It was a troubling morning for a college student whose only job was to attend lectures and of course understand what he learns. The cloud that hangs over the Smiling Coast has frown as if it were to pronounce the beginning of the doomsday. June sometimes surprises but nothing close to that magnitude and I had hoped it was a surprise that would give our Gambia a chance, at least to see another more days.
The sky was pregnant. Eagles and vultures that the irrational scientist in me says are often thrilled by blue sky have all disappeared. They have perhaps- thanks to their sharpened eyes that surpasses even a sophisticated night vision goggles- seen the water thank in the sky nature was planning to unleash on The Gambia.
Despite the boos of the storm and the heavy rain, I would hail a cab from my residence to the college. The turn-out at the college on that day would be just little below the unacceptable margin- whatever that is. I would only meet one of my lecturers whose course I was supposed to have the day that followed and he would embarrassingly tell me “I thought you were not going to come”.
“If I had known I would not have come,” I managed to say, but only to myself. I was supposed to have Strategic Public Relations Management but the lecturer who was, apparently thinking like his colleague who thought I would not have come, arrived only by phone asking if we could reschedule the class to a later date.
There I was contemplating if I should regret why I was at the college. Like anyone, I am someone one too, and it is natural that disappointed and shocked people tend to look for a better refuge. Within split seconds, the idea of going to the college’s library came crashing in my mind. Going back home was not an option because not only was it raining but my uncle was going to say I dodged lectures.
With my entire strength in a rush to the college Library, I heard a soft-spoken man in one of the lecture halls. I started reducing my pace to almost a crawl until I got to the door of the hall where the voice was coming from. My gaze fell on his- the talking old- and I quickly looked away. He was an old man, though I did not know the age and I was seeing him for the first time.
On the white board were only two words: development economics. I did not see any other thing- not even a paper. Everyone comes into a lecture hall with something- a laptop, Ipad, paper or just anything. The chances of coming up with a theory on why he was different, at least for that day, was non-existent. I settled for the truth: he must have heard all that he was supposed to tell the students in his head.
“Are you a new student at the college or do you want to see me?” he would ask, in not so loud but calm voice.
“No, no, no,” I quickly said. “I just thought I could sit at the back of your class here to…” and he would quickly added “be part of our lectures”. Knowing full well how unconventional an idiot I was becoming by asking to be part of a lecture of a course I was not taking, I was careful with what I was to say despite the smile on the old man’s face. But before I said yes and explain my story, he would beckon me to a sit at the back by flicking his head to the direction of his left side.
I would sit with a smile and listen to the old man talking about development economics. It was my first time hearing someone talking about development economics; nevertheless, the lecture thrilled me. I barely had anything to go home with from him owing largely to my ignorance except that the old man, whoever he was, if the English Philosopher, Francis Bacon is to be believed when he said “reading maketh a full man”, he has read.
But I would not go home until I shook his hand. I would later learn from students that the old man who has helped to accommodate me to pass away some time at the college which was more like an academic adventure- that is if that exist- than real learning, was Dr Boro Susso. Students told me that he speaks with authority in almost everything they study when they ask him. They would also proudly inform me that he was a founding lecturer of the University of the Gambia and that he was a onetime employee of the former regime.
This was in 2013 when I neared the end of a three-year six month mass communication course I had taken at the Stratford College. Dr, as everyone there referred to him, lectured in the development studies department of the college. He would later be given the responsibility to update the development studies courses at the college to better fit the Gambian job market-which he would do successfully to the pleasure of both the college administration and the students who often say “Dr is amazing”.
But my encounter with that reservoir of knowledge was a call of God, because with less than a year down the line, I would graduate and be employed at Today newspaper in June (the same month I met Dr Susso) 2014- the first Gambian newspaper to have hit the news stance with colour. The proprietor was Hamid Adiamoh, an energetic Nigerian journalist- arguably the best in the history of journalism and newspaper designing in this country.
As destiny would have it, few months into the job, the United Nation Development Programme would release a preliminary report on The Gambia following the visit of their humanitarian coordinator, Robert Piper. The report lamented how erratic rain as a result of climate change and climate variability affected the pockets of many farming communities in the country and thus their three square meals. But how, I thought, the rain of the preceding year was good and why were farmers not having enough food from one rain until another harvest comes, let alone savings.
