Yankuba Sinera is a banker, working with one of the latest banks to arrive in town. The journey for this young Sarahuleh man was anything but smooth. He had to drop out from school at one stage because his family wanted him to travel or start a business and make money at all costs.
He studied Economics and Management at the University of The Gambia and last February he made history by becoming the first member of his family to graduate with a University degree. He was among the thousands of students who were joined by friends and families to be awarded degrees at the ninth convocation of the UTG on February 5, 2016.
“Nothing is impossible on earth but it wasn’t easy because coming from a conservative Sarahuleh family, is always a challenge for a young man to go and complete his or her schooling but with commitment, determination and resilience one can do it. We the Sarahulehs believe in traveling and business, which is indoctrinated into young ones who did not know the importance of education. I am now a household name in my Soninkara community from all levels because of education,” he told the Daily Observer ahead of the convocation.
“I can vividly remember during my academic journey, I left school briefly because of traveling doctrine and later realised that education is the key to success in the world. This will be a unique celebration and I feel overwhelmed and great to be part of the graduates. This graduation is a transition and it is normal to go through mixed bags of emotion in the face of something new in life. It’s a dream come true.”
Sinera is certainly not the first, and wouldn’t be the last Sarahuleh to attain university education but his story has started to motivate others to start taking higher education seriously. Ironically, he was tagged an aimless son by those same people because of his preference of education to travelling and business.
University education is more than the next level in the learning process; it is a critical component of human development worldwide. It provides not only the high-level skills necessary for every labour market but also the training essential for a myriad personnel who develop the capacity and analytical skills that drive local economies, support civil society, teach children, lead effective governments, and make important decisions which affect entire societies.
Twenty years ago, this was considered a farfetched dream but today we can salute the founder of the July 22nd Revolution for making our dreams a reality. What started as a University Extension Programme in 1995 has developed into what many agree is the greatest of the numerous achievements by The Gambia, since Independence.
The UTG offers diverse courses in many disciplines, thus according students the opportunity to make wise career choices. Almameh James Manga is one of them and after four years, he had finished his LLB programme. Manga said he was discouraged, battered and even suffered intimidation but he refused to succumb. This is because, he added, he shares the vision, passion and obligation of contributing his quota to the impressive strides taking place in this country.
For someone who never dreamt of high school education, Manga now describes himself as a man equipped with the requisite intellectual prowess to be able to embark on the charge of nation building. He said today he can commute into any direction within the globe and will remind everyone along the way of the salient principles of law, thanks to University of The Gambia.
“Everyone in this country is a winner but the biggest credit goes to our Chancellor and founding father of the UTG, the President Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr. Yahya AJJ Jammeh Babili Mansa for mooting and masterminding the entire idea. Sometimes I wailed in doubt as I pondered about the question, what would have become of this country without the timely intervention of the President, the answer was to become of the same story which would probably be received with pinch of salt because Gambia would have still been reeling at the mercy of decadence and backwardness,” Manga lamented.
Mustapha Kah was a member of the 7th convocation batch and having graduated with an LLB, he is the Legal Officer for the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education. He said the establishment of the UTG placed The Gambia on the accelerated pedestal to national prominence. He said all countries with a solemn tenacity of securing a life of progress, peace and prosperity for their populations have imbibed education in their general consciousness.
Kah added that the myriad problems that the lack of a university in The Gambia after many years of independence has caused are numerous. “As a graduate of UTG, I proudly proclaim that the establishment of the University of The Gambia is the single most important achievement we have made since we ascended to statehood. The many years that I have spent in the four corners of UTG have cemented my belief in this country. As the first child of my parents, I have often conjectured how it would have been conceivable for me to realise university education if it were not for the establishment of UTG,” Kah affirmed.
“Momodou Sabally is just one of many UTG luminaries who are blazing the trail in various fields of endeavour. Ndey Haddy Jeng, Philip Sabena Sambou who are both currently Deputy Permanent Secretaries are proud products of the UTG. There are many more people like them such as Dr. Cherno Omar Barry, and Ensa Touray, a History Lecturer at the UTG.”
For Lamin Njie, the Police Public Relations Officer, today he is a totally different person compared to four years ago when he first passed through the entrance of the University as a freshman. “I feel like, were I to go back in time, my younger self wouldn’t even recognise me!” he said proudly. “To everyone who touched our lives, I say thank you; to parents who stood by us no matter what; to teachers who tried to instill in us a passion for learning; to administrators who wanted to make our university experiences as amazing as possible; to advisors who helped us decide what path to take. To friends who were there for study sessions, and everything in between. And to all those others we depended on.”
Aside from providing human resource to other institutions within and outside the country alumni of the UTG have been absorbed by the University in various capacities. Nfally Fadera is one of the sweetest voices on Gambia’s broadcast media. He came to prominence through his Mandinka newscast on domestic private radio stations and even though he continues to practice journalism as a part-time job, he is the Personal Assistant to the UTG Vice Chancellor.
“As a child, I fancied the glitz, glamour and pomp of diplomacy and diplomats seen on television, and dreamt of becoming one. I can vividly remember holding dearly to the dream of becoming the United Nations Secretary General. Quite ambitious right; but hey I knew it wasn’t farfetched because education can take me there. If it had done great for world leaders like Nelson Mandela, Kofi Annan, Fatou Bensouda etc, I thought, it’d do it for me, too. That dream and hope became clearer and firmer when I got admission into the University of The Gambia,” Fadera said.
Essa Njie, though sharp, was a stubborn youngster and would spend the whole weekend moving from one video club to another to watch his beloved Barcelona entertain him to a football exhibition. Then, suddenly, everything changed. He was inspired by his brother who returned as a Medical Doctor from one of the universities in Russia on a Gambia Government scholarship. With the financial support of the brother, he pursued a Degree in Political Science and even though he would occasionally watch football matches today, his passion for the game has dropped to an all time low because of his focus on academics.
“It was a long journey, a tough journey, but with perseverance, commitment and hard work, we are all able to make it here. I faced difficult moments, but also enjoyed the academic and social parts of it. Personally, my experience at UTG was a great one. I can say UTG has immensely contributed in transforming my life. Being a graduate means a lot. It does not only stop at being given the certificate but it goes beyond to task you with a greater responsibility,” Njie, a Graduate Assistant at the UTG said.
As we congratulate the UTG for its ninth convocation, we would like to salute H.E President, and Chancellor of the UTG, and everyone associated with the establishment and transformation of The University of The Gambia to a beacon of hope for Gambians and non-Gambians alike.
This article has been updated: It was first published on February 5, 2016.
by Baboucarr Camara