BY PRINCE BUBACARR AMINATA SANKANU
First of all, various Nigerian and Ghanaian media outlets reported that the President of my country HE Alhagie Yahya AJJ Jammeh has recently allocated portions of our Gambian lands to some Nigerian and Ghanaian entertainers. The fact that we Gambians have to know about this from second-hand sources speaks volumes on the way we are treated as non-humans by those running our country. Jammeh is a temporal President and not the everlasting private owner of the commonwealth of our Gambian fatherland.
I for one respect him and endorse his freedom to do whatever he pleases within the parameters of the Reasonable State and Realpolitik but if he touches certain red lines, I will speak truth to power without fear or favour, affection or ill-will. The senseless wastage of our scarce resources on money-hungry foreign musicians and movie stars is scratching on those red lines. I am therefore calling on the named home video peoples not to rush in developing the land that President Jammeh reportedly allocated them. For over 10 years, we have been reading reports on how Nigerian video film stars, and of late Ghanaian ones, are airlifted into the country to serve as presidential event decorations. They are rewarded millions from our Gambian tax revenues without measurable lasting benefits to our creative economy. If at all the monies are from President Jammeh’s personal savings before he became President of the Republic of The Gambia on the 22 July 1994, I for one would not care. But the funds that are wasted on the Nigerian and Ghanaian hustlers are generated through our taxes and remittances and we have the right to speak out on it. After all, we are the ones sweating for the monies. The Gambian economy is on life-support at the time of writing this piece. Without our Diaspora remittances and the bailout from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), we would have long seen a Burkina Faso-styled mass revolution by the hungry and tired Gambians. President Jammeh’s strength lies on the weaknesses and pettiness within the ranks of those fighting to end his rule. The greedy Nigerian and Ghanaian entertainers “chopping him dry” are too blinded by our free government money, free food and free sex with some local girls to see, feel or understand the silent sufferings of the voiceless Gambians.
Secondly, it is an open secret that President Jammeh does not feel comfortable supporting highly professional and ethical Gambians. This self-denial does not give the Nigerian and Ghanaian wannabe stars the birth right to milk our poor nation dry. You don’t need to be rocket scientists to know that Nigeria and Ghana have more geographical space and other resources than our little Gambia with a total territorial size of just 11,295 square kilometres. Land is scarce and highly sensitive. Our Gambian courts are currently inundated with protracted litigations over land disputes across the country. Governments come and go but the people and their land problems will remain. No sane person can guarantee that the Jammeh government will continue to rule the Gambia for the next 20 years. Being a Nigerian or Ghanaian so-called celebrity will not immune you against future court appearances over land and other contractual disputes. Future governments have the prerogative to nullify land allocations and revise destructive decisions of the current regime. Feel free to ignore my sincere advice, go ahead to develop the “donated” land and invest in Gambia at your own peril.
Thirdly, I will not blame the local population for the rising anti-Nigerian and anti-Ghanaian sentiments that are fuelled by the irrational decisions of the powers that be. If you snatch away the meagre resources of scared and disadvantaged communities and share them among fat and parasitic entertainers from Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal, South Africa, Jamaica and other places, you invite trouble into the nation. I am a responsible Pan-Africanist and believer in African solidarity among the people without the hypocrisy of the political classes. Direct exchanges among the diverse peoples of African descent on fair terms are better for me than the divide-and-rule tactics of the corrupt elites. Successive Nigerian governments have been blindly sending lawyers and judges to assist in building a progressive Gambian judiciary but most of them ended up as corrupt mercenaries ever-ready to jail more Gambians just to appease the executive branch of the Gambian government. You now wonder about the sources of anti-Nigerian slurs that you could hear on the streets of the Gambia? That said, African solidarity does not mean taking away from the poorer Africans in this case Gambians, to pamper the richer and fatter Africans, known here as the hustling Nigerian and Ghanaian home movie people. Personally, I have put more money into the Nigerian film industry since 2006 without insisting on quick returns on investment. I love Nigeria and I believe in the Pax Nigeriana – that is Nigeria’s leadership role in Africa and the Black Diaspora but that does not mean I should not question things that go wrong between Maiduguri and Calabar. I visited the country in 2008 and deliberately avoided the limelight but my behind-the-scene contributions towards mutually beneficial inter-African solidarity in the creative industries remain strong. I have people across the various segments of the Nigerian Cinema between Kano and Lagos to confirm my silent activities. I don’t need to be running after the Nigerian or African politicians and business leaders for charities and photo opportunities in order to show the whole world that I am contributing my quota towards the advancement of Africa in my natural fields of expertise and passion. Ghana is also not absent on my agenda. I have been screening Ghanaian films in Germany, welcoming promising Ghanaians talents and cooperating with Ghanaian Diaspora groups in Cologne since 2006. I need not talk about other African or Afro-Caribbean countries.
