Was he one of the lucky kids during Sir Dawda’s era? Interview with Babou Njie Sallah

Written by Alieu Khan

Babou

Friendly and modest, Babou Njie Sallah is a young Gambian living in the United Kingdom. In this interview, he tells us his family background, political activism, and philanthropic contributions.

What’s On-Gambia: Tell us briefly about yourself?

Babou:I was born and raised in The Gambia. I’m the fifth son of my parents, from a family of six brothers. I am a God fearing and humble person who hates injustice of any kind, always stands up for equality for all. I am a great believer that everyone should be treated the same, with respect and dignity, regardless of their social status or their pocket size. I’m also very outspoken and opinionated which gets me into trouble sometimes.

Is it true that you were one of the lucky kids during Sir Dawda’s era? (laughs)

(Laughs) I think I've always been lucky in life and most Gambians were lucky too because goods and services were more affordable during the Jawara era and life wasn't has hard as now. The dalasi was at its best. Our economy was stable and we had a democracy and our dignity was intact too. Oh and speaking of Sir Dawda Jawara, my little brother was named after him in the early 90s.

Babou

When and why did you move to the UK?

I moved to the UK in 2005 just after finishing high school to study. I took few breaks here and there, but now I’m studying Law.

What are you – Labour or Conservative?

I am a Labour supporter.

Are you disappointed that Chuka Umunna withdrew from the Labour leadership battle denying Britain the opportunity of having a black prime minister?

Yes, I was disappointed but I wasn't very surprised that he pulled out. He's quite young, he is only 36 and he felt the British media were harassing his family and girlfriend, but I respect his decision to withdraw.  In as much as I would love to see a black PM in the UK, I think the British public are not yet ready for a black PM, maybe in the next two decades.

Now, let’s talk about your philanthropic activities. You’re popular for raising money for Gambian children needing overseas treatment. Tell us about that?

 I always like to put myself in their shoes. If I was sick and can't afford treatment and I know I am very likely to die without any help, will I want someone to help me?  Of course yes! I understand we all have our personal and financial problems or priorities at home,  but I think it's wrong to turn a blind eye to the sick without doing something about it. My conscience won't allow me to ignore them. I believe as human beings, we all have a moral obligation to help the needy and the less fortunate without expecting any reward or praise from it. It's also a good feeling to know you've made a big difference in someone's life.

Babou

Was there a specific incident or experience in your life that prompted your desire to help others?

No, but I grew up in a home, where it was like an orphanage. Our home was open to everyone. Mum always thought me to help the less fortunate.  I’m sure that's why she never became a millionaire (laughs). My mum inspires me in every aspect of my life, she's my hero.

Why are Gambians not good at giving to charities?

Oh come on, that's a very false assertion. I think Gambians are one of the most generous people I've ever come across. Remember, majority of Gambians are not very rich and things are very tough but some do still manage to give. Every little helps. Fears of being scammed or funds being mismanagement are the main reasons why some Gambians do not donate to charities. You do have a number of people who donate anonymously too.

Among organizations promoting youth empowerment in the Gambia, which one do you admire most?

Your Change for a Change (YCFC) and Global Hands are doing an amazing job in empowering the youths in The Gambia. 

Are you part of any charity organisation?

Yes, we are called "Fund for Hope". It's a non-profit organization.  We've just successfully registered in the USA and now, we are in the process of getting registered in the UK and The Gambia too. Our main priority will be raising funds to help the sick. We will also be working with one of the U.S. based Gambian online newspapers to raise funds to pay for school fees and healthcare for Gambians.

You are one of the people behind the famous Facebook page, Gambian Youth and Women’s Forum. How did it begin?

The GYWF forum was created by Banka Manneh in August 2012, while I was one of the co-admins at the Future of the Gambia Forum (FoTG) which was created by Pa Lie. A merger to join the two groups together was successfully negotiated because we all had the same objectives and mission and didn't see the need to have a duplicate or a competition.

The two forums were created just few days after the Gambian government unconstitutionally executed nine prison inmates in August 2012. There was an information blackout about the veracity of the execution and The Gambian forums at that time refused to allow its members to question, confirm or discuss the details of the death sentence or challenge its legality.

So GYWF serves as an alternative information point for Gambians both at home and in the diaspora. It is an online platform where daily news, petitions, protest, campaigns, innovation, jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities are shared and discussed. It's also the wiki leaks of The Gambia. Group members can be anonymous whistleblowers when exposing any wrongdoing such as an injustice or corruption taking place in a government department and private institution without the risk of being sacked or illegally arrested.

We always encourage our members to share anything that will inspire, uplift and empower Gambians. GYWF also helps unite Gambian communities around the world by sharing events and activities such as charitable fundraising events.

Babou

Which politicians do you admire?

 Osainou Darboe, OJ and Halifa Sallah.

Why?

These heroes have used their money and sacrificed their own safety to speak up for Gambians against the human rights violations and abuses in The Gambia.  You can't be more patriotic than that. Kudos to them. We appreciate their work.

Do you believe in Sering Touba?

Oh yes, I do. He was a religious leader and a freedom fighter. He stood up against the French colonialists. Actually, few weeks ago my mum told me that her granddad (Dud Njie Kabba) was related to the descendants of Sering Touba.

You love travelling. Which countries have you visited so far?

Oh yes, I do!  I've been to Sierra Leone, Guinea Conakry, Senegal, France, Holland, Belgium, Sweden, Malta, Germany, Denmark, Spain and Portugal.

How do you afford your travels – are you rich?

I wish. No, I am a poor man. I just work hard and smart.

What is the biggest cultural shock you have experienced while travelling?

In Senegal, the news of the family's link to Sering Touba.

Do you have any travel advice for Gambians?

Vacations are good and fun. It helps to relieve stress.  But my advice to the youngster is to always travel legally. "No to back way!”

Name three things you can’t travel without?

My phone, internet for my navigation and music.

What is your relationship status?

I am in a relationship. 

Don’t you think it’s time for you to settle down?

Pretty soon, I guess. But I think I am still a young lad and not rushing it.  

Any final words?

Thank you for interviewing me.