Celebration: 11th Edition of the International Roots Homecoming Festival

Below is an excerpt from the speech delivered by the Hon. Minister of Tourism and Culture at the official opening of the 11th Edition of the International Roots Homecoming Festival 2014, which was officially opened on behalf of His Excellency the president, Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr. Yahya Jammeh, by the vice-president and Women’s Affairs Minister, Aja Dr Isatou Saidy-Njie on Sunday, May 11th 2014 at Arch 22nd Ground in Banjul. It reads:

“I Thank the Almighty Allah for granting me the opportunity to be present here again and to address yet again, this august gathering marking the official opening of the 11th edition of the International Roots Homecoming Festival.

At the outset, I wish to thank His Excellency, the president of the Republic ably represented by Her Excellency the vice-president and the first mother [Aja Asombi Bojang] for gracing this auspicious occasion, and for Her Excellency, the vice-president’s acceptance in spite of Pressing State Matters to deliver the keynote address (on behalf of His Excellency the President) and officially declare the 11th edition of the festival open.

I wish to also welcome all my colleague Ministers here present, as well as members of the Diplomatic and Consular Corps, and all the distinguished personalities, including women and youth groups, as well as school children.

Your Excellency, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, please allow me to bid a special welcome to all our brothers and sisters from Kingston Jamaica, the United States of America, United Kingdom, France, Spain and beyond, who have travelled long distances to be here with us, on the occasion of this great Pan-African event. Special welcome also goes to my friend, Princess Beatrice of Spain and her delegation.

Indeed, the International Roots Homecoming Festival continues to be a unifying platform for The Gambia and all people of African descent. The Gambia, under the wise, progressive and dynamic leadership of our dear leader, His Excellency, the President of The Republic, Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr Yahya AJJ Jammeh had long realised that we need to come together as Africans to develop the African continent and redeem the peoples of Africa from the scourges of war, hunger, and diseases.

Thus, the International Roots Homecoming Festival provides the platform for our people to come together, to interact, exchange ideas and build networks that will not only generate greater unity and understanding among us, but more importantly, it affords us the opportunity to reflect upon our common challenges and aspirations as a people, thus enabling us chart the path of developing that will emancipate our people from mental slavery and bring about economic and social development.

We in The Gambia are therefore very elevated to welcome you all to the Smiling Coast of Africa for what is indeed the biggest edition so far of the International Roots Homecoming Festival, established since 1996. Please allow me to welcome Dr Julius Garvey, the son of the great Pan-Africanist, the late Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Dr Runoko Rashidi, of the University of California, also a distinguished Pan Africanist, Dr Doris Derby, a ten-year veteran of the Civil Rights Movement and one of 52 contributors to the recently published book ’Hands of the Freedom Plow’ and Ms Yewande Austin, a classically-trained singer from Hovard University and Carnegie Melton University. Yewande is also a teacher who loves teaching our youths to be their very best.

A big warm welcome also to Mutabaruka, Sizzla Kalonji, Scratchylus and Empress Reggae for your presence and for supporting The Gambia and His Excellency, and indeed the International Roots Homecoming Festival. Excellences, distinguished guests, ladies and Gentlemen, I can assure you that the coming week will be one that will be remembered for years to come. The National Organising Committee has put together a very exciting programme. 

Last night, as a prelude to the official opening ceremony today, there was a mega musical concert at the Independence Stadium in Bakau, where Sizzla Kalonji, Scrathylus, Empress Reggae, Mutabaruka, Yewande and a host of Gambian Artists performed. The other highlights during the week will include the Roots Pilgrimage to Juffureh and Kunta Kinteh Island and the rites of passage ceremony in His Excellency the President’s home village of Kanilai. The Symposium will also be quite interesting and intellectually stimulating, as we discuss the state of African Culture in this turbulent and complex century we live in.

A this juncture, I would like to pay tribute to all our promoters, both in the USA and the United Kingdom, who worked hard and tirelessly for promoting the festival, resulting in this impressive turnout of our brothers and sisters from the Diaspora. In particular, I would like to pay tribute to Saikouba Cessay of Alkamba Tours Gambia, Olimatta Taal, Kitty Pope, Jenelle Mahone, James Brocks, Shola Lewis, Tina Jones and the late John Wright of the United Kingdom for their indefatigable efforts.

We are also indebted to Galaxy Radio and all the other Radio Stations in the UK and USA, who all played a part in sthe festival and spreading the world. We say a big thank-you to the World Bank, through the GCP Coordinator, Mr Tamsir Manga and the members of the TMC for supporting our marketing efforts.

We are ever grateful as we look forward to cementing the bonds of cooperation that exist between you and The Gambia. I also want to salute the National Organising Committee for their dynamism and effectiveness and for putting in all the necessary organisational logistics that cannot but result in a resoundingly successful festival.

However, we could not have achieved all of this without the full and unwavering support of His Excellency the President, who instituted the festival as a national event and supported us all the way, both morally and financially to ensure its success. 

Your Excellency, we are ever grateful and may the Almighty Allah continue to guide and protect you from all the disbelieving people, both within and without, and to continue to grant you the wisdom, conviction and courage to steer the affairs of this great nation to even higher heights.  I also wish to applaud the support and encouragement of my fellow cabinet colleagues, in particular Hons. Fatou Lamin Faye, Mass Axi Gai, Kebba Touray, and the entire government machinery that put grease on our elbows to overcome challenges and arrive at the goal posts that were set.

Your Excellency, special thanks and appreciation also goes to Hon. Francis Liti Mboge and Mr Tombong Saidy. I also wish to thank the Lord Mayors of Banjul and the Kanifing Municipality. Women and Youth Mobilisers, as well as the Governors of the five administrative regions for their unflinching support. We thank the men and women of The Gambia, the youth, cultural troupes, the school children, and the local and international media.

We thank Gamtel/Gamcel and Africell for their support, as well as the Gambia Ports Authority, SSHFC; GAM Petroleum, and the Gambia Civil Aviation Authority. We are also indebted to Trust Bank Limited and Guaranty Trust Bank. We also owe a debt of gratitude to the Gambia Hotel Association, as well as Djeliba, Kairaba Beach and Senegambia Beach Hotels for their support. We are also indebted to Banjul Breweries, EPM and indeed all those who stood on our side to make this event a success.

Finally, my Ministry and the National Organising Committee would like to thank Gambians for all their support and for coming out in full force to participate in this grand opening of the 11th Edition of the festival. I invite you all to participate effectively in all the other programmes, especially in Juffureh, Kanilai and at the Regatta at the Banjul Wharf.

I thank-you all for your kind attention.