RESTON, USA (Sudanow) - Among all pioneer founders of Sudanese journalism, one may justifiably state that Mr. Mohamed Ahmed Al-Salamabi was a consummate journalist of distinguished achievements, a creative capitalist with visible track of documented community-development contributions, and most notable of all he was a man with a big heart.
In his capacity as professional journalist and national capitalist, Al-Salamabi was very successful in turning his words into deeds through extended philanthropic projects, specifically in the fields of health and education. Ever since the mid-nineteen-forties he had been writing scores of articles stressing the need to develop education and health facilities in Sudan; and when he obtained capital resources he truthfully acted upon his words and openhandedly employed those capital resources in establishing schools, hospitals and child healthcare centres.
I am personally one of the beneficiaries of Al-Salamabi’s philanthropic deeds as I studied in Al-Salamabi Intermediate School at Al-Fasher City, far away from the capital of Sudan, Khartoum. Another colleague of mine, smart journalist Mahjoub Mohamed Ahmed who died prematurely at the age of 35, was also a graduate of the same school, together with many others.
A memorable incidence at that early age was when our Arabic tutor, Mr. Abdel Karim, asked us at the last Arabic period before the final exams to speak about what we aspire for as a career upon graduation. When it was my turn to speak, I said I wanted to be a journalist in the same style as the founder of our school, who was Mr. Al-Salamabi, of course.
It is noteworthy that thousands of graduates of Al-Salamabi School at Al-Fasher have become physicians, some of whom now practise in the USA, senior army officers, engineers, UN translators, athletes such as Football Coach Mohamed Al-Fatih Hijazi of Al-Hilal Club, who used to sit in the first row at class. Those graduates with their outstanding career achievements in varied fields stand out, in essence, as material evidence of what I mean by the heading of this article.
Moreover, Al-Salamabi’s philanthropic deeds as ‘creative capitalist’ were not confined to Al-Fasher Intermediate School alone but extended to cover other areas within Sudan. For example, he had established, through Al-Salamabi Philanthropic Society, from 1970 to 1977, many hospitals and schools at various parts of Sudan including Burri Elementary School for Girls (Khartoum State), a 64-bed capacity hospital at Karkoj in the Blue Nile Province (now Sinnar State), Al-Gedarif Secondary School for Girls (east Sudan), Al-Fasher General Secondary School for Boys (Darfur region), a 32-bed capacity child-care hospital at Kassala town (east Sudan), a 64-bed capacity child-care hospital at Atbara town (north Sudan), an elementary school for boys at Jazira Abba (central Sudan), a healthcare centre in Gissan of the Blue Nile State, a healthcare centre in Burri/Imtidad Nassir (Khartoum State), a rehabilitation centre for persons with hearing and speech disabilities at the social care city of Soba - Khartoum, a childcare ward at Kadogli Hospital in South Kordufan, and most recently Al-Salamabi Healthcare Centre in Burri District of Khartoum which was rehabilitated and equipped with modern apparatus and manned with competent medical and nursing staff. This healthcare centre is being managed by his daughter internal & rheumatism medicine specialist Dr. Imtithal, where the centre allocates one day per week for free consultation and treatment of all cases without discrimination.
Al-Salamabi had also been active in providing scholarships and grant subsidies to the University of Khartoum and other institutions. In this respect Prof. Elamin Abdel Rahman Eissa stated that, “On 3rd October 1964, Al-Salamabi made a grant equal to SDG 20 million, in today’s currency, to the University of Khartoum, of which SDG 12 million was allocated to scholarships, SDG 4 million allotted as bursary for needy students, and another SDG 4 million earmarked as awards under the title “Al-Salamabi Award” for best researches in Sudanese related fields. Within three years the grant amount was raised to an equivalent amount of SDG 30 million, to be raised further within the subsequent 5 years to an equivalent amount of SDG 40 million, and was raised once again to an equivalent of SDG 240 million within the following period of 5 years. In September 1975, 5% of the annual income of Al-Salamabi Charity Institution (i.e. equivalent of around SDG 60 million) was earmarked for encouraging scientific research, while 10% of the institution’s annual income (i.e. equivalent of around SDG 120 million) was earmarked for honor or first division achievers in all faculties provided that the value of every single award shall not be less than SDG 1 million or more than SDG 2 million. In 1976, the value of total award grants allocated to the Institute of Afro-Asian Studies was raised from the equivalent of SDG 10 million to SDG 20 million in today’s currency. Also an amount equivalent to SDG 150 million was allocated for three scholarships for postgraduate studies. A further amount of SDG 20 million was also allocated as student bursary subsidies to the Student Affairs Deanship”.
