Tribute to the late Mr. Momodou Clarke Bajo former governor of Central Bank of The Gambia
Thursday, April 02, 2009
Death has snatched away a true Gambian, the late Momodou Clarke Bajo, former Governor of The Central Bank of The Gambia.
The sad event occurred on Monday, 2nd February 2009 at the Ndeban Clinic after a brief illness. The late Clarke Bajo, as he was commonly known, was born in the late forties to Malang Bajo of Gunjur and Sarata Jatta of Sukuta both of blessed memory. His father was a steward to a colonial official named Commissioner Clarke. On his birth, his father decided to name him after his boss. As fate would have it, the late Clarke also would rise through the ranks in the public service to the position of Governor until his retirement in 2003. He achieved that honour as a result of his excellent stewardship of the nation's top bank.
The late Mr. Bajo began his primary school education at Sukuta Primary School. However, due to his immense brilliance, he spent only four years at the primary level then proceeded to Armitage High School where he continued to manifest his academic ability and completed his GCE O' Levels with flying colours. He enrolled for the GCE Advanced Level Examination at Gambia High School. After high school, he enrolled at the only tertiary institution available in the country at the time, Yundum Teachers Training College. He did his teaching practice at Faraba Bantang Primary School in Kombo East District. On completion of his college education, he taught English and History at Crab Island Junior Secondary School in Banjul. As a student, the late Mr. Bajo was an academic all-rounder excelling in various subjects such as English, History, Mathematics, Economics, and Literature.
After a brief teaching career, he secured a government scholarship in the early seventies to study at the University of Dar Es Salam in Tanzania. Initially, he had wanted to study Law but was dissuaded by one of his relatives from venturing in a legal career and thus settled for Economics. What a fine legal luminary he would have been though, with such a sharp mind like his. However, the choice he settled for was not a bad one either as he had made an invaluable contribution in shaping our national monetary and economic policies. Returning from the land of Julius Nyerere, he went back to Crab Island briefly before landing at the nation's apex financial institution, The Central Bank of The Gambia, where we was one of the very few indigenous Economists.
By the late seventies, he got another scholarship to study for his graduate degree in Economics at the prestigious Yale University in Connecticut, in the United States of America. Once again, Mr. Bajo continued to demonstrate his academic superiority by graduating with a Master's degree with Honors from such a renowned citadel of learning which counts several American presidents such as Gerald Ford, William Jefferson Clinton and the Bushes among her former students. Hillary Rodham Clinton and many other eminent personalities in the United States and other parts of the world also honed their academic skills in this academic oasis located at New Haven in the New England state of Connecticut. The fact that a young man from tiny Gambia was able to gain admission into such an Ivy League just a little over a decade after The Gambia gained independence, spoke volumes about his academic prowess. Even up to this day, Yale continues to feature among the top ten universities on the face of the earth.
As a patriot who wanted to contribute his quota in national development, the late Clarke decided to come back home when he completed his studies in the United States of America. With a graduate degree from Yale, there is no doubt that Mr. Bajo would have been able to pick up a lucrative job in the US or any other part of the world if he wanted to remain overseas. In fact, he had confided in me that there were very good offers from various institutions including the World Bank but he had vowed that he would come back home and work for his country. As a true patriot, he did not vacillate such. Thus, our country became better of due to his commitment and dedication to serving the motherland.
On his return to The Gambia, he resumed work at the Central Bank where his expertise in international monetary policy was put to work. He rose through the ranks ascending to the position of general manager and finally to the top position of governor where he served for almost a decade. By so doing, he became one of the longest serving Gambian head of the apex bank. Over the years, the financial genius from Sukuta shared a platform with some of the financial gurus of the twenty-first century such as the former American Federal Reserve Chairmen, Paul Volcker and Alan Greenspan as well as former Clinton Administration Treasury Secretary, Robert Rubin to name just a few.
I got to know the late Mr. Clarke Bajo as a result of my friendship with one of his sons, Baboucarr Bajo commonly referred to as Pa Njie, who was my classmate at Saint Augustine's High School between 1989 and 1994. We shared the same desk from Form One until Form Five but it took almost a year into our friendship before I discovered that my new pal was from a prominent family. True to the virtues instilled in him by his parents, he never boasted of his family background. As such, I was wondering what type of home Pa must have come from because some of the boys from the ruling class at the school were wearing their family status on their sleeves.
It was a pleasant surprise to me when he informed me that their father had always made it clear to the children that despite his lot in life, they should be humble and treat everyone they come across with affection and dignity. Those who know the Bajo household in Sukuta would attest to the fact that on any given day, people from different walks of life ranging from movers and shakers to the destitute, mingled freely in the compound. I was always amazed by Mr. Bajo's magnanimity; here was a person who had the two most sought after human rudiments: wealth and power but was so humble, generous and accommodating to everyone.
Since his son introduced me to the family as his close friend, I was accepted as one of them. Often, when they do not see me for a long time, Pa Njie would tell me that his father wanted to know why I had not been visiting more often. Honestly, any visitor to their house could have taken me for a bona-fide family member. He would often extend invitations for his son and me to join him for lunch at the Central Bank cafeteria. Mr. Bajo never created artificial barriers between himself and outsiders. On several occasions, he could be found sitting at the front yard chatting with ordinary visitors or the neighbours. His son told me that when he became general manager of the Central Bank, he was offered accommodation at Mile 7 in Bakau but he politely declined. He was very proud to call Sukuta his place of abode.
I could recall the day in May 1995 when I went to inform Mr. Bajo that I would be leaving for Canada to further my education. He asked me what I was going to study. I replied that I was weighing several options including Law. I would never forget his fatherly response. He said to me, "Paul, all the options you are considering are good but I know one thing, if you study Law, you will never be unemployed".
It was only years later that I found out that he had wanted to study Law himself but was discouraged by an elder relative. Again on the evening I went to bid the family farewell, he was getting ready to go for a meeting with the then minister of Finance but spared time from his busy schedule to receive me and offered useful advice on how to conduct myself while overseas. There is no doubt in my mind that if I had not had the opportunity to further my education in Canada, he would have offered assistance. I know this because many a Gambian had benefitted from his largesse over the years.
The things Mr. Bajo valued most were family, education, hard work, discipline, generosity and friendship. We kept in touch while I was away studying in Canada. In fact, my Canadian roommate was always amazed that I could pick up the phone at a whim and call the Governor of our Central Bank. In our conversations, he always wanted to know how I was doing and offered words of encouragement. He would also emphasize the need for me and Pa to keep in touch as he was also away studying in the United States.
On his retirement from the Central Bank in 2003, Mr. Bajo continued to keep a busy schedule. He played a major role in setting up Oceanic Bank (Gambia) Ltd and until his demise, was the Chairman of its Board of Directors. My last conversation with him was in mid October of last year when we met at Westfield. During our chat he told me some of his plans for the future but the Creator being the final arbitrator, decided to give him eternal rest instead. On the day of his burial, the sheer number of people that swarmed the family residence in Sukuta was a testimony to the type of person he was. Throughout his life, his quest was to help his country advance her economic and social standing. Papa Clarke, not only did you serve your country with distinction, you went beyond the call of duty.
We are thankful for your life. Your dedication to the family and country, assisted by your every loving and supportive wife Mba Wula Cham, was never in doubt. You lived your life as a true humanist and a countless number of your fellow citizens are better for it.
Adieu my friend, my mentor, my dad!! I pray for your gentle soul to rest in eternal peace,
NB: I have been a close friend of the Bajo family for almost twenty years now.
Author: Paul C. Mendy, Business Coalition Against HIV/AIDS - Kairaba Avenue