What Is Our Worth? My Birthday Letter to Gambians


I am overwhelmed. I have never felt so much loved and appreciated. All across the world, the number and quality of messages of inspiration, encouragement, hope and love that showered on me were just incredible. I am honored. Humbled. Inspired. Thank you. I am particularly proud of my birthday because it falls in the same month with very many ordinary peoples and great leaders around the world. But among these leaders, two stand out for me at this moment. First is the Hon. Marcus Mosiah Garvey (born on August 18), the man who first made me discover my humanity, self-worth, sense of nationalism and love for freedom. I owe him eternal gratitude since the day, 20 years ago when I first read the Opinions and Philosophy of Marcus Mosiah Garvey written in 1920, I have never been the same again. Second. My sense of nationalism has been renewed and strengthened by my beloved brother and compatriot Lawyer Ousainou Darboe (born on August 8). Since his illegal kidnapping on 16 April 2016 and subsequent persecution on July 21, he has touched my heart and further ignited the flame of nationalism and freedom in my entire being that I do not think I will ever rest on this earth so long as my nation the Gambia and Africa are not free in peace and dignity and justice. Thank you all.

Our Worth

Many in my family, friends, colleagues and fellow citizens, out of genuine love have always cautioned me that I should not speak out about human rights and issues that affect our country because it is not safe. Sometimes I felt obliged to listen and succumb to them as they list many examples of casualties such as the schoolchildren of April 2000, or Deyda Hydara and most recently Solo Sandeng and many other fallen compatriots who stood for freedom yet the change we desire did not come. While appreciating their love and concern, I must however remind such people and all Gambians and Africans indeed about the words of one of the greatest human beings of the 20th century, Martin Luther King Jnr. On 6th February 1968, Dr. King spoke to his fellow worshippers in a church in Washington DC in a speech entitled ‘A Proper Sense of Priorities’ in addressing the US invasion of Vietnam. Many had condemned him for speaking out against the Vietnam War arguing that he was a man of God and not a politician or an activist. Others even said by speaking against the war he would only aggravate the condition of Blacks in America. But this honourable man disagreed and highlighted the linkage between the war in Vietnam and the condition of not only his people, but the average poor person in America. He noted that while the US government was spending about $500,000 to kill every Vietcong soldier, yet the same government was spending only about $53 a year per person for everybody that was characterized as poverty stricken. It was in this speech that this great man concluded with these timeless words of wisdom,

“Ultimately a genuine leader is not a searcher of consensus but a molder of consensus. On some positions cowardice asks the question, is it safe? Expediency asks the question, is it politic? Vanity asks the question, is it popular? But conscience asks the question, is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.”

Fellow Gambians, this is the position we have arrived at given the deplorable state of affairs in our country today. But we can only take this position if, and I emphasize, only if indeed we accept to live by our conscience. Everyone has conscience.

But what is conscience? For me conscience is that inner truth and a sense of justice that flows in one’s entire being. It is a consciousness and a natural phenomenon that each and every human being has regardless of sex, race, tribe, religion or culture. Conscience does not only tell a person what is right and wrong, but conscience also makes you even feel physically and mentally about the right and the wrong, justice and injustice, good and bad. I know this because anytime anywhere I see injustice I feel palpitations in my body. Conscience is always right, just and good.

While we all have conscience, yet one cannot follow and accept one’s conscience until you realize your worth as a human being and a citizen. Whether it is from the belief in God or religion, or from one’s culture or science, it is said that human beings are the highest in value and standard of all the creatures and creation of nature. Some of the scriptures even say that we are made in the image of God, who has given us the power over His dominion. It is God that gives us life and sustenance and not a fellow human being. Even where humans oppress and exploit each other, it is certain that all human beings are created equal in rights and dignity. No human being is inherently better than another. The king is not better than the slave and the mother is not better than her child. We are all equal with a shared humanity. We must therefore not bow down and worship another human being because none is worthy to worship or be worshiped by another human being. Our worth as human beings is limitless. Human beings are an embodiment of dignity.

