Ten years ago today, Francis DeGaulle Njie passed away aged 35 in the USA where he had schooled and work. An alumnus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, DeGaulle as he was fondly known, was an academic star and a man of refined tastes and manners. His early death was for his friends and family a heartbreaking and seemingly senseless event. “Oh what a loss” we cried. Little did we know that it was in death that DeGaulle would accomplish much more than he could alive. Some people accomplish greatness only after their deaths. The passage of time, and the sorrow of loss, opens the heart to accept certain undeniable truths. So it was with Abraham Lincoln the Great Emancipator as it was with the paintings of Vincent Van Gogh.
DeGaulle was initially for me a competitor for academic honors at our high school Saint Augustine’s. Though we were living in a very poor country, Saint’s was one of the best high schools in West Africa. We were steeped in a tradition of academic excellence in which stellar exams results brought with it many accolades and benefits. Our principal, Sam Njie, would frequently egg us on to compete against each other even though we were in different classes and studies.
After high school, DeGaulle went on to MIT whilst I attended Columbia. These two universities have a tradition extending over 100 years of competing in various underground intellectual games against each other. During our time, this competition took the form of hacker wars during which one group of computer hackers would try to take control of the other school’s computer systems. As a member of the Columbia team, it emerged that the MIT team was led by a hacker called “Boy Jollof”. In the elite world of super programmers where there are very few blacks or women, it was a pleasant surprise to find that one of Gambia’s finest was indeed once again on top of the top league. We quickly established a new friendship forged in the hyper competitive environment of long-established American universities.
I quickly realized what a great pleasure it was to be a friend to such a brilliant and erudite gentleman. We enjoyed each other’s company tremendously and 10 years hence, I still miss my buddy and his intellect. We met in locales ranging from San Francisco, New York, London and would spend nights discussing geeky topics such as whether Planck’s constant is really constant.
Though we went to high school in one of the poorest countries in the world, DeGaulle and I were fortunate recipients of one of the best educations in all of Africa. Saint Augustine’s, a school founded by the Catholic Church, routinely sent its graduates to top universities around the world and DeGaulle was one of the first graduate of this high school to ace all his subjects and score an aggregate of 6 in his GCE exams.
Before his illness, I was actively in discussions with DeGaulle about coming back home to Africa and starting a software technology company. I am glad to say that some of the ideas that we discussed such as the use of biometrics in health care and finance is something that our company is actively working on in multiple countries in Africa. Dreams are indeed potent as they can live on long after the mind that created them is no more.
Pushed by the indomitable spirit of Aunty Alaba Thomas Mboge, the lady who gave him to this world, we soldiered on to found an institution in his memory; the Francis DeGaulle Njie Foundation (www.fdnf.gm). The FDNF has been strongly and consistently helping young minds achieve excellence through the award of scholarships, lectures, and internship for the past 8 years. In fact one of the star biometric programmers of our company, Pristine Consulting, was hired first as an intern then as an employee through the auspices of the FDNF.
Francis has since become a good role model for young Gambians to adopt. His honesty and humility masked a dynamo of intelligence enveloped in a spirit of generosity and open-mindedness. Indeed, we should all endeavor to uphold the likes of Francis as role models for our children. In an era in which parents compete with the TV and computer for the morals and conscience of children, heroic figures such as DeGaulle are now more necessary than ever. The necessity for the likes of DeGaulle is everywhere and especially so in national development.
To build the bridges, hospitals, information systems, processes and other tools of national development, a new type of heroic figure is required. It is in furtherance of such a role model that I participated in the inaugural FDNF Motivational Lecture Series at our alma mater high school Saint Augustine’s. A new type of figure based on mastery of technical subjects such mathematics, computer science, medical sciences is what Africa needs to put food on tables, light our houses, put medicines in our hospitals, and pave our roads. Intelligence and competence should be celebrated, regaled, promoted, and propagated. By telling the world the inspiring story of DeGaulle, we help to bring about the advancement of a New African that our kids can emulate.
As we mark 10 years since that painful day, let us rejoice too in all that has been done by so many people to honor DeGaulle. We the staff of Pristine Consulting like to pay tribute to the legacy of DeGaulle by providing scholarships to 10 deserving high school students studying science in The Gambia. It is through us his friends, family, and supporters that the legacy of Francis lives on. A fitting legacy for a fine exemplar of the human race. Yes indeed DeGaulle, lives on.
From Your Brother & Friend, Draman A. Touray