Gambian President Declares an Islamic State

Map of GambiaThis week, the river nation of The Gambia is celebrating its 51st year of independence. The question is whether it is doing so as Africa's second official Islamic state.
"In line with the country's religious identity and values, I proclaim The Gambia as an Islamic state," President Yahya Jammeh declared in December. "Accepting Allah's religion as your religion and as your way of life is not negotiable."
Pakistan, Iran, and fellow African nation Mauritania also identify themselves as Islamic states.
However, the claim has drawn ire from opposition and pro-democracy groups.
Jammeh said the decision to declare the country an Islamic state was a response to the current reality in Gambia, a British colony until 1965.
"As Muslims are the majority in the country, Gambia cannot afford to continue the colonial legacy," he said.
Bounded by the overwhelmingly Muslim Senegal, Christians make up about 5 percent of Gambia's 1.7 million population. More than half of this group is Catholic, while Protestants make up 1.5 percent of the total population, according to 2010 data from the Pew Research Center's Global Religious Futures project.
Gambia's opposition leader objected to the announcement, arguing that Gambia is a secular state, and a change to that must be constitutionally confirmed.
"You cannot make such a declaration without going through a referendum," said National Reconciliation Party leader Hamat Bah.
Jammeh has been in power since his coup in 1994, and has a "deplorable human rights record and rampant corruption" which lost him Western support, said Human Rights Watch's Jeffrey Smith.
"As such, he is desperately attempting to foster a closer and more lucrative relationship with the Arab world," Smith told Al-Jazeera. "By couching his decision in terms of 'fighting colonialism,' we can see that he is trying to cozy up with other parts of the world that harbor anti-West sentiments."

This BBSNews article was syndicated from Home, and written by Stuart Bechman. Read the original article here.