hunting on the other side of the fence. As a much younger sibling among five, I was known to spend hours in the bathroom – the only secure place to escape household chores – either reading, or staring at the floor, which had speckled grey grains embedded in white tiles. I used to daydream patterns and pictures in my head, as one does looking at clouds – or the ceiling, as my protagonist in Reading the Ceiling does. Our house was close to the ocean, and I could always hear the sea at night as a child, crashing away against the rock cliffs jutting out into the Atlantic.

My family is one of a group of Krio speakers who emigrated from Sierra Leone into the Gambia during colonial times. As a child, our extended family was large, and also included a host of friends of our parents who we called ‘aunt this’ or ‘uncle that’.

When I was eighteen, I left home for university. As there were no universities in The Gambia at the time, everyone who aspired to one had to leave to study overseas. I studied statistics and computing at the London School of Economics.

Although I have always been a keen reader, my interest in writing was mostly restricted to a series of teenage diaries, chronicling life, friends and daily intrigue. During a brief flare of interest in the student college magazine, I published a single article in the Beaver, a review of some sort.

I took up writing aged 35, while living in America, essentially to figure out a way of expressing opinions and publishing essays on various topics. I stumbled into fiction while attending a writing workshop. The optional assignment was to extend a character in a story someone else had written. I tried it – and was bowled over by the power of virtual reality – the ability to create someone else’s world and be able to view everything through that person’s eyes. And to feel God-like, able to make things happen, yet be sensitive enough to continue to inhabit a character’s skin.

I attempted various kinds of pieces, essays, biographical pieces, the occasional short story, a couple of abandoned novel ideas. It was at this time that I started working on Reading the Ceiling.

I have since published a short story in Kwani?, a Kenyan literary magazine, and have participated in the 2006 Caine Prize Writer’s Workshop, during which I produced a new story, which was published in an anthology, The Obituary Tango.

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15 May 2007

BOOK REVIEWS :

The Shock (1999) by Michael H. Secka,
The Sun Will Soon Shine (2004) by Sally Singhateh, and
Costly Prices (2005) by Ramatoulie Othman

Books reviewed by:
Dr Pierre Gomez

Senior Lecturer

University of The Gambia




In The Shock (1999) written by Michael Hamadi Secka, the central theme focuses on religious hypocrisy, where people use religion as a tool and a cover to embark upon deleterious or unfathomable social injustices like sex discrimination and child molestation. The text describes the story of a young girl Madina who travels from her village to the city to live with her uncle, whom she never saw before coming to live with him. She is later seduced by her uncle’s friend and gets pregnant. Her uncle forces her to commit abortion and in the process she dies. The uncle not able to bear the shame commits suicide.

In The Sun Will Soon Shine (2004) written by Sally Sadie Singhateh, a female author, portrays an intelligent, ambitious girl growing up in a Gambian village, where marriage and motherhood and Female Genital Mutilation are often issues that women have to endure. The female character, the heroine of the novel is full of immense courage, able to see beyond her situation, despite the bleakness of life. She is overtaken by circumstances beyond her own control and is forced into paths which she has desperately fought against. She is however able to see beyond her situation, despite the bleakness of life. She makes it through her darkest hours and emerges stronger. At the end of the novel, only determination could have changed her situation.

In Costly Prices (2005) by Ramatoulie Othman, the theme centres on tourism which has both economic and cultural gains as well as disadvantages. The story is about three Gambian friends, Musa, Kadri and Lamin who through connections with European friends are able to travel to Europe hoping for a better future. The story however focuses also on the plight of the women left behind by these men and expected to wait for them while they are married to other European women. It also portrays the differences between European and Gambian women on issues relating to decision making, economic independence and culture.

BOOK REVIEW : AFRICA : WE OWE IT TO OUR ANCESTORS, OUR CHILDREN, AND OURSELVES

by Prof. Michael Ba Banutu-Gomez

Book reviewed by:
Dr Pierre Gomez

Senior Lecturer

University of The Gambia






This mighty work, Africa: We Owe it to Our Ancestors, Our Children, and Ourselves is composed of twelve chapters of which the first four focus on the pressing need for us Africans to identify ourselves within our culture and traditional values.

Today, we readily accept the music, behaviour and medicine of others at the expense of ours. In these early chapters, Professor Gomez equally admonishes us to place great value on commercial solidarity. A first hand experience of this way of life convinces him as to the greatness of its results. In addition to this, these chapters re-echo in a rather oblique manner, Chinua Achebe’s wonderful opener in Things Fall Apart which he himself adopted from ‘The Second Coming’ of W.B. Yeats:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart;
the centre cannot hold!

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world


And he himself has this to say:
Western education turned traditional rural African social structures upside-down. Instead of status based on age, hard work, and dedication, status was based on literacy”. P.77

Dr Gomez blames the moral anarchy that characterizes many an African society today on the divestiture of the elders of their supreme hold on the youth. In the days of old, elders assured the responsibility of shaping and guiding the conduct of the youth and so there was respect and order in our various African societies. But the elders have lost their voice and are nothing more than scarecrows, shadows of the pre-colonial elders.

In there early chapters, Dr. Gomez does not only invite us to bemoan this loss, but to sit together and re-empower the elders. This is the point of departure if we should ever hope to move forward in the restoration of the lost order.

The opening chapters also lay emphasis on the urgent need to overhaul the educational system in Africa. It should be restructured in a way to enhance sustainable social, economic and moral development. The new African child should be equipped with the knowledge to cater for the social, economic, scientific and technological needs of the continent. It is only when this is achieved that our Independence will cease to be dependent.

In short, the first four chapters seem to hammer home this point: Africa should work concertedly and earnestly to retain and maintain what is positive of traditional Africa and do the same to sale to acquire what is positive outside our continent.

In chapter 5, 6, and 7, Professor Banutu-Gomez makes a thorough diagnosis of the causes and problems posed by the rural-urban migration and proposes cogent situations to this problems. Here, he manifests himself as a very strong advocate of the development of small-scale rural industries and calls upon principal actors to design policies that include the development of regional “cities”, which are to serve as centres for efficient exchange of goods and services.

Here he also stresses the need to promote biodiversity as this will serve as a boon to eco-tourism and ultimately boost African economies. And not surprisingly, he sheds a lot of ink (perhaps to avoid shedding tears) trying to point out to his readership the economic injustices we impose on ourselves by importing far more than we export even though a substantial percentage of the world’s raw materials come from our continent.

And from chapter 8-11, the author renews the call made by the early African elites – Kwame Nkruma, Kenneth Kaunda, etc.. to build a strong and proud Africa. The present boundaries should be seen as an accidental creation made to settle the territorial conflicts of our brothers with the opposite skin colour. These frontiers should be ignored, at least economically, so that African unity will grow deeper roots. And as regards the existing African countries, he admonishes Africans to work towards doing away with ethnic prejudices. To this effect, he writes: “when we longer view a person who is from an ethnic group that is different from our own as an enemy but instead as potential ally, we can more easily understand their world and thus it will be easier to discover what they value and need”. He believes, I believe and all of us should believe that it is only when national and intra-continental unity are attained that we can start talking about sustainable development.

