Friday, July 5, 2013

Dr. Lenrie Peters Speaks Out - reproduced

In 2008, the late Peters who witnessed colonialism, told me "it was a setback".
His hopes and expectations after Independence were "democracy and an open government striving for the good of the people" - never come to reality during the 1st and 2nd Republic. (Photo Credit: Gamwriters)

Gambian playwright, novelist and surgeon, Dr. Lenrie Peters died at age 76 in Dakar, Senegal on May 27, 2009 after a brief illness.

He was born in 1932 in Banjul, Hagan Street in a house where Gamstar Insurance is now situated.

He had his early education at Boys High School, Dobson Street Banjul.

He studied medicine, higher science and economics at Prince of Wales School in Freetown, Sierra Leone, where he graduated with certificates and returned to The Gambia briefly, before moving to Cambridge, England - where he studied Latin at Cambridge Technical College.

He ventured into music, singing while still concentrating on his studies (Latin) in 1952.

In 1953, he went to the Trinity College, the largest college in Cambridge where he studied science for three years. He went to the University College Hospital to study surgery, after which he went back to Trinity College for his degree programme.

He qualified as a surgeon in 1959, while still writing, singing and broadcasting for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) as a freelancer from 1956 to 1969.

Peters is an accomplish poet, playwright and novelist. His novel is called “The Second Round” 1964. His published poems are “Collected Poems” 1964, “Satellites” 1967, and “Kachikali” 1971.

His poetry, robust and sophisticated, is full of African way of life, generally. He has also served as Chairman of the West African Examination Council (WAEC) – the first Gambian to do so.

In August 2008, the late Dr. Peters granted an interview to The Voice Newspaper’s Modou S. Joof. In what has since become his last interview with a journalist, Peters spoke on a variety of issues ranging from literature to politics. 

Relax and read on... 

The Voice: What was the message that you were trying to put to the people in your novel “The Second Round”?

Dr. Peters:  I remember what Africa was like when I left The Gambia to study in England. I tried to share my experience with retrospect describing the change in the African society from colonialism to independence. Some women said the novel is feminist but there was nothing like feminism in The Gambia at that time.

The Voice: Apart from your novel and poems, what other literary work do you have?

Dr. Peters: I have a selection of poems and some of it has been published in Nigeria before the Heinemann was published.

The Voice: Does any of your poems portray an index of your profession?

Dr. Peters: I don’t think it has an index of my profession. When you write, certainly your profession comes into it and it did in my part as a doctor.

The Voice: In the second stanza of your poem (We Have Come Home) you said: “But it is not time to lay wreaths for yesterday’s crime”. What do you mean?

Dr. Peters: After a funeral people lay wreaths, but the crime against Africans were not severe, so we should not lay wreaths because we have overcome these problems.

The Voice: What is the central message of the poem?

Dr. Peters: Each of us (the students) have different experiences in Europe but we should come back home to develop Africa and forget about those hostilities.

The Voice:  “We Have Come Home” was part of the WAEC syllabus 2001-2004. How did you feel for the well recognition of your work by the West African Examination Council, WAEC?

Dr. Peters: It was a good thing for African students and they came to know that they had an African writer from The Gambia. Other poems and parts of the novel have been used before.

The Voice: Most of your literary work is centred on African way of life, why?

Dr. Peters: Because I am an African and I have lived most of my life in Africa. It also helps the outside world to know about African culture and development.

The Voice: You have not been writing for some time, does that mean you quit?

Dr. Peters: One does not write like the way you use to do when you were much younger. When writing a book of poems you need to write 50 to 60 poems but that does not mean that one does not have 20 poems.

The Voice: You and Wole Soyinka established the African Writers Series, what was it for?

Dr. Peters: We established the African Writers Series with Heinemann for publishing African literature. Many African writers have their work published by the African Writers Series.

The Voice: Have you won a Nobel Prize for Literature?

Dr. Peters: No.

The Voice:  Gambians are said to be lazy readers, how successful is your literary work in the market?

Dr. Peters: There is no way of measuring that in The Gambia. Gambians are lazy readers but with the University, it will help them.

The Voice: How do you see Gambian literature?

Dr. Peters: It is developing and we have good writers, but young Gambian writers suffer from lack of libraries to read and do their research.

