The Gambia: Sana Manneh; a tribute to a fighting legend from another era (first published March, 2011)

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MatthewBy Mathew K Jallow

Friedrich Nietzsche would, with easy credence, argue that the radical traditions of the 1960s were an aesthetic expression of the intellectual awakening of the genius of an era. And Timothy Leary, Abby Hoffman, Eldridge Cleaver and Franz Fanon, vanguards in the noble causes of a long gone era, would have no trouble embracing Nietzsche’s piercing criticism and almost perversely delusional inquiry into the mind of a generation. In spite of the yawning abyss created by the social and economic inequity into which his and my generation were born, the upheavals that arose out the doctrine and dogma of socio-economic equilibrium, in a classless society, were as much utopian as they were the products the idealism of our times.

It was in that complex world of paradoxes, psycho-babbling and irrational reality that Sana Manneh sprang forth from the mean streets of Bathurst. In so many ways, he was a noble specimen of the rabble-rouser disciples of M. E. Jallow, yet he was also only a hair-trigger separated from the bomb-throwing revolutionary zest of the Kukoi Samba Sanyang mold. Sana Manneh was never given to the narrow idealism driven by empty rhetorical flourish and the incomprehensible indoctrination in socialism that was so characteristic of the generation in which he came of age. Sana’s face was permanently itched in a duality of contradictions; a seriousness that bordered on grumpiness and an easy smile, which radiated the gentle kindness that drew strength from depths of his uncomplicated soul. In his process of growing up, Sana learnt to gauge the world around him with the fresh look of innocent soberness, in order to understand and to find answers to the discomforting world that surrounded him.

In his search for the truth, Sana Manneh opened a whole new vista to the political self-centeredness that he later sought to dismantle from the obfuscating face of Gambian politics. Sana’s world-views were shaped by the struggles of his time, and the big name of influence in his life, the iconoclast of a generation, was the larger than life M. E. Jallow, who in a huff, was disposed to call out the Gambia Workers Union to engage in terrifyingly bloody hand-to-hand skirmishes with Sir Dawda Jawara’s police and paramilitary forces on the streets of Half Die in Bathurst. And there was the genial P. S. Njie, lawyer, politician, humanitarian extraordinaire, who instilled into Sana the gift of intellectual inquiry, but it was M. E. Jallow and his radical intellectual twin, Lamin Bora Mboge, who eventually left their lasting stamp on young Sana’s fighting character, as easily manifested in his perennial quest for truth and accountability in government. Sana Manneh was an unapologetic representation of an era which molded his young mind to birth the intellectual eloquence that inhabited in the pages of his newspaper and captivated the minds of Gambians who so often sought the dramatic embellishment of the truth as only his newspaper, The Torch could so expertly do. There never was a need to put Sana Manneh to the test, for he was a living prototype of the social experimentations of his time. He more than once tested himself to the limits of human endurance; taking on the political power-players of the day in the quest to stamp out from Gambia’s body politics, the ugly head of corruption and the vices of nepotism and political patronage. Life around Sana Manneh was a never-ending carnival of play and political gossips that was only dumbed down by the intoxicating weariness of the coarse voices that echoed loudly in the wee morning hours.

When Sana Manneh took on the Sir Dawda K Jawara government, the word on the street was that he had taken on more than he could chew, but time and customary diligence proved everyone wrong. His preparations in court prosecuting some of Sir Dawda Jawara’s corrupt officials were atypical in a country where officials assumed the might of deity itself. Sana showcasing of an extraordinary knowledge of the law would make Johnny Cochran green with envy, but through it all he remained humbled by the public adulation that he drew to himself. To Gambians who knew him, Sana was the embodiment of patriotism, an activist for social justice and human dignity, but to Saikou Sabally, Alhagi Yaya Ceesay, Landing Jallow Sonko, and a slew of other officials of the Sir Dawda Jawara government Sana marked for prosecution in court, he was a nightmare embodiment of everything evil. Whenever I think of Sana Manneh two things come to mind; his disheveled beard and the place to be in those days, The Caribbean Bar and Restaurant at the corner of Primet Street and Lovell Square; a place with its own unique story in the psyche and history of Bathurst. My interactions with Sana Manneh were driven by my deep respect for the selflessness with which he approached life, but above all, his unapologetic accomplishments standing up to officials of Sir Dawda Jawara’s successive governments; regardless of the harm he potentially expose himself to. His tireless prosecution of officials who epitomized greed, corruption and selfishness in government was the highlight of his career and the steadfastness with which he executed this task was the stuff of legends.

The storyline that today characterize the life of Sana Manneh, presents an important seg-way into understanding the complicated character of Sir Dawda Jawara’s long rule. Sana Manneh has left behind a legacy of political scholarship worth researching, if only to seek a fuller and more comprehensive understanding of Sir Dawda Jawara’s thirty years presidential legacy. When I learnt of brother Sana Manneh’s passing, I could not pass up the opportunity of telling his exemplary story of social and political activism; a man who gave so much to our country and asked for nothing in return. Sana’s Manneh’s hearty and guttural laughs have fallen silent at the legendary Caribbean Bar and Restaurant and the reassuring smiles that projected his easy charm has forever been wiped from his smiley face, but the legend and the legacy he left lives-on. Yesterday he used his writing craft to fight the good fight for social and economic justice, and today his accomplishments belongs to the history books. If a simple tribute is all I could give to a man who deserved so much more, I would do anything to honor a friend, a brother and a comrade in the struggle for justice. Sana’s passing marks the end of an era in Gambian journalism, an unsung hero whose story this humble tribute does no justice to. And although he left a dent by his passing and smoothed out some edges in our politics, to his chagrin, the good fight he so ardently epitomized continues. For now, even as we will extend our sympathy to the Sana Manneh family, we continue the work he inherited from the giants of Gambian activism and journalism; M. E. Jallow (Union), Edward Francis Small, M. B. Jones, Dixon Colley, Ba Tarawally and so many more. Sana, as you smile your easy smile, we know you are watching over us. So long, Comrade Sana Manneh.

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