As citizens, we are all equal before the law, with the same status as there are no first class and second class Gambians. We create a state which is the embodiment and manifestation of our individual and collective will, voice, and power to serve as a tool to protect our rights and fulfill our needs. Hence the Government and the people who work in its various institutions at whatever capacity or title are nothing other than our servants. We are the sovereign owners of the Gambia and it is from us that the state and its officers; from the President to the Speaker to the Chief Justice and all other officers under them derive their authority and power to do what they must on our behalf for our interest.

The foregoing is therefore our value or worth as citizens of the Gambia. This means therefore that in principle any decision and action that the president makes, or any ruling a judge gives or any law that the National Assembly make, they do so in our name and on our behalf. Thus if a Gambian child is unable to go to school or only gets poor quality education then each and every citizen is responsible for that anomaly. If a Gambian mother dies in child birth because the medical facilities are not available or adequate, it means each and every Gambian is responsible for the death of that pregnant woman. If a Gambian man or woman is arrested by the police, it means each and every Gambian is responsible for that arrest because the police officer is performing that function based on the authority and power that we the people gave him or her. Therefore if a Gambian person is tortured and dies in police custody, it means that each and every Gambian has tortured and killed that Gambian because the police officer and police station are our employees and institutions to whom we gave our power and authority to act.

In light of these fellow Gambians, if you know your worth therefore as a human being and a citizen then you cannot but follow your conscience. And in following your conscience right now, could you say that the state of affairs in the Gambia is a matter that you can ignore? Have you considered that Deyda Hydara was someone else’s father, just as Solo Sandeng was someone’s husband? Likewise the 14 massacred students were also someone’s brother or sister, and certainly Femi Peters, Lamin Dibba or Nogoi Njie or Fatoumatta Jawara and Ousainou Darboe are all someone’s father, mother, uncle, husband, wife, brother and sister and above all are fellow citizens? If you are a Gambian and you have conscience and wish to live by your conscience then whether you are an APRC or UDP supporter, or a supporter of PDOIS, NRP, GDC, GMC, GPDP, NDAM, PPP or NCP or just not a supporter of any party, should you not be concerned and agitated by the fact that in our country there are scores of citizens facing clear and direct destruction of their entrenched fundamental rights as per the 1997 constitution? The purpose of the Government is above all to protect our rights and freedoms. Thus whether any violation is committed or not by agents of the state, it is the responsibility of the state to stop that violation and bring perpetrators to justice. As citizens with conscience, we must be vigilant to see to it that the state acts in that manner with urgency and thoroughness. Are you doing that?

My birthday is meaningless to me so long as there are Gambians who are subjected to inhuman and degrading treatments totally contrary to our constitution. I am standing up for human rights and freedoms of Gambians because I am aware of the incontrovertible fact that in any society the only guarantor for freedom and protector of rights is the rule of law based on human rights. In any society where a single right is violated and it is not repaired immediately and in full, rest assured that no one is safe in that society. Otherwise how could we explain the fate of former APRC strongman Baba Jobe or IGP Essa Badgie or Gen. Lang Tombong Tamba or former Minister of Justice Lamin Jobarteh among many and many more who shall come to fall out of grace? Solo was killed and Ousainou and compatriots are in jail because in our society many rights have been trampled upon and never been repaired immediately and in full. Consequently, the killing of Solo and the incarceration of Ousainou are merely a continuation of the culture of violations in our society. Hence any Gambian with conscience must stand up. Any Gambian who claims to be a human being who has faith and an embodiment of dignity and a patriotic citizen must stand up to demand that these violations stop so that we have freedom.

