Posted - 03 May 2021 : 19:08:28
DERELICTION OF DUTY, LOVE AND CORRUPTION: WHEN THE NORTH BANK BRITISH TRAVELLING COMMISSIONER WAS RETIRED AFTER HAVING ENTANGLED HIMESLF IN A LOVE TRIANGLE BETWEEN THREE GAMBIAN WOMEN LEADING TO THE FIRST COMMISSION OF INQUIRY IN PROTECTORATE GAMBIA IN THE YEAR 1919 AND DESTINATION KAUR
By Dembo Fatty
IN THE BEGINNING
In the early days of Protectorate administration which began in 1894, the British Government initially divided the country into two administrative divisions taking the shape of the most visible natural phenomena; the river.
Being divided into two halves by the river, the land to the north of the river all through the length of the country was designated as the North Bank Province and similarly, all the land south of the river was designated as the South Bank Province. In charge of each province was appointed a Travelling Commissioner because they did a lot of travelling in order to run their spheres of influence. Today, the same land area (both sides of the river is run by five Governors).
SETTING THE SCENE OF THE DRAMA
It so happened that the Travelling Commissioner for the North bank Province in 1919 was one J K McCallum who would stir and make infamous British colonial rule in Gambia like no other. He would, in opposite comparison, be likened to Governor D’Arcy who led more punitive expeditions against local chiefs like no other. Both were in their different leagues and should be judged for what they did independent of each other.
McCallum it was reported had affairs with three local women of his province in the persons of Fatou Khan, Fatim Samba Mbowe and Fana Kumba Lowe. It is however established that he married Fatou Khan according to Shariah law which I find difficult to digest because it is my understanding that a Muslim woman cannot marry a non-Muslim man and there is no indication that McCallum ever converted to Islam.
Of the three women that the Commissioner “married”, the case of fatou Khan was more prominent in the degree of latitude she had in influencing policy decisions. Fatou it was said learned to copy the signature of the Commissioner and was authenticating “official” documents to her advantage. She yielded power and influence and was being rewarded by her community with gifts.
Fatou had an uncle who was then the Chief of Saloum in the person of Sawalo Ceesay resident at Njau village. Sawalo, it was said started his early life as a big time wrestler which made him a good candidate to join the forces of Maba Jahou as a fighter. After Maba’s death, he returned to Njau and would become colonial Chief.
It was not until Commissioner McCallum tried to remove Sawalo from office due to age and to be replaced by his son Omar Ceesay, did Sawalo fight back. He accused the Commissioner of ineptitude, corruption and dereliction of duty and petitioned him to Governor Cameroon in Bathurst who opened an Inquiry into the affair conducted at Kaur.
Sawalo also accused McCallum of abdicating running of the Province to these three women. It was also established that Fatou Khan would introduce a levy on all the towns of District of Saloum in the form of millet which her uncle Sawalo enforced and would hand over the grains to Commissioner McCallum who in turn gave to Fatou Khan and who would sell the grains in Bathurst. Fatou also took money from a trader called Sering Niahana Ceesay of Bati Hai, in Upper Saloum, and refused to pay the money back to the knowledge of Commissioner McCallum.
At the conclusion of the inquiry, the Commissioner was found culpable and was retired with an annual pension of 277 British Pounds. Fatou Khan was fined 50 British Pounds for forgery. Fatou was never known to have had children and died in 1940.
Given the seriousness of the case, it was a slap in the face of the people of the North Bank Province for the Commissioner to even be granted pension. His annual pension of 277 pounds dwarfed what the Colonial Government spent on Agriculture in 1914 amounting to just 268 British Pound Sterling. An individual’s pension was more than what a Government would spend on Agriculture. The Commission of Inquiry was led by Senior Travelling Commissioner, Mr H L Pryce. McCallum was however dismissed, the Chief Sawalo’s petition upheld and Fatou fined.
While I have not seen the book, it is reported that Commissioner McCallum was taught Wolof by Fatou Khan and he would later write a Wolof grammar text which was very widely used then.
Such abuses by colonial officials were many and may require further research.
1. Report on Upper Saloum District’, 1933, PUB 13/13, The Gambia National Archives, Banjul.
2. Hassoum Ceesay; "Gambian Women: an introductory history. Banjul: Fulladu Publishers, 2007, p.94.
A clear conscience fears no accusation - proverb from Sierra Leone