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Interesting interview: Prince Sankanu talks about his royal connection, polygamy, homosexuality, endorsing president Jammeh, among other things
Home » Exclusive  »  Interesting interview: Prince Sankanu talks about his royal connection, polygamy, homosexuality, endorsing president Jammeh, among other things
Interesting interview: Prince Sankanu talks about his royal connection, polygamy, homosexuality, endorsing president Jammeh, among other things

Prince Bubacarr Sankanu is one of the most controversial Gambian journalists.  At a very young age, he became the Voice of America's correspondent in The Gambia.  Next month, he's going to Brussels, Belgium to cover the EU-Africa Summit.

Read our exclusive interview with the Serahulleh prince:

What's On-Gambia: Can you tell us who Prince Babucarr Sankanu is?

Sankanu:Oh does he need introduction? Okay, his full names are Prince Bubacarr Aminata Sankanu, Noble Prince of the House of Sankanura-Kagorta of Sotuma Sere Village in Upper River Region (URR), The Gambia, West Africa. Prince Sankanu is an unconventional thinker, journalist, filmmaker, actor, taboo-buster, bad boy, creative industry strategy consultant and intellectual provocateur.

He has dual German-Gambian citizenship and runs his own cross media holding company in Germany called Afromedia Film & TV International Group B.S.e.K.The parent of NTIXANNEN.COM and other strategic business units.

Seriously, are you from a royal family? 

I am from the Sankanu Kagoro dynasty of the late mystic Fodie Sere Sankanu. Depending on where one is coming from, the Sankanus are also known as Camara. Our dynasty is spread across West Africa. Since we live in an era of the rule by the common man, you will find my kindred in various normal trades away from politics and state affairs.

Our history is not written and most of the praise-singers just blab out things in contradiction of one and other. I did intensive research into my royal heritages during my days as The Gambia correspondent of the Voice of America (VOA) in the 1990s.

The time and space for this interview is not enough to explain the genesis of my noble extraction back to my ancestral links within the Kagoro Nobility of the Ancient Ghana Empire. To know about my Sankanu Kagoro royalty, one needs to do research beyond The Gambia by digging through Senegal, Mali, South-East Mauritania and other places that were part of the territories of Ancient Ghana. I challenge anyone who believes that I am not of royal family to come tell you what he/she is sure to be my genealogy starting from Adam and Eve to date!

When did you move to Germany and why?

I moved to Germany in 1998 purposely to get treatment for a strange illness I was experiencing at GRTS (Gambia Radio and Television Services). I was doing well at the national broadcaster and all the wise people I met across the nation encouraged me to stay and serve my country. It was obvious that I was not a square peg in a round hole.

Mysteriously overtime whenever I entered the TV studios I felt as if fire was burning me beneath my skin. I could not get appropriate local medical attention due to the demanding work schedule and I was also not granted leave. When I realised that if I drop dead people will just cry and forget me after 3 days, I decided to put my health and peace of mind before my glittering GRTS career. So I silently applied for a Schengen Visa and left unannounced.  After my treatment in Germany with Western medicine and sojourns in Mali and Burkina Faso with traditional African medicine, I wanted to come back.  Before confirming my flight, my supersonic brain advised me to call GRTS first to know my status. When I was told that my services were terminated in absentia, I decided to forget about everything Gambian to concentrate on building a new life in Germany.

Prince Bubacarr Sankanu

You started journalism at a very young age. What was behind that decision?

Ebrima G. Sankareh of TheGambiaEcho.com was behind it. He introduced me into journalism and since then I did not look back to regret a thing.

Mr. Sankareh was teacher at my school, correspondent for the BBC and writer for The Point Newspaper at the time of discovering me. He was so impressed by my God-given writing skills that he decided to be my mentor and he literally adopted me. It was not easy as my Sarahulleh people wanted me to stop wasting my time on Western education so that I could go to Sierra Leone or the Democratic Republic of The Congo (DRC) to join my late father in the diamonds trade. They believed in Dollars and not school papers since many graduates with colourful degrees are either jobless or struggling hand-to-mouth with poorly-paid jobs.

