Gambian Godfather

Gambian Godfather


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



Deen says police prejudice against Africans is still there. Not even the godfather could escape police brutality. He once stayed two days in police custody because he did not carry his identity card with him. Deen also cites the case of a Nigerian who was reportedly beaten



The Gambian Godfather

By Hakeem Babalola


In the early 90’s shortly after the collapse of communism, Africans started exploring another part of the world in order to experiment whether the Central Europe would become another haven just like the Western Europe where majority of Africans considered as their second home. Among these explorers were Steve Aboaba and Mufutau Hassan. These two men wanted to remain in Hungary but Foreigners’ Police Office wouldn’t renew their residence permit, even though both had reasons to stay. Aboaba had Hungarian wife, a daughter and a job. Hassan was then an expectant father and an athlete. But they were told to leave the country.

The two men’s plight seemed impossible to resolve until one man came to their aid. Like almost every African living in Hungary they turned to the man who is known across Hungary’s vibrant African community as a fighter for their rights. But who is this man? He is Mr. Deen. (That is what they call him). He is a Gambian, who is now Hungarian citizen, but prefers African. One can describe him as the godfather with passion for helping people though some see him as a show father who loves blowing his own trumpet. Today, although Aboaba has left the country, Hassan is now a naturalized Hungarian, living with his Hungarian wife and children.

Unlike most godfathers, this one is not rich, he does not wear ostentatious clothes or jewelry, and he does not kill or inspire violence. Instead he is a fighter for human rights, which is why he founded the Mahatma Gandhi Human Rights Movements in 1992 with the aim of fighting injustice, integrating with Hungarians and promoting African culture. Gibril Deen, who turned 60 on February 17, is also the organizer and team manager of Afrikai Star Football Club.   

Stocky in build with an imposing presence, Deen left the shore of Africa when many of us here were either in primary or secondary school, or not even born yet. He came to Hungary to study history and political science, and later printing and graphics arts. Like most of his contemporaries, he stayed after completing his studies. He then attended courses on trade unionism and sport management. “I’ve devoted all of my life to human rights activities and I’ll fight for anyone,” he says.

And he had fought many of those battles especially in the early 90’s when things were rough for Africans living here. For instance, he secured the release of Austin, a Nigerian imprisoned for drug related offenses. “Mr. Deen is a superman,” says Austin who is now in Canada. “He did everything possible to get me out. May God bless him.”   

The godfather’s citywide web of contracts had also helped students obtain scholarships that allow them to stay in the country. Abubakar Toure, a Liberian, whose parents were reportedly killed in that country’s civil war, describes Deen as a good man. “When all hopes seemed lost, he secured a scholarship for me. I will never forget him.”            

Although skinhead attacks are not heard of these days, the Mahatma Gandhi Movement was formed partly to combat discrimination by some disgruntled youths as well as official discrimination against Africans living in Hungary. “In the 90s, political freedom encouraged the growth of racism and helped trigger skinhead attacks,” says Deen. “They waged war against us and we had to defend ourselves by peaceful means. We are living here, working here, we have family here, and we have been given permission to stay. But the nationalistic thinkers want to drive us away.”

According to Deen, more than four hundred African students left Hungary in 1992 because of racist attacks. “Under communism it was safe for everyone to walk the streets, whatever their colour. During the 70s nobody disturbed you or asked what you were doing here. People were sympathetic and friendly in those days, although even now most people still are. But integration into Hungarian society is not easy because of the language, and partly because many Hungarians still find it difficult to accept foreigners in their midst.”

Deen says police prejudice against Africans is still there. Not even the godfather could escape police brutality. He once stayed two days in police custody because he did not carry his identity card with him. Deen also cites the case of a Nigerian who was reportedly beaten with truncheons and planks and kicked until he lost consciousness by two police officers at a detention camp. However, the godfather admits some Africans engage in criminal activities, but he believes this does not warrant such hypothetical reasoning that all Africans living in Hungary are the same.

The courts offer no relief. “Judges don’t judge things right,” says Deen. The godfather also frowns at the way the Interior Ministry treats cases involving Africans married to Hungarian women. “They don’t respect intermarriage that much,” he says, adding that police seldom answer court summons in such cases. “In fact, the foreigners’ law is still difficult for many foreigners to understand. Hence they should always seek legal advice.”

