Facebook is often mired with minutiae,
drollery and conceit. Most of the fulminations I have seen on Facebook video
fill me with horror. So I tend to look away. Or I do not to look at all. My brother’s
Facebook page, however, is worth anatomizing and revisiting. Not because he is my brother, though that in itself
would be a good enough reason, but more so because his page has little to do
with his social activity and everything to do with his humanitarianism. Alhaji Ousman
Kinteh is the director-general of Mission
Aid Gambia, a charity that primarily grants sustenance to widows, orphans
and senior citizens in The Gambia, West Africa. Scroll down his page. Amidst his daily citations on religious forethought and
introspection, you will find his vlogs. In these recordings, he is featured
traveling to small hamlets in lackluster districts, where the bare necessities
of life are indigent. But thanks to the generous donations of patrons, he
brings rice and raiments in abundance to these people. Medicines are procured
for regional clinics. Widows and senior citizens are enabled with provisions to
help provide for themselves and their offspring. He rebuilds homes that are crumbling. He organizes the repairs of dilapidated roofs so that
babes can be spared from the raindrops that exude into their homes while they sleep
at night. Sponsorship is provided for these same children to attend school so
that they may be afforded greater prospects when they become women and men. In
these videos, children gently propound their industrious ambitions. I hope serendipity is kind to them.
Alhaji works in conjunction with Abdullah Aid, a Muslim charity founded in London by a husband and wife in memory of their infant son, Abdullah. Their charity operates in the most tenuous regions of the globe; In Myanmar, where the Rohingya people are being uprooted and immolated by homicidal barbarians from the Myanmarese army, they provide a haven for the persecuted. In the detritus of Syria, they succor the desolate ones caught between the teeming suffering and slaughter. On the island of Lesvos, Greece, where migrants have survived the Mediterranean, they provide comfort and clean water. And in The Gambia, they aid the poverty-stricken. My brother orchestrates that aid.
The Gambia is a bewitching country of metallic beaches and warm winters. It is a young nation, with a large younger population, pregnant with endeavor and hope made particular by the demise of a tyrant regime that reigned capriciously for twenty-two years. The politics of that pungent rule still lingers. While this land is commonly known in tourist brochures as the Smiling Coast of Africa, a discerning visitor would be rendered unsmiling if she were to remove her sightseeing spectacles and pondered thoughtfully beyond the tourist soundbites and gracious hospitality that seems ubiquitous among Gambians. There still exists a dearth of infrastructure. Power cuts are commonplace. Allusions to poverty are palpable. Healthcare and education costs are grossly inordinate to the average wage. A more appropriate sobriquet would be to call this strip of land the Grimacing Coast of Africa.
Many daughters and sons of The Gambia, having fled repression into the bosom of the diaspora, are returning home to inject innovation and ingenuity into the nation’s lifeblood. They are better qualified and better enlightened than their predecessors. Morally autonomous folks like Toure Robinson and Sourra Sosseh have flown from their homes in recent months, having raised money of their own intuitive, to support Mission Aid Gambia. This is the land of their fathers no less. They are model benefactors for a new generation.
Businesspersons from India and St. Elsewhere, with greenbacks to invest, do see the potential and promise of The Gambia. They partake in the expansion of industries and the gradual augmentation of infrastructure. They purchase demesne in the fleshpots, for ownership of prime land is everything. Other aspirational Gambians, with zero investment in terms of finance, see greater potential and promise overseas. An unknown number rove the benighted desert and the banal sea, the Sahara and the Mediterranean, to seek the potential and promise of Europe. They surmised that they would rather risk death than to remain at home with nothing.
Alhaji Kinteh had been a businessman in the Gambia at the tender age of sixteen. It was a leavening, life-affirming experience. He managed our father’s import and export business for a year. He purchased white goods, tires and household appliances from auctions and wholesalers in London. Then he arranged for their transfer by sea to the Port of Banjul, navigating the port authority officials who wanted their beaks wetted with frogskins so that they could supplement their atrocious pay. Even at that age, he was a wily, unencumbered tradesman. Later that year, I would fly out to see him whilst he was in the throes of his work. I would watch him barter with men three times his age. His haggling reverberated from Wollof to English and then back again. The haughtiest of customers were often confounded during negotiations. And when they finally walked away seemly contented with price and product, he had elicited no quarter. Those that knew him then could readily testify that Alhaji had a hardnosed business head, decorated by charm and chutzpah, and that his aptitude and application would take him places.