The Voice: You were a broadcaster, which media institution were you broadcasting for?

Dr. Peters: I was broadcasting for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) as a freelancer between 1956 and 1969.

The Voice: You were also a singer, what type of music were you playing?

Dr. Peters: I was an opera singer. I was playing classical music.

The Voice: You are a prominent figure, why do you receive less media attention?

Dr. Peters: Because I keep a low profile.

The Voice: What qualification did you get from Trinity College?

Dr. Peters: I got BSC in general science and MA degree.

The Voice: How long did it take to become a qualified surgeon?

Dr. Peters: It wasn’t organised in our time, so it took me more than the number of years required at present.

The Voice: How was life in Sierra Leone compared to that of England during days of studies abroad?

Dr. Peters: Life in Sierra Leone was too much like in The Gambia, it was during colonialism. Sierra Leone had a university and that was all the difference whilst England is a modern nation with all the development and facilities.

The Voice: What was it like to be the first Gambian to serve as Chairman of WAEC?

Dr. Peters: It was a great experience. It was wonderful, and I hope it was for WAEC too.

The Voice: What is your post at the West Field Clinic? 

Dr. Peters: I am the Chief Executive and Chairman of the clinic.
The Voice: Who owns the clinic?

Dr. Peters: A company of shareholders, West Field Clinic Company owns it. Dr. Parlmer started it in 1969.

The Voice: Does your time at the clinic impede your literary activities?

Dr. Peters: No, they complement each other.

The Voice: How difficult is it to deal with patients?

Dr. Peters: With experience, it is not difficult to deal with patients. Generally, they are grateful to what we are doing for them.

The Voice: Why do you devout most of your time to surgery instead of writing?

Dr. Peters: Surgery is my profession and writing is a vocation. If people need surgery you cannot delay it.

The Voice: How do you see the current situation of the country’s economy?

Dr. Peters: I think that the economy seems to be in a state of buoyancy but we are not sure what is sustaining it.  Big houses everywhere, you don’t know where the money is coming from. A lot of the youths are unemployed and it is not enough to tell the young to go back to the farm, you should give them incentives. I have been to the farm for 25 years, but it is not easy.

The Voice: Is it worthy for the youths to migrate illegally?

Dr. Peters: It is not worthy for the youths to go to Europe illegally, that is why they should be given incentives to enable them work in the country. They face a lot of hardship in finding jobs and this prompts them to go to Europe in perilous journeys.

The Voice: You witnessed the colonial era, was it really a setback for the country?

Dr. Peters: It was a setback, just two high schools and one hospital.

The Voice: What were your hopes and expectations after independence?  

Dr. Peters: My hopes and expectations were democracy and an open government striving for the good of the people.

The Voice: Were these hopes and expectations of yours fulfilled?

Dr. Peters: They were not fulfilled at all.

The Voice: As a former broadcaster, what do you think of Government-media relations?

Dr. Peters: It is not as good as it should be. The media is here to help propagate good ideas for the Government. It is important for both to work hand-in-hand.

The Voice: What do you think of the country’s human rights record?

Dr. Peters: Needs much to be desired.

The Voice: In 1995, you were the Chairman of the National Consultative Committee (NCC). What was the role of this committee?

Dr. Peters: This was to determine whether the military junta is to stay for two or four years. 

The Voice:  What were the achievements of the committee?

Dr. Peters: The people decided that the junta should rule for two years and after that they should remove their uniforms and become civilians.

The Voice: It’s 14-years of the AFPRC/APRC Government, what do you think of the political situation of the country?

Dr. Peters: It is still maturing. People think that it is easy to run a country but it is not easy running a country especially if you come from the barracks. I think you can give them some benefit of the doubt.

The Voice: What do you think are the reasons that stop women from contesting for the presidency?

Dr. Peters: Women have just started to be deeply involved into politics. I think with time they will be more active.

A version of this interview first appeared on print on The Voice Newspaper’s second edition of August 20-25, 2008 in the column “Our Guest of The Week”.   Following his death, it was reproduced on The Voice’s column “African Memoir” on June 5-7, 2009.

And it is appearing for the first time online on The North Bank Evening Standard on July 5, 2013.

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