Appreciation for Honourable Fatoumatta (Touma) Njie A Gender Transformative Leader

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By Mrs Adelaide Sosseh

Let me begin by congratulating Touma Njie, on her election as National Assembly Member for Banjul South and the very positive impressions that she has created since then. Her political maturity and style of leadership bring a breath of fresh air to a very fractious political system in The Gambia. Her magnanimity towards her political opponents is not only praiseworthy but worthy of emulation. This is the motivation for this post.

Simply commenting on Ms Njie’s various appreciations of Mbye Sarr, one of the contenders for the Banjul South Seat, would not suffice to illuminate the graciousness of this act and the very different style of politicking that she’s practicising. She has overtly demonstrated that politics is not a dividing factor and that after the politicking is over ‘life goes on’ with immense possibilities of collaboration and cooperation between the two political opponents.

Touma Njie’s constant references to Mbye Sarr as a gentleman depict a woman of strong character who is confident and knows that showing appreciation and respect for others in no way demeans their own self worth. Only great people, people of honour and grace acknowledge and overtly show appreciation for others especially an adversary. Many would be too happy to bring the other person down at every opportunity. Honourably and with great humility and courage, she has shown us all that it is indeed possible to ride above the pettiness and nastiness to one of civility and respect and working with each other for the public good.

From a non-political standpoint, I want to lend credence to her description of Mbye Sarr as a gentleman. I would have been disappointed if he had behaved otherwise. Mbye hails from a compound that was steeped in religion, culture and tradition which also embraced modernity but not to the detriment of their religious, cultural and traditional values. Many Gambians can attest to the fact that Johnen, played an important role in the socio-cultural, economic and political development of the country. This was the environment that Mbye Sarr was born and grew up in.

We were next door neighbours. We lived in 12 Hagan Street (now Daniel Goddard Street) and they in number 13. There was no fence between the two compounds. The space where the fence should have been was occupied by a small jaka (praying area). Johnen that is number 13 Hagan, had four family units- the John’s, the Jengs, the Wadda’s and the Sarrs. The Sarrs house was exactly opposite our activity area so from the time we woke up to the time we went to bed we were under eaach others radars as they could see all our movements and we could see all of theirs. Thus it was really just like one household except that the activities and activity areas were seperate except of course when it came to children’s play.

Johnen were good neighbours. They lived according to the teachings of Islam and practiced good neighbourliness. As Mbye is the focus of this piece I will limit my comments to the Sarr family. Uncle Ali Sarr and Tanta Ramou Jallow were exceptional people. Soft spoken, gentle, discrete, kind and generous. I have never once in all the years that we lived together hear them raise their voice against their children or other family members. They brought up their children to be Godfearing and to be responsible and useful human beings. The children Mbye and his siblings-Modou, Awa, Beegay, Omar and Mam Jarra received a holistic education which encompassed all their psycho social well being.
Religious education was under the tutelage of Mam Tapha John and Foday Wadda who had ‘dara’ classes for the children of the compound and from the neighbourhood. Prayer times were observed regularly in the ‘jaka’ and sometimes followed by a brief sermon. During these times out of respect our activities were limited in our activity area. We could however see and hear everything that was going on. The children were well grounded into Islamic teachings and practices and Islamic way of living which included religious tolerance.

This aspect of religious tolerance is important particularly today when religious and other forms of intolerance are beginning to rear their ugly heads in The Gambia. In spite of the fact that Johnen were Muslims and Carayol Kunda was Catholic we coexisted peacefully and respectfully with each other. Johnen participated enthusiastically in Christian feasts such as Christmas without any detriment to their Islamic religious beliefs. For example the children had their ‘makaalo’ (masquerade) group and weeks before Christmas they made their musical instruments, sewed their outfits and practised their dances all under the watchful eyes of their parents. Incidentally their uncle, Foday Wadda was one of the best fanal ‘flourists,’ of his time then even though he was visually impaired. He intricately and lovingly designed the paper decorations used to make the ‘fanals’ and the end result was always awesome.

Johnen were renowned for their cultural activities. The adults had their own activities such as the women’s compins under the leadership of Jow Jow. With respect to the children the boys were further educated through the ‘lels’ the circumcision rites that they participated in. When it was time for one of them to be circumcised they did it with their peers from their family and friends. The ‘Mbarr’(hut) was built in the compound and the ‘njulis’ lived in the mbarr until the coming out took place. They were subjected to the rules of the mbarr like all the other children and there was no exception to how they were treated. The mbarr was dismantled at the end of the circumcision period and only then were they allowed to go home to their parents which was just next door. Thus discipline and resilience were inculcated in them from an eaarly age.

Formal school, boy scouts and brownies and girl guides all contributed to reinforcing the positive lessons learnt from home.   Mbye Sarr cannot be other than a gentleman. From birth he was socialised into becoming a gentleman. His parents ably supported by other family members notably Mam Tapha and his wives Mam Jorjoh Khan and Jow Jow, their aunties Mam Tute Jeng and Mam Kucha of blessed memory, their uncles and aunts the Waddas, the Jallows and the Drammehs all played their roles. The parenting skills of his mother, Tanta Ramou Jallow and father, Ali Sarr have undisputably contributed to forming the character of the gentleman Mbye Sarr who was trained to be respectful, tolerant, hardworking, generous, kind and god fearing.

While I do not know Touma Njie as well as Mbye, l do however know her parents and family background. Her behaviour reflects the greatness of her lineage and I now know why my niece Oley Dibba Wadda was so excited about her candidature and election. Her magnanimity, graciousness and style has demonstrated to the whole world that it is not only important to be born into greatness but to be great yourself by emulating the virtues and attributes of your ancestry.

I know that being the gentleman that Mbye Sarr is and with his deep love for Banjul South, he will join forces with Touma Njie to work for the benefit of our area which is badly in need of upliftment infrastructurally, politically, economically, socially, culturally and spiritually. Through her communications, Touma has demonstrated that this is what she wants to do. By working in partnership with Mbye Sarr and other political opponents in a bi-partisan manner these words can be translated into concrete actions. In addition, she mentions many people on the ground who have the goodwill, the expertise and knowledge to help her achieve her objectives.

There will be spoilers who will not want this to happen. I urge her not to give them the space to put doubt and mistrust between herself and Mbye Sarr and any other person she may want to work with. She has started on the right footing and I urge her to stay on this track. It is her pathway to a distinct and unique style of political leadership that will lead her to the highest echelons of her political career. I hope that others will learn from her so that The Gambia will emerge as a country that practices true democracy and where politics is not a dividing factor but only a vehicle to attain development.

Touma Njie’s style of politicking reaafirms the women in leadership agenda. For women in political leadership can indeed make a positive difference by transforming the way in which the business of politics is carried about.
I pray for her success and for Allah’s protection and guidance at all times.

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