Dr Penel was born in 1943 in France in the midst of the Second World War. He did his BA and Masters degree in Philosophy at the University of Sorbonne in Paris. He equally holds two PhD degrees, one in Philosophy and the other on African literature. In 1968, he started teaching and a year later, in February 1969, he was sent to the Central African Republic as a Technical Assistant. He will spent 14 years in the Central African Republic, where he will carry out a lot of research. He will then be sent to the Niger Republic, to Djibouti and finally to The Gambia. Dr Penel has published hundreds of articles on different issues. His publications has appeared in different famous literary reviews. He has interviewed and consequently published a collection of short autobiographies on some of the most famous writers and poets of Francophone Africa, particularly from The Central African Republic, the Niger and Djibouti. He has published more than eight books one of which is dedicated to his daughter. He has also co-published a book on Djibouti.
Since Dr Penel arrived in the Gambia in 1998, as a French Technical Assistant, he has proven to be very resourceful, especially in the education sector. He lectured at the University of the Gambia and the Gambia College. He is the first Head of Department of French at the University. Since the creation of the French section of the Daily Observer, he has written on important personalities and events concerning the Gambia, especially on the literary, educational and cultural sectors. He initiated the link between the University of the Gambia and the Université de Limoges in France which, today, has assured and is still assuring graduate studies to many Gambians. With the help of this program, several Gambians have obtained their Masters and Doctorate degrees. Drs Momodou Tangara and Pierre Gomez, lecturers at the University of the Gambia, , are products of this program. Dr Penel has conducted extensive research on Gambian Literature which has never before been done. He has equally collected data on the WAEC examinations for a given period and has prepared the statistics on the success and failures during this period.
In the few years he has stayed here, Dr Penel has conducted research and either met or contacted almost all the Gambian authors both in the Gambia or living abroad and has compiled comprehensive information on them and their works. His research has served as reference document to the publication of these articles on Discovering Gambian Literature.
It is common knowledge most Westerners in Africa are here to exploit for their selfish interests. Most of us have harboured the same view until we met Dr Penel. We have all concluded without an iota of doubt and without straying from our convictions, that Dr Penel is more African than European. If not for his colour, one can safely assume that here is an African intellectual. He feels that way, anyway, after spending more than half his life in Africa.
We therefore extend our most sincere gratitude to this man of letters, Dr Jean Dominique Penel.