As destiny would have it, I excelled fast in journalism by becoming correspondent of the Voice of America (VOA) while at high school. I was being paid cash in US Dollars at a very early age. This early career success boosted my self-confidence. For I knew that I can become whatever I want in this life.

How do you view the current changes in the image and role of the Gambian media?

One thing I know is that now there is no room for complacency. Before one could say that the difficult conditions under which media outlets operate in the Gambia opened the floodgates of falling standards, mediocrity, sensationalism and lackadaisical behaviour.

Now that technology makes it easier to beat censor and regulatory hurdles, excuses for bad editorial behaviour would not be readily accepted by the respective target groups. The proliferation of media outlets especially in the Diaspora is good in that it will sanitize the media landscape through peer self-control or pressure. Those who don't maintain standards and ethics will lose credibility and relevance.

I am more grateful in seeing that media consumers are gradually getting conscious.  They have alternative means of getting information for sound judgment. Gambians are hungry for information and those who would like to censor the media or control it will only be increasing the hunger of the people. It will lead to more innovative ways of beating the concerned policy officials in their games.

One of your latest ventures is Nti Xannen (magazine, radio & TV). What is the reason behind the establishment of Nti Xannen?

Actually I never planned for it. My priority has been to apply my expertise, international experience and connections in building the structures that would sustain our own Gambian film industry.

The way the executives of the Daily Observer newspaper and Gambia Radio and Television Services (GRTS) treated me led to the coincidental creation of my own media house.

When I was in Gambia, people were encouraging me to start my own publications but I told them I would like to be patronizing the existing outlets at home and abroad first. I later had a serious chat with an APRC National Assembly member who wants me to work with the ruling party. He asked why I do not contribute reports and commentaries to the Daily Observer. I told him that I have been sending harmless pieces to the editors on human interest issues, arts, culture and entertainment since 2011 but successive managers or editors have been sitting on them for reasons best known to them. I am not a slave to beg them or tell them what to publish or not.

With GRTS many people are aware of the rude manner in which the great interview I had with Malick Jones was withdrawn from the schedule in the last minute. There was no written directive from the Office of The President or Ministry of Information and Communication for the removal. The TV officials were just contradicting themselves with lazy excuses. Added to that the high-valued programme proposal I submitted to them was killed after wasting at least 6 months of my productive time with feet dragging.

So when I came back to Germany, I wanted to submit the proposals to the Senegal TV stations but after a second thought I realised that I have long passed that stage of running after people. I looked around and discovered that I have all the basics needed to start my own media house with magazine, radio and TV units. The reactions from 186 countries across the globe show that my NTI XANNEN media venture is indeed an idea whose time has come. I thank the managements of GRTS and the Daily Observer for the blessing in disguise. There is no going back. NTI XANNEN is working to be The Gambia's answer to CNN, BBC or Al-Jazeera. I am determined to be The Gambia's William Randolph Hearst. The ultimate media and film baron.

Prince Bubacarr Sankanu

Can you tell us how you got started in the film industry?

I got into the film business officially and full time in 2008 when I set up my Afromedia Film & TV International Group. I studied, among others, Film and Animation in Germany. Prior to that I joined the FilmInitiativtiativ Koeln Organization that promotes African films, literature and theatre arts on the global stage. Before adding The Gambia to my agenda, I was working behind the scenes of the German, South African, Nigerian and Ghanaian film industries by investing in promising talents. I am proud that some of their directors, writers and actresses I have been coaching are getting bigger. At the time of granting you this interview one of my boys from Nigeria/Nollywood has just been commissioned to direct a big budget film and TV project in the United States of America.

What film projects are working on at the moment?

As an international producer I am involved in various film-related projects in different countries. For the Gambia I have two (2) major film projects going on at the moment. The first one is on the menace of rape in society. The hard drive containing the project data got damaged during my last Gambian visit and this has delayed the production. I am however re-developing everything and hopefully by my next Gambian trip, I will complete it.