About The Author


Michael Ba Banutu-Gomez was born in the 1960’s, in Bakalar village, in The Gambia,
West Africa. He is currently an Associate Professor of Management at Rowan University, New Jersey. He teaches courses in International Business, Global Leadership and Organization, and Organizational Behavior. Professor Banutu-Gomez received his Ph.D. from Case Western Reserve University. He has published numerous articles on business in scholarly journals such as The Business Review and Cross-Cultural Management: An International Journal.

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11 May 2007

First-World Education in the Third World

Author Narrates Development of The Gambia’s First University

ATLANTA – Momodou Sabally presents an inspiring account of the Saint Mary’s University Extension Program in The Gambia in his new memoir, Homegrown: The Student Experience of a Unique Canada-Africa University Program (now available through AuthorHouse).

The Gambia , located in West Africa , has faced harsh economic conditions for years, and having its own university seemed to be merely a dream, according to Sabally. In 1995, the country began a partnership with Saint Mary’s University of Canada to provide undergraduate degrees for Gambian citizens for the first time in their own country. This program was called the Saint Mary’s University Extension Program in The Gambia. Professors from Saint Mary’s traveled to The Gambia to teach, and qualified Gambian instructors were hired as adjunct professors. This partnership ultimately led to the founding of the University of The Gambia , which now operates as an independent degree-granting institution.

Sabally describes his experience as a student at the university in a conversational and easy-to-read style tinged with humor and reflection. He retraces his personal development cognitively, socially and personally, as well as the impact the university had on the entire country. “The overriding theme appears to be that round or sound education, as provided by the UEP, is the launch pad for meaningful national and personal development,” he says.

The story opens in the permanent secretary’s office at Bedford Place Building in Banjul with the sentence, “I’ve been directed to expel you from the program.” From that dramatic opening, Sabally takes readers through a series of flashbacks of the events preceding this moment. He divides his experience into three stages: initial intellectual struggles, his rise to the presidency of the university’s student government and valedictory speech, and attendance at the First International Conference of Young Leaders in Taiwan .

The captivating plot provides readers the entertainment of a novel while maintaining the authenticity of a true story as Sabally vividly illustrates his experience in this unique program.

Sabally was born in Banjul , The Gambia, and currently resides in Atlanta . He holds a bachelor’s degree from the Saint Mary’s University Extension Program. Sabally has published several articles and poems in The Gambia’s Daily Observer and has served as president of the Association of Authors and Writers. He has also written Instant Success: The Ten Commandments of Personal Achievement and the Road to Enduring Riches and is currently working on his third book. He publishes a bi-weekly e-zine, Inspirational Success Now, as well as motivational articles for www.mlsabally.com and other publications.

Made in The Gambia
A Book Review
By
Foday Samateh

Title: Homegrown
The Student Experience of a Unique Canada-Africa University Program.
A Memoir by: Momodou Sabally

The opening two sentences of “Homegrown,” originally published as “Janji Jollof,” read: “‘I have been directed to expel you from the program!’ the voice thundered into my ears. A brief, uneasy silence ensued as my colleagues and I stared at the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Education.”

Could it have been said better? In the realm of the possible, we can say a doubtful maybe. But within the confines of the thinkable, it is doubtless the perfect. In spite of its brevity, the scene in the office of the Permanent Secretary introduces the principal theme of the story, the conflicts and the tensions of the drama, power as a role, the challenges and, yes, a sense of fear of unsolicited consequences. Putting together the Permanent Secretary’s exclamatory exercise of authority as, supposedly, harbinger of the higher-ups; the ringing horror of his words into the vulnerable ears of the author; and the collective arrested stare with which he and his fellow students greet the shocking message of the government bureaucrat, “Homegrown” has from the very start successfully fulfilled the condition of memoir as a literary form that embeds the state of society in a personal story. Of course, it is needless to add that the perspective is at the mercy of the author’s point of view.


But more than professing credibility, Sabally looks up to the audience in many instances as priest to whom he must perform the solemn duty of confessing his troubles, doubts, faults, misjudgments and needs. At the actual beginning of the story in terms of chronological sequence, he watches time offer everything but opportunity. Out of school and without a job, he hangs out with fellow daydreamers begging with earnestness some magic moment for a flight into the bliss of the West. He begins his narrative from the doldrums of his life-story with a deliberate intent. We know that progression is not only a mathematical concept even though it goes by the name arc in the world of metaphors. Upward mobility is his only path from the concave of hopelessness to the convex of his dreams. But dreams (including university education) at this point exist only in mere wishful thinking for him and most Gambian youths.


Then the University Extension Program (UEP) materializes thanks to the tripartite collaborative effort of the Nova-Scotia Gambia Association, the St. Mary’s University in
Canada, and the Gambia Government. This is a historic landmark that would be the foundation for the nation’s first (and only) university. Sabally is overwhelmed with a born-again hope when he is admitted as a pioneer in this international experiment derided and dismissed by no shortage of skeptics, critics and doomsayers in the country.

In spite of his enthusiasm, climbing the metaphoric arc proves nothing like the smooth and predictable linear progression of mathematics, his major. Unlike his fellow students, he is accepted into the program without the faintest of hopes for a government scholarship. There is his hardworking mother, who has done menial jobs to support her orphaned five children and could not wait for her last-born and best hope to land a job after his completion of sixth form in high school. She would not hear of any further education, because its potential benefits are too distant to her immediate needs. She even goes out of her way to help him find a job as a youth officer at the Department of Youths and Sports. And there are other forms of “challenge,” a word he and his classmates more often substituted with the disproportionately hyperbolic synonym “struggle:” an obvious lexical behemoth that, if it serves any purpose, truly measures the elastic exuberance of their youthful self-importance, self-assertiveness, self-idealization, and over-seriousness. The struggle almost leads to their expulsion from the program.


There are many high and memorable moments too. His mother finally comes around the idea of university education. He routinely deputizes for his boss, a divisional commissioner, at youth forums. His classmates become joke-cracking buddies, who also variously offer him helping hand during very difficult times. There are inspiring professors, Canadians as well as Gambians, who love doing what they do. And there is the highlight moment of student union presidency that earns him the privilege to deliver the graduate student convocation speech. The speech he uses to lambaste the skeptics and critics with the credentials of their success. It would also be the speech that puts him on national spotlight, sends him to an international youth conference in
Taiwan, and paves his way to the Central Bank as an economist-statistician.

His candor in telling his most depressing and joyous moments, his innermost doubts and emotional outbursts; his full disclosure of the support and favor of others are not only admirable, but make him a credible and an honest writer. Publicists create heroes; flatters make angles; and writers construct humans.


