By Toney F Mendy
Our political scene is pregnant with iniquities, arrogance with its evils, where many souls constantly seduce political power and wealth for no creative use. Today, I am paying tribute to an uncle and a friend who is an illustrious participant in that scene, but I dare say without hesitation that even with the fallible characteristics of all humans, Omar Amadou Jallow was a different player in the political history of The Gambia.
Happily, today… tons of eulogies are in sight all over social media, as could be heard on radio and tv stations each competingly speaking of the distinguishing essences that characterize the person of Omar Amadou Jallow.
It speaks volumes of his person. In truth, there are certain dynamics of the human character, growth, and commitment to an agenda which can only occur within defined principles and conviction. Psychologists contend, and I believe the same to be true, that when a person commits to principles and conviction and sacrifices personal desires for the greater good of the members of his society, he attunes himself to the eternal soul of that society.
He becomes immortal in history. Today, Omar Amadou Jallow has attained such glory. Rest in heaven, Uncle Omar Amadou Jallow.
The great admirer of Kwame Nkrumah and Ahmed Sékou Touré, Omar Amadou Jallow, the son of Alagie Amadou Jallow (1902-1992) and Aji Rohey Jallow (1923-2015- from Makeni Sierra Leone) was a GOOD MAN.
The first Minister of Water Resources and Forestry of The Gambia, former Minister of Agriculture, former Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs, former Public Relations Officer of the former Gambia Commercial and Development Bank, former National Assembly Member for Serre-Kunda East, and former Cooperative Societies Inspector… I suppose only one fact stems from these and many more records and memories: Uncle Omar Amadou Jallow lived most if not all his life in the service of the people of The Gambia.
There you have a great case of a selfless, fearless, and patriotic man whose defiance against abuse of state authority meant Jihad. It meant rejecting countless seductive attempts to purchase his political loyalty against his former boss, President Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara. It meant being prepared to be physically weakened by inhuman and degrading torture and treatments, with twenty-two recurring arrests and relentless abuse of his beloved family. Yet it also means: Never surrendering to the inhuman and barbaric ends of former Jammeh-led Government.
Regardless of the bitter experiences he faced and having had the opportunity to revenge, grace and forgiveness continued to fill his heart. Omar Amadou Jallow was a GOOD MAN. In faith, he would say, “I believe whatever that ordained to happen would happen”. I forgive him, [Jammeh]…” He meant it.
Momentarily, he would proceed to compare him (Jammeh) to the former military President of Ghana, Jerry John Rawlings’ terrible ascension to power and how through serious self-reflection and guidance became one of the best Presidents to ever emerge in West Africa. Regardless, Omar Amadou Jallow hated coups. As a professed student of Kwame Nkrumah- Omar Amadou Jallow has sworn in protest against the toppling of Nkrumah, never to serve in any military government in his life. He never did.
The former student of Saint Theresa’s School (1954- 1960), and Saint Augustine’s (1961-1966) was admired by many for his straightforwardness and the measured authority with which he expresses his opinions. He was solid yet a humble man.
He could not forget ‘Mother Madalen” and the great memories with Father Francis Farrell, Teacher Moses Sarr, Paul Baldeh, and Father Komma among others. He was grateful to his teachers. Many were later his friends… Every stubborn student is a friend of many teachers.
The passing of time has confirmed that indeed he is a man of the people. A humble man. A humble man. Friendship meant a lot to him.
As I stood watching mourners at his residence just yesterday, a former classmate of his, looking old, popped in and announced himself and soon there were a few laughs from some family members who seem to know about their relationship. As if to say… “Ah, my friend has lived a worthy life, he is gone, I will soon go too…”, the old feeble friend greeted family members and smiled around. My heart was caressed. What is to life than humanity? Omar Amadou Jallow had it. He was hardly ever drunk with the power to forget anyone. He could recount with clarity for hours, fascinating fun memories of his former classmates, Ousainou Darboe (of the UDP) Lamin Sonko, Abdou Jah, Cherno Joof, Foday Jarjusey, Pa John Williams… list them on. He was a GOOD MAN
Three or so weeks later, I received a call following a public lecture where I invited him through a friend. It was a call of protest. “Ah Mr. Mendy, my university boy… I haven’t heard from you since the event ended…? It was strange but mostly, I was ashamed. How could I have not observed that this great citizen was already acquainted with me? I apologized. He apologized in return and added that he would wish me to visit. ‘I have more to share with you’ he said with amusement.
