20th January 2018
Tribute to Late Dr. Mohamed Alpha Bah, the Unassuming Professor of History
By Dr. Alusine Jalloh (18/05/17)
I first came to know Dr. Mohamed Alpha Bah, better known as Alpha Bah, through my late oldest brother, Dr. Chernor M. Jalloh, Esq.
Both of whom were alumi of Howard University - my graduate Alma Mater. Alpha Bah knew our family over many years in Sierra Leone before pursuing further studies in the United States of America. (Pictured: Dr. Bah, may his gentle soul rest in peace).
As a senior scholar, Dr. Bah 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 an international 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 was a founding member. The proceedings were later published, Alusine Jalloh and David E. Skinner, eds "Islam and Trade in Sierra Leone" (Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 1997).
During a visit to Dr. Bah's home institution, the College of Charleston, where he was a professor of history, Dr. Bah and his beloved late wife, Kadie (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, Professor 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, Professor 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 subsequently published, Alusine Jalloh and Toyin Falola, eds. "The United States and West Africa: Interactions and Relations (Rochester: University of Rochester Press, 2008).
Dr. Bah worked tirelessly to promote ties between West Africa and the African Diaspora. This is evidenced, for instance, in the important role he played in organizing late President Joseph Saidu 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, Alpha Bah had a sharp and inquisitive mind, as well as a serene demeanour. He was also witty, kind-hearted, and self-deprecating. My deepest condolences go to the Bah family. And may Alpha Bah's soul rests in peace!
Courtesy: By Dr. Alusine Jalloh Founding Director, The Africa Program The University of Texas at Arlington