29 January 2005

ANGRY LAUGHTER by BabaGalleh Jallow

Angry Laughter - By Baba Galleh Jallow
The Independent (Banjul)
BOOK REVIEW
January 28, 2005
Posted to the web January 28, 2005
By D.A. Jawo
Banjul

Those who are familiar with Baba Galleh Jallow's famous Story of the Week in the Daily Observer during his time there would no doubt recall his crafty style in creating satire. He used to create characters with funny names that accurately depicted contemporary issues.
Now Baba Galleh has gone even a step further by writing such satire in a book, entitled; Angry Laughter.
In this 61 page book, he has presented in his usual funny style the story of a brutal African military dictatorship that later transformed itself into a civilian government, although still maintaining all the trappings of a military junta.
As it is reminiscent of his style of writing, he gave the characters names well suited to the roles they play in the story. For instance, the undisputed leader of the junta was called General Loony, which is no doubt a corruption of the word lunatic. Some of the characters are given such names as Nopa, the hare, Cheku, the parrot, Buki, the hyena, Samo, the elephant and Mbota, the frog.
The book began with the background history of a country called Smiling Forest which was occupied by a variety of animals. It was ruled by an animal king known as Talk much Dolittle. It went on to tabulate the events that led to the eventual overthrow of King Talkmuch Dolittle by a little known fox called Captain Loony who was a member of the Armed Foxes of Smiling Forest.
Like all other military dictatorships in Africa, the Armed Foxes set up their ruling council which they named the Armed Foxes Potato Thinking Cabinet, with General Loony as the supreme head. However, in order to get some international legitimacy, they also symbolically invited other animals that did not belong to the Armed Foxes to join the cabinet.
As time went on, some cracks began to appear in their ranks. This eventually led to a big rift that ended up with the arrest and imprisonment of some senior members of the Armed Foxes Potato Thinking Cabinet, who were accused of conspiracy to kill General Loony.
While General Loony and his junta were always emphasizing that they only assumed power in order to correct the corrupt system put in place by the administration of Talkmuch Dolittle and hand over to the animals of Smiling Forest to choose their own leaders, but in reality, they were doing the opposite. They were not only further entrenching themselves into power, but they were also using the same tactics used by their predecessors to amass wealth.
The book also went on to document general Loony's penchant for high sounding words and flowery names such as his Mental Surveillance Unit, Vision Weeny Weeny, Loony is Always Right Movement and his Operation No Shadows, among others. All of them were actually meant to help him consolidate his tight grip on power.
The theme of the book is actually quite adequately captured in the synopsis at the back cover which states: "Written in the Orwellian tradition of Animal Farm, Angry Laughter is one of the most biting political satires to come out of Africa. In this tale of dark political intrigue and betrayal, Baba Galleh Jallow ridicules the absurd antics of an inept and corrupt civilian government and its removal and replacement by a group of semi-literate military 'saviours', who turn out to be far more absurd, corrupt and brutal than their predecessors. While exceedingly funny and often lighthearted, Angry Laughter awakens us to the cruel excesses of Africa's power-crazed despots, the sorry plight of her oppressed peoples, the very real dangers of civil war and the continent's nauseating politics of brutality. This book is essential reading for anyone interested in the nature and dynamics of contemporary African politics and why, in particular, the continent is riddled with bloody civil wars."
The book is published by Wasteland Press in Louisville, Kentucky, USA.
To order click here

24 January 2005

Tribute to the late EBOU DIBBA

  • The power pen of one of the Gambia’s best known authors has been silenced by the cold hand of death” – Editorial, Daily Observer, 15-01-2001
  • No doubt, many people are shocked and saddened by the news of Ebou Dibba’s ultimate death. A big tree has fallen! Ebou Gaye, ViewPoint, daily Observer, 05-01-2001.
  • The death of Ebou Dibba (MBE) has robbed the Gambia of an accomplished writer, whose oeuvres are emblematic of Gambian writings of the 1980’s and 1990’s. Ebou’s work of two novels and two novellas, are the oasis that watered the Gambia’s dry-as-dust literary landscape during his period” Hassoum Ceesay, Viewpoint, Daily Observer, 16-01-2001.
  • “…..all writers in the Gambia should arrange a symposium before long to research the works and writings of Ebou Dibba as a beginning of publishing, even of a pamphlet - The Times and Life of Ebou Dibba Ba Trawally, The Point 17-01-2001.
  • For his beautiful works, the late writer’s memory will forever be etched on the minds of those who have read him, and his untimely death will create a Vacuum for some time to time”, Tribute, The Point, 26-01-2001

