GAMBIA: How A Tiny West African Country Turned Into An Islamic State


On December 12, 2015, Gambia’s president Yahya Jammeh declared his tiny west African country, that has for long been a big attraction for tourists, had become “an Islamic State”.

“Gambia’s destiny is in the hands of the Almighty Allah. As from today, Gambia is an Islamic state,” Jammeh told his supporters at a rally in the coastal town of Brufut.

He further stressed that Gambia, a country where 90 percent of its 1.8 million citizens are Muslims “will respect the rights of the citizens” and will protect on the right of minority Christians nor force women to dress in certain way.

However on January 4, an executive order that leaked to the local press, showed that the country had banned all female civil servants from leaving their hair uncovered during working hours.

“The non-Muslim community is beginning to get worried,” Sidi Sanneh, a former Gambian diplomat, told The Economist.

It is not clear what impact of this change in religious orientation has been on the country’s vibrant tourism sector, but saying this at a time when the rest of the world is grappling with terrorism problems posed by Islamic State (IS) is bound to be repulse tourists.





Gambia has joined other African nations including Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco, in the race to become Islamic states. A Muslim rebel leader in Central African Republic Noureddine Adam also recently declared an autonomous state in his stronghold.

While declaring the west African nation as an Islamic state, Jammeh said it was meant to distance the country further from its colonial past.

Gambia’s strong commercial ties with Britain — its former colony — and other European nations, whose citizens are regular visitors to its white-sandy beaches, has deteriorated in recent years.

The economy is in dire straits, especially in the aftermath of west Africa’s Ebola epidemic, which has crippled the tourist industry.

In 2013, Jammeh, who came to power in 1994 through a military coup, withdrew his country from the Commonwealth, saying it represented “an extension of colonialism”. He has also blamed its colonial past for impoverishing the country.

In March 2014, he said Gambia will drop English as its official language, without specifying which of the country’s indigenous tongues would replace it.

The west African nation is now aligning its self with Arab Gulf states including Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain, whose cash and investment the president is thought to crave.


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