By Dan Wooding, Founder of the ASSIST News Service
GAMBIA (ANS – Dec. 12, 2015) — Gambian President Yahya Jammeh has declared his Muslim-majority country an Islamic republic, saying the move marks a break with the colonial past.
According to the BBC, Mr. Jammeh told state TV the proclamation was in line with Gambia’s “religious identity and values”.
He added that no dress code would be imposed and citizens of other faiths would be allowed to practice freely.
Some 90% of Gambians are Muslim. The former British colony’s economy relies heavily on tourism.
“However, relations with the West have soured recently,” said the BBC.
“The European Union temporarily withheld aid money to Gambia last year over its poor human rights record.”
Mr. Jammeh has been president of the tiny West African country for 21 years.
“As Muslims are the majority in the country, the Gambia cannot afford to continue the colonial legacy,” Mr. Jammeh told state TV, explaining his decision to proclaim an Islamic republic.
Other Islamic republics include Iran, Pakistan and – in Africa, Mauritania.
Mr. Jammeh withdrew Gambia from the British Commonwealth in 2013, describing the organization as neo-colonial.
In 2007, he claimed to have found an herbal cure for AIDS.
Jammeh’s government has been regularly criticized by Britain and other Western powers for human rights abuses. Jammeh has ruled Gambia since seizing power in 1994.
Jeffrey Smith, a senior advocacy officer at the Robert F Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, told Al Jazeera that Jammeh’s “unilateral” decision to call Gambia an Islamic republic is part of a “larger pattern of capriciousness” and has ulterior political motives.
“Gambia is not a country of laws but is rather ruled by the whims of Yahya Jammeh,” Smith said
“Second, Jammeh has burned all bridges with his former donors in the West due to his deplorable human rights track record and the rampant corruption that he has participated in.
“As such, he is desperately attempting to foster a closer and more lucrative relationship with the Arab world. By couching his decision in terms of ‘fighting colonialism’, we can see that he is trying to cozy up with other parts of the world that harbor anti-West sentiments,” he said.
Jammeh’s announcement came after Gambia said on Wednesday it would take in Rohingya refugees as part of its “sacred duty” to alleviate the suffering of fellow Muslims fleeing Southeast Asia to escape oppression.
The government of the West African nation appealed to countries of the region to send Rohingya refugees to its shores, where it said it would set them up in refugee camps.
“The government of Gambia notes with grave concern the inhumane condition of the Rohingya people of Myanmar – especially those referred to as ‘boat people’ – currently drifting in the seas off the coast of Malaysia and Indonesia,” it said in a statement.
“As human beings – more so fellow Muslims – it is a sacred duty to help alleviate the untold hardships and sufferings fellow human beings are confronted with.”
Photo captions: 1) Gambian President Yahya Jammeh. 2) Muslims in a prayer vigil. 3) Dan Wooding.
About the writer: Dan Wooding, 74, is an award-winning author, broadcaster and journalist who was born in Nigeria of British missionary parents, and is now living in Southern California with his wife Norma, to whom he has been married for 52 years. They have two sons, Andrew and Peter, and six grandchildren who all live in the UK. He is the author of some 45 books and has two TV programs and one radio show in Southern California.
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