The Bard of Avon asks the world: “What stuff are dreams made of?” Sabally’s answer in “Homegrown” includes the luck of opportunity, the willingness to succeed, the readiness to face the obstacles, and most importantly, a goal born of clarity and conviction.


Would he finally listen to his mother that he has enough academic education? The answer: He is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Economics in
Georgia State University, Atlanta, Georgia, US.

Mandela's Other Children: The Diary of an African Journalist


by Baba G. Jallow
ISBN13: 978-1-60047-098-1 & ISBN10: 1-60047-098-X

In Mandela's Other Children, Baba Galleh Jallow invokes the intriguing concept of a Pan-African struggle against oppression. As he narrates his personal ordeals as a journalist working in an oppressive "shadow state" since 1994, Baba skillfully comments on some complex issues related to the African condition that are not readily obvious to the non-African observer. The pages of this book are littered with chilling accounts of how "orders from above" lead to arbitrary arrests and detentions, nocturnal arson attacks on media houses, the promulgation of unjust laws, the murder of prominent citizens, the Soweto-like massacre of school children holding a peaceful demonstration, and the forcible closure of radio stations and newspapers critical of the government. But Mandela's Other Children is also a story of heroic resistance, stubborn defiance, and a steely determination to assert and preserve endangered sovereignties by threatened social entities. This is a truly worthy addition to the growing corpus of works on the postcolony. Students of comparative journalism will also find much that is useful in these charged pages.

To purchase his books click here or here

BOOK REVIEW
By
Pa Samba Jow

MANDELA’S OTHER CHILDREN: THE DIARY OF AN AFRICAN JOURANLIST by Baba Galleh Jallow is a must read for all Gambians, regardless of political affiliation. Everyone should endeavor to get hold of a copy. The book gives a clear picture of Jammeh’s tyranny and serves as a clear testimony to Jammeh’s paranoia and arrogance. It documents not only Baba’s experiences, but also such events as the murder of Ousman Koro Ceesay, the massacre of school children on April 10/11 2000, the closure of Citizen FM radio, the attempted burning of Radio 1 FM and the murder of Deyda Hydara on December 16, 2004, among other things.

As I read the book, I did not know whether to cry for my dear country or to laugh at the absurdity of the so -called security officers and their “we are just following orders from above” nonsense. What I however, got from it is Baba’s courage and determination not to be cowered and bought by Jammeh and his clique. This book will go down as the most vivid documentation of Jammeh’s brutality against the press in particular and The Gambia in general. It is all very revealing of the workings of the NIA because it is told by someone who has spent many days and nights detained behind the walls of their “Dracula castle”

If you are a Jammeh supporter, reading this book might help open your eyes to the true colors of the APRC/AFPRC regimes. If you are a Jammeh critic, this book will help you understand the dictatorial resolve of Jammeh and his henchmen to stifle dissenting views and to stay in power by any means necessary.

To the journalists, there is no better narration of their plight. The book’s publication could not have come at a better time when our colleagues Fatou Jaw Manneh, Lamin Fatty etc are being paraded through the kangaroo courts on trumped up charges, and the disappearances of Chief Manneh and others.

As is cogently put in the book’s back page description, Mandela’s Other Children “is a story of heroic resistance, stubborn defiance, and a steely determination to assert and preserve endangered sovereignties by threatened social entities.” This book will provide you with incontrovertible facts about Jammeh’s tyranny.

Baba Galleh Jallow is former editor-in-chief of the Daily Observer and Founder Editor and CEO of The Independent newspaper, which was forcibly shut down by the Gambian authorities in March 2006. With a BA in Political Science from Fourah Bay College and a Masters in Liberal Studies from Rutgers University, Baba is currently a PhD student in African History at the University of California, Davis. His other books, also published by Wasteland Press, are Dying for My Daughter (2004), Angry Laughter (2004), and The Anatomy of Powercracy and Other Essays (2006).

The Anatomy of Powercracy And Other Essays


by Baba G. Jallow
ISBN 1-933265-75-2

The Anatomy of Powercracy gives an unusually clear and interesting insight into the inner workings of dictatorial African political systems and the minds of the dictators themselves, whom Baba describes as "elephants on mosquito legs." Written in Baba's trademark flowing prose with a touch of humor nicely blended in with the serious nature of his subject, The Anatomy of Powercracy And Other Essays provides a wide range of perspectives on contemporary African politics, Classical and Modern western political theory, American Civil Rights issues and the psychology of Affirmative Action in America's education system. This small volume will prove an invaluable resource to both undergraduate and Masters level students in the liberal arts and social sciences, as well as to general readers interested in widening their knowledge in the above areas.The Anatomy of Powercracy And Other Essays is Baba's third book. His first and second books, Dying for My Daughter and Angry Laughter, also published by Wasteland Press, deal with FGM and African politics respectively.

22 January 2007

A NEW LEASE OF LIFE

By Dr Momodou Tangara

Developments over the last few months show that The Gambia is set to reclaim its rightful place on the West African music scene. Thanks to Youssou N’Dour, the style of music known as Mbalax has gained recognition in musical circles worldwide. However, very few people realise that this style first came to life in The Gambia…

Senegambian music prior to 1971 shows a very definite Salsa influence. One of the most noteworthy artists of that time was Gambian-born musician Laba Sosseh, whose hit single Seyni earned him a gold disc, the first to come out of Senegambia. He played with a number of big names in Salsa, including Monguito and the Cuban group Aragon.
His hit single was later covered by Zairean artist Seigneur Tabouley and the Guinean group Bembeya Jazz National. In 1971 the group Ifang Bondi (formerly the Super Eagles) broke new ground with their creation of the Afro-Manding sound. They introduced the tom-tom to modern
music and recaptured the sound of the Salah Yadi Mbam, the song of humble workers who used song as a means to lighten their heavy loads.

Farewell to taboos

Gambian musicians continued to innovate. They broke all taboos by introducing into their music ideas previously reserved for the initiated. The sacred nature of Gambian music was put to another use when for the first time the group Guélewar sang of circumcision to their female audiences and Ifang Bondi enlightened male audiences as to the secrets of excision. The Ndaga style was born and found its way to Senegal, where it became known as Mbalax. This kind of music has the tom-tom playing ‘second fiddle’ to the Tama, a small tomtom-style drum played under the armpit.

Today, Mbalax is being promoted the world over in the capable hands of Youssou N’Dour. The last few years have seen Salsa stage a dramatic comeback on the Gambian music scene in the form of Oussou Nije Señor. After more than 20 years off the scene, El Señor returned with the album Faataleku (memories), a compilation of snippets from the 1960s and 1970s in pure Salsa
tradition, embellished with African sounds. The result is sweet, lively melodies. El Señor recently signed up with a big American record company, Anonymous Record. Despite a certain nostalgic, El Señor does not confine himself to Salsa. His main concern is to see Gambian music regain its rightful place on the West African and world music scenes. He is adamant that, given a little help in promoting their culture, Gambian musicians can relive their former glory. According to El Señor, “there is no lack of talent. You’ve got Jaliba Kuyateh, the kora virtuoso, and Pencha B. Crew to name but two! And let’s not forget, these are worldclass musicians.”

