analysisBy Oko Drammeh
One of the greatest Gambian female Socio-political leaders of the century is Ya Arret Mboge. She was said to have played an important role in improving the lot of the Gambian people.
She placed great emphasis on Culture and the Arts and helped to cement Gambia as one of the culturally dominant countries in West Africa and laid down a clear moral and practical basis for extending human and political rights to women and children. A true pioneer in the struggle for female inclusion in the affairs of the Gambia; her life style left a significant legacy. She was a campaigner for social justice, advocate of women's rights and member of the Gambia Muslim Congress Party responsible for social affairs.She also actively campaigned for Gambia's independence.
Ya Arret Mboge came from Banjul-Dingareh.She was born in the early 1910's in Banjul south, daughter of Matarr Mboge and Rose Joof.Her grandfather was Samba Joof the trader with the thirty one sailing boats. As a boat owner he used to sail all the way to Morocco. Ya Arret was married to Pa Kebba Landing Drammeh, a Civil Engineer at the Gambia Marine Department at Wilberforce Street in Banjul, now the Gambia Ports Authority.
She is the Mother of Ebou Drammeh, Pa Drammeh, Pindo Drammeh (Sajoro), Fatou Kinneh Drammeh, Oko Drammeh and Salieu Drammeh (Sal). She was the Iron lady behind the Gambia Muslim Congress and steered Garba Jahumpa to become the first Mayor of Bathurst. Her husband Pa Kebba Drammeh runs the matrilineal Grand Place at Hagan Street for Gambia Muslim Congress party politicians.
Pa Kebba was the secretary and cashier (El-Amen) called thetrusted one for the Banjul community and the Gambia Muslim Congress which included late Pa Mass Jobe, Abdoulaye Samba, Pa Gibou Faal, Mustapha Bittaye, Pa Assan Sagnia, Pa Oussou Kah, Pa Salifu Ceesay, Alhagi Basiru Jagne, Pa Tuntu Joberteh and many more Banjul elders.
Devoting her life to the service of Banjul, the poor and dispossessed,she became an icon for selfless service to others through her home at 22, Hagan Street of Charities. She personally cared for over 1000s of youths in her time and sending many to school and provided accommodation for many children from the country side, the Kombo region of the Gambia and from the Upper River region as well as professional working tribe's men and women from Senegal and all over the Gambia who had no home in Banjul.
Her home in Banjul was the central youth gathering were food, water and clothes were provided for anyone including the homeless, sporting youth and social clubs all in this one compound. The spirit of the Soto Koto Tree at 22, Hagan Street can bear witness to this. This popular Soto Tree is the Soto Koto Youth Club and the Soto Koto Band, a United States African based music band which derived their names from this sacred tree.
Ya Arret was an organizer of community events, social functions, political rallies, cultural program and festivities. Most of the public meetings of the Gambia Muslim Congress were usually held at her house, the Gambia labor union meetings also were held by Dodou Massanneh Ceesay at her place and occasionally the Gambia workers Union under M.E. Jallow- Jallow were held at her gate front. The compound were Ya Arret lived was a center of political activism for young and old.
She was known as, the "Yayi compin of Banjul", a wollof word meaning a community and social class leader. She was an inspirational leader and also had a male Club as well. Ya Arret Mboge was widely loved by the ordinary people of the Gambia. She nurtured many ladies as well as supported their marriage and the discipline system of good conduct and mended differences in the community.
She campaigned tirelessly for both the poor and for the extension of women's inclusion in politics and social affairs. It was in front of her compound gate where you had the Hyde Park Vous which included members like the late late Matarr Sarr, Tamsire Jagne, Kabba Jallow, Nurainu CarewPe'ngu George, Dodou Sankere, Dr. Lamin Ndow, Alieu Kah, Abou Denton, Fisco Konateh, Babou Mbye, late Saul Samba, Mam Barra Taal, Hatib Janneh sr, Ousman Sillah, Pa Cham, Seedy Jow, Pierre Mendy, Uncle Amadou Samba, Modou Jaiteh, Arona Siki Badlin Jallow, and supervised by Dr. Peter Ndow (Dr. Ndow).
