Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Alh Masour Njie, The Gambia’s doyen of broadcasting, history shares memories on pre, post independence

By Fatou Samba

Alh Mansour Njie shares memories on pre, post independence
The Gambia became an independent nation on Tuesday, 18th February 1965 after being under British colonial rule for almost 400 years. At mid-night on that day, the Union Jack (the British flag) was lowered for the last time and the Gambian flag hoisted.
The Gambia attained independence during the reign of the present queen, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth who succeeded her father, King George VI. She was represented by the Duke of Kent as her special envoy to attend the independence celebrations in Banjul and deliver a speech on her behalf. Sir John Paul was the last British Governor in The Gambia.
Relating this event, renowned historian and veteran broadcaster, Alhaji Mansour Njie recalled that on that historic Tuesday, all lights were switched off midnight and people from all walks of life - from Kartong to Koina assembled at the then McCarthy Square (now July 22nd Square) to witness the hoisting of the national flag. Some people even slept around the square just to make sure they witnessed the occasion whilst others, who represented their respective towns and villages were eager to gather enough information to take back to their respective peoples. 
Alhaji Mansour narrated that whilst the British flag, with the colours blue, white and red with a cross was lowered, the British national anthem (God Save the Queen) was also played for the last time as The Gambia’s national anthem.
He said Gambians jubilated as the national flag in red, blue and green with white separating the colours was hoisted and the national anthem of The Gambia was played for the first time by the police band. This was followed by a military honor and parade. He said it was a joyous moment with different displays by cultural groups.
Alhaji Mansour explained that before independence, a competition to compose the national anthem and to design the national flag were organized. Mr. J F Howe, by then Commissioner at Brikama won the prize and composed the present National Anthem whilst Mr.Louis Thomasi (father of Marcel Thomasi) won the prize for the designing of the flag.
He went further to explain that before the Gambia attained independence, the British wanted to assign the country to Senegal because of its small size. He said the colonialists thought Gambians would not be able to sustain but those fighting for independence insisted that they cannot be ruled by Senegal because Senegal is French speaking whilst The Gambia is English speaking.”
“Even before independence was discussed at the London Conference, the British said The Gambia will not be able to stand on its own and therefore should be merged with Senegal. This was highly rejected by the politicians at the time,” Alhaji Mansour Njie explained, adding that the talks then had to be abandoned.
He further explained that all those fighting for independence stood up and demanded independence stressing that The Gambia can survive as an independent nation.
He said the British were, however, not convinced and some United Nations experts were sent to the country to assess and report on the possibility of independence. The findings from the experts were however in favour of an independent Gambia.
“We were then given internal self-governance status before independence and after sometime, a date was set for The Gambia to become a fully-fledged independent nation.
Asked to dilate on the political process, Alhaji Mansour said illustrious sons and daughters continued fighting for the country’s independence. “Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara, a founding member of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) became the country’s first ever president after the status of Republic was attained on April 24th, 1970. Rev. John Colley (J.C) Faye established the first political party in The Gambia called the Democratic Party (DP) in 1951 whist Ibrahima M Garba-Jahumpa was founded and led the Gambia Muslim Congress in 1952. Pierre Sarr Njie was leader of the United Party whilst Saint Claire Joof led the Gambia People's Party (GPP). Sheriff Ceesay and Mrs Rachael Palmer were also in involved in politics,” he narrated.
Alhaji Mansour stated that Sir Dawda K Jawara, I M Garba-Jahumpa, J C Faye, M B Jones (a journalist) and Mrs Rachael Palmer were among The Gambia’s team that attended the Lancaster Conference in London to discuss the issue of independence in 1963.
He pointed out that on the day The Gambia became an independent country, people’s mood were positive. He said most people were very happy although some people in the opposition said that the country has not attained anything. He said some groups were opposed to the country becoming independent but those in favour felt the country should be independent just as other countries in similar economic conditions.
Commenting on what happened after the country was granted independence, Alhaji Mansour said Gambians started forming political parties. He recalled that after Rev J C Faye formed the Gambia Democratic Party, I M Garba-Jahumpa followed and formed the Young Muslim Society which was later changed to Gambia Muslim Congress. He said this was followed by the formation of the United Party led by Lawyer Pierre Sarr Njie, the Protectorate People’s Party led by Saint Claire Joof. The latter was changed to People’s Progress Party and Sir Dawda Jawara was approached and he agreed to lead the party. He led the party until independence.
When asked how the message that a date has been set for independence was communicated to the people, Alhaji Mansour stated that at that time, there was only one radio station which was Radio Gambia which did not cover the whole country – he said some people jokingly called it ‘Radio Kombo’ because it covered only Banjul and its surroundings. There was a government newspaper called The Gambia News Bulletin (Gambia Now) which was published by Information Office. There wasn’t much news from it and the BBC broadcasted the information to the world.
He described the moment of independence in 1965 as remarkable and he can still remember the cultural and traditional displays, school children singing and the sounds of the firing of the canons was frightening.
“It was a solemn and special day. At night, the church bells rang and there were lights all over Banjul,” Alhaji Mansour stated.
He however pointed out that when President Yahya Jammeh assumed the reins of power in this country, Gambians witness numerous development projects. “We have seen a lot of development from 1994 to date,” he noted.
In the education sector, Alhaji Mansour cited numerous high schools comparing them to only three high schools previously. “Armitage High School in Georgetown was the only one in the provinces. Methodist Boys and the Saint Augustine’s High School were in Banjul. During colonial days and early years of independence, school children prepared tables and chairs for themselves,” he said.
In the health sector, Alhaji Mansour said there were only two hospitals which were Bansang Hospital and the main referral hospital, Edward Francis Small Teaching Hospital (then Royal Victoria Hospital) in Banjul.
“Now, we have so many health facilities making health services easily accessible by all Gambians,” he said.
Alhaji Mansour Njie said the hospital was renamed after Edward Francis Small who was the doyen of Gambian politics. “Although Mr E F Small did not form a political party, he was a trade unionist and a journalist. He was very instrumental in Gambian politics,” Alhaji mansour stated.