Although Deen has helped asylum seekers from Africa and Middle East secure refugee status, he claims many Hungarians “see us as economic refugees”, who should go back to their different countries. Even with refugee status, “you’re treated as a second class citizen”. Deen thinks their prejudice stems from ignorance.

He argues that most Hungarians have not met African intellectuals, so they don’t really know us that much. Another reason, according to him, is because of the negative reports on Africa. “It definitely takes a strong mind not to be swayed by constant false portrayal of Africa by the Western media.” 

Unemployment is one of many problems confronting Africans in Hungary.

Deen says it’s difficult for Africans to secure a reasonable job. Even if Africans find a position, “we would be the first to go in case of redundancy.” Although he believes everybody has a future, Deen doesn’t see that future for Africans who wants to work in Hungary. “Language,” he says, “is number one predicament.” He suggests that new African immigrants should “learn the language as quickly as possible.”

As a result of unemployment, many Africans have resorted to self-employment, ranging from forming their own Human Rights Organizations to selling in the market to having their own shops to forming musical bands. Perhaps it was unemployment problems that prompted Deen to establish Afrikai Star Football Club in 1994. However, one thing is certain: He strongly believes sports, and football in particular, is a great way to bring interpersonal awareness. The Afrikai Star Football Club represented Hungary in FIFA’s Fair Play Football Against Racism in Europe, which took place in Italy recently. “But unfortunately many Hungarians do not like the fact that Africans are representing Hungary in such competitions,” he says with a little grimace.

Although Deen is admired and respected by some, others dislike him for blowing his own trumpet. Biodun Alabi, a pharmacist and former member of Afrikai Star Football Club, says Deen talks too much but sees him as an interesting, responsible and a Saviour. “If Mr. Deen helps you, hundreds of people will know.”

Williams Ejalu, a legal practitioner, agrees with such accusation. He describes Deen as an elderly that should be respected, but unfortunately he seems to always chew more than he could swallow. “He is fond of boasting that, he had helped every African in Hungary,” adding that such behaviour is not characteristic of an elderly person.

While some of his associates see his self-promotion as a fault, Deen sees it as a virtue. “They say I talk too much, but they don’t know it is part of my job,” he asserts. The godfather does not deny his love of publicity. “They use me. They gain from me. Even they once accused me of embezzlement, yet they want me to keep quiet. The problem is African man doesn’t want another to progress. That is our problem. If they can’t thank me, they should leave me in peace.”

It does not end there, as some even accused him of being naive. They alleged that Deen often allowed himself to be used by those involved in shady business like human trafficking. “Many have exploited him,” says Godwin Njoku, an English teacher cum Human Rights activist. “Deen works a lot and does his job with good heart but can’t keep a client’s secret.”

It’s certain the godfather is now guiding against his name being dragged into the mud. “Deen has done his best, and is now protecting his name,” says Peter Ihaza, Nigerian Union President, adding that if Deen suspects someone is up to something shady, he’s most likely avoid you. Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown, they say. Maybe that’s the price this man has to pay for caring about the plight of fellow immigrants in a foreign country.

posted 11 July 2007

Hakeem Babalola is currently teaching English Communication in Budapest, Hungary. He loves writing, a vehicle by which he rides to relieve himself of certain emotions. His articles have appeared in Nigerian newspapers including Nigerian Tribune, Daily Champion, Vanguard, Daily Trust respectively. He is also a contributor to several online magazines like,, voiceofnigerians and a host of others. Hakeem is a member of Association of Hungarian Journalists.  

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Escape from Slavery: The True Story

of My Ten Years in Captivity and My Journey to Freedom in America

By Francis Bok

Seven-year-old Francis Piol Bol Buk was living happily on his family’s southern Sudan farm. One day in 1986, he was sent on errands to the marketplace. There, a slave raid ripped him from his contented life and threw him into a wretched existence serving under a northern Sudanese Arab. After he escaped at age 17, Buk made his way to Cairo with a black market passport incorrectly listing his name as Bok and became a U.N. refugee allowed to settle in the U.S. in 1999.

