Saikou Ceesay is one of the most prominent journalists in The Gambia. Known for his muckraking journalism, he transformed his blog into a current affairs website. Here is an exclusive interview with man behind Gambia Affairs:
What’s On-Gambia: Tell us briefly about yourself.
Saikou:My name is Saikou Ceesay, the managing editor of Gambia Affairs online newspaper. I am a former executive member of the Gambia Press Union and currently pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and Digital Media at the University of The Gambia.
What or who motivated you to join the media?
My love for journalism lured me to join the media in March 2007. The belief that agents of the profession must use their skills within the confines of journalism to effect positive change in society. My role here is to be a sustainer, and as well help in not only shaping the minds of people but also put sense to where it would yield development. In essence, I believe in development journalism.
How did the Gambia Affairs come about?
Gambia Affairs first came into being in March 2008 as a Blog. This was when the Danish project agency called DANIDA in Denmark sent Danish journalists to Africa, to work and share experiences with African journalists. At the time, I was a reporter with Foroyaa newspaper and was identified by the management to work with the journalists. We worked on stories and shared experiences for two weeks. Our stories were later published on Horsens Folkeblad newspaper in Denmark.
It was during that stint with the Danish journalists that we conceived the idea of coming up with a Blog. My true friends – Kim Jensen and Morten Pape - welcomed the idea and helped established it. It was the first Blog set up by a journalist in The Gambia.
It was there that I started blogging, while reporting forForoyaa. Because of some principles, I leftForoyaa and joined Madi Ceesay to set up the now defunct Daily News newspaper. Because of the paper’s uncompromising editorial stance, it was forced to shut-down.
This was done without any court order and up -to -date, no reason was advanced for its closure. It was the ‘only independent press’ at the time.
Before the order for the closure of the Daily News, the authorities succeeded in rendering the paper financially handicapped. In some instances, heads of companies and institutions were warned against doing business with us. Many of us started looking for other alternatives.
I remember that it was during those challenging moments that Hon. Sheriff Bojang called me to join Standard.
Sheriff respected and gave me what I deserved as a professional journalist. It was a good offer I enjoyed until the very Friday we were asked to cease publication. I worked at Standard as news editor.
Sheriff is a star. He is one of the finest when it comes to newspaper journalism. It was under his tutelage that I underwent professional embellishment.
It was after the closure of Standard that I wrote to my Danish partners, informing them of the need to establish the only Gambia-based online newspaper. They welcomed the idea and proposed that we transform the Blog into a website – Gambia Affairs. We set up a team,
worked on the registration with the Ministry of Justice in Banjul and the Gambia Revenue Authority. We started publication on January 1, 2014.
What do you offer readers that is different from other online newspapers?
Truth. We operate within the dictates of journalism and not on emotion. Our news contents are crafted in a manner that will inform and educate, and not to incite hatred in people against the government. Our role is neither to oppose President Yahya Jammeh nor the opposition.
Describe President Jammeh.
In my view, he is a God-fearing leader. He is one that has the heart to develop his country.
Do you support any political leader?
No, I don’t belong to any of the parties. I admire individuals base on what they stand for.
What do you think are the most pressing issues facing the Gambian media today?
Training is one of the challenges impeding the development of media. We need trained professionals in all those positions of responsibilities to be able to bring about the positive change expected of the media.
How can you educate people when you are not educated as a journalist? If you look at our papers, you realise that adjustments are needed. We are instead reporting on issues that have little or no impact on the livelihoods of people. My take is that each story published in a medium should make a positive impact on a life.
You were recently in Denmark, right?
I cancelled the trip owing to conflict of interest. Opportunities are there and my partners are ready to host me during one of the coming summer holidays. If I have the time, I will go to see them and my fans in the town of Aarhus.
What topics do you think should be crucial in the 2016 elections?
The attainment of national food security and the broadening of the democratic space, I think should be two of the topics that should be a subject of debate among political leaders. These topics are crucial to the development of this nation.
Who is your favourite journalist and why?
Mr Alieu Sagnia, formerly of the state-owned Gambia Weekly and Gambia Daily newspaper. He was the director of the government Information Services for some years, and the quality of his work was never questioned. He is a principled person, and believes that neutrality is the hallmark of independent and objective reporting. He serves as a mentor, and gives me vital guidance.
Are you also thinking of settling in Dakar (laughs)?
For what? I’m okay here. Great as it is. I don’t think I will relocate anywhere other than my native Gambia. I will not also allow a situation that may force me into exile.
What is your day to day job like as editor?
It is demanding and frustrating sometimes. You have to contact sources for a visit and, in some cases; you get some sensitive information that you would not take the risk of publishing. They may be true, but material evidence may not be at hand. You also need to give assignments to reporters and make follow-ups.
Doing such a sensitive job with studies at the university is the most challenging job you could ever think of. However, I’m a personality type who enjoys challenges, because success only comes after overcoming challenges.
Let people with political aims allow journalists to do their job. We sometimes tend to mix the two, when that should not be the case.