Tribute to Ebou Taal – civil servant, diplomat and sportsman

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

The passing of Alhaji Ebou Momar Taal on Sunday, 30th June 2019, has engendered immense dismay and reminiscences of a man with an indisputable intellect, an accomplished sportsman and a man who played his full part in society. As well as being my Kotor Waa Banjul and my senior at high school, I personally have worked with him on more than one instance in the Civil Service during which time despite not always agreeing with him on some issues, I have come to appreciate his lucidity, sense of direction and acute love for the country. This tribute I have quickly hashed up is but a modest token to show the great man that was Ebou Taal, a man that Jean Jacques Rousseau would have called “a well-rounded man” in intellect, as an exemplary sportsman and an epitome of “savoir vivre”.

Ebou was born in Kaur, in Saloum District where his father was a trader. He did his early schooling at Mohammedan primary school under the late I.M Garba Jahumpa.

He passed his Standard Four (now Secondary four) exams and went to Methodist Boys High School where he was very good in sports and played both cricket and football for his school. This did not distract him from his studies. He passed all his exams and completed high school with very good results in the Cambridge exams (the GCE at that time). He worked briefly in government before obtaining a scholarship to study in Fourah Bay College, Sierra Leone, one of the few universities in British West Africa, catering for the up and coming indigenous educated elite that were to take over from the colonial masters after independence... As a young man in Banjul, Ebou, like all Ndongo Banjul, attended his neighbourhood quranic Daara under the tutelage of the venerable Pa Jobarteh at Hill Street. Here he did not excel in his memorization of the Quran but I was made to understand that he was not Mbaam darra at all.

As was traditional in Banjul, he followed the practice of joining a youth club. His was a member of the very popular ZigoZa group, one of the many young men’s clubs that followed modern trends in dressing, dancing, as well as engage in intellectual activities – such as debates, essay writing, theatre groups and punctuated with frequent exchange visits with Senegalese counterparts. These activities developed the character and personality of the Ndongo Banjul and imbued them with a sense of responsibility and devotion to country; This stood them in good stead when it came to working in the colonial Administration. With the attainment of Independence, they were already well equipped to take over from the British. Ebou Taal was one of many of those young men. He was known to have had an excellent diction and it was always a pleasure to read his essays and listen to his debates...

During his early childhood, Ebou went regularly to Senegal on holidays where he had many relatives. His love of and proficiency in French therefore started at an early age. By the time he graduated from Fourah Bay College, University of Durham, (in French and economics), he was very fluent in French and in the course of time he became virtually a Francophone. He also did a Diploma course in Diplomacy, along with Omadi Diarra, another veteran diplomat, at the Institute International d’/Administration Publique (IIAP) in Paris and came back equipped to tackle the intricacies of international relations.

He served in various Ministries and Departments particularly the Office of the Prime Minister under KGW Lane, the then Colonial Secretary and later under Mr.  Eric Christensen, the first Gambian Secretary General of the Civil Service who was also accumulated the post of Permanent Secretary, External Affairs.

Ebou worked in the Ministry of External Affairs (now Foreign Affairs) serving under various Ministers - Vice President and Minister of State for External Affairs Badara Njie, Vice President and Minister of External Affairs Assan Musa Camara and Minister of External Affairs Lamin K Jabang when he became Permanent Secretary...

In 1971, he took over from Sheriff Mustapha Dibba as Ambassador to the Benelux countries (Belgium, Netherlands and Luxemburg). He was concurrently, accredited to the Commission of the European Economic Community (EEC), now the European Union. I served for some time as his deputy. He was one of the dynamic and African Ambassadors who spearheaded the negotiations between the EEC and the newly independent colonies of UK, France and Holland euphemistically named as the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group. The negotiations culminated in the signing in Lome, Togo, of the cooperation and assistance Accord - the Lome Convention, named after that city.

