If Mr Jallow had not pressed hard for me to return to Banjul (then Bathurst), I would possibly have gone do ‘dara’ to acquire Quranic/Islamic education, The Gambia’s former president Sir Dawda Jawara disclosed. Kissykissymansa tells a brief account of the life of the provincial boy who would later liberate The Gambia.
If old Almami Jawara had known that his son, Saikou Jawara, would fall in love with a charming young girl, but of a different tribe and religion, you can be sure one thing. He would have never allowed young Saikou Jawara, who would later free The Gambia from colonial bondage, to return to the colonial capital, Bathurst (now Banjul), to pursue higher education no matter what pressure. But it is true, as they say, no man is acquaintance of tomorrow. Although, the wise old man has expressly foreseen a semblance of what would become of his son when he acquired western education, it might not be crystal clear to him that Jawara would marry Augustus Mahoney, a Christian girl for whose sake, he temporarily abandoned his Islamic faith to convert to Christianity. “Religion would not stand in my way [to love Augustus]” Sir Dawda admitted in his celebrated autobiography, Kairaba. After much pressure from Pa Yoma, the provincial boy who would later free The Gambia from colonialism was allowed to return to Banjul to pursue his education. “Could we see a hand of destiny here,” Mr Swaebou Conateh, editor/publisher of The Gambia News & Report Weekly magazine quizzed Sir Dawda Tuesday. “If Mr Jallow had not pressed hard for me to return to Banjul, I would possibly have gone do ‘Dara’ [to acquire Quranic/Islamic education]. Things could have turned a different way. It was a hand of destiny,” Jawara said. He went on: “I met Augusta at Mohammedan High School. We were neighbors, but become acquainted in school. Although the school has boys and girls quarters, we occasionally come together. I became friendly to her and got close to her family. I also helped her with maths too.” Born in 1924 in Barajally Tenda village, some 150 miles from the capital Banjul, Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara, is the sixth son of a well-to-do businessman Almami Jawara and the last son of his mother, Mama Fatty. From such a humble background, he became the man to lead the tiny West African country, The Gambia, to independence from the British colonialist in 1965. Through the consent of the sovereign Gambians, he ruled The Gambia for over thirty years. He was toppled in 1994 by a group of junior soldiers led by (then Lt Col now Sheikh Prof. Alhagie Dr) Yahya Jammeh, the current president of the military-turned civilian regime. From an early age, Jawara attended the local Arabic schools to memorize the Quran, a rite of passage for many a Gambian child. Needless to say, there were no primary schools in Barajally Tenda; the nearest was in Georgetown, the provincial capital, but this boarding school was reserved for the sons of the chiefs. Apparently, one would have wondered how a provincial boy from a highly Islamic religious family, acquire formal western education, which was a privilege exclusive to few privilege citizens. Yet, as fate would have it, around 1933, Ebrima Youma Jallow, a friend trader of young Jawara’s father, whose trading post was across the street from Alammi’s in Wally-Kunda, succeeded in convincing Almami to send young Jawara to western school, albeit the father had denied the idea. Sir Dawda came to Bathurst (now Banjul) under the care of his father’s convincer, Pa Yoma, a he fondly called him. He was enrolled at Mohammedan primary school. After graduation from Mohammedan, Jawara won a scholarship to METHODIST Boys High School. But before he was enrolled at High School, Sir Dawda visited his family after six years of separation. It was a happy re-union, especially with his beloved mother, as he describes in Kairaba. Having been away for six years, Sir Dawda had not only grown older than many, including his mother had expected but had grown some intellectual weight, a feature his father was quick to notice in him. As young as he was, he took care of the mathematical aspect of his father’s business, during his stint stay; in a more efficient manner than the semi-lettered people his father pays to do it. Obviously, he Dad saw no need to for his son to return. For what more could a father expect from a son than helping him out in his business. But thanks, again, to Pa Yoma and some of his brothers, as Sir Dawda admitted during the interview, his father allowed him to return to Banjul.
Having already attained scholarship upon graduation at Mohammedan, Jawara enrolled at Methodist Boys High School, where he showed the greatest aptitude in science and math. His enrollment culminated the outbreak of the Second World War, which continued through-out his term at the school. And according him, the war did not only negatively impact on the socio-economic and political life of the country, but his academic life. Nonetheless, the provincial boy who defied the attractions of the entertainment shows regularly put-up in this lively city was determined not to be as well distracted from school by the war. And upon matriculation in 1945, he worked as a nurse until 1947 at the Victoria Hospital in colonial Bathurst before going to Ghana and UK to study veterinary medicine. “Really, I had wanted to study human medicine,” he said. But, as they say, a beggar he was, he had no better choice other than to accept the hand that was stretched to him. “I was supposed to be in Ghana for two years. But after a year, I won a scholarship to study veterinary medicine in Scotland’s Glasgow University Study,” he explained. “I was to proceed from Ghana to Scotland, but insisted on coming back to The Gambia to see my people, especially my mother.” He came back to The Gambia, as intended. He was then cargoed to Scotland. He returned home after completing his studies in 1955. Asked what motivated him to return home after completion of his studies, for there could be greener opportunities, Sir Dawda replied: “throughout my studies, my ambition was to return home. In Barajally, we were very close to cattle owners. It has been my intention to come back and help them.” Under the colonial government, Jawara became the principal veterinary officer. As head of the veterinary department, he traveled the length and breadth of The Gambia and established valuable social contacts and relationships with the people, who would in later years, together with the district chiefs and village heads form the bulk of his political support. At the time of his return to The Gambia, politics in the colony was dominated by a group of urban elites from Bathurst and the Kombo St. Mary’s areas. Because of the colonial position he was handling, Jawara was not deeply in party politics. “I was entitled to attend meetings,” he however said. And when approached to lead PPP in 1960 he gave-up the colonial position. He led the party and successfully served as education minister, prime minister, president and now an elder statesman.