The Gambia is slowly drifting from what it used to be – the exemplary state that respects and protects the religious and cultural rights of every citizen. Apart from the so-called Jihads that were fought in the mid-1800s, I have never heard or seen Gambians fighting over what language one speaks or what religion or method one uses to worship God. Although a majority Muslim country, religion has never played a central part in our politics and I see no reason why it should now.
Those that tried to use Islam (Muslim Congress Party) were defeated by the forces of secularism. I M Garba Jahumpa and Sheikh Omar Faye, both Muslims, were defeated in the 1947 Bathurst Council election by Edward Francis Small, a Christian.
One may argue that the reason Jahumpa named his party the Muslim Congress Party was to attract Muslim voters. Our First President Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara was a Christian once in his life. His conversion back to Islam was seen by many as a political move, but I see it more as a personal choice. In fact, he won elections while still a Christian.
The point I am trying to make here is that our elders were never concerned with what religion one follows. Possibly, they saw both Islam and Christianity as foreign. These may explain the numerous interfaith marriages that existed and continue to exist in The Gambia.
The tradition of celebrating every feast together, be it Muslim or Christian, and the bonds of friendship and kinship that have been built between young Muslims and Christians are evident. I do not need to mention this; we all know what I am talking about.
Recently, What’s On Gambia posted on its Facebook page a picture of the Imam Ratib of Banjul and the Bishop of the Catholic Church shaking hands. The picture, to all Gambians, represents a deep inseparable bond that existed for more than a century. Now, we will watch and see this immeasurable tradition that united our people and country be washed away by a single individual’s greed for power. One who knows nothing about the religion he claims. It is worrying.
First it was just a simple statement declaring The Gambia an Islamic State, ignoring the stipulations within our sovereign law (the Constitution). He even threatened to change the national flag that existed way before he came to life. Some of us laughed and said this will never happen. Foroyaa came up with all the legalities and the steps needed to effect these changes and concluded that it will never happen and any attempt to implement such a change will be resisted by PDOIS. UDP also made similar observations and comments.
The only reason given by Jammeh, which still seems valid to him, is that such a move will further distance us from our colonial past. The only thing that can separate us from our colonial past is economic growth and youth empowerment, respect for human rights and freedom to worship God in whatever way one chooses.
Treat citizens as what they are: citizens and owners of The Gambia. It is not by removing The Gambia from the Commonwealth; neither is it declaring The Gambia an Islamic State that can distance us from our colonial past. There are certain things in life one cannot change. Ironically, Jammeh still uses the colonial language to make all these declarations. Funny, isn’t it?
Secondly, there is now an Executive Directive forcing all female civil servants to cover their hair at work. During the declaration/pronouncement of The Gambia as an Islamic State, Jammeh clearly stated that he did not appoint anyone to be the police of the Islamic State; that no dress code would be imposed, and that the changes will not affect non-Muslims in The Gambia.
Barely three weeks later, a directive contained in a Memo is being circulated, forcing all female civil servants (non-Muslims included) to cover their hair while at work. What would follow this? All men, to cut their trousers, no more jeans or “changals” for ladies, no boyfriend or girlfriend business, no more parties, no music, no school for girls, no women drivers, no more work for the women (only to stay at home and to be provided for by the men) and every other thing.
In fact add no December party and close the airport for tourism. Forget about the thousands of people employed by the tourism industry. All these might sound funny and utopian, but one thing I have come to realize especially watching ‘The Game of Thrones’ is that no one should take the word of a “Mad King” Lightly.
Presently, we are at a stage where the so-called Muslim elders are rushing to State House to support this illogical move, helping to “legitimise” it. What will follow next? The Council of Chiefs, then Governors, then Alkalos, Yai Compins (maybe not them because they will be at home), Youth Movements, then the security service organize a march pass to support (no music for them because it will be banned already).
With all the wrong things going on in my beloved country, I have never been this frustrated. Not even my arrest, detention and six months of going to court. I always say that all other challenges were just short term challenges that will be overcome in no time. Now, this one sickens me. As a historian, I see all these as a challenge to centuries of deeply entrenched traditions giving way to a new, manipulated system that might break us apart and entrench the small, poor and highly indebted country to abysmal poverty. I am all for progress and change when necessary, but this is no positive change and it has no place in our progress as a young nation.
The visit by the Muslim elders to State House as reported by Daily Observer has clearly shown that Jammeh and his cabinet have no idea whatsoever of what they are talking about or doing. Interestingly, I was shocked when the Vice President asked the Muslim elders to do more research on what it takes to becoming an Islamic State. Paradoxically, the Supreme Islamic Council Leader said that “the dividing line between an Islamic State and a Non Islamic State is very thin…. If there will be a difference, it will be that an Islamic republic law will strengthen the other existing laws of the country.”
Now, let us assume that Imam Touray is a very learned scholar. Indeed he is. He went to State House to support a declaration and at the same time informed the sycophants that there is no difference in practice between an Islamic State and a Non Islamic State. Perhaps like other delegates, they were fascinated by the possible name change and only that.
Since 1994, the Muslim elders have always legitimized and lent credence to the actions of Jammeh by showing support and pushing them on the wrong side of history. They have ignored all the basic teachings of Islam and sided with Jammeh in every wrong step he takes.
The most recent incident is the 2012 execution of the nine inmates. They have been insulted, threatened and bribed to keep quiet. The reason could be fear or greed. I see more of greed than fear. Those leaders that were brave enough like Baba Leigh and Ba Kawsu were shunned by the same religious scholars before they were arrested and detained. If these very people will be the guardian of the “Islamic State of Gambia”, it is better we sell the country kuneka uti for deka ak lor def.
Generally, I see all this as a wider campaign to entrench Jammeh further into the presidency and serve as a vehicle to becoming a “King” ( See my upcoming blog Jammeh’s Islamic State Declaration: A Pan African Vision or a Step to Monarchism?).
The growing campaign by dissident groups in the diaspora, the continued pressure from the international community, particularly European Union, and major human rights organizations, as well as the recent proactive approach adopted by Gambian opposition parties all threaten Jammeh’s survival directly or indirectly.
Hence, the best possible approach to solidify his position and attract support from Arab donors and Gambian Muslims is by playing the religion card. Will he succeed in transforming the Gambia into an Islamic State or will his move receive the same fate as the Muslim Congress Party? It is a decision to be made by Gambians. I prefer the present condition and will do all I can to resist any change.
Religion is a matter of individual choice. Declaring The Gambia an Islamic State will not develop the country or take Gambians to paradise. A Ticket to paradise depends on the individual and not the State. The sooner Jammeh realizes his role as a mere president and mortal, the better for The Gambia.
A president must be responsible and make responsible statements that will promote unity amidst diversity. Religious leaders must always adhere to the doctrine and not be used by anyone for any purpose, especially on “contradictory issues risky to social order of society.” Young people must continue to educate themselves so as not to be used by any individual for whatever purpose. Undeniably, this whole project is not about Islam; it is about Jammeh. The sooner we realize that as a people, the better for all of us.
I know it has been ages since I posted something on this blog. Since I am not on the ground to engage in civic education as I used to do in the previous elections, I will use this blog to share my thoughts on the upcoming elections. The idea is to engage mostly young Gambians to debate and change the present narrative of our country. I will talk on all the necessities of the upcoming election from finance, youth and women engagement, political parties and election observation. I will also be on Twitter and Facebook. Let us make best use of social media to share our thoughts and help educate each other for country and God.