(GORR YOMBUL – dignity is earned – is a catchword George was fond of using especially whenever he observed that someone has sold his/her soul.)
Life is transient. The demise of a relative or colleague is an event we despise and we have to honour the dead in the best way we can. Nonetheless we can draw lessons by recalling the good deeds of those who have gone.
George was born and bred in Banjul. He did his schooling in The Gambia before proceeding to Ireland for further studies. When I met him for the first time at the then Methodist Bookshop upon his return to The Gambia I soon discovered that he was no longer the ‘ndongo boy’ of Kent Street I had known but a soul searching young man who was interested in the development of his nation. Rather than romantising our youthful days at Les Dix Coupins he raised pertinent issues from the newspapers on display at the bookshop and we had a brief exchange of views.
He soon established Radio One FM, one of the first FM radio stations in Africa, which was well known in the Greater Banjul area. He did not restrict himself to playing music but introduced programmes, which included youth programmes and panel discussions where politicians and others of all shades of opinion were invited to exchange views. Even in the heat of the April 10 and 11 events he was able to invite senior security personnel and others to discuss the events.
In short, Radio One served as a tool for amplifying the voice of the public by facilitating the expression of divergent views and dissenting opinions. He was always ready to engage in debate but would not suppress an opposing view for its sake. With his attitude of all views fit to be aired he introduced ‘phone-in’ programmes which soon opened the flood gates to a multitude of views, an important development in democratic dispensation.
Radio One did not restrict itself to mere dissemination of information and platform for exchange of views. George introduced a civic education programme to make the public aware of their rights and obligations, including their sovereign rights, and how government operates.
But radio One was not merely a broadcasting station; it was also a school for training young aspiring broadcasters. Some who have acquired high positions in the media such as director general of GRTS or are practicing journalists abroad had their initiation at Radio One FM. George has never had a permanent staff; young people simply stepped in, acquire knowledge and experience and then departed in search of greener pastures.
George saw the need for professionalism in the media and therefore appreciates the importance of training, which tied him to the Gambia Press Union, which served as a rallying point for journalists. He was a pedagogue with a wealth of knowledge and experience at the continental and international levels. He has travelled widely and has acquired a host of positions in the media field. In fact he was the former president of AMARC – World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters and served on both its African and international boards between 1997 and 2006 with special responsibilities for media technologies. And up to his demise he worked as AMARC’s special envoy on conflict resolution in Latin America and Africa.
The trainings he has conducted to my knowledge are on community radio in 2011 funded by the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ). Two workshops dealing with internet security for journalists one of which was funded by the US Embassy; most recently this year a training workshop on prejudiced communication: stereotypes and biases in women’s depiction in the mass media supported by the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives and organised by his new baby the Centre for Media Development Research in Africa (CENMEDRA). He advocated for self regulation in the media and contributed to the preparation of the ethical guidelines for journalists.
As can be seen George did not limit his expertise to broadcasting. He saw information technology opening new grounds and characteristic of him he took up the challenge. He soon mastered the skills of internet security to the extent that he could conduct a series of training for journalists on internet security which he advocated for until his demise. He always spoke about internet security with passion wherever possible and always gave advices and hints.
Facing challenges was not his problem. This was amply demonstrated in the arson attack on Radio One FM which would have been a disaster had it been he did not have the courage and determination to fight the fire when he was besieged by it.
Besides, George was a friend of everybody. He was jovial and bore grudge against nobody. He had regard for everyone, be they cleaners, messengers or whatnot.
Most importantly George was always real. He was a man that did what he believed in. He resented hypocrisy and was not in the habit of saying or doing things to please anybody. As a man of integrity, he was not the type that could be bought and always stood firm by his word.
He was fund of the slogan GORR YOMBUL, an expression meaning dignity is earned. It is not a commodity to be bought or sold; rather it is an attribute acquired through consistently adhering to principles.
To conclude, let me say that death is a thief that no one can catch and be alive. Anything that comes into being must also have an end but to die at the service of humanity is a worthy death. George has lived an honourable life. He has devoted his entire adulthood to the cause of the media and he will always be remembered for this.
Let me dare say that those who have lived at the service of humanity do not perish but have everlasting life. George, your body is gone but your spirit remains in our midst. We will never forget you George, never! Your family will never forget you, your colleagues and loved ones will never forget you, the media profession will never forget you.
Rest in peace, George! Rest in perfect peace!
To Mary I say these are difficult times. One cannot imagine the shock generated when George suddenly passed away. But take heart and continue to be courageous.