By: Madi Jobarteh
On Saturday June 25, Radio Gambia and by extension the entire GRTS celebrated 60 years of its existence. Since its establishment, the men and women at Radio Gambia provided immense service to this country with utmost dedication and commitment in a way I have never seen in any institution until today.
As a young boy, I started my professional career at Radio Gambia Mile 7 studios in 1992. Fresh from Sixth Form at St. Augustine’s High School, I entered Mile 7 with so much enthusiasm and excitement that I am now going to be part of those voices which I used to enjoy in the airwaves every day. Ever since I was a young boy, I had seen my parents, teachers, and friends and indeed everyone listening to the amazing voices of Christiana Thomas, Maimuna Bah, Lalo Samateh, Assan Njie and Bora Mbodge as they read the news or conduct interviews or gave commentaries for football matches or Independence Day celebrations.
Equally fascinating to me were the signature tunes that would introduce programs such as the ‘One O’clock News’ or the ‘News at 10’, or the various programs about women, religion, or culture. The tunes of Lalo Kebba Drammeh, Fabala Kanuteh and the many players and singers of Kora, Ritti and Xalam, as well as Boukarabou and Mbalax were among my favorites of Radio Gambia. Therefore, there are not enough words to express my joy and enthusiasm at joining Radio Gambia to also become a part of these great men and women. And indeed, I came to meet some of these great men and women of my time and I wish to dedicate this tribute to them and to the many others who came before them.
I started as a cub reporter in the newsroom. My editor-in-chief was Malick Jeng who is now the Director General of GRTS. His deputy in the newsroom was Abdoulie Gassama. I must have joined Radio Gambia about the same time with colleagues like Agnes John, now at West Africa Democracy Radio in Dakar, Essa Jallow, still with GRTS and formerly at TRRC and the tall lanky fella Esau Williams now at BBC. I have never seen such determined and hardworking young people like these three. I am so glad we all remained on this path of commitment and friendship thirty years later.
My first assignment was to cover an event at Friendship Hostel. But I was to accompany Amie Bojang Sissoho who is now the Director of Press at State House to understudy her. When we returned to the station and wrote our stories, mine was hugely inadequate and I had to read hers to know better which I guess was part of the in-house training. I am grateful to her for leading me into journalism at that time.
From then on, I did not spare any time but to go to meet the veterans one by one to learn from them to grow. It was also those moments when I had to debate issues with them – to stubbornly agree or disagree on the state of affairs at Radio Gambia and in the country as a whole. At this juncture, I will mention some of these honourable men and women who inspired, groomed, and developed me to become what I am today.
For example, Aji Lala Hydara played the role of a mother to me. She was always there to guide me even though she found me to be too hot-headed and would always appeal for calm that I cannot change everything at once! Together with Alh Lalo Samateh, Alh. Masour Njie, Ebrima Cole, and Auntie Sera GreyJohnson, these veterans were all excellent professionals who provided immense leadership, mentoring and impeccable service.
In fact, it was Alh. Mansour Njie of blessed memory who first discovered my writing skills as he continuously urged me to sit with him so he could narrate histories for me to write into a book. May Allah continue to grant his gentle soul eternal rest in Janatul Firdawsi. Amen. I had not met the previous veterans such as Badou Lowe or Suwaibou Conateh among others but indeed I heard pleasant stories about them and indeed could sense their indelible mark at the radio station by the quality of professionalism I found in the men and women I found there.
Not only did great editors like Malick Jeng, Abdoulie Gassama, and Peter Gomez mentored me, but I was equally inspired and impacted by great producers and presenters like Sarjo Barrow, Bora Mbodge, Jainaba Nyang, Amie Joof Cole, Serign Faye, Musa Manneh, Ismaila Manneh, Ismaila Sengore, Abdoulie Bittaye and the late Aja Maimuna Bah as well as my last editor-in-chief the late Sabel Jagne.
I must also pay tribute to the technical side of the job as well where great men and women like Sarjo Manneh, Edi Ken Njie, Toubab Omar Jagne, Lamin Camara, Tijan Valentine, Chris Colley, Mansajang Manneh, Ebrima Sidibeh, Ansumana Colley and Saffie Cham, and my contemporaries such as Madi Juwara, Nuha Badjie, Dawda Njie, Louie Mendy and others truly demonstrated to me what dedication and commitment to service meant. These were men and women on the machine to ensure quality sounds were produced. They were always on time to open the radio station on air. They ensured that producers and presenters like me also perform and produce the best quality programs!
Talking about being on time, one cannot fail to mention the great veteran drivers who were never late to appear at your door at 4am to pick up and drop off staff at Mile 7 so that the radio would come on air at 6am sharp, every day, nonstop! Lateness was not in the vocabulary of these people. Thank you, Dembo Jatta, Katim Secka, Masaneh Besan, Kebba Manneh, Sulayman Jatta and all the drivers!
I can confidently state for the record that these veterans indeed exhibited utter discipline and dedication in their work, but sadly received the lowest salaries and almost no incentives. Today when I look at the surviving veterans I cannot but fail to recognize that indeed these people have not been adequately rewarded for their invaluable work for the country. Not only did the departed souls demised in poverty but also those in retirement today continue to live in poverty and neglect. These people were not just working to earn a salary, but they had immense love and passion for their work and did it diligently and in humility and dignity.
For that matter, I strongly recommend to the Gambia Government through the Ministry of Information and GRTS to create a Radio Gambia Veterans Fund to provide support to these surviving veterans and the families of the deceased. This is in recognition of the immense hard work, selfless service, and the invaluable contribution these veterans made in the development of the Gambia through the airwaves of Radio Gambia that gave unlimited supply of information, education, and entertainment of all kinds to citizens across the country. Radio Gambia staff are among the few public officials who wake up early and go home late! Every day. Yet poorly and sadly rewarded!
Indeed, my time at Radio Gambia was one of the best moments of my life. I learnt a lot about life and service and built valuable relationships that last until today. I recall how younger folks like myself and the generation that came afterwards such as Haddy Badgie, Flora Richards, Abimbola Bello, Lamin Jaiteh, Tijan Janneh, Bakary Fatty, Alieu Jallow and Alhagie Senghore among others formed what now became the GRTS Staff Association. In fact, this association came out of the great friendship that myself, Agnes John and Essa Jallow shared which culminated into house parties and picnics that sprung off from my birthday as St. Madi’s Day!