The Gambia, like all other countries, has its own peculiar problems, which include both economic and social. However, in our own case, those problems are also compounded by the very attitude and comportment of no less a person than our own head of state.
It is indeed very hard for anyone to imagine why President Yahya Jammeh would spend a greater chunk of his time always talking about religious matters and scheming to transform the Gambia into an Islamic State when he has other much more relevant mundane issues to deal with. We have recently seen, for instance, that every time he opens his mouth, all that he talks about are matters dealing with Islam like he is the Imam Ratib instead of an elected head of state. Rather than concentrate on affairs of the state and leave the preaching to the Imams, he is all the time encroaching into their domain.
We have seen that during every occasion that he addressed the nation, including his recent State Opening of Parliament, rather than concentrate on the dire economic and social situation confronting Gambians, his emphasis had always hinged on the Gambia being an Islamic State, emphasizing that Muslims form the majority of the population, as if that matters to anyone. He certainly seems to be obsessed with religion, which is definitely not his domain as a head of state of a secular nation like the Gambia.
Unlike what is expected of the head of state of a democracy, he neither seeks advice nor entertains anyone’s contrary views on the subject. We have seen for instance that in Liberia, when there was a proposal to change the constitution and declare Liberia a Christian nation, there was a vocal opposition to the idea and the government listened to them. That is exactly what we expect from a leadership that respects the people.
During the State Opening of Parliament for instance, President Jammeh admitted that religion is a personal affair, and yet, he is doing everything possible, even to the extent of violating the Constitution to transform the Gambia into an Islamic State, which will no doubt result in regulating the personal lives of the citizens and also disadvantaging those with contrary views as well as the minorities. It is quite obvious that a vast majority of Gambians would prefer him to concentrate on his role as head of state rather than encroach into the roles of the Imams and other religious leaders. As head of state of a multi-cultural and multi-religious secular nation, he is expected to steer clear off direct interference into religious matters.
We are told to “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s”, but in President Jammeh’s case, he seems to be trying to perform both roles which definitely would not auger well for the country’s social cohesion.
Another unfortunate phenomenon in almost all his speeches is the tendency to clearly divide Gambians into Muslims and Christians, by saying “We” (Muslims) and “They” (Christians), as if he is talking about two different nations, and by implication, treating our Christian compatriots as second-class citizens. It is definitely quite unfair for him to discriminate against the Christian minority in his unjustified drive to transform the Gambia into an Islamic State.
Therefore, his recent donation of a huge sum of money to the ‘Christian Community’ is seen by some people as a shrewd attempt to bribe them into submission to his scheme to implement his unorthodox religious ideas.
There is absolutely no doubt that a vast majority of Gambians had been quite happy and comfortable with the status quo, with the Gambia always being seen as a haven of peace and religious tolerance, and therefore, with his encouragement of the Islamic fundamentalists and radical elements, he seems to be steering the country into an unpredictable future.
Looking at all the possible negative implications of President Jammeh’s uncompromising push to transform this country into an Islamic State, one would wonder what benefits there are both for him and the citizens by adopting such radical religious views when the rest of the world seem to be on the side of moderation and peaceful-co-existence. There are those with the view that his objective is to attract economic assistance from conservative Arab states, but is it really worth all the trouble he is subjecting ordinary Gambians to?
Meanwhile, as President Jammeh is busy trying to implement his Islamic State project, relations between the Gambia and Senegal have taken a nose-dive, with the closure of the border, prompted by the decision of the Gambia Ports Authority to unilaterally increase the tariffs for Senegalese transports on the ferries at the Trans-Gambia crossing.
It appears at first the Gambian authorities did not take the border closure seriously, hoping that like in the past, the Senegalese transporters will make noise for a brief period and things will get back to normal. However, with the border closure lasting for more than a month now, with economic activities at the Trans-Gambia ferry crossing as well as at almost all border crossings being virtually at a stand still, they are beginning to feel the pinch, particularly after the government losing the hundreds of thousands of Dalasis they used to collect on a daily basis from the ferries.
While the Gambian authorities seem to be on their knees to get the blockade lifted through diplomatic channels, but it appears the Senegalese are not ready to play ball unless the Gambian side meets certain conditions. These include reversing the decision to increase the ferry tariffs, as well as the Gambian authorities expediting the construction of the Trans-Gambia Bridge and repatriation of the Senegalese fugitive from justice. Boy Djinne, who had been allowed to remain in the Gambia, ignoring Senegal’s request for his extradition.
There are also reports that the Gambia has written a letter of complaint against Senegal to the ECOWAS Commission on the border closure, accusing Senegal of subjecting the Gambia to some economic blockade. However, Senegal is said to have insisted that that letter must first be withdrawn before any negotiations would take place between officials of the two countries.
Whatever the outcome of the negotiations, it is quite certain that the Gambia, being the obvious under-dog, in this instance, would have to make some concessions before things get back to normal.
By D. A. Jawo