The eldest of six children born to one of the earliest Gambian migrants in London’s pre-Windrush generation, UK-based Author Ali Kinteh is a delightful mix of different periods and experiences that shaped one of the greatest minds in England’s cosmopolitan setting.
His works carve out the intricate knit and often violent environment that makes up Britain’s public housing estates, showing the deep cuts and unpleasant edges that characterize encounters between different identities in modern-day England.
The migrant’s story is an arena of unapologetic reflection for Ali Kinteh, whose experience of Africa and Europe comes alive in his books, portraying the massive culture divide and the violent quest for identity clouding the migrant’s path.
1. Your family set its roots in England in the Pre Windrush Generation, which defined 1940s Britain; how did those times shape Gambian immigration to UK and England’s existing multi-cultural society?
The Gambia was very much part of The British Empire when my father migrated to the UK in September 1947. As a result, he didn’t encounter the strident visa restrictions that became commonplace later. Gambians, in effect, were subjects of The Crown in those days and had a right to settle in Britain.
The Gambians he arrived with were like him, men in their 20s and 30s, industrious, law-abiding, and ambitious. They took advantage of the opportunities afforded them. Jobs were plenty, and they sought better lives for themselves. Many of them married native English women and became parents to bi-racial children. An abiding memory of being a child in the 80s was seeing my parents provide free accommodation in our family home for Gambians, Senegalese, and Sierra Leonians, who had arrived anew in the UK from Africa or had embarked to London after years of study in the Middle East.
My father was also part of a Gambian association community group that met monthly at Toynbee Hall, Aldgate, London. Many members of this society arrived in England in the late 1940s and 1950s. They raised money to help with repatriation funeral costs and so forth. My younger brother and I tagged along with my father to those meetings. Unfortunately, that generation of men has all passed away now. Some lie buried in English graveyards. Others, like my father, are interred in Gambian soil.
2. The quest for identity is often violent and savory. How did the response to migration in those days shape current immigration policy in the UK?
There has always been consternation among segments of UK society about migrant numbers coming from Africa, the Caribbean, and the Indian subcontinent. In recent times, similar bleatings have been made about eastern Europeans. The general feeling among the monochrome masses was that national identity was being eroded and that immigration weighed a toll on areas such as housing, education, and health services. There was a real fear of the streets in England being ‘swamped’ by foreigners. Immigration remains a contentious issue to this day. Laws are formulated constantly to place a chokehold on immigration to prevent fewer immigrants from reaching UK shores. Immigration rules are continuously evaluated, with each government pledging to be more challenging than its predecessor.
3. Your works delve into the challenges of intercultural existence in the UK’s public housing estates; how has a more globalized world affected that culture?
Well, it has brought far-flung communities from the furthest reaches of the globe together into a cultural melting pot. I was molded in an east London cauldron called Leyton, a small residential town. I write about Leyton in my new book, “Essays From The Hermit’s Lodge.” I describe the makeup of my neighbors and friends vividly: Their antecedents predominately came from the Indian subcontinent, where the Indus Valley stands and the Ganges River flow, and from west Africa, where swathes of that territory were once ruled by the Mandinka, Songhay, and Ashanti empires. We studied in the same classrooms and played computer games in each other homes. We spoke the same English dialect, and some of us grew up intermarrying and raising families. The scarcity of social housing is another perennial contention that has raged for over thirty years. Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher provided opportunities for social housing tenants to buy the properties they lived in and become homeowners.
Unfortunately, the ones sold were not replenished quickly enough with new homes. You could remain on a waitlist for near perpetuity if you wanted to be a tenant of the Local Authority. It is often believed that migrants are prioritized on the housing register, which has been a source of bitterness from Brits born and raised here. It should be said that Ukrainian refugees have been treated, by the wider society, with considerable compassion as opposed to Somalian, Kosovan or Afghan refugees when they also fled from internecine strife, but that doesn’t surprise me.
4. Migrants and asylum seekers face new challenges amid increased protectionism across European borders where identity overrides fundamental human and individual rights. Has the home office learned any lessons from the Windrush Generation and the spectrum of issues that evolved from that debacle?
No. The government seldom learns lessons. Instead, one of their functions is to perpetuate societal problems and keep us at odds with those problems and with each other.
5. How do you think decision-makers can avoid migration problems that return years later to haunt social stability, if there are any?
Decision makers have no will or desire to resolve the migrant question. They don’t seem to mind the adverse implications on social cohesion. The government is not in the business of fixing societal problems. Instead, they seek capital and votes from them.
