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Malagen, Indeed, the Truth!

My best part of the launch of Malagen was the interaction between the audience and panelists in the respective discussions. This provided an opportunity, the first time, for Malagen to come face-to-face with the readers, publicly and openly. The baby investigative publication has finally been christened, a little over two years since it started investigating and exposing corruption, bad governance, lack of accountability and due process, as well as fact checking.

Some two to three hundred invitees attended. Besides grabbing most of the best awards of the Gambia Press Union’s National Journalism Awards since its establishment a couple of years ago. This year, Malagen also won Gold in the Africa Prize for Investigative Journalism held in Dakar. Such recognitions are now going beyond The Gambia. We as a community couldn’t be more proud of this team. Their work, described by moderator Banna Sabally, as “rebirth of investigative journalism in The Gambia”. Indeed it is, as the TRRC Report recognizes that investigative journalism in The Gambia died with the assassination of journalist Deyda Hydara in 2004.

Hassoum Ceesay, national historian and panelist is one of the discussions retraced The Gambia’s investigative journalism back to 1940s and the 50s, when editors like M. B. Jones investigated misconduct of colonial dentist who asked male patients to go naked for physical examination of how big is their manhood before getting cleared for dental treatment. When the journalist, disguised as a patient went to investigate this in rural Gambia and confirmed such an excessive misconduct, he exposed it in the pages of his newspaper and the colonial government acted on his reporting, deported the dentist. Now, we may not like all the things that colonialism brought us, but we missed their respect for the role of press and journalism in general.

“One of the frustrations of our work today is that nothing mostly comes out of our exposing corruption,” said Saikou Jammeh, co-founder of Open Media Center, a media NGO who are publishers of Malagen.

Over the years, they have invested a lot of time, energy and resources into publishing every bit of investigative work to put check on society’s overreach. Mostly, their work does not attract any action from the government. No one has been ever called to account after Dr Banja – a permanent secretary whose under-the-desk dealings in the fisheries sector got leaked and warranted a follow up by Malagen. It was embarrassing for the Government. And in the maiden publication of the Malagen magazine edition, a five-page feature on “How Dr Banja sold a flourishing career for GMD50,000” ran from page 15, with graphics, illustrations and some really cool data that provides readers an insight into our ailing fishing industry.

A former high Court judge and spokesperson for an opposition party, Mr Almami Taal, asked during question and answer session following deliberation of a panel, “Has Dr Banja acted alone? What happens to his co-conspirators?” pointing to selective justice and the untouchables of the cabal inside government. In the leaked audio that was famously quoted in the Malagen reports, Dr Banja could be heard saying, “This one I will keep for my Minister” – however, Police investigations into the fisheries scandal never covered the conduct of the Minister – whose ministry had an entire office building mysteriously engulfed in fire, burning away any documentary traces of most official records and transactions from his office.

Demba Ali Jawo, former Information Minister asked the question to a panelist, Secretary General of the Gambia Press Union Modou S. Joof, whether the enactment and the lack of a national commission for the Access to Information (AtI) law makes the work of journalists even harder, in case one wants to pursue legal options through the courts. Mr Jawo’s frustrations stem from the lack of cooperation from the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) for access to the voter’s roll call, required as part of his research into origins Gambian surnames. Yes, it was met with a stumbling block. Jawo was required to formally write to the IEC for this piece of information. He complied, and again, request denied. Out of options, he complained to the Ombudsman: it’s almost a year since then and yet, no action.

“But you don’t need the commission to begin taking such requests to court in the context of the Access to Information,” Mr Joof told him.

So you see, the word “Malagen [really] means the truth” (magazine’s editorial) – it also implies, to borrow the quote from its chief investigative reporter Mustapha K. Darboe, “… is not us. It is you! It is the language of our common resentment against everything that impedes our path to a New Gambia. A better Gambia.”

Launching the publication yesterday was an added value to the people’s voice – “your voice, our voice. By the power of the Bearer of the Throne, THIS TRUTH, Malagen, will set this Republic free.” (Mustapha K.)

So in case you wondering what it means, Malagen (in Jola) is, indeed, The Truth.

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