For the second one, I am quietly working an international standard film on President Jammeh. The working title which is subject to change is JAMMEH 20 YEARS OF LEADERSHIP WITH A DIFFERENCE. I started work on it during my last Gambian visit of 2013.  I don't want it to be a political propaganda film for the opponents or supporters of President Jammeh. I want it to be a globally-acceptable intellectual and professional work just like the biopics on Abraham Lincoln or Nelson Mandela. I am putting my name and status on the line and I would not like to be part of a cheap propaganda home video on Jammeh. I risked my neck for this film project by taking part in the last Presidential dialogue-with-the-people tour as part of the milieu study of the Jammeh system to give the project more first-hand authenticity. Its completion will be determined by the material and resources I access.

How would you describe the current state of the Gambian film industry?

We are yet to have a Gambian film industry in the standard and conventional sense. The talent is there but the support base is missing. We see people doing their own things in competition and envy rather than working for the common good. Today with digital technology anyone can hold a camera and with the right marketing trick call his/her recording a "film" but not everyone has what it takes to lay the structures needed for an inclusive national film industry.

We should not be in putting the cart before the horse by rushing to flood the market with home videos. We should not carbon copy others. This is why I coined the named CINEKAMBIYA as the generic brand name for the upcoming Gambian Film Industry. There is no law or international convention that makes is compulsory for every film industry to add the 'wood' suffix to its identity as in Nollywood of Nigeria, Gollywood of Ghana and Hollywood of USA. We cannot match or compete them as they have the economies of scale to dump DVDs into the markets and suffocate us.

We at CINEKAMBIYA can however give them a running for their money by striving to stand out with our Gambian peculiarities.  Since we live in an era of cultural dialogue, we should focus more on adapting the global best practices of Nigeria, Ghana, USA, Germany and other places to advance our cultural heritages through the cinema arts than just joining the list.

To further prove that I practise what I preach, I drafted a "Gambian National Film Policy Framework", Code of Ethics for Cinema Arts Industry Practitioners and other documents that I submitted to the Ministry of Tourism and Culture (MoTC), the National Center for Arts and Culture (NCAC)  and the Standing Committee on Beauty Pageant and Production of Movies for consideration. For you cannot have film industry without serious regulatory framework on the side of the government and standards and ethics on the part of the practitioners.

If the Gambia Government takes some of us the seasoned strategists seriously, we are going to have one of the most productive film industries in the world. With the right support for the strategies I floated, our CINEKAMBIYA can create more domestic jobs than the tourism industry within the next decade. I guarantee this with my names as I see the potentials of Gambian talents just waiting to be harnessed without politics, tribalism and the trappings of mediocrity.

There are other "monkey dey work" contributions I am doing behind the scenes that I would not like to talk about for now.

What stirred your interest in politics?

Well the nature of my first profession as a prominent journalist and liberal member of the Fourth Estate means I have to be on the nerves of the political and theological classes without malice. As a crazy public intellectual, it is part of my civic duties to proffer productive ideas on how to advance society. They might be seen as controversial or politically incorrect. I am born to be crazy, unconventional and stubborn anyway.

What's your reaction to your critics online?

My online critics, don't mind them. They are dead cowards. They will hide behind fake names and profiles to rant against me but they know that I don't give a damn! They cannot silence me. I will continue to dare the mobs and the bullies. Some of them cannot stand my charm and sense of humour. Others are angry with me for endorsing President Jammeh. I did that to keep our democratic culture alive and put their democratic tolerance to test. I am enjoying my role as the devil's advocate when it comes to the Gambian political discourse. For the devil you know can be better than the Satan you don't. Let them go and face Jammeh in the Gambia. I am not stopping anyone.

Though I have been advised to ignore the online critics, the reasons why I cut them to size, from time to time, is to encourage others to speak out. Many people are now shying aware from enjoying their freedom of expression online for fear of the cyber bullies. I want people to challenge them.

Another reason is that technology is moving faster than the brains of many gullible people out there. Not everyone bragging around with the latest smart phone or tablet PC is "ewu" or "kuning". They readily believe any junk they see about people online without questioning the motives of the people behind the garbage. Many characters were assassinated, marriages destroyed or business deals sabotage just because somebody is spreading lies or half-truth online. I want people to be critical consumers of new media.

Would you mind to share with us the most radical thing you've ever done?

Coming to my most radical things, I don't know how and when to start since my 21-year experience in journalism is full of radical milestones.

