Who would’ve thought that I would come all the way out to West Africa’s smallest nation and meet one of its most popular politicians?
‘Uncle’ George, the ex-footballer turned man-who-knows-the-world-and-can-get-anything-done, swung us an audience with the (female) Vice President of the country this week to present the Camp Africa project.
Thank goodness I brought one vaguely decent dress with me, although after forgetting to get it ironed I had to resort to laying it flat on the bed and piling all my books on top.
The meeting was a seriously cool coup and it got me a peek into the inner sanctum of Gambian politics at the State House in the capital, Banjul. I was prepared for stringent security pat-downs and much handing over of identification etc. but apart from the glut of police and national guard at each major checkpoint as we got further into the building, the only thing that attracted any undue attention was the gigantic piece of artwork we had with us as a gift for Her Excellency.
The décor was very much in emerging nation style with lots of early 80s floral stuffed sofas decorated with lace antimacassars and tables with photo albums of previous delegations. We waited in the office of the protocol chap who also had the luxury of a very large TV showing CNN.
Her Excellency was running late so we had a 90-minute wait. Once we’d exhausted small talk three of my colleagues had a little nap while I tried to erase the ravages of heat and humidity that continue to leave me looking like a hot sweaty pasty tourist with bad hair.
We were finally ushered in to a mahogany-veneer paneled office decorated with the biggest green leather sofa suite I’ve ever seen, lots of gold detailing and an ormulu clock or two. And it wasn’t the most intimate of briefings as we has a camera crew, local print media, a photographer, assorted other ministers, our gang of six and some other random people lurking at the back.
HE Aja Dr. Isatou Njie-Saidy has been a doyenne of the local political scene since the last republic, which makes her a major player, and she is well-respected and admired by all. I thought it would be a 10-minute courtesy call but she afforded us a whole 30 minutes of her time and we all got to say our bit before handing over the painting (although we did nearly create an international incident by almost spiking her in the eye with the pointy bit at the top).
Exit stage left.
And to top it all off we made the 10pm news bulletin which showed a wrap-up of the day’s government activity; and there we were, on GRTS (the national TV station), smiling and nodding. Next time, hair and make-up please!