Mr. Elamin further added that, “In the academic year 1977 – 1978 Al-Salamabi provided an amount equivalent to SDG 240 million, as per today’s value, in grants to the University of Khartoum, of which SDG 50 million was earmarked to the School of Mathematics, SDG 10 million in annual subsidies to the Faculty of Engineering, SDG 4 million as subsidies to the Faculty of Medicine‘s association, and SDG 6 million to cover medical treatment expenses of a needy female student. In the academic year 1978 – 1979, Mr. Al-Salamabi undertook an application to providing boarding accommodation for postgraduate students at the University of Khartoum. He also agreed to sponsor the execution of the second Olympic scheme for secondary school students at a total cost of SDG 200 million as per today’s value”.
In the above section I tried to name but a few of Al-Salamabi’s numerous achievements which I am presenting as model to our present-day wealthy tycoons, the most of whom have greedily capitalized on our people’s miseries, to show them how a creative national capitalist can contribute to the community development of his country rather than add to its miseries. Al-Salamabi never thought of transferring his wealth to foreign banks abroad or investing his funds in acquiring properties in foreign countries. Rather he had opted, at free will, to use and invest his rightly-earned assets and funds to the benefit of his own country and fellow citizens, not anticipating any personal thanks or rewards.
If Al-Salamabi had been after political gains from his benevolent deeds, as many of our present-day self-proclaimed philanthropists do, he would’ve assumed high political positions, but he preferred to do what he liked most: to stay close to ordinary people and help them in order to get closer to Allah the Almighty, well knowing that earthly riches are God-gifted, and accordingly have to be spent in what God like most: ‘helping the needy’.
It is noteworthy that Al-Salamabi charity investment projects covered almost every corner of Sudan. He was never an ethnic or tribal-oriented person to focus his investments on one or two areas in exclusion of other areas. He almost had established projects at different remote rural areas in many parts of Sudan. This in addition to the subsidies he had earmarked for needy students, the hospitals he had built and other services he had provided to his fellow citizens without any discrimination on basis of religion, ethnicity or otherwise.
In an interview with ‘Al-Adwa’a’ newspaper Mr. Mohamed Ahmed Al-Salamabi introduced himself as follows: “I was born in Karkoj village, at the Fonj District, on 17th March 1920, to a poor family. In 1926 I was enrolled in elementary school. I completed elementary level in 1930. Though I had always been ahead of my class, I did not proceed to intermediate level because my father was a poor farmer at the time. So, I left school to help my father with his farming work.”
His daughter, Ms. Wisal Mohammed Ahmed Al-Salamabi, stated that her father’s engagement in philanthropic activities had roots in an Arabic poetic line that his mother, Fatma Ali Rahama, used to sing for him ever since he was very young, as she used to say to him “Your Mom has born you to serve, not her alone, Dear, but all her peers”. That song gave him motive to provide all type of services he could muster to every friend of his and of his mom; that is to say to every Sudanese citizen.
Ms. Wisal added that “My father’s main concern was to fight and conquer ignorance, hunger and disease. His charity institution was the first of its kind in Sudan. It was first run from his office at the publishing house. Then he established a separate office to secure privacy and time for charity applicants. That was the first lesson we learnt firsthand from him: to give charity in secret. At the entrance to his office a frame containing the following Quranic verse was hung: ‘But to those who treasure up gold and silver and expend it not in the Way of God, announce tidings of a grievous torment’. My father waged war against ignorance because he believed that ignorance was the father of poor health and poor economy as well. That is why he established schools in rural areas to educate the poor. In fact all through his life he was keen on doing everything that could raise the living standards of Sudanese people and help them to enjoy a dignified lifestyle.”
