The Gambia has been declared an Islamic republic by President Yahya Jammeh who said he wanted to further distance the west African state from its colonial past.
The tiny, formerly secular country – named after the river from which British ships are said to have fired cannonballs to fix its borders – joins the ranks of other officially Islamic republics such as Iran and Afghanistan.
“In line with the country’s religious identity and values I proclaim Gambia as an Islamic state,” said Jammeh on state television. “As Muslims are the majority in the country, Gambia cannot afford to continue the colonial legacy.”
“Gambia’s destiny is in the hands of the Almighty Allah. As from today, Gambia is an Islamic state. We will be an Islamic state that will respect the rights of the citizens,” the President was quoted on his office’s website as saying.
The Gambia’s population of 1.8 million people are 95% Muslim. Jammeh said citizens of other faiths would still be able to practise.
Jammeh, an animated orator who has earned the reputation for making surprise declarations over the course of his 21-year presidency, pulled the Gambia out of the Commonwealth in 2013, calling it neo-colonial. In 2007 he claimed to have found a herbal cure for Aids.