Inna Lillahi wa inna ilaihi raji’un
The Gambia Lost a Great Voice In Freedom Radio/Newspaper Journalist
Pa Nderry Mbai
By Alagi Yorro Jallow
I do not mourn legends; I celebrate them. I only mourn those who came to this world, existed, exited, and left no mark. However, I celebrate and honor those who touched hearts with their kindness; those who impacted the world by their all-benefiting actions; those who impressed minds with their wit and charm; those who blessed societies with leadership and direction; those who wrote and acted as a voice of the voiceless for generations; those never die even when their hearts cease to beat! Those gave a little of their lives to each of us that even when they depart, they live through us! Unfortunately, we will not be getting another investigative and political Journalist, like Pa Nderry Mbai, Freedom radio, and Newspaper proprietor. However, by his life and political activities, many a politician were made, including yours truly. By his death, we are reminded it is time to fit into the shoes of the giant!
I celebrate you, editor Pa Nderry Mbai, Freedom Radio/Newspaper founder, and revolutionize internet radio broadcasting in the Gambia Diaspora community. Rest well, and May Allah continue to grant you Alijannah Firdausi!
In recent times, I know of no death in The Gambia that has dominated social media conversation and inspired a welter of sustained lamentations with as much undying persistence as Journalist PaMy heartfelt and profound condolences to the bereaved family, the entire Gambian media fraternity, and the Gambian people.
I am again beset by one of the awful news of 2021. The Gambian media fraternity lost a brother, friend, uncle, and comrade in journalism. The Gambia has lost another worthy son; The Gambia said goodnight early to one of its best, a genuine and passionate journalist of vast knowledge, a sociable person, a patriotic who had a strong faith in the Gambia’s growth and development. I joined the Gambian journalists and the entire Gambia to mourn the loss of brother Pa Nderry Mbai, founder of Freedom newspaper and radio, and equally sympathize with his immediate family and uncle Fafa Mbai. His listeners and readership, and to all Freedom radio contributors. I have known him for almost three decades. Trust us, we argued over the Gambia.
Pa Nderry Mbai’s heartrendingly sudden death was announced on Monday in Raleigh in North Carolina. He was no politician. He was no wealthy man. He was no king or prince. He was no pop culture celebrity. He was only a journalist and a social critic who railed against incompetence and malfeasance in government and who fired our collective imagination about our unrealized but realizable potential as a nation. However, he was mourned—and is still being mourned—by an unbelievably vast swath of humanity.
He was too alive to be dead. It still seems like his subsequent news updates and breaking news would appear as usual on his Facebook wall today; wink at us and wonder why we all thought he could end just like that. We still go to that Freedom website hoping that this death talk is just one morbid, an expensive joke that would soon unravel. But, no. He is gone – forever.
We are all fools in matters of fate against which there is no armor. From the beginning of time, the wise have not decoded death and its mortal software. That precisely is why crooked mahogany stands bent in the forest to eat funeral cakes of straight, upright roko. However, strangely, we do not think the death of death should be man’s priority. Instead of distracting death with all the delicacies of the earth, we spend the little time we have feeding pearls to some impotent ash in accursed hearths. We leave deleterious leprosy untreated and spend our life savings curing eczema. We know death is the immortal enemy that needs appeasement, but we will not take our choice wines to his presence. Instead, elaborate shrines and propitiations are prepared for some small, lame gods in rocks and villas who have no finger to raise when the spirit of finality strolls in.
Pa Nderry Mbai played on the world stage to not have taken a local pedestrian exit. Instead, his maker chose for him that sudden closure in a bolt of shrieking, thunderous shock. He played his part, fulfilled his mission, and delivered the message fully and clearly. He was a teacher/journalist without borders. There was no subject he did not touch offline, online, morning, afternoon, evening, night. His words were as restless as his world.
The one we miss would have rained acid tears on the original sin that constantly feeds the young to the greed of the old. The shriek in his cries would have loudly cursed the race which routinely fades flowers before their bloom. In his death are lessons for the wise. He was a young man less than 50 years old. However, have we noticed that poor Pa Nderry had been mentioned in all news reports of that crash in almost all world countries? No one is talking about his possessions, but all tongues and fingers toast his humanity, his unpretentious anger, and angst at his country’s refusal to be of good behavior. The people’s focus has remarkably been on the fecund mind and heart and brain his maker endowed him with. His writings and talks hoist him as a loyalist of untainted truth, patriotism, courage and consistency, and honest living. Even he, if he could look back and see his accomplishments, would kneel before his maker in absolute gratitude for the universality of his acclaim. He was sent here to play a part, and he played it so well that even death gave him a full complement at departure. He is a successful brand, very well blessed that he had the grace of waving goodbye.
