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Epitaph: Omar Amadou Jallow (OJ). A Towering Politican and a Pacifist Ideologue dies

Inna lillahi wa ina illaih-e-raji’oon

As one Indian Polymath and philosopher, Rabindranath Tagore, wrote, “Immortals never die, and death is not extinguishing the light; it is only putting out the lamp because the dawn has come.”Omar Amadou Jallow is gone physically, but his spirit is alive with us. As the news of the passing of a political hero and a role model of so many Gambian politicians broke on this sad May 14, 2023, afternoon, the heartbreak and sadness felt by many of us had to be juggled by the stoical sense of realism in the knowledge that a critically ill man, who had dedicated the vast majority of his life to the third liberation of the Gambian struggle, could finally be laid to rest.

If you are a good man, you can break down the barriers of religion and ethnicity. Alhagie Omar Amadou Jallow, known as OJ, is the finest example of a true Gambian political leader who has touched the lives of Muslims and Christians. No virtue speaks more loudly for a man than his charitable deeds and genuine service to humanity. This is indeed one of the most endearing and magnetic virtues of OJ. His humility is disarming; his spirit of brotherhood and kindness without borders is incredibly remarkable.

You do not have to command billions to touch lives. Generosity stems from the spirit of the individual and not the billions under your belt. Mother Theresa famously said, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”

What OJ had shown in his political career and association with every group of which he was a member are those qualities that made him a true leader, which made him, without impositions, the natural head of all the groups he identified with.

For a politician not too gentle to carry placards or endorse a popular pro-democracy revolt against dictatorship, that was a pearl of wisdom not misapplied. However, suppose he had accepted to sacrifice and fight to restore democracy in the Gambia. In that case, I have no doubt he is gone down in history and qualified for categorization as a “patriarchal leader” in an Ali Mazrui book of Africa’s political biographies for, among many traits, his pacifism. When also, grand statements exuded this, which is bravery and patriotism. You would be missed, OJ, For your leadership, infectious charm, and deep, loud hearty laughter, and for your gentle words, effortlessly expressed humor, and of course, for your similarly didactic spoken words. May Allah grant you Alijannah Firdausi, forgive your shortcomings, and grant you eternal bliss!

The love of humanity is one of the finest virtues that makes Omar Amadou Jallow an outstanding Gambian who served as Parliamentarian, the people’s representative in the House of Representatives, and Cabinet Minister in the First Republic and the Third Republic. He connects wonderfully with ordinary people.

Omar Amadou Jallow was an international figure, loved most and admired by even those who reviled his struggle. In his life and even death, he impacted the world and set the tone for freedom fighters for all generations. While his passing had been expected for a long time coming, the loss of this great man, leader, and icon was one that those for whom loved him were still unprepared. So as I read all the accolades from leaders and ordinary folk on social media celebrating Omar Amadou Jallow’s life and legacy, I also reflect on the key lessons that his life and example offer me as a person.

Since his struggle to free his people from the shackles of dictatorship, OJ seemed to be a simple man who practiced minimalism in all areas of his life. Living the life he lived for decades in the First Republic, second republic, and the Third Republic, he left behind a huge legacy of how to live a life of simplicity. Though he was a leader and idolized by hundreds of thousands until the coalition of 2016, he continued to lead a simple life with few distractions and commitments.

I was not one of those with the privilege of knowing OJ personally and professionally. However, I had the opportunity with friends, colleagues, and other brothers to present and see him anytime in the Gambia and abroad. On occasion, at the height of Yahya Jammeh’s tyranny and after the ouster of Yahya Jammeh from power, OJ, at a gathering in a restaurant in Harlem in New York, spoke of peace, unity, forgiveness, reconciliation, and integrity. As clear as day, I vividly remember him saying, “Through forgiveness , reconciliation, and tolerance , people can come together.” Understanding the core message he was delivering, by the end of his speech, I was so inspired, moved to know fully that he was one of the most persecuted Gambians and tortured by Yahya Jammeh’s thugs, which led to losing his eyes, and I cried.

Everything I know about him is what I have witnessed, read, and seen about his struggles and achievements on broadcast media and in print. However, even then, I have always felt that OJ was a gift and a pride to the Gambia, someone I loved deeply; He felt like my teacher, mentor, friend, and friend leader. I have come to understand this is a special gift he had whereby many people felt the same about him.

