Book Review: A Date With Destiny, Demba A. Jawo, Fulladu Publishers, 2019, 156 pages

Friday, May 03, 2019

Is this a memoire or an auto biography?

When you read Demba A Jawo’s A Date with Destiny, you wonder if it is a full autobiography or a truncated one, and therefore, a memoire? I believe both apply. In mere 156 pages the author has managed to pack in over 65 years of active life; yet it also becomes apparent when reading the book, especially from the middle chapters (page 75) onward, that he wanted or intended to harp on his service to The Gambia as Information Minister between February 2017 and June 29 2018.

The dates matter because as he tells gallantly, the period may have been short, but it was very eventful as far executing his mandate was concerned. In a rush, D.A as he is fondly called, managed to rewire the media landscape mainly by allowing in private TV stations for the first time in Gambian history, page 144-145. I will return to this at the end of this review.

But the book is not all about the period Feb.2017 to June 2018. D.A starts from the earliest days of his life growing up in a small village in the central reaches of the River. His demotic and even idyllic young days cow herding and stumping the crop farms of his parents, page 13, give the reader a peep into rural life in the very deep recesses of our small country. He spends quite a few pages trying to decipher who his people, the Fula are; I say  ‘trying’ because the Fula people are so diverse and ubiquitous that no one could fully decipher the various clans, branches and dialects of these famous people.

He himself will shot to fame not in the village, but in the urban settlement of Bathurst, where he like all other educated rural boys and girls had to end up to be useful to their society. His coming to Bathurst, now Banjul, in the 1960s, he describes painlessly from page 39.

It becomes clear from early in the book that D.A became a journalist by accident. He flopped from Yundum college, got hired at the utilities company then called GUC, and then as he did not seem to have much work to do there, he fell into the arms of writing. It was easy to become a tough writer in those days: it was the Jawara era, when our country harboured the few free independent newspapers in Black Africa. The editors- Dixon Colley of the Nation, R.S Allen of the Onward and M.B Jones of the Outlook, to name only three- were financially hapless, but had the power and audacity to write truth to power and society as a whole. It was not a bed of roses even then to be a fiercely critical journo as these men were, but, at least they did not fear to be killed or disappeared as Jammeh did to our friend Chief Manneh, for example. D.A honed his press skills under the tutelage of these giants of the press. His consistent critical appraisal of the first and second republics are well documented in his earlier book Focus, and so I must not belabor it here.

Readers who expect to discover nuggets and anecdotes about the author’s stint as Minister will not be disappointed. He tells all his experience as a cabinet member. The feeling one has when one read the latter pages is that D.A was from the start a most awkward Minister. I say ‘awkward’  because from the start, he looked very much like a fish out of the river, very much the outsider insider, who is listened to but never heard. I guess his time in cabinet must have been the most despondent in his illustrious public career.

Why? D.A was not a politician. Politics is meant for politicians. Political office should therefore be the exclusive reserve  of  politicians.

This is a fine book, whether you see it as a memoir or a full narrative of the author’s life. If I were to write an epitaph for D.A ‘s time in cabinet I will simply say: ‘under his watch, The Gambia had its first private TV channels’. This is a positive epitaph.

Available at Timbooktoo Tel: 4494345

Author: Hassoum Ceesay