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Interview: face to face with prolific Gambian writer Momodou Sabally

Jun 21, 2011, 2:21 PM | Article By: Sainey M.K. Marenah

Hello and a warm welcome this special interview with no other person than Mr Momodou Sabally, the young and dedicated Director of Budget at the Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs and author of three books.

There is no denying that in the history of any country, successive generations must have individuals who serve as pillars of society, talk of the country, and of course some extraordinary men and women who provide inspiration to young upcoming and promising nationals of the state. Momodou Sabally belongs to this phylum of people in today’s Gambia.

Of course some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness trusted upon them but for this man, Momodou Sabally, a shining example in today’s Gambia, he has achieved greatness.

He is a man whose vision and mission for this country makes him stands out as a key stakeholder in the socio-economic development of this country.

Please sit back, relax and enjoy reading:

The Point: Can you please tell us a bit about yourself?

Sabally: I am Momodou Sabally. I was born in Banjul in the mid 70s and grew up in Lamin village, Kombo North. I attended St Peter’s High School for my O’ levels then to Gambia High School for my advance level, then matriculated to the Gambia’s first University Extension Programme, which started in 1995, where I was a student leader and graduated with first batch of students.

I have since worked at the Central Bank of the Gambia as Research Economist from 1999-2009 and now working as Director of Budget at Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs. From my professional work, I also do a lot of writing, which is my passion.  I published my first book “Janki Jollof” memoirs of the Gambia’s first University Program in 2005, followed by “Instant Success - Ten Keys to Personal Success” which was published in the US in 2006. I also published “Secrets of the World Champions” which is a self help book based on the success lessons from the world of Basketball. This was also published in the US in 2007. Since then, I continue to explore my passion in writing, especially writing inspirational materials to help young people to live their best lives.

The Point: Looking at your age and considering the number of books you authored, what really motivates you to embark on the journey of writing being an economist by profession?

Sabally: Yes what motivates me is that I know I had a passion for writing with some talents. I want to make sure that by the time I leave this world, I would have exploited all my potentials and make sure that anything I feel I can do, I try to invest my time to the best of my ability. Also as a young man, I benefited a lot from investments by the Government of the Gambia in terms of my education and fulfillment of my potentials. I also believe that I have a responsibility to share what I know and whatever little skills I have.

When it is time to write, I don’t joke. I sacrifice all those pleasures and leisure to make sure that I take my writing seriously because as you said, I work as a professional economist and that means I have limited time to write but if you look at it properly, we all have 24 hours a day. If you spend eight hours at work, eight hours sleeping and taking care of other things, you have another eight hours free. The choice depends on how you use that time. For me, I use this time to read and write.

The Point: You authored your first book “Jangi Jollof”, a memoir of the Gambia’s first University Programme. What inspired you most in writing this book?

Sabally: This book was my experience as a student in the country’s first university. What inspired me to write ‘Janki Jollof’ is that there was a novel project taken up by the Gambia government in partnership with their Canadian counterparts, which as far as I am concern, I have never seen or known in this world.

It became a very positive impact on national development and we went through it as pioneer students and I thought this historical moment was to be documented from the perceptive of students. In addition to documenting it as historical moment to write our stories, my story in particular was to inspire other young Gambians to go through higher education to be able to fulfill their own potentials to contribute better towards national development.

My second book is “Instant Success” and what inspired me again is that I have been reading inspirational and motivational literature for the past fifteen years. I think I have learnt a lot and it has helped me a lot too to be whom I am today. It is good to share knowledge or write a book and the funny thing is that this book has helped me and continued to help me.

Despite being the author, whenever I read “Instant Success” I got inspired. So I wrote it for young people of the Gambia to teach them that they can exploit their passion, talents and potentials to become successful people in the world.

The Point: Are you grateful to anyone in the course of your writing?

Sabally:  I am grateful to many people mainly my parents, and also my experience at the University Programme but I think I was born with the gift of writing. I owe this too mainly to education. During my stint at Saint Augustine under the leadership of Ann Therese Ndong Jatta, that time English Language was mandatory and if you speak local Language, you are sent out. My stay at the University also helped me in my writings. I am particularly grateful to President Jammeh, who in his magnanimity launched my first book though he did not come in person but sent the Vice President Aja Dr Isatou Njie-Saidy to grace the occasion. That was a source of inspiration to keep me pushing the pen.

The Point: In anything one does, there must be challenges. What are your challenges in publishing your books?

Sabally: I have encountered tremendous challenges in writing and publishing my books and I am sure my fellow writers will share this experience. The publishing industry is virtually non existence here in the Gambia. You invest your own resources to publish a book, it is difficult really. The other challenge is the poor reading culture in the Gambia and the fact that people don’t buy books. So if you print Thousands of copies, people tend that you give it to them free of charge, which can be very disheartening. For example my first book, I printed about 1000 copies and could not sell more than 300 copies. I still have some remaining copies unsold six years after it was published. It is because of the inspiration and perseverance that keeps me writing not the monetary aspect of it.

The Point: with this tread you keeping writing?

Sabally: that is the persistence and perseverance that everybody needs whether you are writer or belong to another field, the failure is part of the game. If you give up at the first setback it means you are noting look at all these great writer or achievers in any field there first attempt  has always meet some resistance or some failure but it has to be persistent. If love something you are doing nothing will stop you from that especially if you feels that there is need and what you are doing will effects change in the lives of the peoples.

The Point: so it means you don’t engaged in published books for monetary gains?

Sabally: not necessarily make no mistake, I would like to make millions of money if I can but that not the main motivation, the main motivation is to explore my talent and contribute to help people. I want the money but if not coming that will not stop me from writing or publishing my books because I love what I am doing.

The Point: How can reading improve academic performance in the Gambia in your own perceptive?

Sabally: Reading can improve not only academic but our social and cultural lives, which is the most important way of improving our lives. In any culture, reading is important. I cannot over emphasize the importance of reading. It is through readings that one can develop personally and even spiritually. As a Muslim, the first verse of the Holy Quran is ‘Iqra’ meaning read in Islam.

The Point: Are you married?

Sabally: Laugh. Yes, I am happily married to Janiaba Tida Sarr and we have three boys.

The Point: Do you have plans to publish another book?

Sabally: Yes. My fourth book is ready for publication and the title is “The pursuit of Billisdon”, which is coming out in July. Meanwhile, I will release another booklet, which I hope will be a motivational guide for young people.

The Point: Many thanks Mr. Sabally for granting us this interview despite you busy schedules.

Sabally: You welcome Sainey, you also such a good interviewer.