Although he found contentment in Iowa among other refugees, the following year Bok decided to work with an American antislavery organization, and testified before Congress about the atrocities in Sudan. While this is a remarkable story, its power is conveyed most effectively through Bok’s simple retelling. His sincerity compels, especially when he describes the decade of mistreatment he endured. After two failed escape attempts, he’s told he’ll be killed in the morning, and while bound, he thinks of the morning ahead: “I would be dead and finally through with this place and this family. My mind preferred death.” Yet when his master changes his mind, Bok immediately starts plotting again. For all his emotional strength, though, Bok remains humble. He thanks God and everyone who helps him escape slavery. This is a powerful, exceptionally well-told story, equally riveting and heartbreaking. Although legal strides have been made, with the help of people like Bok, the persistence of slavery in the world makes this a work that can’t be ignored.—Publishers Weekly

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As a seven-year-old boy growing up in the southern Sudan, Bok was caught up in a raid on a regional market center when marauders from the north set upon the market, killing the men and kidnapping the women and children to work as farm slaves. He went from a loving and supportive extended family to the brutality of slavery in a strange land and culture, dominated by Muslims who considered him a Christian infidel. After enduring 10 years of slavery, Bok escaped to freedom in Cairo, where he became a U.N. refugee, eventually making his way to the U.S. at the age of 21. Having learned Arabic in Northern Sudan and English in America, Bok, with incredible determination, became involved in the antislavery movement, speaking around the country while seeking to earn a high-school degree. Yet it is his simple account of being a child cut off from his family and culture that shows the inhumanity of slavery. Bok’s saga provides another—more contemporary—perspective on slavery for Americans reckoning with their own troubling history of such inhumanity. Vernon Ford—Booklist

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Slave: My True Story

By Mende Nazer

Born into the Karko tribe in the Nuba mountains of northern Sudan, Nazer has written a straightforward, harrowing memoir that’s a sobering reminder that slavery still needs to be stamped out. The first, substantial section of the book concentrates on Nazer’s idyllic childhood, made all the more poignant for the misery readers know is to come. Nazer is presented as intelligent and headstrong, and her people as peaceful, generous and kind. In 1994, around age 12 (the Nuba do not keep birth records), Nazer was snatched by Arab raiders, raped and shipped to the nation’s capital, Khartoum, where she was installed as a maid for a wealthy suburban family. (For readers expecting her fate to include a grimy factory or barren field, the domesticity of her prison comes as a shock.)

To Nazer, the modern landscape of Khartoum could not possibly have been more alien; after all, she had never seen even a spoon, a mirror or a sink, much less a telephone or television set. Nazer’s urbane tormentors—mostly the pampered housewife—beat her frequently and dehumanized her in dozens of ways. They were affluent, petty, and calculatedly cruel, all in the name of “keeping up appearances.” The contrast between Nazer’s pleasant but “primitive” early life and the horrors she experienced in Khartoum could hardly be more stark; it’s an object lesson in the sometimes dehumanizing power of progress and creature comforts. After seven years, Nazer was sent to work in the U.K., where she contacted other Sudanese and eventually escaped to freedom. Her book is a profound meditation on the human ability to survive virtually any circumstances.—Publishers Weekly

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Alek: My Life from Sudanese Refugee to International Supermodel

By Alek Wek

“When I cleaned toilets, I only saw it as work to give me the means to achieve my goals. Of course I hated it,” the Sudanese supermodel exclaimed. “Waking up at 4 a.m. when it’s freezing cold is not easy, followed by Uni, coursework and my evening baby-sitting job, but it made me disciplined and gave me a huge sense of self-appreciation.”

Born the seventh of nine children Alek, meaning ‘black-spotted cow’ (one of Sudan’s most treasured cows, which represents good luck), never dreamt of becoming a model. Both in her motherland, where she was considered to be inferior due to her Dinka tribe (dubbed as ‘zurqa’, meaning dirty black) and again in Britain when she arrived in 1991, she faced hostility.

Since being scouted Wek has been in several high-profile music videos, done ads for Issey Miyake, Moschino, Victoria’s Secret and Clinique, as well as strutted the runway for fashion designers John Galliano, Donna Karen, Calvin Klein and Ermanno Scervino – to name a few. The Dinka beauty who was the first black model who didn’t conform to a Caucasian aesthetic also scored an acting role in 2002, debuting in The Four Feathers as Sudanese princess Aquol. . . .

“When I was granted permission to re-enter the country and I had the opportunity to revisit my old life, I realised that I need closure because my life has transformed so much. But with the closure I was seeking, I also realised that I had an open book to move forward. Once I returned to my new home in Brooklyn, I had a burning desire to transcribe my feelings into memoirs,” she said. . . .

