By: Muhammed Lamin Drammeh
Over a year ago, Essa Bah, a 24-year-old Gambian journalist, envisioned himself covering the Africa Cup of Nations in Ivory Coast – the biggest and ultimate football tournament in Africa. Despite knowing that it would be a daunting task as a journalist from a small country like The Gambia, Essa was determined to make it happen. He saved every penny he could manage to put aside, knowing that funding would be a significant challenge and he might have to bear all the expenses on his own.
Just as he anticipated, he couldn’t afford air travel, so he opted to travel by bus, but despite the challenges of securing funding as a journalist in The Gambia, Bah was determined to cover the biggest continental football showpiece in the Ivory Coast. The journey was grueling, lasting six days with frequent breakdowns and scarce food. Nevertheless, Bah persevered, never throwing in the towel, and ultimately achieved his goal.
“It was difficult, spending days on the road without proper food and constant breakdown of the bus,” he explained to The Fatu Network.
Essa joined the bus hired by the Smiling Coast Fan Club since he could not get funding or afford air tickets for himself to the Ivory Coast, where the Africa Cup of Nations is ongoing.
His journey from The Gambia to the Ivory Coast began on Thursday, January 11, and it took him six days to arrive in the Ivory Coast, which was on Tuesday, January 16, a day after The Gambia played against Senegal. It was six difficult days of journey for the young man who was hellbent on actualizing his dreams of covering the Africa Cup of Nations.
“The challenges I faced on the journey were huge. Departing Banjul on Thursday evening, [we] went up to Basse and the Bus had a breakdown. We had to spend the night in Basse. We departed from Basse in the early morning of Friday and entered the borders of Senegal, a place called Welliingara, where I had to go through the difficult immigration process before having a stamp on my passport.
“In Senegal, it was slightly tough, but Mali was the issue.
“We reach inside Mali all the way into KAYI And the police officers at that checkpoint, for whatever reason, deported back to Senegal, too much dismay and struggles, but it just added to my commitment to face the challenges searching for my dreams.
“We came back to Senegal, spent the night there, tried some diplomatic communication through the Gambia’s ambassador in Senegal and the consulate in Mali, and for over a day the breakthrough happened, and we were allowed to enter Mali.
“6 Days of hunger and starvation, days of Bus run in the bus without proper road.
“And due to police delay and poor road it made me miss the Gambia’s first game against Senegal too much pain, but I was committed to the upcoming encounter to do my work,” he narrated.
Despite his enthusiasm and sacrifice to get to the Ivory Coast, Essa missed the Senegambia derby, where Senegal hammered The Gambia by 3 goals 0. Essa was disappointed that he could not cover such a game but believed that it was meant to be.
When he arrived in Yamoussoukro, where The Gambian team was based, Essa quickly went ahead to get his accreditation card, which allowed him to cover the game.
On the 18th of January, Essa accomplished his dream. He entered the stadium in Yamoussoukro, went to the media tribune, and carried his accreditation card to cover The Gambia versus Guinea Conakry, a day he will forever remember in his life as a young journalist.
Finally, he covered the match, a dream he would chase through hunger and starvation traveling by land from The Gambia to the Ivory Coast.
“The experiences I gained from my maiden coverage of the Africa Cup of Nations games were huge. It was my first continental football coverage, having met many journalists all around the world and sharing the Media Tribune of Sports Writers I looked up to was indeed a dream come true for me,” he shared with TFN.
The young and ambitious journalist was unable to continue his coverage of the competition as The Gambia national team failed to progress beyond the group stage. After a terrible experience on his journey to Ivory Coast, Essa began contemplating his return to The Gambia. Fortunately, he received support from the Minister of Youth and Sport and was able to fly back home by plane.
Covering AFCON 2023 games is not where Essa’s ambition ends, his ultimate dream is to cover the FIFA World Cup not only as a journalist but also as a football commentator. He looks up to the legendary and renowned football commentator, Peter Drury, and wishes he could share a commentary duty with him.
Essa’s Journey to covering the Afcon 2023 games and realizing his dreams is a confirmation of his commitment and desire to reach the top.