By Mathew K Jallow
Without a scintilla of doubt, he is a bit of an enigma to most Gambians, but to those who know him well, he embodies reliability, consistency and generosity; someone who will go all out of his way to offer support, where there is challenge, lift spirits, when one is down, and share laughter, to help others not to take life all too seriously. It is safe to say Ebrima Sankareh is not defined by one thing. Perhaps, that is not the best way to put it. Mr. Sankareh is defined by many different characteristics; humanist, teacher, populist, journalist, human rights advocate, political activist, and add Lenrie Peters’ scholar, to this remarkable distinction. In a single sentence, last week, Ebrima Sankareh broke the news of his impending return home to the land he left so long ago. There was sadness that it took so long. There was hope it is finally happening. And, most of all, there was a sense of nostalgia for the familiar; the sights, sounds and smells of West Africa’s sweet Smiling Coast; the Gambia. In announcing his imminent return home “with the defeat of the Gambia’s disgraceful despot,” Mr Sankareh, like so many exiled Gambians, expressed his profound disappointment for what the monster Yahya Jammeh turned out to be. “When I left Gambia in the summer of 1995, Yaya Jammeh was still consolidating his grip on power, but in all honesty, little did I expect that he was going to mutate into one of Africa’s most callous creatures.” Twenty-two years is a long time to be an unwilling absentee from home, yet now, a state of rapture awaits Mr Sankareh, on his return to reconnect with the land he left behind. Then it will be well worth the wait. By nature, Mr Sankareh is gregarious personality who attracts people to himself, but he confides his innermost feelings to only a select few. This deliberate choice of confidants has added to his mystique, yet Mr Sankareh surrounds himself with people, as though it powers his spirit and give meaning to his life. After two decades, the pull to retuen home and nostalgia for a past that will never come back, has left Mr Sankareh stuck between two divided loyalties, nativist patriotism for home, and unquestionable patriotism of another kind for the United States of America, a new homeland that added so much value to Mr Sankareh’s life.
In 2011, following relentless attacks on Yahya Jammeh and his regime, something quite stunning happened; Yahya Jammeh, in a moment of madness at a meeting with US Ambassador Pamela White, asked her to help shut down The Gambia Echo, a Gambian online newspaper based in Raleigh, North Carolina. It was the first inkling Gambians had of the effectiveness or lack thereof, of the diaspora media. It was a moment of awakening that only fortified Gambia Echo with resilience and a renewed sense urgency, after having recognized the power of the online newspaper as the preferred source of information on the Gambia in academia, civil society institutions and Gambians abroad. Like Freedom, Gainako, Maafanta, Sidiblogspot Kibaaro, Kairo, Askani Senegambia, and subsequent online diaspora newspapers, Faturadio and Diasporium, Mr Sankareh’s founding of The Gambia Echo in 2006 was a gamble that he did not know would profoundly weaken the violent Gambian dictatorship. But, Mr Sankareh had a story of palpable viciousness he needed to tell to whoever would listen; a story of monstrous cruelty of animalistic proportions. It was a story of a Gambia he no longer recognized. But, today, nothing in Ebrima Sankareh’s behavior would betray the traumatic childhood he grew up in, with the loss of his father in an automobile accident the very same day he was born. He has persevered every odd and became Saints High school’s head-boy, where he aced it through to the sixth form. Ebrima Sankareh has since completed undergraduate, graduate and doctoral studies, and his research work on Gambia’s renowned literary figure, Dr Lenrie Peters, stands out as a brilliant rendition of Dr Peters’ unremarkable life, and preeminent masterpiece literary work. Ebrima Sankareh is by no means an extraordinarily dogmatic ideological straightjacket, but he can be passionately opinionated in matters cultural and political. Yet, Mr Sankareh has successfully steered clear of all the Facebook ad nauseam attacks often launched by political opponents, and only privately confides opinions on various national issues to a select few. It is difficult to impress me with intellectual acumen or ability to translate though to magnificent writing, but Mr Ebrima Sankareh has done both. Soon Mr Sankareh will reunite with the other soul that never left Gambia, and when he does, the spirit of the country he left behind so long ago will haunt his imagination and bring back memories of those that departed earth before he returned; Abdoukarim Savage, Deida Hydara, among so others. But, in his moment of joy and sadness today, we can only say, Bon Voyage, Ebrima G Sangareh