Later the Soto Koto Vous, under the stewardship of late Pindo Drammeh was formed there, as well as F.A. Championship winners Dingareh Football FC and the young ITC football club. Ya Arret was one of the most innovative and fashionable woman of her time with designers garments and was instrumental in defining cultural feminine style and dress during her time as social event organizer.
Her ideas were revolutionary; in particular she often took authentic ancient tribal clothes and redesigned them for the benefit of younger women. Her lifestyle was an aura of glamor and sophistication, unconventional. She helped redefine traditional views of women's role in society.
She contested against the decisions of the white Governors of Banjul which were not favored by the people. She faces the white establishment face-to-face on matters affecting the community. She was a liberator and received many magazines and newspapers for public information in her name from numerous sources through her connections with I.M. Garba Jahumpa i.e: the Voice of Africa from Ghana, the Palisario, China pictorial, Gramma from Cuba ,Shechaba from Azania, SWAPO, ANC, Oromo Papers from Ethiopia, SWAPO, etc. and many pamphlets including the collection of Kwame Nkurumah books and writings. There was a saying that whenever Garba Jahumpa leaves the Gambia, the West would worry. The West never wanted Garba Jahumpa to lead the Gambia. They feared that he would hand it over to the Communist Eastern bloc.
Ya Arret was a cultural Ambassador for the Muslim Congress who introduced many activities in the capital city of Banjul, then Bathurst including the grand Sabarr fetes, Makalo-Sara (the dancing masquerades), Fanals and Lanterns. These Lanterns and fanals were a catalogues of the boats and houses that were to be built in coming years after successful trade seasons designed on request of the elite traders.
Each trader would have his new boat designed by an architect and made in a miniature with bamboo "tara ", sticks, pim-pim-bamboo pins and florist paper, graphics colored with Tai-Nyapa (soft colored papers) to give the miniature boats and houses the paint and lightening system the boats and houses will be fitted with. The fanals would parade onChristmas week and visit all the boat owners and society elites and display the work of art design in boats and lanterns accompanied by drumming and singing crowds. At the end of the Christmas week, the boats will be handed over to the persons whom the boat carry the design of his boat and same with the lantern houses.
The fanal builder for Ya Arret was a blind man by the name of Omar Fofana, the late Omar Gumbo Fofana of Buckle Street. Omar was made to meet with Queen Elizabeth II on her visit to Banjul. Omar also worked on the many Arches that were built around Banjul including the Grand Arch on Hagan Street on the Queens visit in 1958. All these arches were supervised by Ya Arret Mboge. Ya Arret meet Queen Elizabeth II at government house in Banjul.
Ya Arret had a popular annual ritual Simba feest (Man-lion theater) a traditional wollof folk theater masquerade and performed by Abdoulaye Jobe, a Butcher at Albert market. He was the real lion, with red eyes and mascara and acted as a lion, chased people and scratched them with his finger claws. The show is real fun for all in the family and accompanied with the taming songs and narrations carrying traditional code words and lamentations known in the tribal wollof language as (Djaat)), that is only known to be thought to the wise of the Simba Circles.
Ya Arret also brought to the Gambia the legendary drummer Aly Gaye of Senegal who was the godfather of wollof drumming in the 1950's and 60's in the sub region. Although, she favored drummer was Batch Samba Nying, the father of Nyaw Nying, Sira Beyay Nying, Late Alhagi Nying, Pa Nying and family. Batch affectingly known as the drummer of the Congress Party while the other master drummer in Banjul Malick Mbenga who was the drummer of the United Party under Pierre Njie.
They were the two Masters wollof drummers of the Gambia in the early 50's and 60's. There was only one Tama Drummer in the scene that time and that was Dodou Mboob, the father of Percussionist Musa Mboob.AlY Gaye was brough to Gambia to celebrate the much anticipated election victory of Jahumpa against Pierre Njie which Jahumpa lost.
