Voice of America (Washington, DC)

3 October 2013

Gambia Withdraws From Commonwealth

Photo: Gambia Statehouse
Gambian President Yahya Jammeh gestures as he begins a speech (file photo).

President Yahya Jammeh of The Gambia has unilaterally taken his country out of the Commonwealth, becoming the first African leader to do so since President Robert Mugabe took Zimbabwe out in 2003.

A statement reportedly issued late Wednesday said the "government has withdrawn its membership of the British Commonwealth and decided that the Gambia will never be a member of any neo-colonial institution and will never be a party to any institution that represents an extension of colonialism".

Gambian-born Sulayman Nyang, senior professor and former chair of the African Studies Department at Howard University in Washington, D.C. said some western governments' rejection of Jammeh's anti-gay rhetoric and dismal human rights record might be two reasons behind his decision.

"If he [Jammeh] made this statement, there are two underlying reasons behind the decision. One, in my opinion is the fact that when President Jammeh went to the UN, he came out categorically against the gay movement. So for that reason, he is definitely at loggerheads with the Prime Minister of Great Britain who has been very strong in support of gay groups," he said.

Some western governments, Britain in particular, has threatened to withhold aid because of Jammeh's anti-gay stance. Nyang said the Gambian leader has adopted the old African nationalist position not to kowtow to imperialists.

Addressing parliament last year, Jammeh some western governments of trying to instill gay culture in the Gambia.

"If you are going to give us aid money for men and men or for women and women to marry, please leave it. We don't need your aid money because as far as I am the President of the Gambia, you will never see that happen in this country," the Gambian leader said.

Nyang said Jammeh's notorious human rights record could also another reason for taking his country out of the Commonwealth.

"When all the facts come to light, you are going to see people looking at Jammeh at two levels. Those who are fighting for human rights will tell the story of Jammeh and his dictatorship. So, what I am emphasizing once again is that this decision of Jammeh is also occasioned not only by his state the UN against gay groups, but also because of the fact that he is very much aware of the fact that those who opposed to him are going to connect the dots, and some of those dots will lead him to [to former Liberian President] Charles Taylor and all the dictators in Africa," he said.

He said even African nationalists such as Ghana's founding president Kwame Nkrumah never broke away from the Commonwealth.

"The only time Kwame Nkrumah only had problem was when [former British] Prime Minister [Harold] Wilson gave that famous, unacceptable statement to Africans at the time. And there were some Africans who were beginning to have the idea that if Wilson is not willing to suppress the government of Ian Smith in Southern Rhodesia, then why should we be dancing to the British music?" Nyang said.

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