Let me try this. It was brutal and radical for me to forget about The Gambia for 15 good years. When I made the decision to enter the Gambia in 2012, many people advised me not to go ahead. They said it would be suicidal but I landed at the Banjul International Airport to the shock of all and sundry. People could not believe their eyes seeing me on the streets of The Gambia. I remember a case of someone who called from Banjul just to make sure it was my voice. He said on the phone "I can't believe this...."

Another recent radical thing is the cat-and-mouse game I played with the organizers of the last Presidential dialogue with-the-people tour. My community selected me to speak on its behalf at one of the venues. Prior to that, I wrote officially to President Jammeh expressing my interest in participating in the tour but some officials between the Office of the President and the APRC national mobilization bureau were playing with me like football by not putting my name into the official delegates list. I decided to risk it till the paramilitary, the NIA and local politicians ganged up on me at Gambissara.

I made history as the first public intellectual to be arrested in The Gambia for supposed craziness and briefly detained at the Bakadaji police station. For me it is like a national honour. You know in The Gambia people are generally afraid. So for me to smartly dare the state apparatus by dribbling my way through the Presidential tour was just too crazy and deadly to comprehend. A "normal" Gambian won't risk it. Anyway in this life, if you are too smart, they call you crazy.

Why do you support polygamy?

Well I am Prince in the traditional African sense and it is normal for a prince to have his harem. Polygamy is part of my good African heritage. It is designed to, among others, promote the principle of caring and sharing. The examples of President Jacob Zuma of South Africa with his many first ladies and the Kenyan lawmakers who legalized polygamy are testimonies to the fact that the traditional relationship form is modern and relevant.

It is a free world and I respect the rights of people to choose between polygamy, monogamy or whatever they like. I for one will have as many Princesses and concubines I can sustain in my lifetime according to our African customary law.

What are your views on homosexuality?

It is the same thing with the Gambian politics.  Some people are antagonizing me because I say that I will NOT fight President Jammeh and his system. My argument is that Gambians did not give me the mandate to free them from Jammeh's rule and I will not be a self-appointed freedom fighter. Gambians are not innocent babies. They are responsible for whatever they are going through in the Second Republic. I endorse President Jammeh not for money and politics. If he does things right I will thank and encourage him. If he does it wrong I will critique him as I share the moral responsibility for the successes and failures of the Jammeh government by the virtue of my endorsement. I am available for liberal and progressive battle of ideas across the political divide but I am not available for regime change anywhere under the sun.

Transferring this to the homosexuality debate, what I said before is the same thing I will repeat here. Allah did not give me the mandate to be a morality police and dictate to people how they should live their individual sexualities. I will not condemn people over their orientations.

One thing I know is that I am a proudly straight Casanova master of the seduction arts. As long as the women continue to give birth to hot, beautiful and tantalizing daughters, my sexual taste and orientation will remain in favour of the female gender.

I am mad about women will well-proportioned buttocks be they small, average or large but not too big like whales or flat like cardboards. Man must hold onto quality meat for rejuvenating romance.

Oops! The feminists and religious morality police are going berserk over this. They cannot have it both ways though. Let them fight their homosexuals and leave us alone to have consensual fun with the adult ladies. They cannot be condemning homosexuals and the same time trying to stop some of us bad boys from appreciating and promoting female sexuality aesthetics as part of women empowerment. Then women need to be sexually confident first before they can take their rightful places in society.

Did you ever consider running for President in The Gambia?

I am tired of this question. When I was in Gambia people bombarded me with it over and over till I banned them from mentioning it. Even now when I am having one-on-one exchanges with people in the social media, they would ask the same question. My new policy is to answer with "I DONT KNOW...!"

What I know is that I have the lifelong chance of becoming Member of the EU Parliament (MEP) representing Germany.

Prince Bubacarr Sankanu

Anything else you would like to say?

I have four (4) appeals or points to make.

First of all, I would like to appeal to Gambian and Gambia-related parents not to suppress the creative talents of their sons, daughters, cousins, sisters, brothers, you name it. During my last Gambian working visit, I created a talent pool of at least 300 Gambians who wants to develop careers in the film and creative industry. During the various interview sessions most of them confided in me that their parents, partners or communities are against their careers of choice in film and theatre arts trade.

