from Africa in Transition

The Gambia Leaves the Commonwealth

October 07, 2013

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Sub-Saharan Africa


Heads of State and Government


Human Rights

Gambia’s dictator, Yahya Jammeh, announced that Gambia is leaving the Commonwealth of Nations, a “neo-colonialist” institution, in his view. He provided no official explanation for the departure. The British government’s response has been that membership is a decision made by each sovereign state, though it regretted Gambia’s departure.

The next Commonwealth Heads of State meeting will take place in Sri Lanka in mid-November, with the heads of state or of government from some fifty countries expected to attend. Membership in the Commonwealth is usually popular in Africa, and it provides an international forum for African (and other) views. The last state to leave the Commonwealth was Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe in 2003.

Why did Jammeh do it? Some commentators link it to his ferocious campaign against gay rights (at least in rhetoric—he has talked about decapitating all homosexuals in The Gambia). UK prime minister David Cameron has been a forceful advocate for gay rights and shepherded through parliament the legalization of gay marriage. Others have suggested that gay rights and departure from the Commonwealth is a cover for Jammeh’s human rights violations. Human rights organizations recently have focused on his murderous campaign against alleged witches.

Jammeh has close ties with the United States. A military man, he received training at the School of the Americas and, apparently tried unsuccessfully to obtain American citizenship for his two children.