All the above quotations and many more, describe a veteran in the history of Gambian literature. It all came as a shock when Ebou Dibba passed away at the age of 66 years, 4 months, 10days. He passed away in the United Kingdom where he was residing. It was on December 29, 2000 and he was interred on January 04, 2001.

But who is Ebou Dibba?


If he was alive, he would have celebrated his 62nd anniversary on August 10 next. Aji Ndey Jack, his mother would have been very happy and she would have wished that the late Babou Dibba were alive. Those are dreams that will never and forever come true, because Ebou Kebba Dibba was snatched away by the jaws of death. He was born on August 10, 1943 and he lived to witness the birth of seven brothers and sisters two of whom are presently Permanent Secretaries today (Yusupha Dibba and Amie Dibba).

Education


From Mohammedan Primary School to Gambia High School and then to Cardiff University in the UK for his BA in 17th Century French Literature, Ebou Dibba only paused in his pursuit for higher education when he successfully bagged his Masters at King’s College London specializing, as in his BA, in 17th Century French Literature.

Professional Career


Anyone who knew Ebou Dibba closely would use one word to describe all his professional life, ARTIST. No need to know Picasso to recognize in Ebou his artistic talents. Not a painter or sculpture, but an artist. He has spent his life immersed in promoting art both for the UK and for Africa. He has also taught for several years in an Adult Education Centre in the UK. Some of the responsibilities he assumed were, Director of the Adult Education Centre, Patron of the Art Centre in Surrey and as reviewer & editor of books for UK publishers.


Achievements

Ebou will certainly be remembered even in high circles in the UK. The Gambia and particularly Ebou Dibba’s Family were proud to learn of the award of the Order of the Member of the British Empire (MBE) offered to Ebou for his immense selfless contribution in the UK. He also organized successful exchange programs for UK students as well as Gambian students. Almost forty years in the UK has made Ebou a symbolic figure worth emulating.

Publications

Ebou Dibba would probably never have been known so well amongst Gambians if not for his famous books. He has published four books: two novellas and two novels. In there order of publication, the first is a novella of about 40 pages entitled Olu and the Smugglers which marks the inauguration of a literary genre targeting above all the youths.. His first novel, Chaff on the Wind, is set in The Gambia. Some of the characters of Chaff on the Wind are found in his second novel Fafa creating thus an apparent link between the two. His novel Alhaji was the last and it is for young readers.

Olu and the Smugglers, 1980, novella, 40 p, Longman Group, “Action Books” collections.

Published in 1980 at the Longman Group Publishers in the UK, in the “Action Books” collection, Olu and the Smugglers marked the start of Ebou Dibba’s literary career.
Olu and the Smugglers is a well illustrated novella (more than 30 illustrations) of 40 pages written in much simpler English for young readers.
A young boy, Olu, arrives at Uncle Yancoba and Aunt Abie in a small village situated near the sea. Though Olu is very imaginative and tends to exaggerate everything, Uncle Yancoba and his wife are always happy to welcome Olu because they have no child of their own. On Olu’s arrival, a strange disease seems to have struck the village and apparently canned beef has something to do with it. One night, Olu and his friend Abu notice strange happenings by the river side: a boat, flash signal lights, people disembarking from the boat and a cyclist riding by. Olu and his friend will do all they can to convince Uncle Yancoba. The latter will accept when a sergeant is suspected of being involved. The boys and Uncle Yancoba will convince the inspector of police who will take the matter seriously. After an ambush organized by the police, it turns out that the corrupt sergeant and his accomplices are diamond smugglers. Ebou Dibba will later write a similar story involving a horse on diamond smuggling. These diamonds were taking from Sierra Leone. It is to be noted that the story of “blood diamonds” is still a heated subject in the press.

