The management of the Gambia Communication Agency and Baroueli Enterprises, publishers of Gambia News and Report weekly magazine, has designated the company’s founder and publisher; the late Swaebou Conateh as its Person of The Year-2018 (posthumous).
The decision by the management of the Gambia Communication Agency and Baroueli Enterprises to award this prestigious award to Mr. Conateh is because he dedicated his entire life to the promotion of journalism and freedom of the press in this country and in the sub-region. Despite the numerous challenges he had faced in the process, after his retirement, he went on to establish the Gambia Communication Agency and Baroueli Enterprises in 1992 and published the Gambia News and Report Weekly Magazine.
Swaebou Conateh was born in Dippa Kunda, in the Kanifing Municipality in the 1940s. He attended Kanifing Primary School and later on St. Augustine’s Secondary School in Banjul. He was on government scholarship throughout his secondary education up to the sixth form at Gambia High School, which he obtained on merit after he took first position in virtually all the examinations he sat to.
When he finished the sixth form in 1964, he went to the University of Kansas in the United States to study journalism through the African Scholarship Program of American Universities (ASPAU). In addition to journalism, he also took courses in creative writing, thus embracing poetry, short stories, drama and essay writing.
After graduating with B.Sc. in journalism in 1968, making him the first Gambian to obtain a university degree in journalism.
Mr. Conateh returned to The Gambia after finishing his course and was appointed News Editor at the Department of Information and Broadcasting and shortly after that, he was promoted to Broadcasting Officer. In 1974, he took over as Director of Information and Broadcasting from the late Dr. Lamin Mbye. He however later obtained a Master’s degree in Mass Communications and Public Information at the University of Lagos in Nigeria and he also did a short stint on management with the BBC. He also received an award for excellence in newspaper writing from the William Randolph Hearst Foundation of America. While in the United States, he became a member of Sigma Delta Chi, the Professional Journalism Society of the US.
Mr. Conateh’s tenure as Director of Information and Broadcasting witnessed many developments in the broadcasting sector, particularly with regards to Radio Gambia, which saw big improvement in its country-wide coverage and scope.
Mr. Conateh was also a pioneer in the promotion of the Gambian literary profile, being the first editor of Ndaanan, the Gambia’s first literary publication, which he founded together with other Gambian intellectuals in 1971. His colleagues in Ndaanan included intellectual heavyweights of the time like Charles Jow, Hassoum Ceesay Sr, Dr Lenrie Peters and Gabriel Roberts, among several others, and they produced the first volume of Ndaanan, whose objective was to provide an outlet for creative Gambian writing.
Mr. Conateh also tried his hand in poetry writing, publishing his first book of poems; Great Wrinkles Up The Sky’s Sleeves, the poems described the process of change that was being witnessed in his birthplace of Dippa Kunda, which was gradually being transformed from a rural settlement to being part of the urban conglomerate of Serekunda.
When Mr. Conateh retired from government service in 1986, he joined the Pan-African News Agency (PANA) and he was first posted to Lagos, Nigeria, where he headed the first PANA regional bureau. After a few years in Lagos, he was redeployed to the PANA head office in Dakar, Senegal where he was until he finally came back to The Gambia in 1991.
While he had the opportunity to engage in consultancy and other lucrative ventures, but Mr. Conateh decided to set up the Gambia Communication Agency and Baroueli Enterprises, which started publication of the Gambia News and Report weekly magazine. One unique feature of that magazine is its “Man of The Year” award to Gambians who have excelled in their areas of competence.
When the Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council (APRC) took over power from the government of former President Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara in 1994, Mr. Conateh was their first choice for Information Minister, but being the principled man that he was, he declined the offer, knowing that he could not work with a military regime.
Mr. Conateh was an all-round professional who never allowed his intellectual achievements to get into his head. He was quite humble and easily mixed with people of all ages and backgrounds. He was also prepared to go all out to mentor young journalists as he always quite jealous of the reputation of the journalism profession. Therefore, he was ready to give all that he had to ensure that the young journalists received the best training in order to maintain the standards of the profession.
With his exemplary life style and dedication to professional ethics, Mr. Conateh had earned a name for himself and an indelible place in the history of this country. Therefore, as the management of the Gambia Communication Agency and Baroueli Enterprises believes that his fulfilled life will continue to inspire many. Gambians, especially young journalists,“We take this opportunity to honour his legacy by conferring on him this posthumous award. We are cognizant of the sacrifices, steadfastness and highly commendable contributions he made are bound to remain a source of inspiration and example to Gambian citizens and generations yet unborn.”