My URR Diary/Former Daily Observer Basse Correspondent Reflects
Tuesday, May 29, 2012
It was a blessing to have served and completed my tour of duty as Daily Observer’s regional correspondent for the Upper River Region, which earned me rich experiences in my this noble career.
But first of all, I will thank the Almighty Allah who made everything possible for me to not only execute my duties but surmount the daunting challenges that were placed before me, when Istepped my feet in that far-flung region of the country. Words would not be really enough to thank God for not only making my stay successful in the farthest region of the country, but to also enable mereturn peacefully in good shape.
After thanking God, I would turn to my parents; they deserve my gratitude, as without their prayers the mission could not have been accomplished. They have and continued to stand by me, give me the courage and inspiration I needed, as a fuel in my life-long but conquerable journey, and without the slightest shadow of doubt, they made me who I am today.
Thirdly, I am highly indebted to the management and staff of the Observer Company, publisher of the Daily Observer newspaper for being not only handpicked among a lot to represent them in the Upper River Region but also for their incessant support to me throughout the course of my assignment in Basse.
It was not an easy assignment, having known full well the expectations from my employer and the fact that I couldn’t afford to blow the opportunity before me. When I received the directive from the management to be ready to be deployed to Basse, Upper River Region on January 13th 2011, I was nervous because I knew it was not going to be an easy task since hopes were very high on me, and the fact that I needed to do more than my predecessor who already left a good legacy in Basse, made me even much more nervous. But that was destiny and I was determined to overcome whatever the challenges were; thus I challenged myself to cultivate a new sense of spirituality, dedication, hard work and seriousness.
With mixed feelings, I departed the offices of the Observer Company early Thursday morning, 13th January 2011 for the provincial town of Basse, a place that was not new to me as my work took me there before for a few coverages. However, my permanent deployment there was really incomparable to those short visits, as I was given a whole one year assignment.
With a deep breath, I turned back to look at the office once more before I embarked on a journey that would last for more than 12 months. Knowing that Basse was very far, I didn’t waste any more time but to ask the chief driver of the Observer Company, Musa Sanno to give me a ride to the Banjul Ferry Terminal, where I boarded ferry to Barra. Upon arrival at the coastal town at around 12pm, I joined a seven-seater passenger vehicle (Sept-place), which drove me up to Basse.
Sitting humbly beside other fellow passengers, calls started to rain on my cell phone. Prominent was those of the outgoing correspondent, Bekai Njie (now a senior reporter), who out of concern was keen to know every development of my journey. Upon arrival in Basse at 6pm after a very hectic journey, I was received on the road side by Bekai Njie, who helped me carry my belongings. In a relaxing and joyful mood, Njie hastened to say ‘welcome to Basse’ knowing that my arrival had formerly ended his mission. Whatever his thoughts were, I was determined to excel like him.
We then arrived at a compound that would house me for the next 12 months. After entering the room, which is comfortable by all standards, Ibegan to thank God since good accommodation was among my concerns in Basse. I was also lucky to have boys from the Greater Banjul working with the Medical Research Council in the same compound which made me feel at home.
Having taken a quick bath and finally sat on the bed with my two hands holding my head, I now realized that I have assumed an assignment that would test me to the limits. While some might see the challenges placed before as a usual thing, to me, it was a different life experience.
The following day, Friday, 14th January 2011, was to meet the stakeholders in Basse to introduce myself to them as the newly appointed regional correspondent. Together with Bekai Njie, who had succeeded in establishing professional and social contacts with the people of Basse, we first visited the offices of the Radio Basse of the Gambia Radio and Television Services, where I was introduced to the manager of the station, Nuha Badgie, who encouraged me.
A man with huge experience in journalism, his advice could not have been timely than at that crucial stage of my career, when I needed it most, and I was grateful for those pieces ofadvice. I was also well received by the kind hearted staff at GRTS. I was also taken around the town to be introduced to different institutions and offices including the Office of the Governor, where I was introduced to Governor Omar Khan who was full of praises for the outgoing reporter Bekai Njie and equally welcomed me to his region.
Observer’s unshakeable stance
Observer’s commitment to my course was indeed very commendable, and I would be dishonest to myself if I fail to acknowledge the management’s incessant support rendered to me during the course of my assignment. To begin with, I was housed in a very comfortable apartment with all the necessary amenities such as water and electricity, the same house my predecessor was using.
Throughout my stay in Basse, Observer’smanaging director, Pa Malick Faye; Alhagie Jobe; Assan Sallah; Mariatou Ngum and Gibairu Janneh, all editors and Hatab Fadera and all the lovely and caring observer staff would frequently call to ask lot of questions regarding how I was coping in Basse. Musa Ndow, Amadou Jallow, Sheriff Janko and Bekai Njie, all senior reporters would frequently call to ask questions with laughter but then they would also give advice and suggestions on how to go about life in Basse.
Similar concerns were received from my colleague reporters including Omar Wally,Fatou Sowe, Aji Fatou Faal just to name a few. I cannot really thank all those wonderful staff at Observer who stood beside me during my stay in Basse and I pray that the Almighty Allah reward you in abundance and continue to protect and bless you all. The camraderie shown to me by my colleagues while in Basse was really amazing.