Pencha B is a group of rap artists who set to music everyday Gambian and African events. They fuse African and western sounds and rhythms to give a clever mix of contemporary relevance and timeless tradition. Jaliba Kuyateh originally opted for a career in teaching in the state education system. A griot by birth, the call of tradition proved too powerful for him and Jaliba left the teaching profession to give himself body and soul to music. He brings together the musical instruments used by the various ethnic groups within Gambia. Conscious of the role played by culture in the developmental process, Jaliba’s aim is to use music to show that, beyond any outward differences, it is possible for cultures to work together to create one large, single and harmonious society.

With his latest album, co-produced with Oko Drammeh of Soto Koto fame, Jaliba has established his reputation as a talented musician. He is accompanied by some of the biggest names in the music world, not least the percussionist Bill Summer, who has shared a stage with Michael Jackson, Quincy Jones and Herbie Hancock. The album reflects the universal nature of
his music, bringing us the hypnotic sound of the kora, interspersed with that of the balafong, the Djembe drum rhythm and the xylophone, all of which are accompanied by the golden voice of the griot, or Kumareh (golden bird): Jaliba’s orchestra was formerly known as the Kumareh Band.

Jaliba, Oussou Njie Señor and Pencha B have pledged to do their utmost to act as Gambian music. To help them in this noble task the artists have launched an appeal for financial backers. They are aware of the difficult task ahead, given the nature of the environment in which the musicians work. They appreciate only too well that, for one, “there are no laws to godfathers to protect the artist from piracy, and the radio and television stations play our tapes and show video clips of us without paying us a single penny.” Their driving force is their love of art. Oussou Njie Señor also feels that the authorities could play a part, seeing to it that The Gambia benefits from the Cotonou Agreement’s section on culture by helping to set up an institute of music. Such measures and noble intentions will secure Gambian music its much-needed second wind.

A New Lease of Life

The Military and 'Democratisation' in The Gambia: 1994-2003

by Dr. Ebrima Ceesay

345 pages; quality trade paperback (softcover); contains, tables, black and white & color images; catalogue #06-1860; ISBN 1-4251-0103-8; US$34.70, C$39.90, EUR28.50, £19.95.


About the Book

This book provides an account of significant political developments in a small West African country, The Gambia, about which such information is not readily available. It is a robustly written account of the very fluid politics of The Gambia over the last ten years since the coup that ousted President Dawda Jawara. The author is able to bring an enviable amount of first-hand understanding to the case at hand. He was a newspaper editor in The Gambia and also a correspondent there for the BBC. The book addresses a subject of much current interest in the wider development and policy-related literatures and much of the information makes an original contribution to knowledge in the area of democracy and military rule in The Gambia. The study thus constitutes an original contribution to the growing scholarship on The Gambia. It also makes a contribution to the existing literature on democratisation and the military in West Africa.

The book undertakes the much needed research into recent political developments in The Gambia, and sets this in the wider context of West African politics. It provides an in-depth study of events in The Gambia prior to and post 1994 and examines The Gambian case in a theoretical context pertaining to Africa in general, and the West African sub-region in particular.

The fundamental concern of this book is to determine whether it is possible for a nation to democratise under 'military' rule. Following the 1994 coup d'etat, The Gambia had military rule until 1997. After two Presidential elections, it remained under 'quasi-military' rule, the military having merely been thinly disguised in civilian clothes. The central argument of this book is that in the case of The Gambia, it has not been possible to democratise under either 'military' or 'quasi-military' rule. The country is far from being democratic and the democratisation process has barely begun. The Gambia operates under an authoritarian regime with strong military overtones.

The 1994 coup d'etat in The Gambia took place at a time when most of Africa was moving towards democratisation. At the same time, The Gambia moved away from democratisation and into military dictatorship. This Gambian 'exceptionalism' in recent regional, continental and global political development is explained and analysed in the book. The study presents a conceptual and empirical analysis of the recent 'democratisation' processes under the military and military-turned civilian regimes in The Gambia. It uses conceptual or analytical insights, drawn from the general literature on military regimes in Africa, to inform understanding of the case study. The book raises a number of very pertinent questions concerning the place of the military in a modern African polity, and the varied contexts and contested nature of this role.

The book sets out to assess the military regime that seized power in The Gambia in July 1994, and which remains in power to the present day - having formally converted itself into an "elected" civilian regime through managed elections from which the military leader emerged victorious.

It is broadly concerned with four themes: a) pre-independent politics in The Gambia, the Jawara years and the causes of his overthrow; b) the coup d'etat that brought the military regime to power on 22 July 1994; c) the subsequent conduct of the military regime, with particular concern for its attempt to legitimise itself through elections; and d) the question of whether The Gambia can be regarded as a democracy, to which the author has returned a decided negative.

Four main questions are posed. What were the causes of the military coup in The Gambia? What were the various phases of military rule? How has the military performed in office? Has The Gambia returned to a functioning democratic state following the 1996 and 2001 elections? The findings indicate that the military intervention was prompted by a combination of political, economic and social problems in the country. The 1994 coup d'etat in The Gambia is best seen as the outcome of two main variables: the societal/economic/political factors which made military intervention a possibility, set against the motivations of junior officers of the Gambia National Army to intervene in the government of The Gambia because of their own dissatisfactions and possible personal aspirations. Direct military rule was in two phases and the military's leadership performance was poor in respect of human and civil rights in both phases, although there were some modest gains in socio-economic terms. Despite the holding of elections, The Gambia remains undemocratic.

The study is based on newspaper reports, interviews and the author's own experiences as a journalist in The Gambia until his departure from the country in 1996, together with published sources. The empirical element in the book is accompanied by a survey of literature in the field, notably relating to military regimes in general, and especially in Africa. The treatment of empirical developments and academic sources in the book is both descriptive and conceptual.

The ten chapters (including a general conclusion) which make up the book are logically structured; general aims and objectives, which are clearly identified in the introductory chapter, are pursued in a sustained way in the subsequent discussion. Early presentations of approach, objectives and strategy combine with overviews of pre-1994 politics and economics in the opening two chapters. Along with the summary of the circumstances surrounding the military's intervention in politics in 1994 (Chapter 3), these serve as a prelude to the detailed evaluation of the military's performance in government; and the circumstances, processes and consequences of the army's transformation into a "democratic" civilian (in reality a "quasi-military") regime, which constitutes the middle third, and core, of the book.

The final third of the book focuses on the fortunes of both democracy and politics under a quasi-military regime, and tries to draw lessons from this experience for a serious consideration of the role of the military in democratic politics. The penultimate chapter offers recommendations for deterring future coups in The Gambia and elsewhere in Africa, while a general conclusion present a cogent summary of the principal findings and conclusions.