Chaff on the Wind, 1986, novel, 203 pages, Macmillan Education.

The novel is about two young men, Dingding and Pateh, who came from the countryside on board of a ship in the thirties. The latter is ambitious and enterprising. He quickly finds himself a job and seduces a young girl called Isatou. Dingding is the opposite of Pateh. He is shy and reserved. However, he is luckier than Pateh.
Isatou is married to Charles, the old cousin of a Signare. She hates this relationship. She ends up carrying the baby of …Pateh. Both of them have to flee to Senegal where Isatou delivers a baby boy.
Dingding inherits from his death employer after marrying his daughter. He becomes a successful businessman. Pateh is one of his employees. Pateh finally dies following his numerous encounters with the French colonial police.

Fafa novel, 1989, novel, 118 pages, Macmillan Education.

Four friends are the main characters of this novel set in the fifties: Sisi Massod, the shopkeeper from Morocco, “Guerre Quatorze” who fought the First World War, “Professor” a teacher, and Fafa, the watchman.
Fafa wants to marry Kombeh who is not ready to engage herself in any form of relationship with him. He is not the type of man she is looking for.
The three friends will crack their brains to map out strategies to resolve the problems. A beautiful story that touches on human struggle and feelings.

Alhaji, 1992, novella for young readers, 72 pages, Macmillan

Alhaji, 16, receives a horse as a present from a tourist. He names the horse after himself. One day, as he was looking for a lift, he got one from two strange people who seem interested in his horse. Kebba, the driver and proprietor of the vehicle, invites Alhaji to his hotel where, to be tempted to sell, he is offered a prostitute. He still refuses to sell. Nevertheless, he realises that Kebba has a pertinent eye on his horse. Kebba also seems to be observed by two secret agents one of whom is working undercover as a teacher where Alhaji is going to school. Alhaji (the horse) is stolen, when Alhaji the hero refuses to part with it, to help in diamond smuggling to Senegal. Fortunately, Alhaji (the horse) is found by Alhaji (the hero) in Senegal and the smugglers find themselves behind bars.

Conclusion

Ebou Dibba is without doubt the first Gambian author to have writing using the Gambian setting. In his two novels, he succeeded in not only including some of the social and cultural setups of the 30s but equally used some of the local language in his novels. There is also a strong presence of historical events such as a plane crash in Jeswang, the approaching Second World War and the festivities marking the anniversary of George VI. It should also be noted that in both novels, he set up a rich mixture of cultures: Sidi Masood (Marocan origin), “Guerre Quatorze” (Paterson from the Bahamas), Fafa (a fanafana probably from the Saloum region) and Charles (Portuguese origin). Issues of complexities surrounding marriage and love dominate the two novels. What best to conclude this but with Hassoum Ceesay’s own words “He deserves Steward Brown’s epithet of ‘a novelist of real stature.’”

May his soul rest in Perfect Peace!

22 January 2005

Momodou Sabally authographing a book for the President. VC watching keenly.

Posted by Hello

19 January 2005

Jangi Jollof by Momodou Sabally

Momodou Sabally, Jangi Jollof:
A Memoir on The Gambia’s First University Programme.
Brikama New Town: Sandeng Publishers 2004
100 Pages ISBN 9983 9912 25

Jangi Jollof, is it a premature text? Clearly not. Giving the lingering invidious comments on the merits of the University Extension Programme (UEP), this memoir is a fitting response presenting ‘the true picture’ and evoking the spirit of the programme in a form accessible and useful to diverse readers. This cannot be precocious. Focusing on the particular to explore the universal is both enlightening and delighting. The breath taking impact of the programme, for instance, on others is seen in how it develops the narrator cognitively, socially and personally as well as shapes his worldview. Though the text may be the story of a man pushing open the doors of opportunity, there is an energetic and animated search for meaning and self-understanding. As such the overriding theme appears to be that round or sound education, as provided by the UEP, is the launch pad for meaningful national development.

