Monday, January 25, 2016

New Islamic State in West Africa

The Economist reports on Gambia's president announcing that the country is now an Islamic Republic.

A little information about Gambia - it has fewer than 2 million people, it had what many considered free and fair elections from independence until 1984 under Dawda Jawara, until he was overthrown in a military coup by the current president, Lieutenant Yahya Jammeh.

Jammeh proclaimed Gambia an Islamic Republic on December 15, but the secular constitution is so for unaltered. A group of Islamic scholars, the Supreme Islamic Council, was deployed to stir up support for the decision, but it doesn't sound like Jammeh (who I'm pretty certain is not an Islamic Scholar) is going to give them any power over the presidency.

Speculation about the reason for the change seems to focus on non-spiritual motives. One of Gambia's main industries is tourism (it has some nice beaches), but the Ebola scare in nearby countries hurt that sector of the economy, and Western donors have cut aid because of human rights abuses. Also, Jammeh has some elections to rig win. Making the country an Islamic Republic might bring in some foreign aid from Gulf States, and appealing to religion may distract some of the (predominantly Muslim) Gambian voters from their economic struggles.

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