About the Author

Dr Ebrima Jogomai Ceesay was born in The Gambia on 4th April 1966, where he was a prominent Journalist working for the Daily Observer, one of the most important newspapers operating in The Gambia during the period of military rule there. In his roles as the Editor of the Daily Observer newspaper and also as the BBC correspondent in The Gambia, from 1994 to 1996, Dr Ceesay spearheaded a strong opposition to the military regime in The Gambia for two years and more. However, after several threats on his life, he moved to the United Kingdom in late 1996, where he now calls "my second home." Dr Ceesay is a naturalised British citizen.

In 2001, Mr Ceesay achieved a Master of Philosophy (MPhil) Degree in African Studies and then went on to complete his PhD in Political Science and Development Studies in October 2004. He studied at the University of Birmingham's prestigious Centre of West African Studies. He is acknowledged as "an expert on Gambian matters" in the UK and further afield.

He has, since 1994, been an ardent protagonist of democracy in West Africa and he has remained fervent and committed to the cause of re-establishing full democracy in The Gambia. Mr Ceesay has been vociferous in his opposition to the military government in the Gambia, and a fierce critic of the human rights abuses which characterise Gambian politics and everyday life. He has continued to be active in political debates about the future of the Gambia since he left that country in 1996, not least through his articles on the Internet.

Dr Ceesay is a Social Science Researcher and Media Consultant. His research interests are in conflict and peace studies, civil military relations in Africa, the military in African politics, democratic transitions in Africa, defence planning, regional security, light weapons proliferation, security sector reform, leadership issues in Africa, human rights and development issues in Africa, Pan Africanism, Black Britain, the impact of globalisation on third world countries, American foreign policy, international cooperation, political economy, structural adjustment and privatisation in Africa. He lives in the United Kingdom.

By Abdoulaye Saine

The academic literature on The Gambia has once more been greatly enriched by the recent publication of Ebrima Ceesay's book, The Military and Democratization in The Gambia: 1994-2003, following the recent publication of Arnold Hughes and David Perfect's, A Political History of The Gambia, 1916-1994. Ceesay's book takes off precisely where the latter ends to capture major political developments in The Gambia from the coup in 1994 to 2003.

The Military and Democratization in The Gambia is a lucid and well-written book that contributes not only to the literature on The Gambia but also the large Democratic Transitions literature spearheaded by various "democratization" attempts inAfrica and elsewhere in the 1990s and earlier. Thus, the book straddles two important academic literatures to account for the causes and aftermath of democratic experiments of this period and The Gambia's, specifically.

The first chapter lays out the basic arguments and foundation of the book as well as the chapters that follow. Chapter two is an important historical backdrop to pre and post-independence politics of the Gambia, while chapter three focuses on the historic 1994 coup that ousted Sir Dawda Jawara, Gambia's founding president. Chapter four analyzes the period under military rule (1994-1996), followed by an excellent discussion of the transition program (1994-1996) back to "civilian" rule in chapter five. In the sixth and concluding chapter, Ceesay, with great skill assesses the "democratic" credentials of the APRC regime. He does this with remarkable objectivity even following his strained relationship with the military authorities in The Gambia, which ultimately forced him into exile.

The Military and Democratization in The Gambia: 1994-2003, is a timely addition, by a young Gambian who already made his mark, first, as a journalist prior to leaving The Gambia. Undoubtedly, it will remain, for years to come, a definitive contribution to the growing scholarly literatures on The Gambia, specifically, and democratic transitions, generally.

Finally, the recent publication of Ceesay's book as well as Hughes and Perfect's are a tremendous boon to Gambian Studies and a fitting tribute to the University of Birmingham, its Centre for West African Studies, and Arnold Hughes, who served as the latter's director for several years.

As director, Hughes supervised the dissertations of Perfect, Ceesay, Fatma Denton and many other Gambians. The Gambia , Gambians and Gambian Studies owe much to him, British and other non-Gambian scholars, particularly the late John Wiseman, for their interest in this once improbable mini-state and their scholarly contributions.

While Hughes is now retired and still active academically, he nonetheless, leaves two legacies: first his scholarly contribution to Gambian and African Studies, and second, and perhaps most important, a cadre of young Gambian scholars to continue his and the Centre's tradition of academic excellence.

For Young and older Gambians alike, The Military and Democratization in The Gambia: 1994-2003, is a must read. While the book stands solidly on its own merits, A Political History of The Gambia; 1816-1994, sets the context to understand and better appreciate the former. I encourage you to buy and read both.

Instant Success: The 10 Commandments of Personal Achievement and the Road to Enduring Riches



Lien

by Momodou Sabally

Sentence Description
This self-help book uses a global mindset to unlock the golden keys to success and wealth.

Short Description
This self-help guide is not just about success, it’s about instant success. By sharing inspirational messages and surprisingly simple keys, this book paves a smooth road to immediate achievement and personal rewards. Through ten easy-to-understand commandments featuring such gems as how not to work too hard, lessons on being a self-starter and keeping the faith, the secret formula of success is offered.

Full Description
Instant Success: The 10 Commandments of Personal Achievement and the Road to Enduring Riches provides each of us the golden keys to instant success. This self-help guide is a virtual treasure chest of inspirational gems overflowing with charming wit and insight. By sharing ten phenomenal secrets, the author imparts wisdom and the keys to success in a concise manner. These ten steps are revolutionary in their sheer simplicity.

This exciting formula is the mastermind of Momodou Sabally who provides his magic formula in a simple straightforward manner. His comprehensive philosophy will save readers time and money as they learn to replace bad habits with good ones, and develop inner peace and self-fulfillment through perseverance and simplicity. Above all, Sabally reminds us, life is good, and if that’s the case, what’s better than learning these secrets to success!


Back Cover Text
“In this new heaven and new earth which we are trying to show you, the door of opportunity is never closed…”

So begins Instant Success: The 10 Commandments of Personal Achievement and the Road to Enduring Riches. Designed to show you how to achieve success more quickly than you ever thought possible, this book provides a failsafe recipe—because you already have all the ingredients. By following the ten commandments contained herein, instant success will be yours.

Join motivational author Momodou Sabally as he takes you step-by-step through the process he followed for instant success in his own life. The wisdom of this comprehensive philosophy will surprise you as it ranges from the practical to the spiritual, celebrating the true, successful self in all of us. Break away from life’s frustrations. Quickly achieve your goals. Live your dreams, and put your best foot forward for living your best life—now!

Author Bio
Momodou Sabally was born in Banjul, The Gambia. After graduating from Saint Mary’s University Extension Program in The Gambia in 1999, he worked as Research Economist at the Central Bank of The Gambia.

He has published numerous articles and poems in The Gambia’s Daily Observer and has served as president of the Association of Authors and Writers.

Mr. Sabally published his first book, “Jangi Jollof: A Memoir on The Gambia’s First University Programme”, January 1995.

