An Interview with the PRO of Basse Association

04/18/2010 12:57


March 16th, 2010

Pa Samba Johm was born and raised in Basse. He is the Public Relations Officer of the Basse Association, Inc. and also the President of the Gambian Association of Michigan (GAM). He attended Muslim High School and later became Deputy Head Boy of St. Augustine's High during his Sixth Form days in 1995. He was a founding member of the Lend A Hand Society in The Gambia. In this interview, Samba talks about his childhood days in Basse, his task as BA's P.R.O., some Gambian history, among other things.

Pa Samba Johm

"Basse is in Need of Garbage and Drainage Cleaning"

My Basse: What was it like growing up in Basse?

Pa Samba Johm: It was great growing up in Basse and I had a lot of fun as a child growing up there. It is almost inexplicable because life in Basse offered a great diversity of activities, such as academics, sports, youth movements and money-making ventures as well. Competition was always a part of life with other kids in these activities. Most importantly, Basse was known for its love, respect and caring for one another, especially visitors.

Have any particular childhood stories to share?

I remember the football games in Mansajang Kunda before the football field was transferred to Basse. The games were always exciting but the last 15 minutes were the climax and as children, we never saw those minutes of the games. The Basse elders would always ask us, the kids, to go home for our safety because fights between the home team and visiting team were almost inevitable.

During my first year at Muslim High school, I came home for the summer vacation and my good friend Amadou Taal had identified a very pretty young lady for me (May her soul rest in peace). We met about noon and we were officially boyfriend and girlfriend, but by early evening, she had broken up with me because friends had told her that I was the most dangerous boy and didn't laugh or joke! I tried to convince her otherwise but to no avail. Come to think of it, I might have had the shortest lived relationship in history.

The beautiful and smiley faces of the Basse (Awulubeh) cultural group:

exemplifying the town's pleasantness, then and now

Who were your childhood friends?

I had a host of childhood friends growing up. I had friends in Santa-su and Angal Futa and the satellite villages. They are too numerous to mention but the Zion Boys Club was the one I belonged to and played for. The few childhood friends I am constantly in touch with are, Amadou Taal, Haruna (Massy) Touray, Mbye Saine, and Ousman Kamara whom I often get to see.

As the Public Relations Officer of the Basse Association, Inc., how would you encourage more members into the organization?

As the PRO of BA, I have an obligation to relate and relay the message of BA to the general public as a whole and sell the ideals and goals of BA effectively. It also means reaching out to all with information sharing. I believe that the BA is a very formidable association and is inviting to all. Our goals and objectives are geared towards Basse’s development. Though still very young, our start is very encouraging and I would commend the members for their steadfastness. We must execute our plans very well and let our achievements speak for the association. I think one reason why membership dwindles in associations is that some or all become disillusioned about the goals and achievements of the association.

Being also president of the Gambian Association of Michigan, it must be challenging doing both leadership roles at the same time. What do you think?

Leadership is very challenging even in its singularity and it becomes more daunting in its plurality but one has to learn to juggle both without losing sight of reality or engulfed in some aloofness. A leader is the chief servant and as such, should be willing to carry out the wishes of the people you serve and not vice versa. Sometimes it is disappointing, discouraging and disheartening but if the leader is set on doing right by the people, he can gain their trust which can catapult a leader’s confidence enormously.

What is the function of a leader in any organizational set up?

A leader is to be the lead servant and to set in place programs and plans which are geared towards the betterment and upliftment of all regardless of affiliations of any kind. It is to lead in the right direction and by example. Be a unifier and not a divider and be willing to listen even to your most fierce critics without condemning them.

Ideas and finances: Which of the two is more essential to an organization's success?

To me ideas and finances are of equal importance because one cannot go far in the absence of the other. The two are complimentary and essential in an organization’s success. Take for instance, U.S.A as a country, it is the cream of the successful nations because it is blessed with both ideas and finances in abundance and many other organizations in such a position have the two.

You have been involved in a lot of community organizations. What experiences have you learned about group dynamics?

Group dynamics requires team work, cooperation and unity. The absence of these elements can lead to the collapse of a group. No single tree can make up a forest therefore, no one person can make up a group. Group dynamics also needs leadership for a sense of direction. I have also learned that not all members of a group will follow the program or the leadership and such people can and will become a menace to the group unity and function. As a group, it is best not to be sidetracked by such members because the spirit of achievement in a group is unity and cooperation.

Collective perseverance is important for organizational growth. It is painful to see a-once good idea suddenly fizzles out. How can you maintain membership interest?

Membership interest can be maintained by offering the members clear-cut goals and programs beneficial to them. It is also very important the way the programs or goals are sold to the members. If members find the goals and programs laudable and appealing, then chances are they will stay. However, in certain instances, it is not what members can get from the organization but what can they do for the organization. Most importantly an organization has to be active to maintain membership interest, and dormancy can lead to the dwindling of members regardless of the excellence of the goals, programs and achievements.

During your recent visits to Basse, what aspects of the town did you find needed improving?