Then I settled for this question: how might the agricultural sector in the country be developed to the state that it pays more than the hand-to-mouth wage it gives to farmers? I told the editor about the story idea and of course the source in mind, Dr. That was a successful interview not only because Boro believed The Gambia’s future depends on developing its agricultural sector, he shared with me what he thought should be done to lift farmers from the firm grip of poverty. He frankly told me where he agreed with the APRC’s agricultural policies and where he thinks there are flaws. I can still remember him saying “any attempt to use agriculture to lift farmers from poverty in the country without a clear-cut linkage between the sector and small scale processing will be futile”. He talked the importance of good markets for farm produces and good transportation and storage facilities.
That was just the start for the journalist- source relationship we would build until I walked through the doors of The Standard where I would take another position as a senior reporter. But the interview that would follow the first one was going to be one of the most memorable for me. It was on Multidimensional poverty in The Gambia. This time I did not meet the smiling Dr, I met a radical intellectual who would talk me through all varied cases of poverty in the right sense of the term.
A few minutes into the interview I knew I did not prepare enough- my interviewee had turned into a strange theorist and yet the theory made a perfect appeal to a perfect mind. Talking, word after word, in a way I had not seen before, Boro told me at the tail end of the interview after virtually everything about poverty was discussed, that poor people should have the right to “sue the society for being poor”. He told me that having access to basic facilities in life is a fundamental human right and that often poverty is caused by the complacency of people in authority.
“Do you think a farmer who work from 8am to 6pm is lazy? No! They are hardworking people but it is the societies and leaderships that created an environment that rarely reward hardworking people. Then the societies and the leaderships are guilty and the poor, hardworking people should have a legal mechanism to resort to when they feel they are been unfairly treated,” he had argued.
That shows how much he believed in a society where resources are distributed equally. And he was equally a disciplinarian. I came to learn that about him when in one of our casual chats after an interview; I asked him if my younger brother who he lectures was serious at school. Dr Looked at me from the corner of his eyes and he said: “if he is not serious, you would not have been asking me about him”. The seriousness and valour with which he said this made me think that no serious student attends his lectures.
Boro was the first Gambian intellectual to have told me outright that women in this country could make a better president as compare to men folks. In that particular interview, he would tell me how important women empowerment is to the development of The Gambia. He would say that “women are the most productive people in the Gambian society and the most marginalised; you want to eradicate poverty, invest in them”.
My last interview with Dr was a week after the Central Bank of the Gambia released its second quarter report and it was as interesting as the previous ones and we focused more on the domestic debt component of the report. But this was a different one because I left with an appointment for another interview on a future story I wanted to do. Dr agreed and told me to contact him when I wanted to see him. But God knew I was never going to meet him again. Death would snatch him from The Gambia- but only his physical presence would go.
It became nothing short of a shock when I heard the news that Dr Boro Susso, the giant, rare species, has died on August 29, age 70, and was laid to rest in Basang, his home town at 5pm on the same day. His close friend, Lawyer Darboe told me that Boro’s demise was “a big loss for The Gambia”.
I have found “big loss” to be insufficient an adjective to describe how important Dr Susso was to The Gambia. I would say that if knowledge is the eyesight of the mind that helps one evade the destiny of darkness, then many have landed their desired destiny as a result of Dr’s torch- the torch which symbolised and immortalised him. I have decided to pen this tribute for Boro because an equally smart but stubborn Saikou Journalist Jammeh told me “I will be disappointed if you don’t write a tribute for Dr Boro”. But I will equally disappoint myself if I did not relay Dr’s message to the Gambian women.
“I believe so much in Gambian women. I fact, I think they can deliver the best for this country after seeing what men have done in 50 years… I will be disappointed if I do not see a female candidate in the coming 2016 presidential elections,” Dr said in one of his interviews with me.
“It is their (women’s) fundamental right to be political leaders. I enjoin them (women) to seize their rights and not wait for someone to give it to them.”
This tribute for Dr Susso was written for The Standard and reproduced on this blog