Currently, he is the editor of a biweekly ezine, Inspirational Success Now http://www.mlsabally.com/ while continuing to author motivational articles for other publications. He currently resides in Atlanta, Georgia.


Sabally’s Magic Formula
A Book Review

By Foday Samateh

Title: Instant Success
─ The Ten Commandments of Personal Achievement and the Road to Enduring Riches. (pp. 74)
Author: Momodou Sabally
Price: $10
Available: Amazon.com

Sabally and I have spent rounds of unsparingly passionate, vivacious clash of views on the Philosopher Napoleon Hill. His last e-mail on the subject was a digital equivalent of an artillery fire targeted into my stronghold to incapacitate me into unconditional surrender. The unmistakable declaration of the self-proclaimed victor to his presumed poor vanquished was as admirable in its point-scoring calculation as in its polemical flourish: That he thoroughly studied Dr. Hill, while I merely read this deep thinker. I escaped the bombarding impact unscathed and un-intimidated. I am as persistent as he is not to call it quits until the indisputable winner takes his victim a gasping prisoner. However, I admit, unlike me, my most worthy adversary has produced a solid and sound evidence of his intellectual claim.
That evidence is Instant Success, his second book. The first is Janji Jollof: A Memoir on The Gambia’s First University Programme. In broad comparative terms, both works belong to the genre of human stride toward personal success. But they are different in subject-matter. Janji Jollof is a narrative of the author’s personal unflattering-to-rewarding experience in the pioneering university education in The Gambia under the auspices of St. Mary’s University, Canada. Instant Success, on the other hand, is a study, a research, a roadmap, a promissory philosophy made into a handbook about personal success and fulfillment in the journey of life for everyone. Notably, it is philosophy without its complexity. It is full of real people, their stories and state of mind, when they set sail at the harbor of ordinary moments to the shores of extraordinary achievements, which changed their lives for good, and in many cases, made the world a better place for million others as well. These eminent achievers include philosophers and thinkers besides Dr. Hill, writers, prophets, investors, inventors, entrepreneurs, sports icons, political leaders and other luminaries from a variety of walks of life.
The only qualification the author requires of any individual willing to follow his philosophy of personal success is that the individual’s interest in life must be more than waiting for mere hand-outs of chance and pay-outs of mediocrity. The individual must approach life with a real purpose by assigning himself a grand goal of his/her own choice, a piercing vision and burning desire, courage of self-discipline and conviction, will to succeed, and persistence to achieve that goal. If the success philosophy is adhered to properly as expounded in the book; the author bets that no obstacle will stand insurmountable in the way of outstanding achievement.
Yes, of course, it is a given that in Sabally’s writings, his family comes with the territory. The reader meets Ya-Boi (the endearing name for the persevering mother), who brought up five young orphans on her own with dignified stoicism, only to stand proudly at a five star hotel during the first in the nation convocation of university graduates and watch her last born deliver a masterpiece valedictory. Then Muhammad, the first born of the author, reading an ageless children’s poem to his father (who is pursuing a Master’s degree in Economics at Georgia State University, Atlanta) over a long distance phone call to prove that he too is excelling in academic undertaking. Then the gratified father’s letter of advice to the son, whose poet-mother, Mariama Khan, is referenced to drive all the points of wisdom home through a couplet that is touching in style and penetrating in meaning. Oh, did I mention that the book is dedicated to Omar, his second son he calls his best friend?
Instant Success is appropriately jargon-free, since the audience is deliberately anyone, who will not settle for anything less than achieving his/her purpose in life. But, remarkably, the author is speaking to the reader one-on-one, as if he is revealing to his most favorite person in the world the deepest secret hiding in plain sight, but misguidedly searched about everywhere else by everyone else. The references are quite diverse and bibliography is long for this concise a content, bringing to the readership a rich collection of memorable axioms and motivational insights, as wide-ranging as from the daytime television queen Oprah Winfrey to Pope John Paul II to Shakespeare to Tiger Woods to Time Magazine. The words and actions of these great minds and outstanding achievers will surely inspire and empower anyone with self-confidence and positive mental attitude to achieve his/her purpose in life.
While I enjoy reading the many citations, the critic in my reviewer’s mind feels that the quotations are a bit over-abundant and therefore give the book an air of erudite superfluity: an artificial stream of consciousness. Understandably, the primary reason is to substantiate and underline the author’s claims with authoritative maxims. But it must not be left unsaid that his commentaries do suffice in many of these instances, as they are just as incisive and credible, if not more natural.


02 September 2005

The Magic Calabash and Macmillan Publishers



The Magic Calabash and Macmillan Publishers The Gambia.

Soon, the secondary schools in The Gambia, and in several other African countries, will have the pleasure of reading, as part of their literature books, a novel written by Nana Grey-Johnson. The Magic Calabash, which was locally published in The Gambia, has been reedited and republished by Macmillan Education Publishers. This is not the first time Macmillan is doing this, but it is quite an encouraging and a laudable venture in the area of literature under the management of Macmillan UK’s local representative in The Gambia, Mr Theophilus George. Unlike the previous one, this one is specifically suited for teaching and learning a literary text. The book proposes a series of questions at the end of each chapter to guide both the teacher and the student towards the global comprehension of the story. The Magic Calabash is a story of New Town, a section of Bathurst, and expresses the concerns and worries of a young married man, Erubami, who faces serious financial, economical and social pressure around him. It is a story that Nana wanted to tell and which he told well for justifiable reasons. He believes Bathurst is changing fast and Gambians have forgotten the sweet smells of akara, beans and yams, hot pancakes and roasted peanuts that float the air in the mornings. They have forgotten the bustle and jostle of busy and happy pedestrians who seem to know each and everyone. They have little knowledge of the beautiful gathering at Aunty Marlen’s bar at the corner of MacDonnell Street and Thomas Street where the jungle juice is served and tongues are loosen to joke, criticize, tell stories or make trouble. Nana wants to remind people of New Town in its prime time. Here is a young man in the story who wakes up in the morning to find there is no more job for him, his wife heavy with a baby, his close friend and brother involve in politics, he is accused of theft and life starts to become unbearable until he meets kuss-kuss, the kondorong. The “short man-like thing in a large hat, calabash-like in shape, which covered most of its face”. When Erubami decides to steal the calabash-like hat that will assure him a constant flow of cash, little did he know his life would take a sudden twist, which will have a dramatic impact on his family and close relatives. Will Erubami bother to find a job again? Will he solve all his problems? Will he be able to keep the strange hat? How will his relationship with his pregnant wife end up? Burning questions, whose answers are found in this wonderful story of New Town. A town where politics and gossip are not spared. This is what The Magic Calabash is all about. A book that “skillfully evokes a picture of The Gambia today, in its all-important historical context, and with a clear-sighted view of the economic, social and political upheavals currently taken place.” An 'unputdownable' book, to be started only when the reader is sure he or she will not be disturbed.
The burning questions in the minds of the other writers is why Nana’s book. Why The Magic Calabash? What does it take to publish with Macmillan? What is Macmillan’s role in The Gambia? Who is representing Macmillan? Etc.

