FEATURE: Pap Saine earns a prestigious award that he so deserves!

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Alhaji Pap Saine le “doyen” and Deyda Dydara the plume of freedom expression are part of those who pointed at the horizon of freedom of speech to me an an early age.

Upon receiving the news that Pap Saine won the 2019 Qoboza Foreign Journalist Award of the Year by National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) in America, I almost shed tears of joy! No exaggeration I mean every word or letter herein! Nostalgic feelings of Pap and Deyda walking towards our office premises with files and bags under their armpits kept reeling in my mind! Back in days means the past tense of memory lane! Life is definitely a journey during which memories and reflections can easily change one’s mood. Sometimes sorrow creeps in, sometimes merry making substitutes concerns and frustrations so does the cycle remain for us until the final hour strikes! Sometimes sorrow and pleasure form an alloy in our souls and spirits. In all this one can say, difference is what makes life itself unique! Life on the other hand can be simply seen as shades and sounds shared by creation where our senses are expected to read or interpret those signs. Here my mind is flying in the horizon again, it is bringing back what cannot be undone yet will never be forgotten!

At an an early age, Pap and Deyda were there to usher some of us through an organised way of doing the right thing by using words not swords. As youngsters there were those of us who not ready to suppress our thoughts or allow any party to suppress those very thoughts against all odds. Deyda and Pap were so quick to read it in my face. Instead of freezing my desires and aspirations inside my being, they went ahead to open the doors of the then Point Newspaper for me. What a chance I had to excel in what I liked doing the most! It began while I was in the then defunct Gambia Gendarmerie. I used to write poems for publication some of them were carried on the Daily Observer. Along the way though I realised a more accommodating mindset from Deyda and Pap.  I also could detect that these two lions in the forest of views  had a strong liking for me!  So at anytime I came in or we met it was all about cracking jokes before business as usual. After leaving the Gendarmerie I proceeded to read which led me to France and then back. Soon after arriving home from France I was hired into the Gambia civil service again as Protocol Welfare Officer at the Ministry of External Affairs with the acronym MEA. In those days it was not MOFA. Another position that opened more doors for me. However, the main gate Deyda and Pap opened for me remained what I still consider my main entrance into the arena of freedom of expression. Deyda in particular told me these words: “When you write a story bring it to The Point for publication. We will be paying you D70.00 (seventy dalasis) per publication Essa.”

Imagine D70.00 around 1993! Its value can be equivalent to D700.00 today or even more.

Alieu Badara Sowe used to bring some of the payments to me at the MEA. Sowe was so honest about it too he gave me every single dalasi and never expected anything out of it. Alieu and I had chats any time he came. A bright person who remained calm with a smiling face all the time. I remember teasing him with his DJ name at radio Syd “RAAH WAAYE” Ndeysaan!

I was never a reporter my writings were more like stories. In fact my column was liked so much so that Deyda kept motivating me all the time!  My series were titled “TOWARDS HOME”.  I wrote about my childhood days reflecting on activities at the village. Touching on topics like fire in the middle of yard, going to Kamballa Forest in search of fruits or hunting, attending wrestling matches or ceremonies at our village or other villages, the sound of my father’s prayer head at night before slumber overwhelmed my thoughts so on and so forth.  Although a young protocol officer I was never stopped or barred from writing and publishing. When 1994 struck I for one continued writing without fear anyway archives are there to prove the latter. Deyda the lion told me not to stop as freedom of expression was the best way to rise against oppression. Our relationship was never cut off by positions I occupied along the way.

He kept talking to me so did I also keep the line of communication flowing without any let or hindrance. When I was posted to France as a young diplomat part of my job was head of chancery who paid for checks related news paper subscriptions. We therefore made sure The Point, Foroyaa and other local journals were received at the mission. Reason being we wanted to remain informed. Which could not be guaranteed without hearing or reading about other views. In fact hearing from the public through reliable journals like The Point at that distance, was one of the best ways to represent the people and government. The more a diplomat is informed from various angles the better he or she can sell the nation. Mark you, selling the nation goes with having an open mind and then remain current. What men like Deyda and Pap germinated in some of us paid its dividends along the way.  Pouring out the  contents of one’s  mind while being guided by responsibility, courage and discipline is one of the best feelings a thinker can have at his or disposal where society is thirsty for awareness. It is an avenue called “RAISING AWARENESS”. Deyda once came to France for a visit and then we met there in the office. His aura as usual, was so captivating!  So was his laughter so contagious in every positive sense of the word! Upon seeing Deyda I started reflecting on what he used to tell me when I was way down the ladder of professional echelons in Banjul. He shook my hand and then spoke to me like an uncle and a friend. He gave me one of the best advises I ever had as a young worker at the time. Deyda introduced me to a journalist called Bruno Finel at the time Finel was working for CANAL PLUS. 

Until today I cannot forget where I passed through with these veteran journalists. Sometimes I keep asking myself this question. How come instead of being a BBC, VOA, REUTERS, RFI, Africa or Aljazeera correspondent I ended up being seasoned in diplomacy and security? Allah is the ONLY ONE in control so I thank Him for making me what I am at the end.  I am not a journalist but Deyda and Pap made me reserve a special passion for the profession deep inside my heart. I was never trained as one either but I have always felt sorry for those of them who ultimately faced the dagger of tyranny then died along the way. That is why I Essa Bokarr Sey stood up to defend them throughout the fight we Gambians organised against 22 years of tyranny! Ultimately Deyda Hydara died practicing what he was preaching! He is not someone who pushed others to stand up against suppression and then remained behind. Deyda was a “commanding officer” who stood on the front   line to fight against suppression of views, ideas and above all freedom of expression. My mind is one of those flying forth with the wings of thought. It is part of those minds which keep pouring their contents on paper or at best  amplify   thinking, speeches and deeds for public opinion to benefit from.

The very reason why I for one can easily find a “residence for freedom of expression” in the legacy of Deyda Hydara and Pap Saine!

Congratulations doyen Alhaji Pap Saine!

Mes felicitations mon cher doyen!

Rest in perfect peace the plume of Gambia’s family of freedom of speech camarade et doyen Deyda Hydara!

Author: Essa Bokarr Sey