After he returned to England, he created a plethora of businesses that made bucket loads of money. He sold mobile phones and vehicles to the public. He established a chain of estate agents and carwash lots around London’s East End. In 2006, he created Ruthless Records and worked with industry stalwarts like DJ Limelight, Giggs, Young Spray, Maxwell D and Mike GLC. In only a few years, that independent grime/hip hop distribution company became the largest of its kind in Britain. But he gradually became disillusioned with the pretentious overtones of the moxie music business, its underlays of soulless tedium and besetting narcissism. Sycophants and the futility of flaunting riches made him sick. He returned to the Gambia in 2010 with an acute need for catharsis and contemplation. Having arrived at the airport, he left behind the urban centers of Banjul, Birkama and Serekunda and fell into the habitats of some of the poorest people on earth. It proved to be a lucid eyeopener. He arrived at a village, where the inhabitants were too poor to trade in the local currency, the dalasi. Their means of exchange were simple household goods and tools required for everyday living. He was aghast at how some people, who had been endowed with wealth, would turn their noses up at those with so little. The neglect in the provincial villages was apparent. Homes were in a perpetual state of disrepair. Roofs were decrepit from the torrential downpours of the rainy season. Medicines were in short supply. The price of staple foods like rice and cornflower was immoderate. He would never forget an elderly gentleman, Abdou Kanyi, who was in dire need of assistance but held him in high esteem. Alhaji was unable to aid him, for he was, at that point, experiencing hard times. When they parted, Kanyi gave him a pumpkin which so moved my brother. It was the only thing of value he possessed. He died a short time afterwards.
Our father, Karamo Kinteh, was from a village that is no different to the ones that my brother tarries. He was born in Jassong, some 130 miles from the then-capital, Bathurst. He was orphaned by the age of eleven. He left home for unharnessed horizons when he was no more than a teenager. Kismet delivered him to Dakar, Senegal. He worked on Dakar’s dockside while the world was at war for a second time. He would not have been too far from the Thiaroye massacre that took place in the twilight of 1944. Senegalese soldiers and conscripts demanded that their salary arrears, unjustly withheld from them, be paid in full. When their demand was rejected, they mutinied. The French were not prepared to arbitrate their grievances. They pointed their impugnable rifles at the Senegalese, who had fought to liberate France from the Nazis earlier that year, and shot dead up to seventy-five of their number. From this incident, one can patently envisage the precarious nature of colonial rule, where men were more unequal than they are today, though they be brother-in-arms.
With the great kindling that had affected the world now ending (but its aftershocks ricocheting in the decades to come), our father, having spurned an opportunity to go to America, soon embarked on a ship to Britain from Dakar. He arrived in Cardiff, Wales, sometime in September 1947, after a three week voyage. In those days, the United Kingdom had a King, a declining empire, and a population living on rations. He would live there for fifty-five years but kept his Gambian passport, never trading it for a British one. He would marry twice and have eight children.
Seventy years on, the third of his five sons resides in The Gambia with his wife and five children, trafficking in charity and hope among the grassroots of the provincial community. Mission Aid Gambia is concentrated on the sole principle of the betterment of its recipients. Alhaji treats his people with dignity, not pity. His ebullient acumen was honed from years of hustle. He has hired a stern contingent of masons, diggers, laborers and distributors. You need only watch his vlogs in Facebook to see their work. They rebuild dismembered houses, mend falling roofs and dig new wells for fresh water. Recently, they travelled to a small collective in Ndemban Jola, which squats close to the Senegalese border. Local residents were beneficiaries of the Gambia Rice Distribution program. They were supplemented with bags of onions, rice, tomatoes, oil, milk powder and maize. This drop-off was replicated on the fords of Pirang, where village elders came out to welcome him and his helpers. For the health center in Kuntaya, Mission Aid Gambia purchased 125,000 dalasis (£2,000) of medical stock. In Chamsen Sosseh, an octogenarian resides in a woeful habitat, totally unfit for a man of his bearing and age. Fortunately, he falls into Alhaji’s Build A Home Project. His old house was torn down and rebuilt in weeks to a durable, safe standard. Orphans have the Orphan Sponsorship Payout delivered to them monthly, to ensure their school fees are readily paid and that their welfare needs are taken care of. And new wells are being constructed in the small town of Jambanjelly.
And in Jassong, where our father now rests in the village graveyard, Alhaji Ousman Kinteh recently paid homage to our relatives, bringing with him bare necessities in abundance, and consecrating family bonds for our father’s sake. Alhaji’s work induces an intrinsic joy that he has never known. He does not miss the tics of the rat race, nor London for that matter, though he does return but for a few weeks in a calendar year. And though we live and work on separate continents, he remains my foremost inspiration, and my oldest friend.
Please check out Alhaji Ousman Kinteh’s website: http://www.alhajikinteh.com/
Ali Kinteh is the author of 'The Nepenthe Park Chronicles.' Please click the following Amazon link to get a copy.