Sise Sawaneh. So soon. A neighbour. A friend. A colleague. Oh dear! Why you? Why now? Those killers. This world. This God. That car. That road. That doctor. That hospital.

If God had an office, I would have staged many protests there. This one would have been for regime change. But I’m told he’s not a Democrat. He does as it pleases Him. He does no wrong even when He hurts. We are to obey, suck it up and not complain. We’re to praise Him even as we bleed.

This God. I’m told none is fairer, more compassionate. Then, perhaps, taking Sise away might not have been His instruction. It could be that Ángel, acting out of his own volition. I don’t want to call the name. I’m now afraid of him. I’m told he’s not so nice; that he has one functioning eye and lost the other to a woman whose baby he wanted to take away. The woman knocked off his eye with the pestle she had. I would have done the same. How could he look into that beautiful soul in a beautiful body and take it away? How could he not see that the girl is meant for greater things? The girl is God’s own investment!

Sise joined the practice in 2011. Journalism wasn’t popular. It wasn’t rewarding. It was dangerous, particularly for young women. Sise persevered in pursuit of her dream and passion. She’s privileged and could have opted for shinier life choices. But she’s humble and her selflessness couldn’t allow her to look any other way, away from the voiceless.

She began her career at a weekly business newspaper, Market Place. She soon afterwards joined Today Newspaper, a national daily that ceased operations following sustained state crackdown. In 2014, she moved to another national daily, The Standard, when the ban on paper was lifted. We spent many months working there, together. She stood out for her versatility, drive, discipline, commitment and brilliance.

In 2015, she joined the GRTS as a reporter. Sise and I ha ve been close for nearly a decade. The bond between us is beyond friendship. We shared a fence that wasn’t a border. We’re family. We also share mutual friends like Sainey M.K Marenah, Sainey Darboe, Baba Njie, Alagie Manneh, Alieu Ceesay and lately Sheriff Bojang Jr. We dine together. From our times at The Standard, she made sure I don’t miss porridge. We have been closely supporting and guiding each other at personal and professional level.

Sise was the winner of the Tourism Reporting category of our maiden national journalism awards in 2016. She was a finalist in the second edition and boycotted the subsequent awards out of protest. She promised to make life difficult for us because she felt cheated. And, she did  – not even our friendship could buy her. We would dine together and chat in my house after work and fight on Facebook the following morning. That’s Sise for you. She holds no grudges but hates to see what she felt is injustice. She doesn’t want anyone to take advantage of her or another. She’s firm on her principles. Her heart, though, is as soft as silk.

Sise was an epitome of civic journalist. In her role as a reporter, she often goes beyond informing her audience. She reaches out and engages her audience in debate and dialogue towards providing solutions. That’s also now called solutions journalism. Her position against child marriage and female genital cutting was firm and well-known. She eloquently promotes the education of the girl child, particularly in her community where traditional norms continue to keep girls away from school. She reported and protected against environmental degradation. She promotes women in sports. She’s a youth and women’s rights activist.

Her latest such community engagement came about following class struggles that claimed lives in her tribal community in rural Gambia. She was determined to succeed where the government – central and local – was afraid to venture.

And after her successful outreach, she put up a write up and shared it my wife, her friend, for review. She intended to put it out on her social media platforms. She died before doing so. The text, which tells you so much about Sise, her beliefs and motivation, is reproduced:

“To many, the caste conflict has been here for ages and talking about it is a taboo. To many, I am too young to discuss this on social media, talk-less of meeting elders in their communities. To many, ‘do not bother yourself because they will never listen to you or any other person that is involved in this’.

“These are all ways of discouraging you from breaking all odds, to unite the divided fractions in the communities. I am glad to say that this is the most successful event held so far since the start of the caste conflict in these villages.

“I am not doing this to be recognised, I already had that. I am not doing this to fill up my account, I had enough. I am not doing this either to get all the praises around the world, God knows my intention. I just want to leave a legacy and to also remind you all that we can contribute in our little ways to restore peace without waiting for a larger group/organisations to make the noise.

“Within a very short time, I have mobilised natives of Garawol and Koina to have a dialogue on how to reconcile the divided sections in the community. I have listened to both parties and stakeholders and I have literally engaged everyone. I can now say that the future is bright because the statements are promising.

Thank you to all the individuals who believed in my idea and decided to support this initiative without a second thought…”

Rest In Peace, Sise. You can now do so, happily, even though you’d have loved to do more.

Saikou Jammeh