Friday, March 19, 2010

William Dixon-Colley – An Example To Gambian Journalism

By D. A. Jawo

NEWS BANJUL THE GAMBIA(MB)-My first encounter with William Dixon-Colley, whom we popularly referred to as Uncle Dixon, was in February 1979 when, after publishing my first article in The Nation, which was critical of corruption in the police force, I was arrested and detained at the Banjul Police Station. Uncle Dixon showed so much concern about my plight that he visited me at the police station every day without fail for more than a week.
From that episode, I became so attached to Uncle Dixon that people used to refer to him as my dad. I would spend most of my time at 3 Box Bar Road where The Nation was located, after closing from work; while on weekends, I would spend the whole day there helping to produce The Nation.

I still remember that 3 Box Bar Road was also the meeting point of several left-leaning young radicals such as Halifa Sallah, Dumo Saho and his friend Sarjo Jallow, as well as several others who used to meet there often to exchange ideas about national and international issues.

Even though, since my children days, I had also wanted to be a journalist, Uncle Dixon had no doubt been the most important catalyst in my realizing my childhood dream. He gave me all the necessary encouragement and support, and he also instilled in me the courage and inclination to call a spade a spade, rather than by any other name.
As a result of my encounter with the police, instead of becoming intimidated and stop writing, as no doubt the police had intended, I became even more emboldened to write, and with the encouragement of Uncle Dixon and some of his colleagues at the Gambia Press Union such as the late Deyda Hydara, the late Noble Allen, the late Jay Saidy and Pap Saine, I applied and became a member of the GPU in 1980.

The more time I spent with Uncle Dixon, the more I admired and respected him for his dedication to journalism and his unshakeable principles and convictions. There is one quotation attributed to him which seems to sum up the type of person he was. It is: “If what one is saying is right and one strongly believes it is, one should go on saying it up to ones grave”. Therefore, for him, the question of self-censorship of the truth did not arise. He would write anything as long as he was convinced that it was the truth and was in the public interest. He, therefore, no doubt subscribed to the adage: “Write and damn the consequences”.
I have absolutely no doubt that if Uncle Dixon had been alive, and still active writing in this current atmosphere, he would have been among the first journalists to be sent to jail for his writing and commentaries, because he would never have shied away from writing the truth, regardless of the consequences.
Despite the several years that I spent with Uncle Dixon, it was not quite easy to know much about his personal life. He was such a humble and self-effacing person that he never wanted to become the center of attraction, hence his refusal to be interviewed about his personal life. From the little I knew about him, I remember that he was born in Banjul on 14th November 1913.
I also remember that he was married to one English lady, Barbara, with whom he lived at his Sukuta home. Unfortunately, Barbara died suddenly, about two years before his own death. I know that he had three children, or so, and some grandchildren, all of whom he had in the UK. As far as I know, they are all still living in the UK. At least one of his children visited him while I was with him. And one of his grand daughters was once here to visit, while on a school trip.
After his formal education in Banjul, Uncle Dixon became a school-teacher at his alma mater the Methodist Boys High School, and his career as a media practitioner started during his school days. He, however, left for Nigeria where he continued to practice journalism at the Sunday Observer and later the Guardian in Port Harcourt in the late 1930s. After the Second World War, he left Nigeria for the UK where he became editor of the African Outlook an independent quarterly forum for Africans published in London.
Uncle Dixon returned to The Gambia in 1963, just two years before independence, and began publishing Africa Nyaato, which later became The Nation. During that period, he also at various times served as correspondent for BBC, Reuters and the Sunday Express in England.
Therefore, at the time of his death on 17th January 2001, he held the record of being the longest serving editor of a newspaper in this country, a record as far as I can tell, which remains unbroken.
Prodded by his inspiration in 1978, a group of independent journalists founded by the Gambia Press Union, and he was elected Secretary General, a position he held until 1993. Also in that year, he was nominated as a veteran Gambian journalist for the International Organization of Journalists (IOJ) prize in Prague, the former Czechoslovakia, in recognition of his long and distinguished career.
Uncle Dixon by all accounts stood for the principles of freedom of the press throughout his life and was well known for his uncompromising stance on those principles. I remember, for instance, that he was arrested for publishing a commentary, ‘Till Doomsday’ and charged with seditious publication. He was taken to court and, after a lengthy trial, he was acquitted and discharged.
In spite of all the harassments in the course of his journalistic career he remained unequivocally committed to the principles of truth, freedom and a better life for the generality of the people until his death.
As well as being a journalist, William Dixon-Colley was an activist - political ad social. He was quite enthusiastic about de-colonization. I understand that during the campaign for the elections just prior to independence, he used to accompany Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara on his campaign trips up-country. He was always very critical of the colonial authorities, both while he was in the UK and when he came back home. He was certainly a true patriot as well as a leftist who apparently had a strong leaning on the socialist paradigm.
Therefore, Gambian journalists have quite a lot to learn from the life of Uncle Dixon – his dedication to the truth, his energetic pursuit of what he believed to be right, despite challenges; his patriotism, his passion for writing, and his entrepreneurship that gave birth to The Nation newspaper and library – both legacies the present generation of Gambia journalists must not allow to die.

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