To appreciate this more, the book’s chapters can be divided into early, transitional, middle and final. Each of these stages corresponds with a phase in the narrator’s life. The early chapters can broadly be termed as the years of intellectual struggle culminating in a breather, the study-work chapter 5, as Youth Assistant. Then the middle chapters beginning with the rise to presidency take the reader to the climax, the convocation or to be more precise the valedictory speech. Fittingly, after the highest point, the story draws to a close with his Taiwan trip, and employment by the Central Bank.

In many respects, the story time and space covering the above chapters is crafted in a fashion that makes it easy to read yet evocative enough to force a reflection on the reader’s life and values. It achieves this by perching comfortably on sound artistic principles such as a suspenseful and engaging storyline, an energetic narrative as well as inter-textuality. An engaging beginning in the plot technique in the form of ‘in medias res’ (in the middle of things) seems sufficiently captivating. The story opens in the Permanent Secretary’s office at Bedford Place Building in Banjul then through analepses or flashbacks, it explains the preceding events. The sentence “I have been directed to expel you from the programme,” (P.7) is such a dramatic opening that it makes one to want to read more to discover the background to the threat.

Similarly, the conversational first person narrative style lets us listen to the unassuming voice tell us the story even though dialogue occasionally breaks through the narrative. In the absence of verbiage, the clear and lucid narrative is tinged with humour making the reading enjoyable and the message accessible as well. Though one set of friends, in the text are books, the narrated story renews another and adds a sense of vitality and freshness to this other friendship. The U.E.P. the narrator re-creates will stir fond memories of those were part of it, like the people in his story, Yanks, Omar, Ndey Tida and so on.

It will also undoubtedly become recognizable to those not so lucky to be a part of it. As the story unfolds they will arrive at a greater understanding of the unique experience. As an academic institution, its contribution to national development is underscored by Dr. Larson thus, “… the contribution today’s graduates will make in helping … advance the interest of this republic” is the legacy. (P 79) The Taiwanese Prime Minister, Dr. Jason Hu, puts forward similar arguments for the position of education in a nation’s progress, the “Taiwan miracle.” (P 94).

Inter-textuality also allows other informed voices, authors mainly, to bubble to the surface of the text thereby broadening its scope and depth. The title itself, Jangi Jollof, can be ascribed to inter-textuality. It ironically means inferior education, which the story strenuously contests (P 73). Like wise, the epigraph on page 2 by Mariama Khan anchors the fact that life is a struggle before gratification - a philosophy sufficiently understood by the narrator given his tenacity and confidence. Dickenson provides similar reflections on life on page 28 and by Frost on page 99. Together with other documentary evidence, the preceding points make the story believable and testify to the intellectual grounding given to the narrator by his university and social milieu.

Since the text is a lived experience, re-living many aspects of that experience such as family life, community, educational and other growth experiences are instructive indeed. The insights provided by the story appear to reveal a lot more than the narrator’s struggles, disappointments and triumphs. It reveals a lot about leaderships, nation building, plurality, international co-operation and enduring friendships among several other things. Sometimes the insights provided by the story are extraordinary. With leadership, for example, we have a close up view of mistakes of real-world decision-making, intolerance and tolerance as well as visionary leadership. (P7, 58, 93, 94) In fact, the literary form of the text itself enlarges the reader’s opportunity to not only look in on the narrator’s life but also listen to important personalities he mingles with such as presidents, prime ministers and top civil servants.

In a way the story does not only tell the fascinating intellectual and spiritual growth of a young Gambian in which so many play a part but immortalizes the credibility of the U.E.P. as an institution which gave a “First world” education in a “Third World” setting. The author does this nimbly by giving credit to those deserving it most, the Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council, and the incumbent presidency for enlarging educational opportunities while saving the text from being appropriated as a propaganda tool. This in my opinion is another reason why the book is timely. It would give an opportunity to those raised in this era of democratization of education appreciate the dimmed possibilities existing before 1995. The text in short, is a reply to skeptics as well as a boon to future generations but more specifically for the present that possesses few role models.

Reviewed By

Lamin B.T. Sanyang
Lecturer, Gambia College.