6. How much is discrimination clouding migrants’ paths and efforts to effectively resettle in their new homes?
Some laws protect migrants from discrimination. That is not to say that they are immune from bias. The problem for some is that they may be unaware when they are on the receiving end of prejudice from officials, and they are not advised of the immutable protections granted to them by the law. Discriminatory practices are insidious by nature.
7. Let’s talk about public housing in the UK; which most maps migrant demographics and the most vulnerable people in England?
There needs to be far more public housing than there is now, and there ought to be a cap on the cost of private renting, which are at excessive levels in places like London. Every country ought to be judged by its treatment of its minorities. They’re marginalized by the dignity they afford their senior citizens and the opportunities they provide their young. Yet, every day, you can open a newspaper in Britain and read about the institutional failings of all these groups of people. It’s enough to make a cat laugh or a raven frown. I used to think it was by accident and then later by design. Now I think it is to do with incompetence. We just don’t have the right people in positions of power doing the work.
8. Domestic violence is a significant problem in Public housing estates; how has the protection of social housing tenants evolved over the years?
Domestic violence is an affliction that doesn’t just haunt housing estates. Spouses are assaulted in country estates too. Nevertheless, wherever it happens, it remains a significant problem. Organizations such as Shelter are set up to help victims of domestic violence. Housing Associations have policies they can implement to safeguard their tenants from violence, coercion, and emotional abuse. And the government passed legislation in the Domestic Abuse Act last year to further protect those who suffer at the hands of their abuser.
9. The Gambia you visited 20 years ago has also evolved into a Deepening housing crisis and land grab race. Are we sowing the seeds of a future situation in avoiding this growing social challenge?
In my book Essays From The Hermit’s Lodge, I wrote that when most people visit the Gambia, they almost inevitably envisage its promise and potential. This is why some return and eventually buy property, settle in the country, and create businesses. Four of my five siblings have fallen into that category. But this is not limited to those of Gambian heritage. Scandinavians, Jamaicans, Britons, and Bajans have long settled in the Gambia and have done brilliantly in their spheres of the enterprise. That’s all very well, but what of the Gambian youth, who, having looked right and then left at their own prospects, feel they have no option but to immigrate to Europe by crossing the perilous seas of the Mediterranean, where they may or may not find opportunity?
They are at severe risk of being relegated to crime. Or feel behooved to partake in activities that are exploitative to their well-being. I have a criticism of globalization: Government focusing on the agendas of international talking shops while leaving their people behind. The government must learn to cherish the people they claim to represent and provide vision and opportunity. Rising property and land costs will see people priced out of investing in their own country, leading to future anger and resentment. It should be incumbent on the government to provide radical panaceas to problems that a) are generational and b) have the potency to generate future crises. Otherwise, they have no business in government.
Who is Ali Kinteh, The Author?
Ali Kinteh was born in London, UK, to Gambian parents. His father was among the first wave of Gambians who migrated to Britain before the Windrush Generation, just after the Second World War. He is the eldest of six children.
After completing secondary school education, Ali spent six weeks in the Gambia working with The Citizen Newspaper during his vacation.
A significant highlight of this experience was interviewing the then Secretary of State for Tourism, Susan Waffa-Ogoo, at her State House office. He wrote columns on the plight of immigrants upon their arrival in Europe and the difficulties and benefits they experience as asylum seekers in England.
Ali has worked for several regional and national government agencies, including the UK’s NHS.
Ali is the author of two books. His debut offering, “The Nepenthe Park Chronicles,” was published in 2016. This gloriously subversive novel depicts the lives of young women and men on one of London’s toughest estates and the choices they make amidst the turbulence of the streets.
This no-holds book was controversial in its characterization of carnality, excess, and violence.
His second book “Essays From The Hermit’s Lodge” is a collection of nineteen scintillating essays that encapsulate the work of his favorite playwrights, John Osborne, Lorraine Hansberry, actors Amitabh Bachchan, John Hurt, and Yul Brynner, and activists Ousman Kinteh (his brother), Darcus Howe and Thomas Paine.
Some of his writings featured reflections on world events such as the September 11 terrorist attacks in America and reverberations of that occurrence in Britain and throughout the world. He writes scathingly about London, the British Royal Family, social media, and the new wave of celebrity worship.
Ali is a voracious reader of classical literature and foundational religious texts and an avid supporter of Everton Football Club. He is the father of a ten-year-old boy.
Ali’s new book ‘Essays From The Hermit’s Lodge, is available for sale on Amazon at this link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Essays-Hermits-Lodge-Ali-Kinteh/dp/0993460933, and his website is www.alikinteh.com