Ousman Manjang - In Memoriam
News of the death in the Gambia on Sunday October 6 of Ousman Manjang came as a shock for many here in Stockholm. He was 67 and is survived by a son and two daughters living respectively in England and Sweden. We very deeply regret the loss of Ousman Manjang and express hereby our deepest condolences to family, relatives and all.
Manjang, a political militant since the early teens, was active in mass movements in his native Gambia at age of 14. He and several fellow teenage Gambians draw their political insipirations, among other sources, from Nkrumaism and they subsequently also came under the influence of Marxist thoughts. They militated in the now defunct Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Foundation one of the biggest youth organisations in the Gambia founded in 1972.
Two years later in 1974 the young, highly motivated Nkrumaist and Pan-Africanist, Manjang arrived in Sweden where, in addition to his political activism, he pursued academic studies in Engineering at the Swedish Royal Institute of Technology otherwise identified by its Swedish initials KTH. He was co-founder and First Secretary General of The Gambian Organisation - GO which was inaugurated in 1975 in Stockholm. Then followed four years of intense political, social and cultural activism in the form of articles, seminars, public meetings, protests and demonstrations primarily aimed at mobilising and deepening political awareness in the African community in Sweden.
Manjang resided for the most part in the immigrant suburb Rinkeby just outside Stockholm which became a strategic base from where he directed operations as a leader of the Gambian and African community in Stockholm. His political horizon stretched much farther to encompass joint activities with immigrant communities from many other countries and cultures. During this and following period, Manjang exhibited excellent qualities as a writer, speaker and organiser with added skills in international co-operation and public relations. It was for this and other reasons that The Gambian Organisation elected him to represent the membership on the board of directors of the newsletter Combate managed by Latin American immigrant organisations.
Critical and interesting political developments were taking place in the Gambia and Ousman and colleagues felt the need to be direct participants in the unfolding events in the homeland. They interrupted their stay in Sweden, headed back home and landed in the political and social heat. That was around 1979/1980 when the rising political temperature in the Gambia culminated in the formation in 1979 of the radical socialist-oriented and Pan-Africanist organisation Movement of Justice in Africa - Gambia (MOJA – G). Large numbers of radical youths full of enthusiasm and hardened by years of political activism flocked to join the new political organisation. Among them was Manjang and several of his close political associates from the erstwhile Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Foundation.
After a failed coup in the Gambia in 1981 which was violently put down by the government, the situtation in the country became precarious for adherents of leftist movements in the country. Manjang & Co. decided to leave the Gambia again for Sweden where he stayed until his 'final' return to the Gambia in 1994.
Back in Sweden in1981 following the abortive coup of the same year, Manjang continued with his political, socialist-oriented activities at the same time as he resumed his studies and finally took a degree in engineering.
With the creation in Stockholm in the mid 1980s of the umbrella organisation The Organization of Gambians in Sweden - OGIS the two names The Gambian Organisation - GO and The Organization of Gambians in Sweden – OGIS began to be used interchangeably even though the latter was supposed to be the umbrella organisation covering the former and other Gambian organisations.
Trouble was brewing within the Gambian diaspora in Sweden. The inauguraion in 1981 in Sweden by Manjang & Co of a branch of the political party MOJA (banned in the Gambia) was causing resentment among a section of the Gambian community all the more so because members of MOJA - G also held sensitive positions within OGIS/GO which was supposed to be a politically neutral association, not a political party like MOJA - G was. Manjang and his colleagues in MOJA – G happened to constitute in general the most highly motivated and best organised and skilled elements of the Gambian community in Sweden.
In addition to all this Manjang persoanlly also was the (first) editor of The Gambian Newsletter, the mouthpiece of The Gambian Organisation – GO/OGIS! They came under suspicion of using GO/OGIS as a cover to promote a MOJA agenda. Under these circumstances Manjang proved to be a man of compromise, showing patience and qualities of leadership, as well as those of a skilful negotiator. He and his colleagues succeeded in the delicate task of steering the organisation away from controversial issues while simultaneously maintaining the essentially progressive character of OGIS/GO under the influence of MOJA – G.
However matters finally came to a head when he and his MOJA colleagues several years later thought it wise, for tactical reasons, to relinquish leadership of OGIS/GO in order to be able to freely carry on with MOJA's political and ideological mission. In 1993 the authorities in the Gambia announced a general amnesty for all persons involved or suspected of involvement in the abortive coup of 1981. Manjang, the engineer and revolutionary, decided to return home finally in 1994, a year after the amnesty.
From the time he returned to the Gambia in 1994 and until his death on October 6th 2019, Manjang was Managing Director of Gambians for Self-Employment (GAMSEM), an NGO which he founded on his return to the Gambia. GASEM is a gender-friendly institution specialsing in educating and providing for underpriviledged, low-income groups the overwhelming majority of them market women traders. This is done through granting them loans to help them trade and stand on their feet economically so they can participate in the economic, social and political life of their country.
This line of action is consistent with Manjang's principles and belief in the power of the masses and with his professed commitment to the creed of the organic unity of theory and practice. Manjang the academic and trained engineer has now turned to social and political engineering of people through organising and helping the poor and underprivileged of the Gambia.
Both in Sweden and in the Gambia, Ousman Manjang contributed enormously to a rich and vibrant political and cultural life in the service of Pan-Africanism and he worked vigorously in pursuit of social justice and equality while maintaining an uncompromising stance against colonialism, neo-colonialism and imperialism. Indeed, Ousman Manjang remained faithful to his principles to the very last.
Manjang was also a well-read person and, above everything else, a man of extraordinary intellectual ability. He was capable of analysing complex political issues with a lucid and penetrating intellectual force that left no one indifferent. He was an eloquent speaker who also listened with patience and respected divergent views.
During his time in Sweden he led the Gambian Organisation in extensive co-operation with different Swedish and immigrant organisations. The Ghana Union was one of several African organisations with which The Gambian Organisation had specially close ties. Some of our joint arrangements were addressed or chaired by Manjang and many still remember with affection the slim Gambian in thick glasses who spoke with a deep voice.
He was a contributor to the Ghana Union newsletter The Ghanaian Conscience which later changed names to The Lingust now replaced by the website you are reading from (www.ghananunion.se). Manjang can be credited with some of the best pieces published in The Ghanaian Conscience. One of his most interesting articles, "The African Left: Crusaders without a Cross" is reproduced in part here on this website to honour his memory. In the article he exposes the predicament of African (and world) socialisim in the wake of the demise of the Soviet Union.
The Ghana Union salutes Ousman Manjang and is proud and honoured to have had a close, fruitful co-operation with him and the Gambian Organisation/OGIS in Stockholm.
In leaving us Ousman Manjang leaves behind in the Gambia and in the African cultural and political space in Sweden a vacuum which is not going to be filled any time soon!!!
Anthony Turkson, Oct. 18th, 2019