Ebou was an ardent believer in the concept of SeneGambia and he had the opportunity to bring his building block to this Ideal when he was appointed Director of Economic and Technical affairs in the Senegalo Gambian Permanent Secretariat in Banjul. He was able to steer close cooperation between the two countries in all matters ranging from agriculture to telecommunications, road transport to civil aviation, customs matters to land boundaries and so on. By the time he left the Secretariat, dozens of Agreements in various fields were signed and ratified by the two countries. The Secretariat was the closest the two countries had ever come in concretising cooperation and brotherliness between the two countries and the dissolution of this decades old institution in favour of the short lived Senegambia Confederation was a great setback. Incidentally, I was later to follow Ebou’s footsteps when I became Director of Economic and Technical Affairs and later as Deputy Executive Secretary of the Secretariat.

The second opportunity Ebou had to play his part in Senegal-Gambia relations was when he was accredited to Senegal as High Commissioner, covering Mali as well. With his good command of Wolof and his earlier relations with the religious houses in Tivavoune, Touba and Kaolack, reinforced by the  acquaintances and friendship he had built earlier while he was number two in the Senegalo-Gambian Secretariat, Ebou markedly lifted  Senegalo-Gambia relations a few notches from what had been up to that time. I have no doubt therefore that the many friends he has had over the years as well as his relatives in Senegal will surely receive the news of his demise with great dismay.

For family, Ebou ardently believed that there is nothing more priceless than giving one’s children a good and appropriate education. For this, he has led by example. He was first married to Madame Rabia Alami and later to Aji Haddy Conteh who unfortunately passed away several years ago. He is survived by his present wife Haddy Dibba and several off springs, brothers and sisters who, maachaallah, are following his footsteps in many ways. May Allah grant them all steadfastness and faith to bear this great loss knowing that their father, brother and kin has done his bit for this Nation and theirs is now to take up the mantle that he has left behind.

Recently, on the training of the new diplomats appointed after the installation of the new government, Ebou was appointed to organize a training workshop with a team of former diplomats and Ministry of foreign affairs officials, including myself and he conducted the programme with competence and knowledge.

Ebou was an excellent sportsman. He was as good in football as he was in cricket, which was then very popular in the Colony being the game of choice of the colonial population. The game was encouraged and promoted in the schools particularly Methodist boys high School. Ebou played both cricket and football for his high school

In cricket, he was what was known as an all-rounder. He was a versatile fieldsman, a perfect off spin bowler as well as a prolific batsman. We, his younger brothers used to sit at the Cenotaph end of McCarthy Square and watch him bowl out batsmen of the other side with ease, Ebou’s greatest achievement in the cricket arena was during the inter colonial tournament in Freetown when during the inning Sierra Leone was on the verge of winning. Ebou with his impeccable spin bowling was able to bowl out all the remaining Sierra Leone batsmen! Gambia won that match by four runs. Incredulity struck the stadium. Such was Ebou Taal’s legendary bowling.

His closest university mate and cricket partner was Mustapha AB Kah also a wonder boy in batting. Other mates were Abou Dandeh the wicketkeeper and Dawooda Tim Jagne, the legendary batsman. The Sierra Leoneans called them the “fabulous three” because of their exploits at the InterCol Tournament of 1955.

Above all the qualities and attributes of Ebou Taal that I have mentioned, which I daresay are by no means exhaustive, to have been active in the bid to promote and encourage the young Gambians to espouse the virtues of rectitude and efficiency in the civil service was with him up to the end. The last time I saw him solicited my contribution of a book he was writing on the Gambia Foreign Service from Independence to the present day. He felt like I do too, that there is a lot the present service can learn from the “old school’ who in their time a decade or two after independence, made do with scanty resources but who had a lot of devotion and great sense of purpose. The anecdotal experience that we all carry, withering away slowly as we can see, can only widen the horizon of the present generation and make the service, the entire service better. I gave him a few points and we planned to meet again. The meeting was never to be, alas! With the time that we still have left and the few of us, “old guards’ still around we must consign what we know and have lived through in some transferable form for the younger generation to benefit from.

I extend my heartfelt sympathy to my brothers Doudou, Salieu, Saihou and Bai Mass and my nephew Sal and his siblings. May he find eternal repose in heaven. Amen

Author: Ambassador Ebou Manneh