Ya Arret was an accomplished organizer of political rallies for IM Garba Jahumpa's Gambia Muslim Congress Party. She explored all avenues of protest including public demonstrations and strikes. Her political enterprise proved immensely successful and later in life she used her enormous influence to support charitable goodwill and gesture in the field of education, art and health which she provided to anyone in need . People come from Basse to Banjul in search of Ya Arret's goodwill and she would stand up for anyone who is unjustly treated and your eyes are red. She would wipe your tears, cloth you and feed you, embrace you until you are fit to go.
she depended heavily on a group of trusted advisers led by close friends like Ya Fatou Mbenga, Ya Amie Faal-Fama, Aji Ya MuNdow Jobe, Marie Samuel Njie, Sosseh Jagne, Aji Mam Peul Janneh, Ya Penda Bittaye, Ya Ida Jallow and male advisers like Master Sillah, J.C Faye, Dr. Ndow, Sam Goddard, Horace Monday, Uncle Arthur Johnson (husband of Mary Arthur), Tamasa Jarra, Alassan Ndure, Pa Dodou Matar Njie, Pa Omar Gaye Nyang, Pa Sulay Mbaye, Pa Ousman Secka and Alhagi Baboucar Jeng.
Presiding over one of the largest organizations ever seen in the Gambia, Ya Arret was at the head of societies for most of her life. She became synonymous with the period symbolizing propriety and cultural values and this heightened her mystique. Ya Arret sought to gain an influence in Gambian politics whilst remaining aloof from tribal party politics.
One of her first moves as Party female Wing leader was the establishment of a youth club of the party. She was religions and supervised the mosque at her compound, of which she became the facilitator as a prayer ground for anyone who needed a place to pray. This Hagan Street Jaka and Saweh (Compound Mosques) later evolved into many of today's greater Banjul community Mosques. She was consulted by influential people of the time.
Educated in Arabic, beautiful and highly articulate, Ya Arret Mboge influenced the politics of the Gambia Muslim congress party and of the Gambia at large through her alliances and influence over her affiliations with the Gambia intelligentsia, a progressive Newspaper started in the Gambia by intellectual elders like Mr. Pierre Ngossi Single and John Essie Williamson Kuye and Bani Foster.sr which was established in the Gambia in 1890 and later taken over by Sam Silver and the Gambia communist party in the 1920's and had a branch in the Gold Coast and later became the CPP , the party that was formed by Kwame Nkumarah. The Convention Peoples' Party (CPP) was formed in 1949 during the struggle for independence.
Its founding father was Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah Ghana's first president. Kwame started his party with a Gambian party President Mr. Kofi Crabbe, a Gambian from Primet Street in Banjul, and with other Ghanians such as Kofi Baku, Akwa Aje, Eric Hayman, John Tettega, J.B Danquah, John Badema, Krobo Eduseh, Madam Asene Lansana.
Ya Arret together with Garba Jahumpa were responsible for sendingEighty Four Gambian youths to Ghana for training and indoctrination as the Pan African youth Pioneers who will campaign through teaching to mobilize the African youth and youths in the Diaspora to embrace Pan Africanism i.e:Palanding Drammeh as group leader, Lamin Janha (lived with Nkurumah till his death), Musa Bittaye, Junkunda Daffeh, Koro Sallah, Sulayman Ndow, Mrs. Joana Jahumpa, Mrs. Bin Corr, Samba Gai, Njuga Cham, Denny Cham, Goumbo Touray, Badou Ceesay, Boli Cham, Badou Jasseh, Laye Sagnia, Bai Janha and many more dynamic African youths to study in Ghana at the Kwame Nkumarah Leadership school in Accra together with other African students from Somalia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Nigeria and the black world thinkers as well as African minds including George Padmore, Dr.Casely Hayford, Dr. Henry Clark, John Huggins, Richard Wright, Philip Randall , James Baldwin, W E B Du bois and many African intellectuals, to teach leadership to our youth for the unification of Africa.
