Imam Baba Leigh: I am no “Mbojo Mbojo”
With Humility and Without Prejudice: I Am Undoubtedly More Accomplished and Celebrated Than Any So-called Human Rights Activist and Gambian Journalist Including the Imam.
Alagi Yorro Jallow
Fatoumatta: All my adult life, I have never sought anybody’s validation of my integrity or reputation. In my experience, those who are quick to attack other people’s integrity are usually those who do not have integrity. They think everybody else is like them. I always write from the integrity of my heart. Whatever anybody thinks after that is their own opinion. It is called freedom of speech.
Fatoumatta: Before I wrote the article on Imam Baba Leigh condemning his comments on LGBT rights in The Gambia, I knew what I was up against. I knew some would unleash the attack dogs on me, the same dogs on social media echo-chambers . Unfortunately, these people do not know the person they are dealing with. I am the worst human being you can orchestrate attacks against. Why? I do not care. I cannot be intimidated. Once I am convinced that I wrote from the integrity of my heart, and my conscience is clear to God, the rest is irrelevant. I would be miserable if I fail to write because I am afraid some people would come after me. That would be a disaster. I know people who shied away from condemning Imam Baba Leigh comments on his LGBT rights in the Gambia because of the way the attack dogs would bark with convictions and principles. Those so-called social genders and political activists also journalists are so consumed that Gambians are afraid of them because of the microphone as well as of social media bullying and twitter warriors bullying too. I am brave enough to stand up with my chest out. I would hate myself the day I chicken out of my convictions because of fear of attacks. That is not the man my father brought me up to be.
Fatoumatta: I knew Baba Leigh as far back as 2003. I was the editor of the Independent newspaper then. We had a warm relationship. He used to send me his Friday sermons recordings personally to me and sometimes to my reporters to transcribe and published in the Independent. The Independent offices and Printing press were all located in Kanifing opposite Hotel School along MDI Road not far from Kanifing Estate Mosque, where Imam Baba Leigh leads Jummah prayers. Some of my reporters attend his Jummah prayers. However, I have never attended any of his Jummah prayers at the Kanifing Mosque, and I never wanted him to lead me in any prayers or recognized his Shiekhship. Our relationship continued. It was a professional and intellectual relationship, as well as a brotherly relationship. It was not financial or transactional. I could tell him my mind without any fear of falling out of favor. I can claim to know him that much, but we were close enough to take me as a confidant and brother. Since he declined to explain in his radio interview to Freedom radio why our Independent Editor described him as “Highway Imam,” and Pa Nderry claims the best investigative Journalist, I am disappointed he did not do his homework diligently, not know what precipitated that editorial on Imam Baba Leigh. I will respect Baba Leigh’s right to non-disclosure of our differences to tell his audience until we both decide to break our silence. It was an urban legend. I will refrain from further any comment unless and until Imam Baba Leigh is ready, to tell the truth, and his media publicist unearthed the truth to their listeners. All the witnesses are alive except George Christensen and Dr. MaNgum Ceesay, may Allah grant them Alijannah Fidausi, who volunteered to provide us air time to explain our problem with Imam Baba Leigh.
Fatoumatta: Every leader has a gatekeeper. If you are the gatekeeper and are doing your job well, there is no way that some people will not demonize you. If everybody is praising the gatekeeper, something is not going well. An effective gatekeeper must be hated in some quarters. I must protect my integrity and the reputation of the Independent.
Fatoumatta: I have been turning down appointments since July 2000. Some of the positions I have turned down in my life are positions people will kill for. Political appointments mean nothing to me. I am very content. I am content with the impact I am making in my chosen fields.
Moreover, by the way, is it that not difficult to get a political appointment in the Gambia? You need to write a “Jaliba” or a naked person, or” dogo,dogo” in order to get an appointment? Look at the contradiction: their paymasters and how they get appointed and the accolades they enjoy on social media circles. Why then would it be hard for me to be appointed? Sadly, they are low-grade comedians.
It is part of what I am saying: people who do not know journalism are trying to teach and practice unethical journalism. I have practiced journalism for 30 years. I have never been jobless for one day. I did not come to journalism by accident or out of joblessness or as a last resort. I set out to be a journalist. I scaled the highly competitive process to be able to study Mass Communication and journalism in America . I was taught not just the best in the craft of journalism but also its laws and ethics. I took a whole course on ethics. I was not just taught ethics; I have taken the pains with keeping myself educated about the different schools of thought and their positions on journalism ethics. So, it is laughable when people who know little about ethics begin to pontificate recklessly.
