Playing a bad hand well

When I appeared before the scholarship committee for an interview in 1945, I discovered the Colonial Office made only three science awards available to The Gambia: two for studies in human medicine and one for veterinary medicine. The interview went very well and half way through I was almost sure of a place…. The committee then informed me that the first two places for human medicine had already been filled. They said that if I wished to have the third award I would have to study veterinary medicine. And what is more, whereas the two scholarships for human medicine were full scholarships the one for veterinary medicine was an open scholarship.” [Meaning only tuition was covered] – Kairaba

This incident came after hopes were raised for the prospects that lie ahead for Kairaba. With a poor season’s yield, his father was not much inclined to the idea of spending so much money for him to pursue a course abroad mainly because the cost involved would be a strain on all concerned. To convince him to yield were Kawsukebba and Pa Yoma (his guardian) were on hand to do the convincing.

Kawsukebba said to his father; “Doktoro… Mawdo, remember how you praised those doctors for their good work when they came in their white coats to inoculate the children during the big fever?Kairaba

Or those at the big hospital in Bathurst; you have been to Bathurst many times and you have seen them. That is what Kairaba will become when he comes back. A doctor. A big and important man.” Added Pa Yoma – Kairaba

Who wouldn’t be sold on an idea after such lobbying? The old man agreed. So you can imagine the disappointment when Kairaba had to return to break the news that in fact he would not be inoculating children but animals. He acknowledged as much.

As if putting together the money for college was not traumatic enough, the discovery that there was no place for me for the course I wished to pursue was initially disheartening. But I refused to feel downhearted. I bounced back immediately. I was determined to seize the opportunity to go out to study….I would take whatever they offered me. We shook hands and I walked away exhorting myself to rise to the occasion and endeavor to turn a minus into a plus – to play a bad hand well!” – Kairaba

This captures the spirit of Sir Dawda. He was not a quitter and he was ever the optimist.

When he returned from his studies abroad and was approached to lead a political movement, he obliged and gave up a much sought after government job – head of department.

When he was asked to lead a Protectorate’s People’s Party, whose members came together because they felt disenfranchised and left out. He took on the task, united the party and opened it up to the entire country giving it a national outlook that would eventually absorbing the older parties into the ranks of the party. Through that party, he fought for, won independence, and was handed a country with the grimmest of prospects to lead. He took on the challenge too and built a sovereign democracy that remained the envy of Africa and indeed much of the world for decades.

His entire presidency was trying to make good out of a very untenable situation. He did not succeed in all of his attempts because some of those he entrusted with responsibilities in carrying out that task betrayed that trust. His good nature could not allow him to punish most of those found wanting, if any.

We have a lot to learn from his personality and if we can build a nation based on his character, leadership and wisdom, we would want for nothing.

May he be welcomed in the highest jannah in the midst of those he looked up to.


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