Thursday, 03 October 2013 15:24(JollofNews) – President Yahya Jammeh’s decision to withdraw the Gambia from the Commonwealth has been criticised today by human rights activities and journalists.
Mr Jammeh who came to power in a military coup in 1994 has branded the 54-member grouping, which includes the UK and most of its former colonies, a "neo-colonial institution".
Announcing the withdrawal yesterday on state television, Mr Jammeh said he has 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’.
But Sidi Sanneh, a former minister in the Jammeh regime, who is currently living in the United States, said Mr Jammeh’s decision is arbitrary, capricious and totally devoid of reason. He described it as another dark chapter in the country's history since the military takeover in 1994.
Mr Sanneh said Mr Jammeh’s decision will have serious impact on the Gambian economy, which depends heavily on tourism as one of its main source of foreign exchange.
Commenting on his blog http://www.sidisanneh.blogspot.com/, Mr Sanneh wrote: “The impact of the decision on the struggling economy will extend far beyond tourism because it will signal and further reinforce the negative image of the Gambia as a hostile destination for foreign investment.”
He added: “The decision to withdraw membership from the Commonwealth will come both as a surprise to ordinary Gambians as well as the high echelons of government. It also signals worse things to come for a country that has been reduced to a narco-state status with a crumbling economy based on the cocaine trade. With increased international and diplomatic isolation comes less external pressure to a government that has become increasingly repressive and erratic, posing greater danger to a population has been, and continues to be, abused by government that is not accountable to neither the citizenry nor to the comity of nations. Rough times ahead for Gambians living under the government of Professor Yahya Jammeh.”
Bakary Dabo, former vice president of the Gambia and chairman of the country's campaign for democratic change, also condemned Mr Jammeh’s decision.
Mr Dabo said the Gambian people are generally "very happy" to be part of the Commonwealth and have never seen it as an extension of colonialism.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Mr Dabo said the Jammeh regime had recently begun "picking up war against poorly specified enemies called 'western powers'".
He added that “this rhetoric had "accelerated" in recent years and been used when President Jammeh gave a "rambling" speech at the United Nations General Assembly last month.”
Ebrima Sankareh, editor of the online Gambian newspaper, the Gambia Echo, described the Commonwealth as a very important institution, which is regarded by Gambians as a club of civilised nations where people come together to forge ahead for progress.
He said Mr Jammeh’s decision to withdraw the Gambia from the Commonwealth exposes the lack of democracy in the country.
Speaking on BBC’s Africa programme, Mr Sankareh said: “The Gambia is a dictatorship where the only person who speaks is the president and there is no consultation in the country. What we have in the Gambia is a disaster. The Commonwealth is very important to the Gambia.
“Jammeh does not like people to talk about his abuses of human rights and is trying to shy away from the committee of civilised nations because of his regime’s blatant disregard to human right. There is no due process in the Gambia, prisoners disappear at midnight, and journalists have died while others have disappeared. It is litany of destruction in the Gambia.”
Mr Sankareh described President Jammeh as a despot who has decimated the entire democratic façade in the Gambia.
“The Gambia is under the thump of a brutal dictator. While I do not aspire to return to colonialism, most Gambians do not see the Commonwealth as an extension of colonialism, rather we see it as a club of civilised nations where people come together to forge ahead for progress.”
Demba Jawo, another prominent Gambian journalist currently residing in the Senegalese capital Dakar, said Mr Jammeh’s decision was made without any consultation with the Gambian people.
“There is no doubt that if Gambians were given the option in a referendum to decide on this issue, the overwhelming majority would have voted against the decision to withdraw from the Commonwealth,” he wrote on his Facebook page.
“It is quite clear that Yahya Jammeh does not want to be compelled to abide by the Harare Principles on good governance and the only way he could avoid it is to leave the group. Ordinary Gambians now have hardly anyone to speak on their behalf, certainly not ECOWAS or the AU.”
Banka Manneh, president of the Gambian Civil Society Organisations, accused President Jammeh of using Pan-Africanism to commit rights violations against his people.
“I like the ‘dick tators’ label,” he wrote on his Facebook page. “Yes, he [Jammeh] is committing far worst crimes against Gambians than the colonialists could ever imagine. So this talk of Pan-Africanism coming from him is nothing but his effort to bamboozle - except it won't work this time.”
Meanwhile the Royal Commonwealth Society, an education charity which works in Commonwealth countries, has also described the Gambia's withdrawal as unexpected and undemocratic.
Society director Michael Lake said President Jammeh had made the decision "without consulting the Gambia's people" and the country's withdrawal would be "a loss felt by both its people and the wider Commonwealth network".
He added: "Far from being a 'neo-colonial institution', the modern Commonwealth operates on a consensus model and its voluntary membership is predicated primarily on a country's commitment to upholding shared values and principles."
The last time a nation left the Commonwealth was in 2003, when Zimbabwe withdrew.
The UK's Foreign Office said: "Decisions on Commonwealth membership are a matter for each member government. We would very much regret Gambia, or any other country, deciding to leave the Commonwealth."
Written by PK Jarju
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