Gambia’s New Sharia-Friendly Constitution Fails. But Christians Are Still Concerned.
Though pleased with the draft’s overall democratic reforms, leaders are frustrated that “Christian rights do not matter” in the West African nation.
The Gambia almost had a new constitution.
Instead, the English-speaking, sliver-shaped West African river nation—known for Muslim-Christian coexistence—will return to the 1997 constitution instituted by former dictator Yahya Jammeh and amended by him more than 50 times to entrench his power.
One year before being deposed in 2016 by popular protests, Jammeh declared Gambia to be an Islamic state.
The new draft constitution would have imposed term limits on the president, guaranteed religious freedom, and forbidden any future declaration of a state religion.
Muslims comprise more than 9 in 10 Gambians, totaling 2 million. Lamin Sanneh, the Muslim-born Gambian theologian who died last year, praised his nation’s participation in a tradition of “pacifist Islam.”
Yet many of the nation’s Christians, who comprise only about 5 percent of the population, still feel like they dodged a bullet.
“Truly important positive changes were made in this [draft] constitution,” said Begay Jabang, a member of the Gambia Christian Council (GCC) campaign team, naming the separation of powers and the strengthening of the legislature. “This would have been a significant step forward given the history of our nation.
“But at the same time,” she said, “provisions were introduced in the judiciary that would have changed the face of our nation, moving it down the path of an Islamic state as Jammeh did before.”
The official GCC statement outlined the changes in detail, and was blunt in its assessment.
“The deafening silence of [political leaders] to the concerns we have repeatedly raised,” it stated, “has been read as a message that ‘CHRISTIAN RIGHTS DO NOT MATTER …
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May 18, 2021