The needs of Basse in my opinion include improvements of its sanitary conditions, reservation of public land, reforestation, roads and building planning, health and educational facilities. Basse is in dire need of garbage and drainage cleaning; the public lands are almost extinct and the town needs to address the needs of the future generations. Most of the trees in Basse have been cut down and none has been replaced. Basse is losing a lot of its greenery it is known for. Another important aspect is the planning of roads and buildings. The town needs a good outline of roads, parks, schools and other amenities. It also needs a uniform code of building because some of the buildings are not up to par. Another area of importance is the health sector and education. The doctors, to my understanding are Cubans and communication is a major dilemma and they are not very knowledgeable in tropical diseases; medicine and beds are, among other things, in short supply.  Education is a national problem as a whole but Basse needs at least a good library, computers in the schools and after school programs to assist students and teachers alike.

The town of Basse: important to maintain its trees and greenery

 As a former teacher in The Gambia, you must be appalled at the falling standards in the schools.

Educational standards in the Gambia have been falling in over a decade now and every year, the failures seem more alarming. As a former teacher, I find it very disappointing because a country without an educated citizenry is most likely confined to the least amount of development and at the bottom of world competition. The Gambian is very intelligent and excels in whatever he/she decides to undertake but the lukewarm attitude towards education is detrimental to national progress.

What should the Gambian school system do to alleviate this problem?

The Gambian school system is the problem and it needs to re-evaluate itself and its programs. We can point fingers in all directions and most likely, blame can be shared by different components of the system but the bottom line is the school system. We must revamp the entire system in terms of educational curriculum, finance, institutions and training of professionals to be in line with universal standards. Government must finance education adequately and corruption eradicated and it should also make sure that institutions live up to their expectations by providing excellent and not mediocre education. 

How can we motivate the youths to stay in and finish school?

The youths must see that their education is worth something and not just a piece of paper indicating what level of education they have attained. They must be able to get employment upon completion of their program of study if not the youths do not have any incentive for staying in school. Secondly, the jobs’ salary must be able to sustain a living. This way, the youths will definitely stay in school because there is something to look forward to after graduation. It is no secret that Gambian and indeed African brain drain is a direct result of the attractiveness of better wages in the developed world.

You have done some research on the Gambian nationalist Edward Francis Small. Who was he?

Edward Francis Small is regarded by some as the first Gambian nationalist, major political activist and politician, journalist, businessman, clergyman and a freedom fighter who died fighting for the rights of Gambians. He was known by the colonial government as a trouble maker. However, not much is known about him and his contributions to Gambian independence. I think to do justice to this question, if space is available, your website should publish an article I wrote about E.F. Small for the benefit of the readers.

At some point during the run-up to Gambian Independence, Small couldn't get along with the Baddibu Seyfo, Janko Kinteh. What was the beef?

The issue between E. F. Small and Seyfo Janko Kinteh of Baddibu came about when Mr. Small and one Mr. Faye embarked on groundnut-purchasing in the provinces and to establish a syndicate of farmers to avoid exploitation by the colonial government. In Baddibu, Mr. Small secured some tons of groundnuts on credit from the farmers with the understanding that the bank would give him a loan once he secured the nuts. While in Banjul to get the loan, the traveling commissioner at the time was able to convince Seyfo Janko Kinteh to tell the farmers to retrieve their nuts while Mr. Small was away. While in Banjul, he was informed that the traveling commissioner, with the help of the Seyfo, was able to convince the farmers to get their groundnuts on the mere pretext that Mr. Small had bought them on credit. The project failed but the syndicate formed the basis of what would later become the Gambia Produce and Marketing Board (GPMB).

What does St. George's Primary, your alma mater, mean to you?

St. George’s Primary School means a lot to me because it is the cradle of my academic career. It was a very good school with a very caring staff even though I, at times, disapproved of their ways of discipline. I made live-long friends and it was fun going to school. The school provided standard education even though it had begun to fall during my years there. Of great help to me was Mr. Fodayba K. Samateh (Mr. Samateh), an excellent math teacher but was in fact an exceptional English Language teacher as well. His genius was his re-organization of the school curriculum in the fifth and sixth grades. The system he came up with was that a teacher in these grades should teach no more than two subjects as opposed to the old system where a teacher teaches every single subject. I am very grateful to the Catholic Mission for operating the school and no amount of words can express my gratitude. To the mission I say a heartfelt Thank You, especially Father Gabissi who took keen interest in our education and me in particular.

For those who don't know you, what will they find interesting about you?

That I am very funny and can crack jokes as opposed to being very serious and jokeless. I love laughing a lot and I love challenging tasks. I love intellectual discussions and I read a lot. I am also a history and politics fanatic.

What do you like to do for fun?

I love playing soccer, reading, debating, writing, music and teaching.

What was your favorite Basse football team?

 My favorite Basse football team was Jatta’s Football Club.


Pa Samba Johm is a graduate of the University of Michigan-Dearborn. He lives in Southfield, Michigan, USA.


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