Fatoumatta: I think the problem with many of the young fantasist journalist chaps is that they are confusing journalism with activism. I am a journalist, a professional journalist. I am not an activist. I am not just a journalist, and I am a genuine and development journalist. I went to school to study journalism, and I also hold a graduate degree in governance and development as well in public Administration and Public policy. I have taken leadership and ethics courses at an Ivy league Harvard Kennedy School. I was a Nieman Fellow for Journalism at the Harvard Foundation for Journalism, the first Gambian Journalist since 1932 to enroll in that prestigious fellowship. I became the first Gambia to be a Reagan-Fascell.
Democracy Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington DC as a Democracy and Human Rights Fellow. I am the first Gambian Journalist to be awarded the International Press Freedom Award in America and Canada. I was also the winner of the World Association of Newspapers Golden Pen in Paris, also the first African and first Gambian to be awarded the Human Rights Watch prestigious Hallman/Hammet Award for persecuted journalists and writers in 2000 and 2004. I was a Mo Ibrahim Fellow in Governance for Development in 2008. I was also a fellow at the University of Defense in Virginia at the African Center for Strategic Studies in 2002. I am currently a Fulbright Scholars Fellow since 2013 as a lecturer and researcher in Bangkok for fives now in the US, enjoying my fellowship amid the Coronavirus pandemic.
Fatoumatta: I did not go to this length in order to start running people down without evidence. I am not an adversarial journalist. I seek to build, not to destroy. I take no joy in pulling people down. I am very much interested in constructively engaging with civil society and political authorities to help good birth governance and sound public policies. If you notice, when people are saying there is ‘casting down,’ I am saying there is ‘lifting.’ When they say the Gambia should break up, I say there are other options to consider. When they say the Gambia is finished, I say let us try good leadership before giving up. Many people are irritated by these views, and that is their right. It is the path I have chosen in life. If you want to be an activist journalist, as some people love to call themselves, good luck to you, but please do not legislate for me. Continue along your path and let me continue on my path.
Fatoumatta: I have a very independent mind. I do not go with the flow. I search for things out by myself. I do not engage in a mass lynching. I am never afraid to be different. Anybody who knows me very well will tell you that about me. Ironically, I did not read any of those attacks against me. It was people that were calling me and forwarding them to me. Some went to the extent of summarising them so that I could have an idea of the bitterness. I always had a good laugh. They are not even smart enough to hide their hands. I know those unleashing the dogs, and they know that I know them. Their goal is to sustain the narrative in which they invested so many resources and energy to create against a man who can wipe their tears. To them, anyone who challenges their preferred narrative is an enemy, deserving of the same orchestration they deployed against progressive individuals Gambian.
Fatoumatta: You know we have many journalists today who do not understand journalism—political commentary, not political propaganda. Political commentary is referred to as political criticism. It is no subversion. It is not neutral. Political propaganda is written to celebrate somebody—Journalist, which is supposedly neutral or dispassionate or balanced. What I wrote was a political commentary published in a personal opinion column of newspapers and on my Facebook wall.
Fatoumatta: This is the role of journalists: not to repeat propaganda, thereby assisting the propagandists and becoming part of the machinery of propaganda, but maintaining a STANDARD of making sure, as much as is possible, that a media platform is being used to give FACTS to the public. Once the public has the FACTS, it is up to those in public to make up THEIR MINDS. Real Journalist plays the vital role of gatekeeper and acting on behalf of the public good in doing so. What type of ethical journalism convicts someone based on a single allegation from leaked but incomplete documents or so-called trusted sources that are not agenda-neutral, sources that are not ready to go on record? What kind of journalism takes allegations not proven beyond reasonable doubt as gospel truth? Not the journalism I was taught. For those who studied journalism in proper schools and not serving as political or ethnic propaganda outlets, I would like to debate the principles, the mechanics, the theories, the laws, and the ethics of journalism. I am a game. I have no business with agenda-pushers, bigots, and some of these emergency journalists. One funny character was lecturing me about journalism without even respecting the elementary boundaries of defamation. Funny characters!
Editors note: We are not a publicist for Imam Baba Leigh. Mr. Jallow’s claims are erroneous and totally unfounded.
That said, we haven’t defame anyone. Mr. Jallow cannot define us. Though, he is entitle to his own views. We respect that. We rest our case.