The Death of Kairaba, The End of An Era

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KAIRABA, Barajally Tenda’s most celebrated son, is no more! It is practically impossible to conceptualize, or better still, to put anyone’s entire existence into a prose or a handful of stanzas, especially someone of Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara’s stature. Nevertheless, I will give it my best shot and try to synthesize a few words in this space.

Fittingly, my earliest memory of Kairaba came at an independence day celebration at the Bakau Stadium, his last independence celebration, I think, as President. I attended the event with my uncle, aunt, and cousins. We were seated right behind the president. It was a memorable and unforgettable day in the life of a first grader.

The West Baltimore born essayist — Ta-Nehisi Coates — eloquently noted in one of his essays that when people write eulogies of their revered loved ones or public figures — they tend to strip them of their humanity; in that, they gloss over, erase their flaws, and sanitize their entire being — thereby — elevating them to the perch of hagiography. As a result, wedding oneself to the ahistorical, mythical of humanity itself. But Coates is also acutely aware that people and nations, since time immemorial, require and thrive on myths and mythical beings.

Essentially, for a good many Gambians, President Jawara’s death would cast a shadow of loss that would and could not be justly captured in the traditional domains of Anglo-Saxon nomenclature, but one which would be best narrated by the Hosanna and paean melodies of the Jalis/Guewels (Griots) — culled from the eponymous song — D.K. Sabari.

Understandably, sentimentality is inherently human, and as such, a good many Gambians, on this somber and melancholic of days, would heap praises on the politician from Barajally Tenda who led an improbable country into a probable journey, and rightly so. I think Kairaba’s contribution to the formation of the Gambian state is worth memorializing, for which I, and many Gambians would be forever indebted to.

Jawara epitomized and embodied everything Gambian. His temperament and statesmanship shall be a barometer for scions of Gambians to come.

Albeit, Kairaba had his own shortcomings, mistakes, to wit, staying too long in power, not developing the critical infrastructure of the country, among other things. In addition, there are many questions to ponder vis-a-vis the Jawara presidency and life — but some of these what ifs are forever going to be obscured by time and imagination and would require rigorous academic exercise.

Notwithstanding, the Kairaba years are a direct contrast to that of his heirlooms and barring a change of fortune, we shall one day look back at the Kairaba era nostalgically, and herald it as the Golden Age of the Gambian republic. I mean, let’s face it, his successors make him look like some kind of a Jeremiah.

In the end, we all know that the judgment of history depends on who writes it; thenceforth, Kairaba’s legacy shall be scripted by many different scribes. However, as the edifice of the Gambian state returns to his creator, we should all strive to maintain and live by the colloquial Mandinka adage — which fittingly syncs with his name — Kairaba (Abundant Tranquility).

In token, thereof, from the banks of the Allahein Bolongo in Kombo Kartong to the bluffs of the Sofaniama to Kairaba’s ancestral homeland in Barajally Tenda in the Gambian heartland — “let the noise of a mourning nation” sing the For The Gambia, Our Homeland, and with a “nation’s lamentations” — let us usher our dear Kairaba home to join the pantheon of Great God of Nations.

Unfortunately, time, man’s nemesis, takes its toll on us all — for we are only here to prolong the inevitable — death.

Godspeed, Kairaba!

By Sulayman Njie

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