The Managing Director of Macmillan Education Publishers The Gambia is Mr Theophilus George who was invited to answer to some of the burning questions asked above and many others.
Mr. George taught both in the primary school and in the secondary school before going to the Yundum training college as a lecturer. It was at the college that he developed interest in publishing. This came about when the then Principal proposed to develop materials for primary schools. The Principal introduced the Yundum College Resource Centre. Mr. George’s interest in publishing expanded then, along with the centre. When it became a huge project, the Ministry of Education decided to separate it from the college and make it an independent body. The new unit became the Book Production and Multimedia Resource Unit (BPMRU). It became the publishing organ of the Ministry of Education. It was first situated at the Bishop’s Court in Banjul before it was transferred to its present location in Kanifing, after the World Bank provided the funds for the erection of the needed infrastructure. That is where local publishing really started. Mr. George will rise to the position of Deputy Director Education Services with more responsibilities. But then, this gave him more time to look into some of the school materials. It was during his tenure that in 1992, they developed the first World Bank project for the school curriculum in the main core subject areas, namely English, Maths, Science and Social Studies. Macmillan came in to provide training to some Gambian teachers in editing and writing and the first generation of books will be developed in 1992. Since then, the BPMRU was closely working with Macmillan.
On Mr. George retirement, he was appointed Managing Director of The Daily Observer, which was at its infancy then. It was only when the paper was sold out that Mr. George became part of Macmillan on a full time basis. He became the first local representative in The Gambia and contributed immensely in producing learning materials.
Founded in 1843 in London, Macmillan Publishers Limited publishes educational, academic, literary and children’s books. Macmillan Publishers has existed in The Gambia for more than 40 years now. They have published school materials as early as in the seventies. They have published several Gambian authors in the early eighties such as Ebou Dibba and Sheriff Samsideen Sarr. Macmillan also organizes training sessions for authors and teachers and they mount an exhibition of their books at the National Library every two years. Some of the publications they have done are pre-school materials such as First Steps. This is designed specially for young children and introduces them to alphabet, colours, shapes and sizes, pre-reading and writing, and early numbers. Many other learning and teaching materials, namely The Gambia English and English for the Junior and Senior secondary schools, The Gambia Mathematics for JSS and SSS, The Gambia Sciences, O’Level Chemistry, Biology, The Gambia Agriculture, The Gambia Social and Environmental Studies, The Gambia Population and Family Life Education, Islamic Foundation Course for The Gambia and Transafrique, have been published by them and specifically designed for the Gambian schools.

How does Macmillan Education Gambia arrive at deciding what book to publish for the Gambian public?

Macmillan is a multi-national publishing house, we do not publish specific country titles but we look at those that will suit the entire continent and even beyond, where the market can be available in Europe or elsewhere. So when a manuscript is presented, first the manuscript will have to be sent to the UK. Readers there will read and assess the suitability of the manuscript in terms of content, language and style. If the readers accept the title, they will write to the author expressing their interest to publish the book. Macmillan will be responsible to foot all the cost of production and royalties will be arranged with the author. This process is a long one as not only one reader will look at the book but about five of them and they will all send a report to the commissioning editor who will then decide whether the book is marketable. The most recent one is that of Nana Grey-Johnson entitled The Magic Calabash. This book was published earlier in The Gambia. When Nana and I agreed that it could be interesting for a larger public, the publication went through several phases. First, all rights were relinquished by the original producer and Macmillan took it over. Then Macmillan had to reedit the book which took almost eighteen months. This was frustrating to Nana who was a little impatient and I had to reassure him that the process takes time. Several things were going on during this period. Illustrators were involved and professional editors studied the manuscript. It is now in the market and not only a lot cheaper than the previous one but also much more adapted for the school.

Explain your relationship with the writers associations and the Gambia Teacher’s Union.

I provide assistance where I can. I have undergone rigorous training to manage Macmillan in The Gambia. It is my fervent wish to see good books written by Gambians. However, it takes a long time for a book to be published. Writers also must be willing to see their books criticized which many hardly tolerate. However, unless writers accept criticism, and unless they accept changes in their books, then it might be difficult to publish them. Macmillan is quite prepared to send local representatives to provide training for emerging writers if required but unless works are up to standard and marketable, it may be very hard to publish them.

What is your reaction to self-publishing in The Gambia?

It is a good thing because not all the writers have the necessary funds to publish with publishing houses abroad. But one setback in self-publishing or local publishing is that it is limited to The Gambia because they may find it difficult to access the outside market. If Macmillan were to do the publishing, they will promote the book not only in The Gambia but in several other African countries. In the case of Nana Grey-Johnson, we have written letters to all our markets. Imagine 43 markets in Africa, Asia, South America and even the Caribbean. Before the end of the year most of them will show interest. In our next book exhibition in 2006, we will go a long way in publicizing this author. Another new development is the creation of a new Reader’s Series which I hope to start soon. I approached the Gambia Teachers Union who gave me an excellent collection of stories written by teachers. At the moment some of these books are being edited and before the end of year we will be able to see proofs of some of these titles coming up. I support self-publishing but I think after some time, some of the writers need seek support and get some of their materials published abroad. I have advised several of my Gambian friends writing books to try to link up with Macmillan, but the major problem is agreeing on the royalties. A self-published author basically owns the book and enjoys all the financial benefits. However, for international publishing houses, as they are responsible for editing, illustrating, printing, distributing and marketing, the author benefits from the royalties. Where a writer asks for 30% royalties, this is far too much. A famous author publishing with Macmillan may get up to 10% royalty but this is even very rare. As Macmillan distributes the book in a much wider market, a 10% royalty is quite a lot of money. So a new author may not get what one wants initially but over the years, say as the money keeps coming in a period of ten to twenty years, there are benefits. Royalties are an ongoing thing and even where the author dies, the money keeps coming and can go to someone else of the author’s family.

It is very hard to find books written by Gambians and published by your company. Yet some of these books are used in the school system and other books could make interesting reading for students and adults alike. You said earlier that Macmillan has been here for more than thirty years. Why haven’t you ever thought of creating an outlet to sell books in The Gambia?

This is where I will urge Gambians to invest in the area of bookshops because Timbooktoo is the only real bookshop we have in The Gambia. It is possible to have several other bookshops and Macmillan will be willing to give them the initial support they would need. Our business is to support bookshops too. I sell books but that is not my role and I would prefer to give these to the bookshops available so that they could have all the necessary discount. The bookshops we have are not really of standard and before I give them books I have to inspect to confirm that they have the necessary infrastructure and what is needed to well preserve the books etc before I can apply for Macmillan to give them the titles they need. I encourage Gambians to see book selling as a good venture.

Is Gambian literature sufficiently represented in the school system?