When we finally chased out the British out of our country in 1970, we gained independence not because we want to sit on each other’s heads in order to break each other’s necks. We chased out the British to be free and happy as human beings and citizens. Unless if we are donkeys and not conscientious human beings neither citizens of dignity, no one with conscience should sleep knowing that in our society school children were gunned down by our state agents in our name with our power and authority yet the killers remain happily with their own children. No one should smile knowing that Deyda Hydara was gunned down yet the killers roam the streets of Banjul with their own families. No one should feel good knowing that Solo Sandeng was arrested and tortured to death under state custody yet his killers continue to enjoy our authority and power as they like. No one should be proud of the Gambia of today knowing that thousands of Gambians live a life of wretchedness without basic amenities of life, yet our government officials could send their children to good private schools and take their pregnant wives to deliver in first world countries while they provide poor schools and health facilities for our people. No one should be happy knowing that scores of our young people have limited or no opportunities and have completely lost hope in their motherland that they are prepared to die in the Sahara Desert and in the Mediterranean Sea in pursuit of life, liberty and happiness in faraway lands. My heart bleeds for my motherland that after 50 years of self rule, we have become much more enslaved today than in 1920.

My birthday message to my fellow Gambians is to ask yourself in your quiet moments whether this is the life and the country you deserve? Ask yourself whether in your personal capacity you are promoting and expanding the limits of freedom and happiness for your people, or are you a tool for the oppression and exploitation of your people? Is this the meaning of your belief in Allah or God to live your life at the misery and grief of your fellow human beings? Each and every Gambian must ask this fundamental question in honesty and truth.

We must realize that if Edward Francis Small’s mother had told him at that time not to get involved in the struggle for freedom for Gambians, then probably we would not have been independent today. What would have happened if the parents of Jawara or PS Njie or Jahumpa among others had told them not to seek Gambian independence in the 1950s and 1960s? Who among us today does not appreciate and love the independence for which many before us had been beaten, jailed and killed? If Solo Sandeng had succeeded in achieving free and fair electoral laws and transparent elections, who among us would not have enjoyed the peace and happiness that would have been resulted from that noble struggle? If Deyda Hydra had succeeded in making the Government respect and protect the freedom of the press, which Gambian journalist and citizen would not have enjoyed unfettered access to information and a transparent and accountable Government and society as a whole? Thus if you are a human being and a citizen with conscience, your moral compass should direct you straight to the path of seeking freedom and justice in your lifetime as these fellow citizens did. If you fail to do so then you are nothing other than a selfish, ungrateful and immoral Gambian who is less than the donkeys and goats in our homes and farms. If we as a nation, individually and collectively disregard our conscience and lose our sense of justice and patriotism because of fame, position and wealth, have we considered what kind of society we will produce? Which society have we seen since time immemorial that has substituted their conscience with fear, disdain and vanity and yet they prosper in peace and stability?

This is not a matter of bravery. I am no one’s hero, but a follower of my conscience. It is not about being stubborn. It is not being stupid or foolish. It is not about seeking fame. I am no one’s liberator except myself. This is about morality. Justice. Conscience. Faith. It is about your worth as a human being and a Gambian. It is called patriotism. Not on your lips or dress or your ceremonies. But in your heart, mind and soul. By your principles and practice. Upholding one’s conscience asks for no cost in whatever sense. All it requires is to be yourself. To be true to yourself and to your God and to your fellow human being and nation. Do not sit on your conscience. Let it be free and follow it. Practice what you preach. It is more expensive to seize the truth. The truth shall never set you free until you first set the truth free. That’s all. Being true to your conscience provides durable and lasting peace, freedom and all the good things of life. Why do you want to pretend and harbor guilt in your heart and chest every day and night? Hypocrisy. Those who perish in misery and on the altar of disgrace and ridicule are those who sell their conscience to their fellow human beings for a mess of pottage. Any human being who is conscious of his or her worth will not suppress or sell or mortgage his or her conscience for anything and to anyone. Why do you want to enslave yourself to your fellow human being?

I stand for a Just and Free Gambia because I have conscience and I want to stand by it.

Madi Jorbateh


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