Sidia Jatta Receives Prestigious African Heroes Award 2024

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By:  Kebba A. F. Touray and Demba Bah

Sidia Sanna Jatta, on Saturday 30th March 2024, received the prestigious African Heroes Award 2024 in Ohio, in the United States of America.

The African Hero’s Award which is given by the OHIO African Students’ Union, is awarded to an African or Africanist who has contributed immensely to the development and advancement of both the African continent and people of African descent on the continent or in the diaspora.

The prestigious award dates back to the year 1991, when former president Nelson Mandela of South Africa was honoured with the inaugural award.

In 1986, Mr. Jatta, a linguist, who resigned from the civil service because civil servants were not allowed to hold positions in political organization, joined others to found the People’s Democratic Organization for Independence and Socialism (PDOIS), and became its chairperson.

This is what Sidia said in his letter of resignation:

  • I prefer to eat chaff as a free person trying to cultivate better fruits for our children’s tomorrow. I will no longer be a servant of a government that deprives the people their means of survival and calls for an economic recovery program;
  • A government which retrenches workers under the cloak of lack of funds but would soon afterwards increase the travelling allowance of ministers and top bureaucrats;
  • A government which extorts millions from the farming community only to give them food aid and calls it benevolence;
  • A government which designs projects to attract international funding only to spend such funds frivolously and then cries on roof tops for lack of fund;
  • A government which calls on parents to send their children to school only to put them in the street as semi-literates without jobs or any responsibility;
  • A government which transforms intelligent civil servants into deceivers of the people so as to promote the interests of politicians;
  • A government which professes to adhere to democracy in the international arena whilst it deprives their people fundamental rights to work and be educated;
  • A government which is skilled in doing nothing and a professional in pretending to be doing something, a government whose leaders do not seem to have the capacity to intelligently discuss the issues that confront the people but seem to resort to childish witticism to ridicule the opponents.

Frankly speaking, to continue to serve such a government would constitute an insult to my intelligence, an affront to my dignity and betrayal of my Nation and people….”

He has served as a member of the National Assembly from 1997 to 2022. He also served in the Pan African Parliament.

In a bid to abridge the illiteracy gaps both within and outside his native settlement of Wuli West, Mr Jatta established the Adult Literacy Development Association (WALDA) to empower women and promote literacy nationwide. He also created the Wuli Fund by committing a part of his monthly salary to finance development in his constituency.

The African Students Union at Ohio University recognized him as a deserving recipient of the 2024 African Heroes Award, as an embodiment of the spirit of leadership, cultural preservation, and empowerment on the African continent.


The African Students’ Union (ASU) at Ohio University has been honoring individuals contributing to the development and advancement of the African continent and people of African descent both within and outside the continent of Africa. Continuing this tradition, in February 2024, the Executive Board of the ASU constituted an independent committee charged with the responsibility to administer nominations and voting of the ASU African Hero of the year. The committee was elected by the General Body (GB) of the ASU after which members of the Union were allowed to nominate individuals they deem deserving of the award. These nominated individuals were then voted for by the same GB through a simple majority system. The winner was then declared to be Honorable Sidia Sana Jatta from The Gambia as the ASU African Hero, 2024.

SIDIA’S ACCEPTANCE SPEECH
In his acceptance speech, Hon. Sidia Jatta said he was humbled by the honour conferred on him. He told the audience that everyone in the continent is an actor on the world stage, doing his or her best to serve his or her country, the African continent and world at large. He was however very quick to express a concern which is very dear to his heart and passionate about, which had to do with the question of languages. Mr. Jatta informed them that Africa is suffering from two paradoxes:

Hon. Sidia Jatta with his 2024 African Heroes Award


Language, politics/ economics.

He promised to deal with politics and economics later.

He said one of the reasons why education is not as progressive as it should have been in the African continent is the fact that Africans have been struggling with alien languages. They spend a lot of time and energy in learning them.

“It is a paradox that almost six decades of independence on the African continent, it is the only continent in the whole world where foreign languages still hold sway in official domain and scholarship. They are used as official languages and media of instruction from principal to University,” he decried. 

He said, “one would have expected that at independence, the primary task to be accomplished by our first generation politicians was the issue of languages but African intellectuals hide behind the fact of multiplicity of languages in Africa as a justification for the use of English, French, Spanish, Portuguese to the detriment of our own languages.”

