The recent announcement by the Gambian President, Yahya Jammeh, that his country has officially assumed the status of an Islamic state has raised so much dust across the globe and the implications of such an action that has all the eccentricities of dictatorial and authoritarian disposition are here examined by CHIBUZO EKERE.
Karl Max, famous Russian leader, once said, “Religion is the opium of the people”, apparently referring to the loathsome attitude of religious leaders of his time and, perhaps, of modern time, who makes zombies of their followers just for their selfish advantage.
Today, what is happening in the Gambia appears to be in conformity to this time tested assertion. The global community and possibly many Gambians are yet to come to terms with the recent action of the president of the small West African state who suddenly unbundled the religious status of his country, declaring it an Islamic state.
The most curious angle to this ‘one man macabre dance’ is that the maximum ruler did not bother to seek the view of his people through a referendum, but unilaterally took the decision of short-changing the religious standing of his people.
In its recent analysis of the sudden development in the Gambia, the Economist, an internationally renowned magazine stated, “As 2015 drew to a close, and the world’s attention fixed firmly on Islamic State, IS, in Syria and Iraq, the Gambia announced that it, too, was henceforth an Islamic state.
“The president of the tiny west African nation, Yahya Jammeh, issued the proclamation, which came with no forewarning and seemingly on a whim, on December 11th, 2015. Mr Jammeh cited the wishes of the people (90% of Gambians are Muslim), and the need to distance the country from its “colonial legacy”. The Gambia now follows Mauritania as Africa’s second “Islamic Republic”, although the country’s secular constitution, ratified in 1996, remains unaltered”.
No sooner had the nation was declared a Muslim state than an executive filtered from the seat of power, banning all female civil servants from uncovering their hair during working hours, which from the observers point of view, was a step towards bringing the country full implementation of the Sharia penal code.
To Usman Aminu, a Muslim and political analyst, there is nothing wrong with the action of President Yahya Jammeh, except that he should have duly consulted his fellow countrymen through a referendum, notwithstanding the majority of the population are already Muslims.
“President Yahya Jammeh knows what is good for his people and his action might be the expectation of the Gambian people, but he should still have conducted a referendum, at least, to ensuer the entire process was in fairness to all.
“It amounts to dictatorship to just take advantage of the lopesided religious equation of his country and drag the entire nation away from their constitutionally allow status as a secular state into a particular religion just to make a statement”, Aminu said.
According to the analyst, by referring to the Gambia as an “Islamic Republic”implies that there is going to be the Supreme Islamic Council, a group of scholars, whose duty it is to go around the country stirring up popular support for the draconian decision.
That also implies that a legislation to enforce it will be introduced into parliament and the national flag will be changed to reflect the country’s new status, as Jammeh had said.
Baba Leigh, a Muslim leader on exile for political reasons, said of the recent development in the Gambia, “The government does not even have the know-how to bringn the country into an Islamic state, which is why Isatou Njie-Saidy, the vice-president, urged the Supreme Islamic Council to carry out research into the exact requirements of an Islamic Republic, during a meeting early this year.
Incidentally, the economy of the Gambia is in dire straits, especially in the aftermath of west Africa’s Ebola epidemic, which crippled the tourist industry. The Treasury is all but empty.
On account of this parlous state of the country’s economy, Mr Jammeh’s Islamic gestures seems to be a clarion call for the Arab Gulf states, most notably Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain, whose cash and investment the president may be seriously eyeing.
Already by his latest religious onslaught, there is little hope of him getting much support from the West. In December 2014, for example, the EU suspended some €13m ($14.2m) of development aid because of human-rights abuses.
Odegbaro Elizabeth Ifeoluwa, a final year student of international relations, Landmark university, Omu aran, Kwara state said, “The declaration of Gambia as an Islamic state paints the country as Anti-West and this anti-western conduct is evident in religion and association. This is because in rejecting the common wealth comprising of mainly western nations due to colonial legacy.
“Yahya Jammeh, by his action has succeeded in leading his country to denounce association with its colonial masters, which implies that the country has returned to its post-colonial religion, islam, thereby removing the shackles of colonialism and neo-colonialism, which may include ‘Christianity’.
Gambia’s Islamization is perceived as a “colossal media blunder” according to Jallow M.K , who stated that, there are certain procedures to be met before a state can be Islamised. Such bills have to be passed through the national assembly and have at least a two-third majority vote before it is accepted. The Islamised Gambia should also not have a constitution but certain sharia laws that should govern the state.
Describing possible background of the Jammeh’s action, Marloes Janson, as scholar at the School of Oriental and African Studies, cited his prostrate domestic politics.
“Since taking power in 1994 in a coup, Jammeh had sought to legitimise his rule by invoking Islam. The beginning of 2016 marks the start of a new electoral cycle, though Mr Jammeh faces little risk of being sacked by voters. He has won four elections in the past, with the help of some judicious rigging. The opposition are cowed. The Gambia is less an Islamic Republic than an absolute monarchy”, Dr Janson argued.