Maintaining her Dinka traditions while living in the Big Apple, Wek always speaks to her mother in their traditional language and talks Arabic with her sisters. Wek lives with her boyfriend of four years, Riccardo Sala, an Italian who works in property but, most importantly, Wek brings her past life to the kitchen table by cooking traditional Dinka food such as okra stew and dried fish, creating aromas from her small town in Wau in her East Side, New York, kitchen.—Jamaica-Gleaner

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Word, Image, and the New Negro

By Anne Carroll

The author’s analysis of how the illustrations amplify and create tension with the writing and how they empower and sometimes disempower their subjects is the first critical work in this important area. Generously illustrated. Highly recommended.— Choice

In tracing the formation of the idea of the New Negro through the vital interplay of literature, art, and social criticism, Word, Image, and the New Negro makes a superb contribution to scholarship on the Harlem Renaissance, the history of African American publishing, and modern American culture.—Eric J. Sundquist, author of To Wake the Nations: Race in the Making of American Literature 

The first detailed comparative analysis of the mix of text and illustration in the major African American magazines and anthologies of the 1910s and 1920s. It is a major advance in our understanding of what amounted to innovative collage forms articulated to race and politics. Carefully theorized and rich with persuasive readings, the book should appeal not only to literary scholars but also to anyone interested in modernity and the little magazine.—Cary Nelson, author of Revolutionary Memory

A very welcome contribution to the contemporary rethinking of the period. By calling our attention to the images that consistently and significantly appeared alongside some of the well-remembered texts of the Harlem Renaissance, Carroll foregrounds the very modernity that the New Negro Movement sought self-consciously to embrace…. Carroll’s eye for the particular will have both a helpful and inspiring effect on readers who want to continue building on the work she has done here.—Net Reviews

This book focuses on the collaborative illustrated volumes published during the Harlem Renaissance, in which African Americans used written and visual texts to shape ideas about themselves and to redefine African American identity. Anne Elizabeth Carroll argues that these volumes show how participants in the movement engaged in the processes of representation and identity formation in sophisticated and largely successful ways. Though they have received little scholarly attention, these volumes constitute an important aspect of the cultural production of the Harlem Renaissance. Word, Image, and the New Negro marks the beginning of a long-overdue recovery of this legacy and points the way to a greater understanding of the potential of texts to influence social change.—

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Spectres of 1919: Class and Nation in the Making of the New Negro

By Barbara Foley

A carefully argued, nuanced presentation of the genesis of the Harlem Renaissance. Foley’s breadth of knowledge in American radical history is impressive.—American Literature

Foley’s book is a lucid and useful one… A heavyweight intervention, it prompts significant rethinking of the ideological and representational strategies structuring the era.—Journal of American Studies  

Foley does a masterful job of analyzing the racial and political theories of a wide range of black and white figures, from the radical Left to the racist Right… Students of African American political and cultural history in the early twentieth century cannot ignore this book. Essential.—Choice

In our current time of crisis, when ruling classes busily promote nationalism and racism to conceal the class nature of their inter-imperialist rivalries, one can only hope that readers will not be daunted by Foley’s dedication to analyzing the ideological milieu of the 1920s that contributed to the eclipse of New Negro radicalism by New Negro nationalism.—Science & Society

With the New Negro movement and the Harlem Renaissance, the 1920s was a landmark decade in African American political and cultural history, characterized by an upsurge in racial awareness and artistic creativity. In Spectres of 1919 Barbara Foley traces the origins of this revolutionary era to the turbulent year 1919, identifying the events and trends in American society that spurred the black community to action and examining the forms that action took as it evolved.

Unlike prior studies of the Harlem Renaissance, which see 1919 as significant mostly because of the geographic migrations of blacks to the North, Spectres of 1919 looks at that year as the political crucible from which the radicalism of the 1920s emerged. Foley draws from a wealth of primary sources, taking a bold new approach to the origins of African American radicalism and adding nuance and complexity to the understanding of a fascinating and vibrant era.—

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery /

George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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updated 24September 2008




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Related files: The Second Slavery Ship  Living with Immigration Torture   A Nightclub Forbidden to African  Nigerians Blood on their Hands  Gambian Godfather  They Make Me Hate My Type   Life as African Hungarian 

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