Remembering, Professor Lamin Mbye was a dedicated son of Africa with Pan-Africanist scholarship and roots, who passed away a year ago on July 30, 2005. This obituary has been produced and sent by Professors Sulayman S. Nyang (Howard University) and A.B. Assensoh (Indiana University-Bloomington), as family members, friends and his students are observing a year of Dr. Mbye's death.
Dr. Lamin Mbye, 70, was a Pan-Africanist historian. He was a full professor of History and Social Sciences (with an emphasis on African history) until July 2004 on the beautiful campus of University of Maryland at Eastern Shore (UMES). He died at 1.30 PM in the Peninsula Hospital, Salisbury, Maryland on Friday, July 30, 2004. He has rested in the Lord for a year now!
Gambian Family Background: Dr. Mbye came out of two prominent Banjul families whose roots go back to pre-colonial areas now called Senegal. The son of Gambian trader and political figure Abdou Wally Mbye and Fatou Jagne of Banjul, Dr. Lamin Mbye belonged to the third generation of Wolof who settled in the nation's capital since the end of the Sonnike-Marabout Wars. On his father's side, he could trace his ancestry back to the Mbyeens of Cayor and Walo. Then, on his mother's side, he was part of the large descendants of the Saloum-Saloum Jagne family that is linked by marriage to Sait Mati, the son of Maba Jahu Bah, the celebrated Muslim warrior of 19th Century Senegambia. Dr. Mbye was linked to the Nyang clan because of the interlocking networks of families and clans that become more and more intricate and complex over time. The grandson, on his father's side, of Awa Nyang, the sister of Sulayman Nyang, the grand patriarch of the Nyang clan in Banjul and beyond, Dr. Mbye is connected to the Tivaoune branch of the Tijanniyya order by way of Safiatou Nyang. He named his first son after his father, Abdou Wally Mbye and his second son after Shaykh Habib Sy, a brother to Shaykh Abdul Aziz Sy of the Tijanniyya order in Senegal. His first child, Neneh (a Duke University-educated Lawyer) is named after a favorite wife of his father, who showered love and affection on Dr. Mbye throughout his life.
Dr. Mbye was a product of the triple heritage that Kwame Nkrumah identified in his book, "Consciencism" and Professor Ali Mazrui has, subsequently,popularized in his well-known documentary, "The Africans." During his early years in the Gambia he went to both Quranic and Western missionary schools. From the former he acquired the much needed knowledge to live as a Muslim and from the latter he gained mastery of the English language and British culture as exported into this part of the empire. Throughout his life in and out of the Gambia he demonstrated evidence of command of the knowledge and subtleties of Wolof culture which he imbibed at the feet of his father and other elders. He was clearly one of the most knowledgeable masters of the social geography of Wolof and Gambian society. His vast knowledge about the ways and manners of Senegambian society was always placed at the disposal of fellow country men and women. In this respect, he was very much like his late uncle, Honorable Alieu Badara Njie, the peripathetic Gambian Foreign Minister and onetime Vice-President to Sir Dawda Jawara. It was Honorable Alieu Badara Njie, who informed former President Jawara on the intricacies of family and clan realities in the Gambia. So effective was the late Honorable Njie that one Amirul Hajj told me during my diplomatic stint in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia that Njie was in many ways a master of Wolof genealogies and served the former Gambian leader as faithfully as Sayyidina Abu Bakr did to the Holy Prophet Muhammad.
Being very much a mirror image of his father, who was one of the leaders of Banjul society that enjoyed social standing and prestige in African and European circles of colonial Gambia, Dr. Mbye respected and valued Wolof culture and traditions. Like his father who combined commercial trading in the Gambian hinterland and public service through his membership in the colonial legislative council, Dr. Mbye obtained his first degree in the University of Wales in Swansea and his doctoral degree from Birmingham University. There was also another significant thread in the life of Dr. Mbye that points to his fidelity to his father's sense of family life and culture. His dedication to family and friend is proverbial. Those who know him well could testify to the devotion his wife Hajja Isatou Mbye showed throughout his life. It was his wife who stood by him through thick and thin. During the last ten years of his life he faced many health problems and what kept him going were his unflagging faith in God and the reassuring presence of his loving wife.
Colonial and Post-Colonial Services: During his tenure in both the colonial and post colonial civil service he held responsible positions. After his graduation from high school in the late fifties he worked for the government until he obtained a scholarship to do college work in the United Kingdom. Upon his return to the Gambia in 1969, the Civil Service Commission appointed him as the head of the Information Department where he supervised many of the young Gambians working as journalists in the Gambia News Bulletin and as broadcasters in the newly created Radio Gambia. Dr. Mbye will later serve as Administrative Officer in various capacities before he was seconded to serve in 1976 as the Director of Administration in the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. During the first two years of the Reagan Administration Dr. Mbye joined the African diplomats posted to Washington. He served as ambassador for several years before he resigned in 1986 to take employment with the University of Maryland at Eastern Shore, mostly because of his passion for teaching African history.
Dr. Mbye was a strong Muslim, who believed that Islam has a positive and empowering role in modern societies, including Africa. Always holding firmly to the rope of God (or Allah) and determined to make a difference in the lives of his family and friends, he never strayed away from the Islam he inherited from the Sufi masters of the Tijanniyya order. He had family members, friends and dedicated students all over the world, including his beloved Africa, and those of us who knew him will always remember him with love and affection.
* Many thanks to Professor Nyang, who provided most of the information used in this appreciation!