This is partly because I was enthusiastically opposed to his staunch conviction that former President Jawara was the “best” and that he (President Jawara) has achieved tremendous developments for The Gambia of which young people like myself are unaware. He sought to persuade me further. “Come on Friday, I will show you a list of projects by Jawara…you young people need to know”; And he did. To further demonstrate to me where President Jawara had moved The Gambia from… He would offer me the book “Enter Gambia: The Birth of an Improbable Nation” by Berkeley Rice. It did little help. I could disagree with him even publicly; it meant nothing to him. “One of the best qualities I learned from Jawara…was that a leader must always listen. Jawara listens” He would advise.
Omar Jallow was never happy with the inglorious treatment of Sir Dawda by the Jammeh-led administration and the systematic campaign aimed at diminishing his achievements as head of State. He was a loyal servant, friend, and son to Sir Dawda. He was grateful to him as well.
“People mislead Jawara… If he had listened to me, the 1994 Coup would not have happened, but many made him believe that if he resigns, the party will collapse and because he listens to people… they managed to keep him in power for their interests. Most African leaders were committing mistakes because nobody was there to tell them the truth.” He said as we discussed the pitfalls of the PPP government and the cumulative events leading to the 1994 coup.
As ‘young’ as Omar Amadou Jallow was at the time, he was the only Progressive People’s Party member who frankly and openly agreed with President Jawara to resign as he then intended. In many years to come, everyone else would have seemingly abandoned President Jawara but for Omar Amadou Jallow.
In 2018, he would repeat a similar call for Mr. President Adama Barrow to honour the ‘Coalition Agreement’ and resign after serving three years. “For me… it was a matter of principles, we need to respect each other as [elderly statemen] and fear God”.
In a word, I can’t exhaustively recount the life, history, and invaluable contributions of Omar Amadou Jallow to our beloved country.
Do you know of his stubborn childhood days in Old Yundum, Serre-Kunda, and Bathurst? What of his matrilineage family in Sierra Leone and the delightful annual visits to Mama Salone? Are you aware of his time in Ghana, his love for Banku, Waakye, Kokonte, and plenty more delicious dishes of Ghana, or how he lived in Accra, Kumasi, or Ashanti? Have you heard him speak of his relationship with Ahmed Sékou Touré and what lifting the casket of the former leader of Guinea Conakry meant to him? Of his trip to Fidel Castro in Cuba or his journey of truth-telling even before then feared Zimbabwe’s President Robert Gabriel Mugabe, and how he was deported from that country while on an official mission for allegedly “disrespecting the President”? What about how young Omar Amadou Jallow became the darling of former Prime Minister of Jamaica, Michael Manley, or how the former President of Ivory Coast, Mr. Félix Houphouët-Boigny was so impressed by his young status, courage, and vocality to the extent of even requesting him to prolong his official mission to Ivory Coast for the fun of his company? The blunder of Thomas Sankara before his eyes at the Conference of African Leaders? Are you fully aware of his relationship with Sir Jawara, Bishop Emeritus Michael Joseph Cleary, or his sports life with the Rockefellers Football Club later renamed Kwame Nkrumah Football Club…?
Admittedly, a book won’t be enough to recount the amazing life of a humble man with a unique passion for the service of his people. A fearless freedom fighter has rested. Uncle OJ is gone.
…that day I visited him…with a smile and in not so many words, what he meant was ‘I want this done before I die’. I smiled back, refusing to accept the irking thought of it. ‘God willing, we will complete it (a project) before the end of the year’ I assured and proceeded to joke that I would need him to guide and show me the survival tactics should beloved Gambia fall back to the dark days of Jammeh. “Oh no… that can NEVER AGAIN happen in this country.” He affirmed.
When we attain the dreamed Gambia, where humanity strives, where citizens are fearless and pride themselves in protest against the abuse of state authority and continuously demand for accountability, respect for human probity, peace, love, and unity… I will remind them that there was once an OMAR AMADOU JALLOW.