Gambia Now An Islamic State
Gambia’s president declared his country an Islamic state Friday, in an effort to break away from its colonial past.
President Yahya Jammeh’s announcement does not align Gambia with ISIS, or any other jihadist or radical Islamist group.
Jammeh said that there will be no mandates on dress. “We will be an Islamic state that would respect the rights of all citizens and non-citizens,” he told followers at a political rally in the coastal village Brufut, about 15 kilometers (9 miles) west of the capital, Banjul.
About 90-percent of Gambia’s 1.8 million citizens are Muslim.
The announcement follows Jammeh’s move to take Gambia out of the British Commonwealth in October 2013. He is the first leader to pull his country out of the Commonwealth since Robert Mugabe chose to withdraw Zimbabwe in 2003.
“Gambia cannot afford to continue the colonial legacy,” Jammeh said on Friday. The country gained independence from Britain in 1965.
The eccentric leader came to power in a military coup nearly 20 years ago and survived a botched coup attempt in December 2014; among the conspirators were a handful of U.S. nationals.
Jammeh has been accused of humanitarian crimes, including a national campaign against “witches.” In 2008, he said he would “cut off the head” of gays found in his country. The United States condemned Gambia for alleged persecution, detention and torture of homosexuals in December 2014.
The self-declared “sheikh professor” also claims to have personally discovered a cure for AIDS.
Hamat Bah of the opposition National Reconciliation Party criticized Jammeh’s Friday declaration. “There is a constitutional clause that says that Gambia is a secular state,” he said. “You cannot make such a declaration without going through a referendum.”
Jammeh made no mention on how the country’s secular laws or constitution would be changed.