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Tribute to Dr. Mohamed Alpha Bah, Professor of History

29 April 2017 at 02:51 | 4544 views

Tribute to Dr. Mohamed Alpha Bah, Professor of History

By Dr. Alusine Jalloh
Founding Director of The Africa Program
The University of Texas at Arlington

I first came to know Dr. Mohamed Alpha Bah, better known as Alpha Bah to many, through my late oldest brother, Dr. Chernor M. Jalloh, Esq., both of whom were alumni of Howard University – my graduate Alma Mater. Dr. Bah knew our family over many years in Sierra Leone before pursuing further studies in the United States of America.

As a senior scholar, Dr. Bah (pictured) provided valuable long-term mentorship in my understanding of Fula history and that of the Sierra Leonean diaspora in America. In our collective efforts to broaden the published scholarship on the history of Sierra Leone to include the Fula perspective, Dr. Bah – who was passionate about Fula history - first published a book, "Fulbe Presence in Sierra Leone: A Case History of Twentieth-Century Migration and Settlement among the Kissi of Koindu" (New York: Peter Lang, 1998). In 1999, I next published a monograph, "African Entrepreneurship: Muslim Fula Merchants in Sierra Leone" (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1999). To date, these are the only single-authored history books on the Fula in Sierra Leone.

Earlier, in 1996, Professor Bah was a key inspiration in my organizing a conference at Howard University on the theme, “Islam, Culture, Commerce, and Politics in Sierra Leone. ” The conference was sponsored by the Sierra Leone Studies Association (USA), of which he and I were founding members. The proceedings of the conference were later published, Alusine Jalloh and David E. Skinner, eds. "Islam and Trade in Sierra Leone" (Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 1997). I contributed two chapters on the Fula in the book: “"Alhaji Momodu Allie: Muslim Fula Entrepreneur in Colonial Sierra Leone," and "Fula Merchants and the Motor Transport Business in Freetown, 1961-1978."

During a visit to Dr. Bah’s home institution, the College of Charleston in the United States, where he was a professor of history, Dr. Bah and his beloved late wife, Kadi (rest in peace!) were especially hospitable and convivial. I spent long hours with my learned colleague discussing Fula history and the historical evolution of the United States-based Sierra Leonean diaspora. Moreover, as directors of university centers dealing with study abroad programs in Africa, Dr. Bah enriched my insights into the opportunities and challenges of international education.

Despite his very busy professional life, Dr. Bah found time to share his expertise with colleagues and institutions in the United States and abroad. In 2005, for example, Dr. Bah graciously accepted my invitation to participate at an international conference on the United States and West Africa I convened at The University of Texas at Arlington. He made great contributions to the deliberations. The research findings were later published, Alusine Jalloh and Toyin Falola, eds. "The United States and West Africa: Interactions and Relations" (Rochester: University of Rochester Press, 2008). My chapter in the book is titled, “Sierra Leoneans in America and Homeland Politics.”

Dr. Bah worked tirelessly to promote ties between West Africa and the African diaspora. This is evidenced, for example, in the important role he played in organizing President Joseph S. Momoh’s visit to South Carolina to meet with African Americans of Sierra Leonean ancestry, and the return visit of this group to their West African homeland. Professor Bah’s contributions are captured in the documentary, “Family Across the Sea,” which has informed my teaching on the African diaspora. In addition, Dr. Bah was a strong advocate of Mano River Union unity among the three countries dearest to him: Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia.

In closing, Dr. Bah had a sharp and inquisitive mind, as well as a serene demeanor. He was also witty, kind-hearted, and self-deprecating. My deepest condolences to the Bah family. And may Alpha Bah’s soul rest in peace!