A deeply polarized nation has suddenly stood and stuck together to mourn the passing of its founding father and equally celebrate his life journey and enduring legacy.
From Katong to Koina to the diaspora far afield, Gambians have paid tribute to their first Prime Minister and President Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara.
Sir Dawda, a hero, an icon, a peacemaker and a legend led Mainland Africa’s smallest country to independence in 1965 ending the British rule that began in 1888. When DK Jawara assumed power, many have doubted the viability of the Gambia as a sovereign state, with cynics characterizing it as improbable. Some have gone as far as suggesting that the Gambia be part of Senegal which literally surrounds it, but Sir Dawda staunchly resisted the idea and insisted on building a new country from scratch.
Sir Dawda proved his critics and skeptics wrong. He went about building institutions and a robust civil service which has become an envy of the entire Continent.
Jawara rose above ethnic considerations to keep his people united. PPP, the party he founded in 1962, included members from all tribal and ethnic groups. He was widely admired and credited for strict adherence to democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Jawara was rewarded by Africa for headquartering its Human Rights Commission in Banjul.
President Jawara had adopted a pragmatic foreign policy which enabled the Gambia to maintain cordial ties with all nations: East, West, North and South. He used his credentials as a true democrat and a champion of human rights to contribute to the resolution of some of the world’s intricate crises such as the Iran-Iraq war. Jawara was an instrumental member of the regional grouping of ECOWAS so he leveraged his status to address the civil war that has ravaged Liberia.
Jawara’s biggest challenge was the 1981 foiled coup led by Kukoi Samba Sanyang. Notwithstanding, he weathered the crisis with a measured approach and a well-calculated response, following due process, which prevented further carnage. His decision to enter into consideration with Senegal was a prudent decision to stabilize a shaken nation.
The 1994 coup has brought Jawara’s rule to an end. He’s lived in exile until 2002 when his successor allowed him back home and returned all his seized assets. Upon his return, Jawara quit politics and lived a quiet life. However, he had always been treated as a revered elderly statesman by Gambians.
Sir Dawda stood for peace, progress, prosperity and unity so let’s come together as one nation and one people to nurture and immortalize those noble values.
Jawara is criticized for overlooking infrastructural development and for overstaying his welcome which probably precipitated the infamous 1994 military takeover.
Sir Dawda: You are gone for good, but you shall be remembered by posterity for being the thoughtful, compassionate and considerate leader who made an improbable country a viable nation it is today.
I would like to appeal to the Government to name certain landmarks after the former to entrench his legacy.
May Allah forgive you and make Jannatul Firdous your final abode. Amen.
Basidia Drammeh is a Gambian resident in Canada. He previously served as Head of Translation Desk at Kuwait’s Al Watan Daily newspaper and a Bilingual Editor for Kuwait Oil Company. Mr. Drammeh, who was born and raised in Brikama, is a keen follower of African politics.