Fourthly, Gambians don’t value their own talents. For years, they preferred patronising Senegalese and other fly-by-night musicians while expecting them to build the local music Gambian industry. The same blunder is being repeated in the movie industry. Our local movie talents are living from hand to mouth while the hustling fly-by-night Nollywood and Ghana folks are pampered with our taxes and remittances. If you try to reason, they would say you are jealous. Why would we be jealous when some of us are blessed with the expertise, global connections and confidence to thrive across the international film scenes? I for one can afford the luxury of staying out of the competition for publicity, movie roles and photo sessions with politicians and remain a relevant behind-the-scene thinker on African Cinema. I just pity the local talents who cannot speak their honest minds on the state of affairs. No one will build Gambia for Gambians. The Kenyans, Ghanaians, Tanzanian, Sierra Leoneans, Liberians, Ugandans and others used to wait for some Nollywood noise-makers and hustlers when the digital home video phenomenon started 20 years ago but along the line they realised that they had to take the lead in building their respective national film industries. In the Gambia, it is a crime to be innovative and think out of the box. Patriotism there is about telling lies to the powers that be and inviting foreign stars to collect presidential gifts that will be shared among those who facilitated the access to “His Excellency Professor Doctor President Alhagie Yahya Abdul Aziz Jemus Junkung Jammeh, Babili Mansa, Lord of the Bridges and the greatest Pan Africanist of all times.” Correct me if at all I left something out of the glorious name!
Fifthly, the pioneers of postcolonial Nigeria Cinema before the digital age relied on some healthy degrees of social responsibility and self-reliance to build an industry from scratch. It is a shame that for the past decades some of Nollywooders and accidental home video people have been prostituting themselves to political desperadoes across the African continent. Their filmmaking is no longer about checking and balancing the African political classes or raising social consciousness. The derogatory names “Nollywood” and “Ghollywood” are synonymous to the “greed is good” mentality. It is all about playing, partying and vanity at the expense of taxpayers. Their monotonous home videos are mainly regurgitating the missionary and jihadist propaganda that everything culturally African is evil and backward while promoting the aggressive proselytization of the Western neo-colonialists and Middle Eastern Trans-Saharan slave traders as the only superior options for acculturation that Africans must copy at all costs or end in hell. Hallelujah! Allaw Akbar! To the lords of the White and Arab masters must be the great glory at all times: say ameen! The perpetuation of the self-hate coupled with skin bleaching, fake hair and the obsession with “Onyibo” America and materialism aside, some of the so-called stars over-rated their political levels by aggressively campaigning for the defeated Doctor Goodluck Jonathan in the last Nigerian presidential elections of 2015 and took home millions in fees or gifts. They over-rated themselves by mistaking the hype and photo opportunities with dictators and questionable business people as political gravitas. If I were Dr. Jonathan, I would have asked them for a refund. Yes, they have the right to be actively involved in the domestic politics of Nigeria and their home countries but when our ill-advised Gambian government waste our meagre public funds on them, I for one will challenge them. As a film director and producer, I make stars but I don’t worship them. I don’t care if you win all the film or TV awards under the sun and get all the global publicity and the fattest bank accounts in your industry. That will not make me run after you like demi-gods. You will only get the respect you earned through your comportment, sincerity, modesty and social responsibility. I am allergic to greed!