However, whatever he was in life and his achievements now that he is gone, I have always thought that OJ would not have wanted any fuss to be made about those struggles and his life. He was a man who did what he did out of duty and the internal obligation he felt to strive for his people, not out of a need to be celebrated. However, honor him, and we must so that history can tell generations and generations after us what he meant to us and the legacy he bequeaths to the Gambia that he represents something that should never be lost throughout the ages. So I earnestly hope that his example and life story will never be put on a shelf and forgotten.

In my lifetime, OJ was amongst the highest examples of how one person can change the Gambia for the better, how one man can sacrifice his life to go against the tide to salvage hope for a mass people downtrodden. OJ revealed the real meaning of struggling for life to the Gambia, especially to those marginalized, even if it is something people often ignore.

He gave the poor and the marginalized the meaning of hope for their lives. Hence, his heartfelt love and compassion for those who were helpless and oppressed, and he responded spontaneously to the circumstance. He showed that the only thing man desires is love and a determination to fight for that love, be it for one’s faith, one’s people, one’s family, or one’s soul. Moreover, it was his love for his people that drove his determination.

Often Gambians cannot speak out against the wrongs and injustices of President Yahya Jammeh’s cruel dictatorship, feeling that they are all alone. However, OJ showed that no one is insignificant when one has a passion for life and human dignity. He bore witness to all this, especially when he gave up his freedom and the offer of relative safety for his people, uncertain what might eventually happen to him and his family.

Indeed, OJ believed in the one voice that can make all the difference in this world, even if it is marginalized. He showed courage and what authentic leadership represents. Moreover, for him, leadership was never about gaining power or making himself a hero; for OJ, leadership was always about his love for his people.

When I think about it, his example urged me, as an individual, never to be discouraged and to be a person of hope. When I read and saw how he selflessly gave his life to those relegated, he showed me what was enormously influential in life. Moreover, as he showed me, he established in the world that loves; the love of freedom, the love of a just cause, and the love of his people was the greatest thing in his life. This is the most unique gift he left to humanity. For this reason and so much more, his message is planted in my heart forever and should be engrained in the annals of the world for all eternity.

Despite our differences in this remarkably diverse globe that we exist in, no matter our various belief systems or conventions, as people, it is essential to embrace the human values and teachings of a man like Omar Amadou Jallow.

He was a good man who gave so much to the detriment of his own life. However, through sacrifice, he thrived. He sacrificed not only his freedom but also his family and children without ever having the guarantee of getting anything in return. He loved the poorest of the poor; he would bring himself shoulder to shoulder with the dying because he was trying to give them hope for life. Trying to do good and fight for his people’s will in everything, as OJ did, helped define the finest structure for peace and represented the long walk that is vital to be taken for freedom. How I wish the Gambia would genuinely embrace this message.

As my brother always says, the best part of OJ’s life is that he lived long enough to see his struggles come to fruition. Moreover, that is true. All those years ago, seeing him in the Gambia was terrific, free from tyranny to the fruit of his gains. It is beautiful to see how people all over the Gambia respond to him and his legacy today and are still captivated by him; for them and many of us, OJ was and will always be a true Gambian hero.

We can draw inspiration from so many oral and written speeches OJ gave. However, for me, his life gave the most remarkable speech. His life spoke in a simple language that was a source of inspiration for so many. The great Mahatma Gandhi once advised people to let their life be their message. “Be the change you want to see in the world,” he suggested. By living the life and experiences that OJ did, he could devote his life to his chosen purpose. He showed a total focus on his commitment to his people and freedom; moreover, by being the change he wanted to see in the Gambia, that became his most incredible legacy.

Many of us fell in love with Omar Amadou Jallow decades ago. Moreover, it is ironic that, while we wanted him always to be around, watching the pain that old age and illness forced on his frail body was heartbreaking. So as I write this tribute amidst sadness and emotions, I know that while letting him go is hard, holding onto him is more challenging, given the pain he must have endured.

So as we say Adieu to this man of a great life, beautiful spirit, and pure soul, may we be comforted in the knowledge that we bore witness to the journey of one with love and total dedication to peace and freedom for the generations that knew him and those that will come centuries after him.

Furthermore, I could sum up one thing that I thought Omar Amadou Jallow was, despite all the great qualities he exhibited throughout his life. In that case, at the very core of him, Omar Amadou Jallow was just an exceptionally good and decent person. Moreover, the Gambia is so fortunate that his goodness and decency met the opportunity to create the legacy he leaves us with.

As I join the Gambian people at home and in the Diaspora in mourning the loss of this beautiful soul, my condolence goes to every Gambian, all the people who loved him, his friends and family, especially his children, his wife, Awa Jobe, and his political party, the People’s Progressive Party PPP family.

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