Shakespeare said, “When beggars die there are no comets seen; the heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes.” Freedom radio proprietor Pa Nderry Mbai was no prince, yet the heavens are blazing forth his death. So why has his death detained our imagination and united us in grief? Was it because when he lived, he radiated so much communicable warmth and love? Was it because he inspired tremendous, transmissible mirth wherever he was? Was it because he exuded life like no one? Was it because he shared love and built bridges across traditional fissures like no one in his generation? Well, it was all these things and more.
Freedom newspaper Pa Nderry Mbai lived his life publicly on social media. He shared his prodigious intellect with a massive, engaged social media audience. His biting wit, his sharp repartees, his homespun witticisms, and his equal-opportunity rhetorical “fair and balance” (as he liked to call public censures) on the Gambia’s decadent and shortsighted political and cultural elites animated social media chatter and inspired hundreds of thousands of Gambians.
Pa was an open book who shared the joys, the thrills, and the challenges of parenting with his friends and followers on social media. Everyone who followed him knew of his elder Daughter Awa and her precocious questions and conversations with him. He shared details of his appetite for grilled lamb chops with his friends and followers. He even invited them to partake in his anxieties even in things as quotidian as the gastronomic choices he had to make in grand, glitzy, Western-style African hotels that marginalize African culinary delicacies.
He let anyone who knew him take a peep into his deep, vast, phenomenal mind and see the angst that troubled him. People who cared to look saw a man deeply concerned about the Gambia’s present and future. We saw the mind of a young man who was impatient with the snail-pace progress of his native Gambia. We saw a mind of a young man that was gripped by the fear of the judgment of history. We saw a man who was prepared to risk being unpopular rather than bend or sugarcoat the truth.
In short, in Pa Nderry Mbai, people saw a complaisant, brilliant, fearless, patriotic yet modest hero in whom they had become intellectually and emotionally dependent. That was why his death felt like—and is— the death of a piece of us.
I first met Pa Nderry Mbai in 1999 when I started publishing the Independent Newspaper, where Pa was freelancing for the independent and other local newspapers and served with him as executive members of the Gambia Press Union. Then, it was the go-to electronic marketplace for Cyberians, as I like to call Gambians on the Internet, before the profusion of social media. In time, we discovered that we had more in common than our viewpoints about the Gambia: Until his death, every communication we had—emails, phone calls, texts—was preceded by (“Koto or Suma Maggi.”)
This is a tragic national loss. It is also an inconsolable personal loss to his family, the media fraternity, and the Gambian people. We missed each other’s calls several times in the past few weeks and did not get to speak. That is one of my biggest regrets, but one from which I have learned incredible lessons. I will henceforth be checking up on my friends as frequently as I can. Unfortunately, this life is too transient to allow ourselves to become too busy that we do not have time to say hi to our friends.
Pa Nderry and I used to call each other because his uncle Barrister Fafa Mbai is my elder friend and, and we shared the same passion for journalism. Like me, Pa Nderry Mbai was always self-conscious of his mortality. He always knew and said that tomorrow is not guaranteed. That is why I live every day like it is my last. I will always stand on the side of truth, justice, and fair play, even if the whole world no longer sees merit in these virtues. It was Pa Nderry Mbai’s commitment to these ideals that made us friends.
Pa Nderry kept up with and lubricated his vast network of friends through dutiful outreach and relational nourishment. If a milestone happened in his life and you did not write or call to congratulate him, Pa Nderry would send you an email or a text to chastise you—often employing his trademark satirical raillery. He did the same if something momentous happened to you, and he got to hear of it from others. However, he was quick to forgive than he was to take offense. That is why a whole lot of people who knew him are distressed beyond comforted by the gut-wrenching news of his death. I do not think I will ever come to terms with his death.
In many ways, Pa Nderyy reminds us all of the intrinsic impermanence of our very humanity and the imperative to always be self-conscious of our mortality. In many discussions with friends, Pa Nderry often said he had a foreboding that he would not live long enough to see his daughters grow to adulthood. That was why he lived every day as if it was his last. However, he always knew and said that tomorrow is not guaranteed. That was why he always stood on the side of truth, justice, and fair play.
More than anything, Pa Nderry Mbai’s commitment to these ideals earned him universal admiration and why we have a hard time accepting that he is physically gone from us for good. However, he lives in the hundreds of thousands of lives he inspired and in the ideals he passionately espoused. May his soul rest in peace and his family be comforted, and May Allah grants him Alannah Firdausi.