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The Gambia Quits British Commonwealth, Calling It ‘Extension of Colonialism’

President of the Gambia Yahya Jammeh addresses United Nations General Assembly on 24 September, 2013. UN photo by Erin Siegal. Used under Creative Commons license BY-NC-ND 2.0.

President of the Gambia Yahya Jammeh addresses the United Nations General Assembly on 24 September, 2013. During his speech, he condemned homosexuality, calling it one of the “biggest threats to human existence”. UN photo by Erin Siegal. Used under Creative Commons license BY-NC-ND 2.0.

The tiny West African State of The Gambia has announced via state television that it will withdraw from the Commonwealth of Nations, a fellowship of 54 countries that are mainly former colonies of the British Empire.

A statement released on Wednesday, 2 October 2013 stated that “the government has withdrawn its membership of the British Commonwealth and decided that the Gambia will never be a member of any neo-colonial institution and will never be a party to any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.”

No further reasons have been advanced by the government, but relations between the Gambia and the UK in 2013 have been rocky. In April, the UK Foreign Office's annual Human Rights and Democracy Report was critical of the country's human rights record under President Yahya Jammeh, highlighting violations such as unlawful detentions, illegal closures of newspapers and discrimination against minority groups. The country's response to the report was sharp: “Britain has no moral authority to dictate moral standards of rectitude and democracy to any former colony in Africa”.

After the Gambia announced the decision to dump its membership of the international body headed by Queen Elizabeth II, netizens around the globe have reacted with mix feelings.

Mathew Jallow, an exiled Gambian journalist, saw the move as good for publicising President Jammeh's “stupidity“. Jammeh, who came to power in a 1994 coup, for years has earned the world's ire for his repressive rule, one that has been defined by executions, restricted freedom of the press and expression, persecution of homosexuals, and heavy-handed supression of political dissent:

Behind every dark cloud, there is a silver lining. Yahya Jammeh's Gambia withdrawal from the Commonwealth is more negative publicity worth one year's newspaper reporting. Today, ever country in the world will carry this withdrawal news and every Commonwealth member state, including the US, will have every lingering doubt about our claims, confirmed. This is what dictators do all the time. They create their own downfalls as they attempt to solidify their rules and barricade themselves within their crumbling worlds. Thank you Yahya Jammeh. All our efforts could not have publicized your stupidity better.

Commenting on his Facebook wall, Gambian journalist Sainey MK Marena analyzed the situation (post used with permission):

Gambia withdrawal from the Commonwealths attracts international headlines. The multi -million dollar question is why are we withdrawing our membership at a time when countries like Mozambique and others are seriously yearning to join the global body. Gambia has and continued to benefit from commonwealth in diverse areas including education/scholarship, sports and most recently the commonwealth proposed National Human Rights Commission. MY point is Gambia like any nation has right to withdraw from any association or organization but is should be based on credible and genuine reason (s). In 2003, Zimbabwe Under Mugabe withdraw from the Commonwealth for reasons best known to them but smallest country in the mainland African should take a different take and approached.

However, Sefa-Nyarko Clement seemed to disagree, writing on Facebook:

Great move, Gambia. Although I don't subscribe to the summary executions and despotic policies of Baba Jammeh, I support his withdrawal from the Commonwealth. Indeed, the Commonwealth of Nations has outlived its usefulness.

On Twitter, user Abdou ‏(@abs2ray) criticised the president's behaviour:

While the discussion on the Jammeh’s latest diplomatic rumbling continues, it remains unclear what the poorly impoverished nation will gain by quitting the Commonwealth.

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