Alhaji Lalo Samateh: A Man for All Seasons - A Personal Tribute
Thursday, November 20, 2008
Man of wisdom, embodiment of humility.
Through out the annals of human history, events had always
shaped our lives. Their capacity to shock or excite is often dependent on the
rhetorical distinctions they are framed. And the extent to which that framework
touches our emotions or gauges the contours of our being is also dependent on
the status of the person(s) it is related to. If that person is an icon, it is
sure to raise emotions. Deep emotions. There are two types of icons, historians
say. There are those who through the magnetism of their personality and the
power of their ideals have been able to shape great things. There are those who
lacking in originality themselves, have been nonetheless able to mould events
to their own course by generating a following and a life of virtuous
exemplification. Alhaji Lalo Samateh, veteran Gambian broadcaster, who died on
Born in Salikene, in the North Bank Region some 66 years
ago, Lalo Samateh is synonymous with one of
At a personal level, Alhagi Lalo Samateh was a man of impeccable wisdom, with a personality that had the tendency to accommodate everyone. His social disposition had a kind of an extensive outreach that comforted those in distress and lend a helping hand to whoever needed it. For those of us who had privilege to know him, and interact with him in person, Lalo Samateh's life invokes qualities of compassion and recollections of a person whose humility shaped his faith and belief in the sanctity of the human project. Highly dependable and steadfast, his sense of decorum was a cushion for his unassuming personality in the conduct of inter-personal relations. He was considerate, and so never oblivious of the sensibilities of others.
Similarly, his service to the nation, and in particular to the broadcasting fraternity, is almost unrivalled, and shall forever remain a pleasant point of reference for generations to come. He was passionate as a broadcaster and relished every moment of it. He informed, entertained and counselled. His colleagues remember him as a man with a sense of purpose, professionalism and responsibility. A national asset.
I recall, with fond memory, my last encounter with him in
2005. It so happened that an academic friend of mine was at the time
researching a book project on
Iconic voice, national treasure.
Alhaji Lalo Samateh was in more ways than one, an iconic figure, a national treasure. This is perhaps best illustrated through the bond he carved with his overwhelmingly loyal listening audience. For them, he epitomised a social institution that had a resonance with old and young, men and women. No where was this true than the sub-urban ghettos where decades of marginalisation had cultivated a deep sense of distaste and apathy to institutions of governance. News for whatever its subject, no matter its immediacy, was to these folks, a product of state propaganda devised to subdue the prospects of the resurgence of subaltern activism. But one thing not in doubt, however, was the sincerity and veneration of the messenger. They could afford to brush the message, not the messenger. He had an affinity with them, and they could in turn accommodate his voice as one, or perhaps the only one, that proffered a genuine sense of solace in the midst of adversity and social ostracism.
Like the sub-urban shanties,
To build that trust though, was neither accidental nor
imposed by some transcendent moral order. It was earned. Period. Lalo Samateh
spent most of his life working at a Radio Station that had little incentive
other than the pride of its institutional symbolism. To him, it was a big
incentive and that kept him going. In the process, he created an unvarnished
understanding with a multitude of devotees. And to relate with them, Lalo
devised, inadvertently perhaps, a method of communication that was innovative,
effective and functional. A friend of mine recounts that Lalo was once asked,
rhetorically perhaps, why he kept on (mis)pronouncing the military rank
lieutenant as late-te-nan instead of
its proper British pronunciation lef'tenant.
It was a noun he struggled with especially in the aftermath of the 1994 coup.
As a broadcaster, he was expected to have a grasp of current
issues, or at least their meaning. The expectation encouraged him to have a
certain intellectual inclination. Once, he challenged me to explain the
legality of the recourse to force on
But Lalo's peace hypothesis had hallmarks of a Kantian conception. Emmanuel Kant
(1724-1804), the iconic German philosopher, was one of the leading thinkers of
European enlightenment. One of Kant's pre-occupation, at the risk of
oversimplification, was the conceptualisation of a precept for peaceful human
existence. He believed that as long as war exists, human security would be
almost impossible to actualise. If the Hobbesian
world of human gloom (solitary, nasty, brutish, and short) does not change,
Kant warned, how could we avoid the conclusion 'that discord natural to our race,
may not prepare for us a hell of evils, however civilised we may now be, by
annihilating civilisation and all cultural progress through barbarous
devastation'? Peace for Kant, therefore, constituted a perpetual condition.
Alhaji Lalo's supposition against violent countermeasures correlates with
Kant's, to some extent. Like Kant, Lalo was not solely concerned with how peace
can be installed, but also how it can encompass a framework of individual
entitlements. For him peace ought to be what the French philosopher, Antoine
Garapon, views as a practical objective that calls for a reorientation of the
very way we conceptualise politics and social order. And so Lalo spent a lot of
time outside Radio
A servant of God, a devotee of the Qur'an.
Volunteers to vouch for Alhaji Lalo's character and association with God are not hard to come by. They are numerous. At his parked funeral, tributes touched every aspect of his life - ranging from his amiable personality, sense of humour, devotion to duty and his loyalty to friends and family. The glowing tributes affirmed what most of us all already knew. One thing clear though, there is considerable consensus that Lalo was always reading, either the Qur'an or the news. For him the Qur'an exemplified a sea wave of knowledge and to gain its blessings, he always insisted, requires a constant engagement with it. So he carried it along and shared its wisdom.
At the annual Gamo in Kuntaya, where he had been in attendance over many years, Alhaji Lalo's company was always valued. Often he could be seen nestled around by people vying for endorsement, a kind of a local celebrity without the trappings. He could often be heard laughing loud. In fact he laughed quite a lot when in Kuntaya. After all, we gave him a wife, a beautiful wife, and so he always insisted in pleasing us by not offending us. His charm was irresistible. Humour was one of his other strength. But in the midst of all that, Lalo would occasionally be reciting verses in remembrance of God. That was his way. It was one he so cherished.
So today, as we mourn the demise of such a truly formidable man, I pray that Allah grants him Janatul Firdaus and provide the family, with the courage to be strong, the strength to live by his example and the platform to appreciate and preserve his legacy. Alhaji Lalo Samateh, veteran Gambian broadcaster, friend of all, was truly a man for all seasons! The adapted poem of Hannah Perley shall do the rest:
Author: Abou Jeng
Source: Picture: Late Lalo Samateh