19 January 2005

Jangi Jollof by Momodou Sabally

Momodou Sabally, Jangi Jollof:
A Memoir on The Gambia’s First University Programme.
Brikama New Town: Sandeng Publishers 2004
100 Pages ISBN 9983 9912 25

Jangi Jollof, is it a premature text? Clearly not. Giving the lingering invidious comments on the merits of the University Extension Programme (UEP), this memoir is a fitting response presenting ‘the true picture’ and evoking the spirit of the programme in a form accessible and useful to diverse readers. This cannot be precocious. Focusing on the particular to explore the universal is both enlightening and delighting. The breath taking impact of the programme, for instance, on others is seen in how it develops the narrator cognitively, socially and personally as well as shapes his worldview. Though the text may be the story of a man pushing open the doors of opportunity, there is an energetic and animated search for meaning and self-understanding. As such the overriding theme appears to be that round or sound education, as provided by the UEP, is the launch pad for meaningful national development.

To appreciate this more, the book’s chapters can be divided into early, transitional, middle and final. Each of these stages corresponds with a phase in the narrator’s life. The early chapters can broadly be termed as the years of intellectual struggle culminating in a breather, the study-work chapter 5, as Youth Assistant. Then the middle chapters beginning with the rise to presidency take the reader to the climax, the convocation or to be more precise the valedictory speech. Fittingly, after the highest point, the story draws to a close with his Taiwan trip, and employment by the Central Bank.

In many respects, the story time and space covering the above chapters is crafted in a fashion that makes it easy to read yet evocative enough to force a reflection on the reader’s life and values. It achieves this by perching comfortably on sound artistic principles such as a suspenseful and engaging storyline, an energetic narrative as well as inter-textuality. An engaging beginning in the plot technique in the form of ‘in medias res’ (in the middle of things) seems sufficiently captivating. The story opens in the Permanent Secretary’s office at Bedford Place Building in Banjul then through analepses or flashbacks, it explains the preceding events. The sentence “I have been directed to expel you from the programme,” (P.7) is such a dramatic opening that it makes one to want to read more to discover the background to the threat.

Similarly, the conversational first person narrative style lets us listen to the unassuming voice tell us the story even though dialogue occasionally breaks through the narrative. In the absence of verbiage, the clear and lucid narrative is tinged with humour making the reading enjoyable and the message accessible as well. Though one set of friends, in the text are books, the narrated story renews another and adds a sense of vitality and freshness to this other friendship. The U.E.P. the narrator re-creates will stir fond memories of those were part of it, like the people in his story, Yanks, Omar, Ndey Tida and so on.

It will also undoubtedly become recognizable to those not so lucky to be a part of it. As the story unfolds they will arrive at a greater understanding of the unique experience. As an academic institution, its contribution to national development is underscored by Dr. Larson thus, “… the contribution today’s graduates will make in helping … advance the interest of this republic” is the legacy. (P 79) The Taiwanese Prime Minister, Dr. Jason Hu, puts forward similar arguments for the position of education in a nation’s progress, the “Taiwan miracle.” (P 94).

Inter-textuality also allows other informed voices, authors mainly, to bubble to the surface of the text thereby broadening its scope and depth. The title itself, Jangi Jollof, can be ascribed to inter-textuality. It ironically means inferior education, which the story strenuously contests (P 73). Like wise, the epigraph on page 2 by Mariama Khan anchors the fact that life is a struggle before gratification - a philosophy sufficiently understood by the narrator given his tenacity and confidence. Dickenson provides similar reflections on life on page 28 and by Frost on page 99. Together with other documentary evidence, the preceding points make the story believable and testify to the intellectual grounding given to the narrator by his university and social milieu.

Since the text is a lived experience, re-living many aspects of that experience such as family life, community, educational and other growth experiences are instructive indeed. The insights provided by the story appear to reveal a lot more than the narrator’s struggles, disappointments and triumphs. It reveals a lot about leaderships, nation building, plurality, international co-operation and enduring friendships among several other things. Sometimes the insights provided by the story are extraordinary. With leadership, for example, we have a close up view of mistakes of real-world decision-making, intolerance and tolerance as well as visionary leadership. (P7, 58, 93, 94) In fact, the literary form of the text itself enlarges the reader’s opportunity to not only look in on the narrator’s life but also listen to important personalities he mingles with such as presidents, prime ministers and top civil servants.

In a way the story does not only tell the fascinating intellectual and spiritual growth of a young Gambian in which so many play a part but immortalizes the credibility of the U.E.P. as an institution which gave a “First world” education in a “Third World” setting. The author does this nimbly by giving credit to those deserving it most, the Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council, and the incumbent presidency for enlarging educational opportunities while saving the text from being appropriated as a propaganda tool. This in my opinion is another reason why the book is timely. It would give an opportunity to those raised in this era of democratization of education appreciate the dimmed possibilities existing before 1995. The text in short, is a reply to skeptics as well as a boon to future generations but more specifically for the present that possesses few role models.

Reviewed By

Lamin B.T. Sanyang
Lecturer, Gambia College.

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