The Independent (Banjul)

28 July 2003

Gambia: President Jammeh's July 22nd Speech Causes More Confusion


Banjul — Once again, President Yahya Jammeh has marked his July 22nd 'Revolution' with a scathing tirade, touching on many issues. As usual, he started his speech with a huge dossier on the achievements and successes of the regime, and he went on to admonish those who criticize the regime regardless of all those achievements. His long list of achievements and successes included the areas of education, health and agriculture, as well as numerous other development projects, which he attributed to the regime.

While there is no denying the fact that his regime has registered some infrastructural developments, but there is still a lot that should be criticized and as such, he should be magnanimous enough to accept criticisms in good fate. He should not expect the whole country to become his 'finas', singing his praises. He should be satisfied with his large entourage of sycophants and praise singers who are always ready to deify him at every available opportunity.

While it is true that some development has taken place in certain areas he mentioned in his speech, including the construction of schools, hospitals and the provision of agricultural implements such as tractors to the farmers, but development is certainly much more than the provision of buildings and infrastructure, but those things must be harnessed with the development of the human resources.

Turning to the controversy over the use of the veil in some Christian mission schools, which he alluded to in his speech, rather than resolving the issue, he seems to have provoked more controversy and confusion. By imposing a blanket ban on the use of the veil in the schools by next September, he has caused more confusion amongst the people. He seems to have either forgotten or disregarded the fact that there already exist schools where the veil is part of their uniform.

What happens to those schools when it comes to the implementation of his new 'edict' on the veil in September? It would have made more sense if he had at least specified the category of schools he was referring to rather than generalizing.

While he was quite right that Muslims and Christians have always co-existed in this country in peace and harmony for more than 400 years, but it is also a fact that his regime's comportment has contributed to whatever problems existing between the adherents of the two religions.

Even though The Gambia is supposed to be a secular state, but since the assumption of power by the AFPRC/APRC administration, the regime has become too much involved in religious affairs. They started with the construction of a mosque at State House; the most important symbol of the state, culminating in the appointment of a religious affairs ministry, the construction of mosques in all public institutions and the inscription of Quranic verses on all public buildings. In addition, President Jammeh and some members of his cabinet also always begin their official speeches with recitations from the Quran. All that certainly makes a complete mockery of the secularity of the state.

Therefore, this veil controversy was no doubt a direct consequence of the actions and comportment of the regime. There is no doubt also that those Islamic fanatics he was castigating in his speech were emboldened and encouraged by the pro-Islamic actions and comportment of his regime.

If he and his religious affairs secretary of state can always be seen to hold meetings with these so-called fanatics and tell them all that they want to hear, and even give them vehicles and other material gifts, they would certainly conclude that the regime is with them and therefore, they can demand anything in this country. Indeed it was just a matter of time before they even started to demand the introduction of the Northern Nigeria type of Sharia in this country.

On the veil issue, it was quite wrong for the government to issue a press release in May instructing the acceptance of the veil in all schools in the country, only for President Jammeh to now turn around and ban its use in September. This is yet another clear manifestation of the inconsistencies and contradictions that have become the hallmarks of this regime. It is wrong for him to say one thing to day only to contradict it a few days later. It is not even within his purview or that of the government to determine what type of uniforms students in private schools should put on. That is the sole prerogative of the school administrators and proprietors to determine. It was even wrong in the first place for the government to issue that press release without even consulting with the proprietors of the schools concerned.

It is indeed time that President Jameh started making clear proclamations, to at least avoid confusing the people. Another good case in point had been the 'edict' that he issued earlier this year banning nawetan football in the provinces. With so many sycophants amongst his followers and the public services, most of whom would not hesitate to jump whenever he tells them to, without even asking how high, he should always be careful with the type of directives he gives. As a head of state, whatever he says would have some bearing on government policies and as such, he should always carefully weigh the possible implications and consequences of the directives he gives. He should not just make statements for the sake of it, but whatever statements he gives must be clear and unambiguous, as well as implementable. For instance, his proclamation that the men should not marry more than three wives in the next three years is just as ambiguous as it is unenforceable in this country. Indeed it is also not within his purview as head of state to make laws. That is the responsibility of the National Assembly.

Copyright © 2003 The Independent. All rights reserved. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media ( To contact the copyright holder directly for corrections — or for permission to republish or make other authorized use of this material, click here.

AllAfrica publishes around 2,000 reports a day from more than 130 news organizations and over 200 other institutions and individuals, representing a diversity of positions on every topic. We publish news and views ranging from vigorous opponents of governments to government publications and spokespersons. Publishers named above each report are responsible for their own content, which AllAfrica does not have the legal right to edit or correct.

Articles and commentaries that identify as the publisher are produced or commissioned by AllAfrica. To address comments or complaints, please Contact us.