Sixthly, the Boko Haram neo-jihadist group is engaged in genocide against Nigerians and Africans in the name of Islam but not a single Nigerian director, producer or actor has so far shown the bravery with patriotic and social responsibility to make a serious film on the Boko Haram mass murder. The Malians and Mauritanians were brave enough to make a film on the misuse of Islam for violence. Watch “Timbuktu” (2015) directed by Abderrahmane Sissako. Another Malian sensitization and resistance movie against religious fundamentalism titled “They Will Have To Kill Us First” (2015) directed by Johanna Schwartz will be in circulation next year. Nigerians cannot say money is the problem as they have more resources at their disposal than the brave Mauritanian and Malian filmmakers and actors. Frustrated by the apparent cowardice in Nollywood, I recently asked one of my local Nigerian contacts to write and send me a movie script on the local war on terror so that I can take the risk of making a film that will challenge the senseless killings in the name of Islam. If the Malians were to waste their meagre resources on the Nollywood stars to tell their African stories, the religious war of the Tuareg region would still be boiling hot like the Boko Haram cancer. For the citizens would not have had the local content and credible chance to be sensitised on the menace of religious bigotry through the power of film. Boko Haram is technically doing what countless Nigerian home videos are doing to the African Personality – destroying the African social fabric and values and replacing them with imported lethal ideologies. People will readily attack President Obama and the Supreme Court of the United States of America (SCOTUS) for defending homosexuality but would blindly support Nollywood and Boko Haram for promoting ungodly acts of adultery, cheating, lying, greed, rape, robbery, corruption, decadence, hypocrisy and fake un-African lifestyles. My powerful article titled “Are Nigerian Filmmakers Afraid of Boko Haram?” will be published soon.
Finally, I don’t blame the Nigerian and Ghanaian hustlers that much for exploiting the gullibility and destitution of some narrow-minded African cabals and peoples. As I pointed out above, Gambians don’t sincerely value their own talents and President Jammeh or those who control his presidential ears are repeatedly showing that they are more comfortable dishing out luxury vehicles, land, villas, cash in foreign currencies and diplomatic passports to visiting praise-singing stars some of whom could be struggling to pay their bills as all that glitters is not gold, while badmouthing, marginalizing, imprisoning or neglecting the sincere Gambian talents. The “lucky” few Gambians will get some hundreds of thousands of Dalasis, from time to time but in exchange for blind loyalty or maximum shut-up. Personally, I see it as a blessing in disguise that President Dr. Yahya AJJ Jammeh has so far not given me a dime for my Gambian film industry projects. This has granted me the clear conscience, creative freedom, street credibility and elite authority to talk freely, do my things independently on my chosen terms and speak truth to power whenever I deem necessary without hypocrisy and the guilt of eating his presidential monies. I will be in Gambia later this year to continue from where I stopped in contributing my quota towards the development of our Gambian creative scenes without begging or waiting for anyone.
Prince Bubacarr Aminata Sankanu (email@example.com) is a seasoned Gambian journalist, critic, filmmaker and Scholar on Africa Cinema. He holds, among other qualifications, a Master’s Degree in Film Studies from the University of Stirling. He is the initiator of the CINEKAMBIYA branding project aimed at creating a unique Gambian film industry. Sankanu is also team member of FilmInitiativ Koeln e.V. (http://www.filme-aus-afrika.de/EN/contact/), organizers of Germany’s leading African film festival “Jenseits von Europa- Neue Filme aus Africa” in Cologne. As a bona fide film director, Prince Sankanu’s latest completed project is MUSUYA KUNTO (cutting the womanhood), a taboo-shaking documentary on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in The Gambia that will be premiered in December 2015. See: https://vimeo.com/139114537.
This article first appeared on FatuRadioNetwork on October 14, 2015.