President Jammeh justified his bold announcement saying that he was making Gambia break all ties with its colonial past. Much like his earlier announcement moving Gambia out of the Commonwealth countries back in 2013, his announcement to make the country an Islamic State was unexpected. In defense of his decision, President Jammeh says he intends to fully decolonize Gambia by making it an Islamic State.
Critics argue that President Jammeh is only employing diversionary tactics to deter people’s attention from the sad state of affairs in Gambia. The country’s economy has deteriorated and has a growing public debt burden; the IMF says public-debt burden reached 100% of Gambia’s GDP by the end of 2014. President Jammeh’s relationship both internationally and domestically is at all-time low and increasingly strained.
The President, however, did enjoy a close relationship with former Libya’s leader Muammar Gaddafi, and Libya used to send both aid and cash to Libya. In July 2009, President Jammeh made Gaddafi the Grand Commander of the Order of the Republic of Gambia. So it came as a big surprise that during the Arab Spring particularly around February 2011, President Jammeh called on Gaddafi to resign from that position.
With Gaddafi and by extension Tripoli no longer sending aid and cash to Libya, President Jammeh had an enormous deficit in financing Gambia’s budget. He turned to Taiwan for help, but help was not forthcoming as he had hoped. So President Jammeh again decided to cut ties with Taiwan in 2013. President Jammeh had hoped that by cutting ties with Taiwan will better his relationship with China and for that, China will reward him with aid and cash. But that too did not happen.
In 2010, Gambia also ended its relationship with Iran, something that led to the cancellation of a $2 billion contract for trade and aid projects. So Gambia has grown increasingly desperate for new allies. One of the few remaining international allies is Turkey; the Turkish Armed Forces have been training the Gambia’s gendarmerie force from 1991, and some Gambian soldiers are still training in Gambia to date.
President Jammeh’s latest strategy has been to woo the Gulf States, particularly Saudi Arabia. In December last year, Gambia announced that it would provide refuge to Rohingya refugees from South East Asia terming the move as the Gambia’s “sacred duty”. But critics argue that was a calculated move by President Jammeh in the hope that the Islamic Republic will open their chequebooks and become the new ally in place of former allies like Libya, Taiwan and Iran.
Gambia will be going to the polls in December 2016, and Jammeh will be defending his seat as the President of Gambia. Playing the card of a champion for Islamic credentials is seen as a political move, more than a religious move; given 90% of Gambia’s population is Muslim. This move might also foster good relationship particularly with the Gulf States in the Middle East.
The declaration of Gambia as an Islamic Republic is going to have significant implications for individuals and societies within that Country. BBC has explored deeply the possible ramifications this new development could have on the people of Gambia and the surrounding African neighboring countries. You can read more on this on the BBC website.