In brief, Al-Salamabi’s history profile tells of a very persistent character that stood up to all challenges of life and emerged out victoriously. He managed to compensate his regular-learning gap through self-education until he became the notable journalist, whose memory we now celebrate. He started his journalistic career as correspondent in Al-Gedarif where he really excelled. Then he was contracted by “Al-Rai Al-Aam” newspaper to act as resident reporter in their head office at Khartoum. In Khartoum he worked hard to enhance and polish his journalistic talent, where he worked for a number of newspapers until he ended up as chief editor of ‘Sawt El-Soudan’ newspaper. Through persistence and hard work, he managed to stand shoulder to shoulder with pioneer Sudanese journalists such as Bashir Mohamed Saeed, Abdel Rahman Mukhtar, Sidahmed Nugdalla, Abdalla Rajab, Mohamed El-Hasan Ahmed and others.
As a journalist, Al-Salamabi was known for his fluent artistic style. He also tended to raise awareness through critique, such as in this quotation from an article he wrote about ‘learning outcomes’ in Sudan, where he stated: “A student would graduate with sole hope that he would become a civil servant. A farmer’s son who graduates from intermediate level would consider it shameful to work in his father’s farm. He would therefore stay unemployed for years looking for a civil service job whatever menial it may be. A hairdresser’s son who graduates from secondary school would also feel ashamed to work as hairdresser, so does the child of a carpenter, grocer, mason, milkman, etc, since everyone’s dream is to find a job where he can wear a full suit and sit at a desk in a government office, rather than use their learning and thinking to develop their fathers’ business, or else use such learning and thinking to start an innovative way of doing normal business such as opening a corner canteen to toast Sudanese peanuts and present it to customers nicely wrapped in foil. This way one could muster much more money in days than what he might earn in a month from a civil service job.”
This statement as delivered above by Al-Salamabi half a century ago is now recognized as a new economic trend in advanced countries. It is known as “small business” investment, where investors start hairdressing, carpeting or grocery outlets with a small amount of capital to quickly and gradually develop into big business style. Most large-scale investments in the West did start as small business investments then developed into big businesses of billions and billions of income.
By highlighting our patronizing attitude towards small businesses and professions, I do think Al-Salamabi presented a profound critique of our Sudanese collective unconscious psyche. Unfortunately, the situation now is even worse, where farmers, carpenters, grocers and even herdsmen are burdened with taxes by the government to the extent that their children find it very inconvenient to carry on their fathers’ trades. Moreover, continued wars and unsettled conflicts in remote rural regions of the country have added oil to an already blazing situation. In a bid to save their lives, villagers have deserted their villages, farms and pastures and come to settle in squalid conditions at the outskirts of urban cities and towns. Things have even deteriorated to the extent that we are now importing garlic and tomato. I am afraid there will come a day when we would earmark millions of dollars to import lemon.
I have noticed that many articles written by Al-Salamabi at the prime of his career in the nineteen-fifties and nineteen-sixties were full of advanced and liberating ideas as well as scientific critique of Sudanese social and behavioral attitudes. At the same time he provided alternatives as to what should be adopted from his standpoint of view. It would appear that the same type of opportunist mentalities that Al-Salamabi stood up to in the nineteen fifties and sixties are still active in opposing and countering reform projects that Al-Salamabi and other pioneer reformers of his time stood for.
On the whole, Al-Salamabi is a striking model of an individual who has managed to conquer poverty twice, and provide charity investment contributions that overbalance the contributions of many leading politicians who have inherited thousands upon thousands hectares of agricultural land. In the first instance, though he missed the opportunity to proceed further up in his regular education to intermediate level, Al-Salamabi took it upon himself to continue self-education until he made it big as talented journalist. In the second instance, Al-Salamabi managed to educate the poor and help them to conquer poverty and live a dignified life.
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