These students were going to be the disciples and architectures of the African renaissance. This was a continued work of the WASU. The West African Student Movement (WASU), 7 August 1925, a case of a young African students who managed to organize themselves in face of the urgency of Africa's future problems. Students such as Lapido Solanke, Kusimo Soluanda, Olatunde Vinncent, Ekuudayo Williams, M.A. Sorinola Siffre, B.J. Farreira from Nigeria; J.B. Danquah from Ghana, Otto Oyekan-During from Sierra Leone, W. Davidson Carrol, Kushida Roberts from the Gambia wanted from the 1920s to create the United States of Africa as a prelude to United Africa for all the people.
It is the Renaissance and there is no Renaissance without unity. Alioune Diope (1910-1980), of Senegal, has the exceptional merit of being the first in the Francophone world to offer the African intelligentsia in both Africa and in the Diaspora a platform for literary, prose, poetic, critical, scientific, philosophic and religious production. Followed by Frantz Fanon 1925 - December 6, 1961 was a Martinique-born French-Algerian psychiatrist, philosopher, revolutionary and writer whose work is influential in the fields of post-colonial studies, critical theory and Marxism.
Fanon is known as a radical existential humanist thinker on the issue of decolonization and the psychopathology of colonization. Fanon wrote his first book, Black Skin, White Masks, an analysis of the psychological effects of colonial subjugation on people identified as black. Fanon is best known for the classic book on decolonization 'The Wretched of the Earth'.
Pan Africanist Kwame Nkrumah brought to the Gambia, the King of Hi-Life Music E.T. Mensah to perform at the K.G 5 Parkand at the Atlantic Hotel in Banjul singing "Ghana-Guinea-Mali Africa is now a Republic". Ya Arret was in charge of the visiting Ghana music band and managed the band well and after that visit to the Gambia E.T Mensah penned and nipped a Number one Highlife hit song called "All for you" which made him an international superstar. Late E.T Mensah is an African music legend from Ghana and played through out West Africa to popularize Pan Africanism.
The Gambian Muslim Congress together with Kwame Nkumarah's CPP Party collaborated with Abdel Gamal Nasser President of Egypt. Garba was instrumental for the niece of Nasser, Madam Fathia to marry to Kwame Nkumarah and they had a son called Gamal Nkurumah. Together they worked with, Sekou Toure of Guinea and Modibo Keita of Mali for the Union of Ghana, Guinea and Mali leading to the total unification of the African continent. I M Garba introduced the Muslim Clergy Bai Nyass and a Senegalese Mathematician Sulayman Nyang together with I.M. Garba Jahumpa to write CONSCIENCISM, a book that dealt with the subject of Pan African or Communism for Africa.
Ya Arret was involved in interminable political machinations seeking always to increase the power of her favored politician I.M. Garba Jahumpa. Garba Jahumpa and the Gambia Muslim Congress invited the Socialist first Prime Minister of Senegal and his entourage to visit I.M Garba Jahumpa in the Gambia, Prime Minister Momodou Jah, together with Waljojo Ndiaye. On their return to Senegal Momodou Jah was overthrown by imperialist forces and Leopald Sedar Senghore was sworn-in as the President of Senegal.
Ya Arret had a role in the cold war between the East and West and that was because he supported President Nkrumah's action in supporting Abdel Gamal Nasser the Prime Minister of Egypt who blocked the Suez Canal and declared war on Israel, UK and the West. I M Garba Jahumpa was considered a socialist and sidelined by Britain not to rule the Gambia forever. The Gambia Muslim party was broken into pieces and that's how former President Jawara was picked to rule the Gambia instead of Pierre Njie an out spoken lawyer and first Chief Minister of the Gambia who was anti establishment and anti British.
Ya Arret was at the forefront of Gambian politics, Women and children's rights, workers rights and the citizen rights. As Gambians put to the task of the Gambia Renaissance, we must be assured, confident and have faith in our capacity to think and act. If we continue to alienate ourselves emotionally and intellectually, success will always remain remote from us.
Gambian politicians in particular will be more respected if they work for the interest of the Gambian people. The Gambian Renaissance is the awakening of the giant sleeping in the conscience of every Gambian, for the work to accomplish, the mission to carry out and the destiny to reach.