I think Gambian literature is sufficiently represented in the school system but for some reason or the other teachers are shying away from the subject. It is certainly because of this that students are not interested in the subject. I think there are a number of factors. When we were going to school literature was a very important subject, but nowadays it is given a second place and I do not know why. But I think it is for the Education Department, the school authorities and the inspectors to look at closely, for it is a shame to give it a second position in the school curriculum. Another factor is that students do not seem to like reading, and literature calls for a lot of reading.

Now that Nana Grey-Johnson’s book is published, will you be publishing other Gambian authors?

I know some Gambians have been writing, and we have sent their manuscripts to the UK. But some of them have been sent back because there are not suitable. Let’s remember that Macmillan is a publishing house but we concentrate only on materials designed for the school curriculum. Some of the books that they are writing have no relevance to the curriculum and Macmillan may not be interested. Not only are we closely involved with the Education departments of the countries we deal with but we also make sure that are books are current with the curriculum. Literature is a component of what we are doing but it belongs to a separate department called Pan African which is a totally independent body. If I have suitable material for publishing from The Gambia, I will send it to the Pan African Department for vetting and publishing. I have approached several Gambians on this subject but I am yet to receive suitable material for publishing. But what we are doing now is to encourage Gambians to participate in the African Writers Competitions. Surprisingly, I have got almost thirty (30) contributions from Gambians which I will be forwarding to the Macmillan headquarters and the first price calls for $5000. I am hoping that a Gambian would win that. The title of the story of the winner will be published free of charge. Two years ago, a Gambian was short listed, but at the final stage he was unfortunately omitted. I am encouraging him to try again.

What makes a good writer? Is it publishing with a renowned publishing house or the writing style?

A good writer is difficult to determine. If one is only writing for The Gambia then it is fine. However, if one is writing for a wider public outside The Gambia, then the title must be marketable. But this is possible too. A very good example is Meet Me In Conakry by Samsideen Sarr. Each year, nothing less than 100.000 copies are sold in Uganda. It is a popular title in Uganda, Nigeria and Tanzania but unfortunately this is not the case in The Gambia. This is a big market and until now, Samsideen is still receiving his royalties which is between 5% and 10% on a book written almost ten years ago. Another popular author widely marketed is the late Ebou Dibba. Most of these authors are more popular in East and South Africa and particularly in Nigeria but not in The Gambia. Unfortunately, this is where Gambians should recognize their authors and include them in the school curriculum. Unfortunately, this is not the case. It is for the Education Department to make sure these books are listed and proposed to WAEC. Macmillan is not the only possible publishing house for they could approach Longmans or Evans but as I work for Macmillan, I can assure you that we are very generous and like to encourage people. By next year this time, they will see more than twelve books published by Macmillan. Another good writer coming up is Ramatoulie Othman whose stories I enjoyed reading. In fact one of her stories that I presented to Macmillan UK interested them and they have requested that Ms Othman re-writes it for teenagers. There goes another author in the making.


What could be the role of Gambian writers in the development of the country considering the major changes that have occurred in recent years?

Writers are an important component of the society and with their skills they could write on important issues affecting societies thus sensitizing and enlightening them. To produce a good story, the subject must be interesting, relevant, and must deal with contemporary issues. I therefore encourage authors to keep publishing locally and with time we can even arrange for international publishing houses to publish Gambians in The Gambia. What is important at this stage is to encourage authors to write for the Gambian public, and soon we will find a much larger public outside The Gambia. I think that is going to be my major role before I retire from Macmillan.

What are the possible obstacles to creative writing and publishing in The Gambia?

First it is TIME, then resources. Another thing, for a piece of work to be of substance, one has to do some research. Conducting research is not that simple. The other day a young man came to me and requested for funds from Macmillan to conduct some research. I asked him to write and I will forward the letter for consideration. To properly conduct any research here, one will need funds particularly if it requires traveling upcountry. Unfortunately there is a lot to write about and little research conducted for reference purposes. Another thing is getting a printing house to do the printing even though the writers themselves do the type setting. Printing houses will have to be paid to do the printing. Imagine they ask for an amount between thirty and sixty thousand dalasis, where will these writers get that huge sum unless they approach the banks. If they were to face certain institutions for loan, be it the bank or any other institutions, the unanswerable question is when these books will be sold. This is why so many manuscripts are lying at home and gathering dust. It is true that institutions like Macmillan can be approached for publication, but again Gambians must understand that not everything they have written could be published by Macmillan.

What is your reaction to the establishment of two publishing enterprises in The Gambia, Sandeng and Fulladu? Do you believe quality work is assured from books published by these enterprises?

Publishing a book involves so many things some of which is editing the manuscripts. If it is a book destined for the school then one thing has to be considered: its relevance to the school curriculum. However if it is a novel or a collection of poetry meant for reading for pleasure, then it is quite a different matter altogether. A publisher would make sure that he/she has all the necessary set up such as editing and composing facilities and then probably seek for printers. All publishing houses start small and then grow big through time. All these publishing houses in Europe started the same way. For authors who may not be able to approach international publishing houses, they can certainly publish with Sanden or Fulladu. Once their titles are popular then they can approach bigger publishing houses such as Macmillan and negotiate with them. Macmillan can, for instance, agree to take care of the outside market while the local publishing house takes care of the Gambian market. We want to make sure that we market books written by Gambians. If we take the case of the Magic Calabash, we are doing the promotion and we will market the books on behalf of Nana Grey-Johnson. This will be difficult for smaller publishing enterprises because they may not have the funds but bigger publishing houses do.

There are two existing writers associations in The Gambia: The Gambia Association of Writers (GAW) and the Association of Authors and Writers (AAW). In your opinion, how could these associations help alleviate some of the difficulties associated with the production of quality writing, publishing, and marketing?

We publishers would like to associate with these associations because this is where we have good authors. They should open up and include big publishing houses as we can become members to these associations. We can be very helpful in providing the necessary funds and organizing training workshops. Sending them for training overseas and for attachment to bigger publishing houses is all possible within our means. These associations are very important. They must look for potential authors and guide them. They should even have funds to attend meetings outside The Gambia. So I will recommend that these associations be fully fledged organizations and to seek funds from outside. I can assure you that Macmillan is willing to work closely with them.

Conclusion

I cannot conclude this interview without putting down the reaction of Nana Grey-Johnson towards the republication of The Magic Calabash.


Nana Grey-Johnson: Thanks to Mr. Theophilus George for considering the republication of my book The Magic Calabash. He is a tireless man and sometimes I ask him to give me some of his energy. He has seen this thing through and I practically had nothing to do with it apart from agreeing to the editing and signing several documents. The process of getting the book published by Macmillan, I owe to nobody else but Mr. George. Why he saw some redeeming value in The Magic Calabash is a question only he can answer. What I can say is, as the Macmillan representative, he read the book and he was able to convince Macmillan that there was a way through with this book. I am still dazed and baffled because I was only writing a story for Banjul people to read about how I grew up. I cannot thank him enough.