President Bai Koroma's visit "A homecoming"indeed!
Monday, April 14, 2008
It is an absolute delight to hear President Ernest Bai Koroma utter these warm and moving words in the context of his visit to The Gambia. In my children's Fula tongue, home is "hotte" and it is indeed a word pregnant with warm feelings and thoughts, all totally positive.
President Koroma did not mention it in his impromptu dinner speech produced here, but Sierra Leoneans and Gambians have blood ties going back hundreds of years. As readers may have seen from our current series, "A history of The Gambia", the Akus were the first 'Peoples of The Gambia we featured (first alphabetically!). Many of the Gambian Akus had their roots directly in Sierra Leone and their ancestors came to The Gambia and worked very industriously in the fields of education, medicine, law and government, where they still continue to play a prominent role.
Gambians have indeed provided a warm and caring refuge for Sierra Leoneans during the Civil War of the 1990s. In The Gambia, Sierra Leoneans found peaceful and welcoming hosts and made their home here.
They also found jobs, especially in the sector of education, where many of them have been teachers. President Koroma said he will learn a lot from his visit to The Gambia. But from our kindness to our brothers and sisters during their troubled times, we have a lot to learn too.
In November 1997, I remember attending a dinner party for Sierra Leonean refugee-dignitaries hosted by a certain Sinclair (a white business-man in Sierra Leone). It was a very warm and friendly occasion, but also a sad one.
These important and very dignified professionals had become refugees dependent on the charity of others. Some were judges, high school principals, people with their own respectable jobs and homes back in Sierra Leone. And yet here they were accepting charity dinner and putting on brave smiles. The Gambia must learn from the experience of Sierra Leone the value of peace.
The best impression left with us by President Koroma's visit, and his use of the words "a homecoming", is that in this wonderful continent of ours we should all feel at home wherever we are.
The other day, SoS Grey-Johnson told me he spent 20 years in Ethiopia and felt at home there. Indeed, when I went to his house for Christmas lunch, the carvings and photographs on the living-room walls were of Ethiopia and even Ethiopian Coptic Priests. I feel at home in The Gambia, as many other Africans from Ghana, Senegal, Sierra Leone, etc. do.
The symbolism of the photograph taken by the Daily Observer yesterday, of President Koroma at the AU Villas, speaks for itself. Safe journey home Mr. President, it was good to have you.