The linguist argued that it has been scientifically proven that; “any child who learns or begins formal education in L2,” (meaning second language which is not natural to the child) “does not help in the cognitive development of that particular child. Any child who begins formal education in L1 does everything better than the child who begins formal education in L2.”

He said there is disconnect between the child’s education, because the language he or she is speaking in school is totally different from the language spoken at home. The father and mother are not involved in the child’s education because they are totally ignorant of the language that is being used to educate him or her. He asked: “How many mathematicians are we destroying in the continent? How many philosophers are we denying? How many scientists are we denying in our continent for using languages which are alien to ourselves?” It is a question of sticking to the code which is common to you and the people you are representing, he said.

He disclosed why he had to abandon other fields of study and continue with linguistics because it is the only tool that can be used to change the situation of languages in the continent. “That is why I have given my life to the development of African languages. When I came back from France, I had tried to implement government policies because they chose three Gambian languages to be developed and used as media of instructions in schools. I worked on that, did all that was  necessary. They refused to print the materials. Since I was committed and enthusiastic, all the materials used for two years were hand written. That did not continue and cannot continue. You cannot write books with your hands throughout the whole institution. It is not possible.”

He eventually went back to London where he was offered a research job on all the languages of Africa including Arabic. The research he said was about three items:

*First:* _Inventory of all the languages in Africa and their inter-relations;_

*Two:* _A writing system for all the languages in Africa including Arabic;_

*Three* : _A language map for Africa._

He said the research was for three years, from 1980 to 1982, and his part was precisely a writing system they called Africa Reference Alphabet. His research group in London took that Alphabet, enriched it to make it capable to write every language in Africa including Arabic. But how many countries are using this system? He asked. Very few, was the answer.

“Our education is meant to be used as a tool to develop our continent. How can we catch up without using the tools that we can’t do anything with”? he kept asking. He once again informed the audience that one of the reasons that Africa is not developed or undeveloped for decades is because we are using tools which they are not familiar with. He gave an example of Ghana and South Korea who almost had independence in the same year. “Ghana’s GDP then was much higher than South Korea but today, South Korea is totally different from Ghana. Ghana, with all the riches it has – gold, diamond, petrol, name it – did not develop. South Korea does not have that but they are in their so called first world while Ghana is still in their so called third world. And nobody questions that, why? He said because South Korea knows the tool which is common to everybody in the continent. We in Ghana, Gambia, Nigeria and everywhere else, we use a tool which is alien to the vast majority of our population. We must change. There is a need for a new revolution in Africa.” He concluded.

This year’s award ceremony was attended by high-level dignitaries including staff at Ohio University, the mayor of the City of Athens, Mr Steve Patterson, members of the Athens community, and people from other parts of the United States.

CONGRATULATIONS FROM ACTION MAN

The former Minister of Works and Construction, Honourable Bala Garba Jahumpa alias Actionman, has congratulated Honourable Sidia Jatta for his African Hero 2024 Award.

“Congratulations to Hon. Sedia Jatta for being recognized as African Hero of the Year by Ohio University’s African Students Union in the United States! This prestigious award is a testament to his tireless efforts and dedication towards creating positive change in Africa. It was the same award given to Nelson Mandela,” he said.

The former minister who had served in many cabinet portfolios including Minister of Finance said Sidia Jatta deserved the award and it is something the country should be proud of.

“Sidia Jatta, Sam Sarr and Halifa Sallah have long been striving for the country to get us the best. They stand and speak for everyone, especially for the poor people. Their work both in The Gambia and in the African continent is worthy of emulation,” he said.

He stated that the party, People’s Democratic Organisation for Independence and Socialism (PDOIS), is founded on the principles of ending tyranny, injustice and ignorance.

He said the party is committed to Pan-Africanism. “PDOIS came to liberate the Gambia and Africa,” he said.He added that PDOIS is a liberation movement and for the unification of Africa.

He maintained that PDOIS came to emancipate the minds of the people to become a sovereign people to take charge of their own destiny.

“Their politics is based on messaging. They do not insult. They only speak about their agenda and programs. They discuss issues that will take the country and the continent forward. It is a party of thinkers. It is a party of people with an ideology,” he said.

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