Sir Dawda Jawara (1924-2019)

Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara, the first democratically elected leader of the West African country of the Gambia since its independence in 1965, who served as Prime Minister from 1962 to 1970, and then as the first President of the Gambia from 1970 to 1994, died on August 27 at the age of  95.

Paying tribute to him, the current democratically elected President Adama Barrow described him as Gambia’s founding father, an exemplary leader who led the Gambia with grace and humility. He added that  under Jawara’s 30 -year-rule, the Gambia became one of Africa’s few successful parliamentary democracies, a champion of international peace, justice and human rights.

Jawara, born on May 16, 1924, in Barajally, MacCarthy Island Division, in the Upper River Region of Gambia, was educated at the Methodist Boys’ School in Bathurst and attended Achimota College in Ghana. He trained as a veterinary surgeon at the University of Glasgow’s School of Veterinary Medicine, where he was the President of the African Students Union, and completed his training at the University of Liverpool before returning to The Gambia in 1953 and began work as a veterinary officer.

Dawda Jawara had converted from Islam to Christianity in 1955, taking the name David, but returned to Islam in 1965.

He joined politics and became the secretary of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP). He was  elected to the House of Representatives in the 1960 and rose to  become the leader of the PPP, then the country’s first Prime Minister in 1962.

Under Jawara, The Gambia gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1965. He remained as Prime Minister and Elizabeth II remained as head of state until 1970 when The Gambia became a republic, and Jawara was elected as its first President.

In 1981, there was a coup attempt, challenging Jawara’s power. Several deaths were reported before Senegalese soldiers intervened. This led to the creation of the Senegambia Confederation, which, however, collapsed in 1989.

Jawara continued to rule until 1994 when another coup d’etat, led by Yahya Jammeh, seized power. Nobody came to his aid and this prompted him to go into exile for eight years. He went first to Senegal and then to exile in Britain, before he decided to return home in 2002. His return permitted him to enjoy some standing as a retired statesman, and in 2010 he published Kairaba, an autobiography, and lived in retirement in The Gambia until his death.

Sir Dawda Jawara was a complete gentleman and elder statesman with skilful political leadership that was instrumental to and had helped immeasurably towards laying a solid foundation for a democratic state of Gambia.

 His peaceful nature earned him the name “Kairaba Jawara” – meaning “Peaceful Jawara’’, and he was renowned across Africa for his respect for human rights. He played a leading role in the establishment of African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights and the Human Rights Commission in the Commonwealth.

Jawara’s contributions as a democrat and a tolerant person to national unity, his devotion to nation building, preaching unity across religion, ethnic and regional lines are things Gambians remain proud of. He lived an impactful life and contributed immensely to the development of The Gambia. Eventually,  he etched his name on a platter of gold in the country’s history.

We all have a collective duty to keep alive his struggle and campaign for a peaceful and secured Nigeria.

Survived by two wives and several children, Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara, who passed away peacefully in the company of his family, was finally laid to rest after a befitting, emotional state funeral service at the Gambia’s National Assembly Chamber on Thursday, 29 August 2019.

His death is no doubt another big loss, not only to The Gambia, but also to Africa in general.

May his gentle soul rest in peace.

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