I understand the concerns of parents since we have many be-rich-rich quick and join-the-list folks bringing bad name to bona fide producers. This why I am focusing on sanitizing the creative sectors with those proposals I submitted to the Gambian authorities.

Like any other profession, acting has its great benefits and occupational hazards. A nurse in a health centre for example spends more time with his/her patients than his/her intimate partner and families. He/She can accidentally catch diseases as we have seen in the cases those who were taking care of victims of Ebola, HIV, Tuberculosis and other contagious deceases.

The future of The Gambian film industry is very bright. Open-minded parents who give their children the chance to try out their talents will not regret it. The parents and partners of Will Smith, Denzel Washington, Whitney Houston, Queen Latifa, Beyonce Knowles or Halle Barry are proudly enjoying their successes in the creative sector.

For now, we the pioneers are building the structures and our Gambian actors and actress will not take much money home. This will change with time and you will be seeing deserving Gambian film actors and actresses taking at least one million Dalasis home per annum. I see it coming and I am working day and night towards it.

So if your sons, daughters, sisters, cousins, fiancees or brothers show talent in creative arts don't shout "haram" or "yallatere". Encourage them to go for their passion.

We will have professionals who can coach them well. To set a good example while in Gambia, I took the trouble of calling the parents of some of the actresses to inform them of the roles their daughters want to carry in my projects. I would also pay transport and make sure they depart in my presence. When some of the actresses wondered, I would tell them  "when your parents call, I will give them the number of the taxi or vehicle you boarded after leaving my production office/set."

Secondly, I am appealing to all those who want to take up acting as careers not to be obsessed with money and fame or else they will be repeatedly exploited by unscrupulous elements in broad day light. Let them just follow their passions and be prepared to give in whatever it reasonably takes to breakthrough. Money will run after them later.

Thirdly, I encourage those who want to be film directors and producers to put quality before quantity. It is better to spend say, 10 years working on one good film that will immortalize you that rush to flood the market with all kinds of home videos. Gambia and Africa have countless stories waiting to be told and there is room for everyone before and behind the camera. The supply of stories for good Gambian films is infinite.

The greatest filmmakers like Sembene Ousmane (Senegal), Akira Kurosawa (Japan), Alfred Hitchcock (USA), Sergei Eisenstein (Russia), Rainer Warner Fassbender (Germany), Steven Spielberg (USA), Martin Scorsese (USA), Costa-Gavras (France/Greece), Steve McQueen (UK), Agnès Varda (France/Greece), Raoul Peck (Haiti) and others are respected by the quality of the films they made and not by the number of videos they threw into the market. I remember when I was in Nigeria in 2008 for an international theatre arts event at Osogbo, Osun State and had a tete-A -tete with Prince Jide Kosoko, I appealed to our Nigerian brothers to change their styles. He agreed with me but the hype and easy money was so sweet at that time that others thought I was trying to lecture them. Now most of them are fighting to be where I told them to target.

The fourth appeal I would like to make is to the Gambians at home and abroad. I call on them to patronize their own talents. I pray that what happened to our musicians do not happen to our filmmakers. For decades Gambians were brainwashed to spend fortunes on foreign music stars while throwing charities at their local ones. Though this attitude started encroaching into the Gambian home video scenes, I hope it will be discouraged.  We can better risk our money and expertise in making good Gambian films when our people keep patronizing us as our primary constituents. I know movies from Nigeria, India, USA and Senegal have influenced Gambians and we will need to literally re-educate them to start appreciating Gambian films.

Like every nascent industry, certain things will not be perfect from the onset but with continuing patronization and encouragement, Gambian filmmakers will be motivated to meet the demands and standards of the day.

I have Gambian and non-Gambians who want me to market and distribute their movies but because of the high rate of piracy off line and illegal downloads online, I am taking my time.

Thank you for the interview and good luck with your projects!

Thank you too. I am grateful to you and the WHAT'S ON - GAMBIA team for maintaining a very good platform for the Gambian Arts, Culture and Entertainment pundits. Kindly allow me to thank all those young actors, actresses and journalists who adopted me as their mentor. I will do my best to prove myself worthy of the confidence they bestowed on me. I salute all my fans and secret admirers worldwide.


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