By: Basidia M Drammeh
Today marks the third anniversary of the passing of my friend and senior brother, Alhagi Sambou Gassama. Upon the announcement of his demise three years ago, I was approached by several media outlets to shed light on his life. Many people need to learn that the strong bond we built and mutual affection was short-lived.
It was merely three years or so. Yes, I heard a lot about him, but we didn’t get to communicate consistently and constantly until around 2018, when he reached out to me with a message via Facebook Messenger, and the rest is history. Mr. Gassama was an invaluable asset to the Gambia and the entire continent. Upon graduating from Sudan, he diligently served in the foreign service before landing a job at the OAU. He later transformed into AU, where he rose through the ranks until becoming the head of Translation.
Mr. Gassama was born in Banjul on December 27, 1947, at 18 Allen Street, where the family compound still exists.
Though Mr. Gassama is one of our nation’s best and finest translators and bilingual writers, he never received a formal English education during his formative phase. Instead, he acquired and mastered the English language mainly through self-development.
After he graduated from Sudan with honors in Arabic literature in 1973, Mr. Gassama served the same year as an Arabic teacher at Malfa school but soon aspired for diplomatic service, which would ultimately take him to Libya (1976-1978) and the United Kingdom (where he served as a Consular Attaché and Second Secretary acting as First Secretary up until 1980 respectively.
The late Mr. Gassama then moved to the OAU headquarters in Addis Ababa in 1981 for a secondment that would eventually span almost a quarter of a century. Though he was officially retired, by virtue of his age, the African Union could not dispense with his services, given his longstanding experience and unquestionable competence. He was still working for the EU on a contract basis when he answered the call.
Ndeysan, when I visited him in 2018, he told me that he was planning to retire to Gambia for good after being abroad for too long. However, he suddenly died following a brief illness on August 6, 2020, exactly one month after he wrote a tribute paying homage to his friend and my brother Sheikh Banding Drammeh.