Women of Substance





Open Letter to Mr. Samsudeen Sarr:

As a kid, I watched my cousins at Nusrat High School, discuss your magnum opus -- “ Meet Me in Conakry”. I still vividly remember reading your book, because it was the first book that I ever read in its entirety.  I still recommend that book to anyone interested in Gambian literature. I did reread it again as an adult and I must admit that it was a well crafted and inspiring book. During my formative years, I played with your kids at Mile 7 and, if my memory serves me right, also at the Falcon’s Nest in Cape Point. Your book has been such an instrumental literary work in my life, and knowing that you grew up in Serekunda, near my old neighborhood, was not only inspirational but a huge boost to my morale. The only Gambian literary figures that I wanted to meet, growing up, were Lenrie Peters, Dr. Tijan Sallah, Patience Sonko-Godwin, and definitely -- Sam Sarr. I wanted to be you, I wanted to be a writer, in your ilk.

Atypically, as a young undergraduate political science student - I read some of your articles and book -- “ Coup d’etat” with horror and fear. As a case in point, when in 2007/2008, you wrote about our ethnic/tribal discord, fanning the flames of tribal politics during the Jawara era. I was still a young man, in my late teens into early 20s and could not make sense of why such a brilliant mind like yourself would dabble in such tomfoolery. I have also read your book -- “Coup d’etat” -- it was a big  nothing, in that, it was a self-aggrandizing ala carte and downright a tribalist hit job. Such work has me questioning your authenticity as a scholar, which is to research topics, issues, and characters, before throwing analogies that are nothing but prose based solely on arbitrary whims and euphemisms. Your eloquence and intellect, since “Meet me in Conakry”, in my view, has been en route to abeyance, the way of the once heralded Harvard University political scientist -- Samuel Huntington; who wrote so many brilliant books, just to watch all of his good work come crumbling down with his downright racist book -- “Clash of Civilizations”.

I have watched you berate and sanction the state execution of opposition figures. At first blush, I thought to myself, it cannot be, and had to verify that you uttered such asinine and deadpan comments. I know that you work for the state and states and their leaders, for the most part, are amoral actors. However, I expected you to know better given your intellectual curiosity and having been through the very process of othering yourself by the state.   

Yesterday, I woke up, and the first thing I did, like I do every morning, skimming through the various Gambian news outlets. I came across an article you wrote to Dr. Isatou Touray. Reading the first paragraphs, I was amazed by how such a brilliant literary figure like yourself has been reduced to a political stooge. You tried, and I think, unsuccessfully, to euphemize and reduce Dr. Touray to a one issue human being. Throughout your essay you repeatedly questioned her qualifications, academic bonafides, and her credibility, yet you are working for a man whose only degree was a ceremonial degree. Secondly, why can’t Dr. Touray be an FGM campaigner and also be a presidential candidate?

You tried to compare her to Jaha Dukureh, which was totally immaterial and nothing but a distraction and, to some extent, misogynist; the idea that women should only focus on one thing and men should be multi-faceted and doers of all and everything. You mentioned that she could have written a book on FGM rather than run for office - as if she still can’t - and as if running for office is an either or proposition. It is like telling Dr. Jammeh to focus on farming than running for office, since running for office is an either or proposition.

You called on Dr. Touray to renounce all forms of political violence - yet the only form of political violence in The Gambia is state sanctioned. You were caught supporting the killing of protesters, and went even further, by saying that, you would have “f**king open fire” (on unarmed protesters”) if you were in charge when a group of unarmed Gambians staged a peaceful protest march to call for electoral reforms.”

You questioned her political acumen, yet you are working for a man who took power by force at the age of 29, and a total political novice, who has done nothing but retrograde our country. You mentioned that your president was the first president to raise “the alarming predicament of African migrants in particular dying on the shorelines of Europe in their effort to rightfully cross into that continent” - yet the government that you are part of has done nothing to stop or incentivize its own citizens from taking such a journey.

It is a sad facade in the story of a man who could have been Lenrie Peters. It is a sad state for a man who has divulged into a modern day Whittaker Chambers. It is sad to see you metamorphosed into writing diatribes and political hit jobs.  I understand your position to defend your privilege and party, but your hit job on Dr. Touray says to me that, she has shaken your two-decade long political domination. As a political junkie, I am excited at the prospects of a female vying for the presidency. And, as any pluralistic democracy, it is about time that someone like Dr. Touray give the ruling party a run for their money. It doesn’t mean that she is going to win or has to win; notwithstanding, the mere fact that she could start a serious discourse of the pressing issues facing the Gambian people, is a win for democracy. Democracy is a process,  not panacea, and, if Dr. Touray’s campaign is going to be the catalyst, then, I presuppose, the quest for democracy has been resurrected again in our land.

With warm regards, I remain

    Affably yours,

Saul Njie

Visiting Professor of Political Science & Geography

Department of Social Sciences, Bluefield State College


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