(JollofNews) – An opposition leader in the Gambia has accused President Yahya Jammeh and his APRC government of using homosexuality as a tactic to divert the attention of Gambians from the endemic problems confronting the West African country.
President Yahya Jammeh last Saturday announced that he was cancelling political dialogue on political reforms in the Gambia with the European Union after accusing the 28-member block of trying to impose an ‘acceptance of homosexuals’ as a precondition for aid.
He recently assented to a controversial law which increase the punishment for “aggravated homosexuality” to life in prison. Human rights organisations, the EU and the US government have described the law which they say discriminates against gay people in the country of two million people.
But Lawyer Ousainou Darboe of the main opposition United Democratic Party (UDP) said homosexuality has never been an issue in the Gambia and has accused the president and his government of having an obsession with homosexuality.
“I have never heard of any people of the same sex wanting to get married or co-habiting in the Gambia,” Mr Darboe told the privately owned Standard Newspaper.
He added: “The government’s obsession with this homosexuality is a tactic to divert people’s attention from the endemic problems confronting the nation. We see that everyday poverty is on the increase and people’s standard of living and earning capacities are on the decline. We have things that we need in schools and hospitals and all these talks about free education are all glossy statements that are not supported by any tangible facts.”
Mr Darboe queried why Mr Jammeh is using moral reasons to criminalise homosexuality while ignoring prostitution. He reminded Mr Jammeh that the Gambia is not an Islamic state.
He added: “I think the government, and President Jammeh in particular, are trying to use Islamic values to divert people’s attention from the problems of the country. After all, I know for a fact that those who profess belief in the Christian religion are against homosexuality so they cannot say we are against this because it is against our values as Muslims. Are they saying that this is condoned by the Christians? I know that the main Christian churches are up in arms against homosexuality. So, I want to advise the Gambia government to be very circumspect in the statements they make. They should not try to create a situation where the focus is on one particular religious grouping.
The UDP leader accused the president of having a reputation for making ill-considered and extemporaneous statements. “Things just come to his mind and he just utters them without proper consideration,” Mr Darboe said.
“I think a head of state should be very, very careful in making his statements because whatever he says can be regarded as government policy. In the Gambia, here government policies are seen as law when they have not even been enacted.”
The EU is the Gambia’s biggest donor and has pumped some 75 million euros of aid into the West African country over the past six years. It is also planning to double aid to the Gambia to 150 million euros (£122.8 million) over the next seven years. In return for the aid, the Gambia is expected to improve its human rights record, democratic principles and good governance.
The UDP leader warns that the Gambia will face disastrous consequences should it walk away valuable development partner such as the EU.
He added: “That will be very unfortunate. After all, the EU are not saying that ‘come and let’s discuss the issue of homosexuality’ but about human rights in general. The EU wants us to discuss prison conditions. We are all prime candidates for Mile 2 prisons because we are seeing ministers going to Mile 2 either at the remand wing or as convicted prisoners.
“You have judicial officers of the highest echelons who were detained. We have seen the director of prisons himself even detained there. Human rights should be the concern of everybody because we should put ourselves in the shoes of those people in Mile 2 prisons. I went to Mile 2 prisons when I was given a conducted tour of the facility by the government in search of Kanyiba Kanyi and at that time the remand wing was in a very terrible condition. This happened at the time when the six journalists were in detention and it was a horrible sight.”