The commitment by the Observer management to prove its stance in the country’s media landscape as the leader and the driver of Gambian journalism resonated to me during my stay. This is because it is still the only media institution in this country that have deployed reporters in all the regions of this country, rent an apartment for them, make all the necessary journalistic working tools and technology gadgets at their disposal, all at the expense of the company.
My success in Basse therefore could not have been achieved without these logistics placed at my disposal. The office provided me with a CUG phone with free calls to staff, a 3G data card, a laptop, and credit allowances which are materials that any journalist would need in that remote area. I can’t really imagine how life would have been like in Basse without those incentives.
With that internet facility, I was always connected to the world from my comfortable house. In addition to that, the Observer management also provided me with a mobility that eased by movement within Basse and beyond.
My Relationship with the people of Basse
My relationship with the people of Basse was so cordial and I was able to establish not only professional contacts but also social. I found my stay in Basse as very interesting and my popularity in that town was too amazing amongst the locals. What I learnt was that as a regional correspondent, my work couldn’t be as successful as I planned without the partnership and cordiality with my hosts. The people there were always willing to talk to me whenever I approach them for any clarifications.
I will like to thank Alhaji Nuha Badgie and staff of GRTS Basse; Governor Omar Khan, Councilor Mariama Jaw, Ebrima Cham, then police commissioner in URR (now in CRR); Alhagie K. Mbye, head of Customs Operations in URR; Omar Sompo Ceesay of Basse Area Council; my wonderful neighbours and the entire people of Basse for their support to me.
My positive social interaction also helped a lot in my work. I fount it very easy to integrate myself in that community and my sense of openness contributed a lot to my success in that region because people would not hesitate to give me critical information that would make any good newspaper headline.
The most important memory that will ever remain with me in this noble career was the surprise award I received from the people of Upper River Region in recognition of what they called my ‘track record’ in the field of journalism during my stay in that region.
The award in the form of a trophy was presented to me on the 1st May 2012 during what could be called a farewell ceremony held at the Basse Youth Centre in the presence of hundreds of people. This award goes to demonstrate the love they have for me, even though I was not the only regional correspondent there. During the ceremony, locals praised me for my good work and my involvement in virtually all activities that are geared towards national development.
Memorable stories in URR
There are many memorable stories to recollect from URR but of course my first story as regional correspondent cannot be left out in making this list.
Vividly, I can remember the first story Icovered in URR was on Tostan FGM declaration in Sare Alpha, Tumana District on 16th of January 2011. My outstanding stories also include, “Teacher arrested for impregnating student in Nasir Senior Secondary School”; ‘2 PIU officers sentenced to death”; “Inferno claims life of 4-year-old girl ”; and reports written on both the Presidential and National Assembly elections.
Observer circulation in Basse
The decision by the management of the Observer Company to extend its circulation to Basse was indeed commendable, as this provided the locals with the opportunity to read their very own development issues published on the paper. In fact they would tell me ‘bravo Observer because we are now reading issues about URR on the paper’.
Being the only reporter for a region as big as URR, I didn’t spare any event, as I reported from all angles as long as they were newsworthy. Based on this, I would even invade the nearby region of my colleague, Lamin Jawo in the Central River Region just to get news for my employers and the wider readership. The same objective triggered me to cross the borders into the neighbouring Senegal for news coverage.
I can recalltravelling to Senegal twice to cover events in its provincial town of Vellingara together with the Youth Association of Basse. Ialso travelled in December to Tamba Kunda, Senegal in December 2011 for a week long sub-regional programme called SAFRA, a French acronym meaning ‘Week of friendship and fraternity.’ This event involved six countries from the sub-region.
After my time elapsed in URR this year, I was formally recalled to Banjul and I was informed of my successor, Momodou Jawo, a young, determined and passionate man who was recommended by the management as the right replacement. Jawo, fondly called ‘Small Jawo’, eventually arrived on the 17th April 2012 with a message from the head office that I should stay with him for at least two weeks to help him familiarize himself with the environment, as it was done for me before I finally took my leave.
I used my last two weeks to take my successor on a conducted tour of institutions and offices that are helpful in the execution of the job. I formally introduced him to some local authorities such as the regional governor and some institutional heads. During those visits and orientations with him, sometimes people would praise me in his presence as soon as I inform them about my transfer; perhaps that instilled a lot of courage in him.
What a joy and thanksgiving for having completed something that I prayed so hard to accomplish. This was a very interesting moment for me, knowing that I have done what was required of me.
In conclusion, when I broke the news to the people of Basse that I am recalled to the head office in Banjul after the end of my tour of duty, I must say that it was a mixed feeling for all of us, in the sense that they were happy that I have responsibly accomplished my mission but also sad that they will miss a person who was very closed to them.
“We will really miss you and we will continue to pray for you and we hope to see you again,” friends and well-wishers told me. The URR experience was indeed a true journalism experience and this will go a long way in the history of my professional career.
Author: Alieu Ceesay