(JollofNews) – Dida Halake is a household name in the Gambia. He was a former managing director of the Daily Observer Newspaper and is a regular writer on Gambian and African affairs. In this edition of On The Spot, Mr Halake talks about his happiest times, his earliest memories and why he despised ex-President Yahya Jammeh.
Who is Mr Dida Halake?
Right! (scratches head): biologically Ethiopian, sociologically Kenyan, educationally Scottish, professionally English, genealogically Gambian and ideologically Pan-Africanist.
When were you happiest times?
I loved holidaying in Mombasa while schooling in Nairobi as a kid. Loved swimming in the warm blue ocean at Nyali Beach (the Paradise Beach of the Swahili Coast). In the 1970s Mombasa was peaceful and cool like The Gambia today, but it has all gone pear-shape now with robberies, Islamic fundamentalism and mindless violence. Then I saw Paradise Beach in Kotu and loved it too. Bought land and build a home there for my 1st Gambian son, Hassan Snr. Had many happy times there – with the girls on the beach sometimes until 4am. Pa Nderry Mbai really got jealous about that and somehow he always knew – all the way in the USA – whenever I and a pretty lass strolled back home at 4am!! I stopped the late-night beach habit when one of Jammeh’s thuggish soldiers killed a boy and his girlfriend on the beach one night. Even though we live in a really nice area of London, one can only enjoy England when one leaves London. I love Devon, Somerset, Bath and Norfolk. The North-West of Scotland is glorious in Summer – and I had a Scottish lass as a pillion passenger as I toured there with the iconic Honda CX500 motorbike a life-time ago. Happy times. But I must mention the Al-Hambra in Spain – the glorious palace of a Muslim ruler in the city of Granada with the largest population of university students in the country. If I wasn’t planning to retire to Africa I would retire to Granada. I spent a week at the Al-Hambra Palace Hotel and then toured Andalucia by bus. Happy times indeed.
What is your greatest fear?
That the madness of war and civil strife may make this world of ours a terrible place for our children to live in. Look at the undeclared civil war in the USA – I can’t believe that the son of Muhammad Ali, probably the most humanistic individual of the last 100 years, is stopped and detained at an American airport because of his Muslim name.
What is your earliest memory?
Walking hand in hand with my father in our Ethiopian village called Dambi El Dima when I was about four. I lost him soon afterwards, but I have always loved him – and never forgotten the walk.
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
I share what I have but I am not good at sharing what others have. But that is the price you pay for having to survive on your own so early in life.
What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Lying, cheating, thieving. I hate that. My “boy” in The Gambia has been with me for 11 years and he is like another son because he is none of the above. The other day he and the boys were putting up this massive 9ft brick-wall around Hassan Jnr’s 50m x 50m compound. Someone passed by in a Jeep and said “who is the boss supervising this?” My boy looked up from making the bricks and said “me”. Mr. Jeep couldn’t believe it. But yes, I sent 200,000 Dalasis to my “boy” without thinking twice and I have no doubt he will do the most honest job ever. I want my Gambian children, all three know him, to look after him and his children when I am gone – because he never lies, cheats or thieves.
What was your most embarrassing moment?
I don’t do embarrassment.
What is the most expensive thing you’ve bought?
I bought three new cars one after the other over the years, but that is because I needed them for work. I bought and built three compounds for my three Gambian children (one of the compounds now belongs to the grand-parents). When I was thirty/forty I used to buy suits worth around £300 but now I prefer a Halifa-style simple Kaftan. I bought a £1,000 gold ring for a beautiful Ethiopian woman once, but I have no idea why I did that – she married somebody else!
What is your most treasured possession?
My kids – if they can be called possessions. If kids are not allowed as an answer, I would have to say my education. I always tell my kids: “In the battle of life, education is your gun and intelligence is your bullet”. I don’t know how one gets “intelligence”, but it is very important. I have seen stupid behaviour from PhD-level educated people, but intelligence/commonsense is far more important.
What would your superpower be?
OLV – One Love Vibrations – as evidenced by the lives of Muhammad Ali, Martin Luther King and Bob Marley.
What is your favourite smell?
Easy, the scent of a beautiful woman! As a 19-year old school basketball captain, I came back from a match victorious, showered and went to a Nairobi house party. The scented Ethiopian wife of the MP gave the shy school-boy a dance to the melodious tunes of Dobie Gray’s “Drift Away”. Never forgotten the scent nor the song!
If you could bring something extinct back to life, what would you choose?
Old Africa – The Garden of Eden.
What is the worst thing anyone’s said to you?
Thirty years ago, in a Scottish dance hall, the beautiful woman dancing cheek-to-cheek whispered “If only you were ten years younger”! I console myself with the thought that today she is thirty years older!
Have you ever said “I love you” and not meant it?
What kind of question is that? Which real man hasn’t? “All is fair in love and war” and I will lie any time if the prize is the love of a beautiful woman (and that is the truth!).
Which living person do you most despise, and why?
At this particular moment it has to be Gambia’s former dictator Yahya Jammeh. He seems to stink worse by the day as the stories of his thieving, his cruelty and his miss-rule come to light. I fear we have not heard most of the stories about his despicable behaviour yet.
Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?
Muhammad Ali & Winnie Mandela, Steve Biko & Angela Davis, Lauryn Hill & Dida Halake – in that sitting order.
If you could go back in time, where would you go?
To the place I was born – did you know elephants always travel back to the place they were born to die (before they were fenced in Safari Parks and Zoos)?
Which word do you most overuse?
Education, education, education.
What has been your biggest disappointment?
Not having spent more time with all my children.
How do you relax?
A glass of red wine, a good book and mellow sounds of some amazing beautiful black women (Lauryn Hill, Etta James, Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, Anita Baker, Leela James, etc.) Your new generation readers will ask “who are these people” and I pity them!
What is the closest you’ve come to death?
Too many to mention, from the lions at our village water wells in Ethiopia when we the children were sent to fetch water; to getting away from Jammeh’s jungulars in Kanilai by taking an unexpected route from kanilai back to the Kombos – the current Gambian IGP Sonko is my witness that night because he saw me getting away!
What single thing would improve the quality of your life?
Retirement and living in the African bush. But my 13-year-old daughter Jainaba has another 5 years before she graduates from school here in Kensington, London.
What is your greatest achievement?
Just being alive and looking after my kids. When I was young in Nairobi I thought I wouldn’t make to 20. I am 61 next week and fitter than I was at 40 when I had a couple of operations.
What keeps you awake at night?
Next day’s lessons for my classes! I like perfect lessons.
How would you like to be remembered?
He came, he saw, he loved, he laughed, he left.
What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
To just chill – one has a right to be in the world, one is a child of the universe, one has a right to be here.
Is it better to give or receive?
Both are equally important – but I have had issues all my life with receiving.
Which living person do you most admire?
Jose Mujica, ex-President of Uruguay – “The World’s Poorest President”. The living embodiment of our own Thomas Sankara and his Renault 5s.
Demba Ali Jawo, Gambia’s minister of Information is my guest next week.
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