Exclusive interview with President Yahya Jammeh
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“If you always follow others, you can never lead” – President Yahya Jammeh

“If you always follow others, you can never lead” – President Yahya Jammeh

Q | New African: To start with, your decision to withdraw Gambia’s membership of the Commonwealth is the story that everyone is talking about. Could you explain the reason behind the rather surprise decision? And why now, after 48 years of membership?

President Jammeh
: First of all, I want to welcome you to The Gambia and we are very proud when we see international magazines published by Africans, and other media houses owned by Africans. I have known New African magazine for a long time, I have been reading it since I was at school. I used to read Africa Now, West Africa, and New African.


Q | Yes, we’ve been going for 46 years.

You have come a long way. I know the other magazines have since disappeared. Now regarding the so-called breaking news. It’s not supposed to be breaking news. The decision has been made primarily because in The Gambia, we want to be very independent of anything that has a vestige of colonialism, especially where the same old story goes, in which one person decides for all of us and that’s it.  

We believe that we are better off being on our own than joining institutions that do not want to listen to us, institutions that tell us what to do and not what we want to do. So after 48 years of independence, we have had enough of colonialism and Britain. They have not taken us anywhere but backwards, and we want to be free to be able to be ourselves.

Our theme for this year’s independence celebration is “Live according to your religion and your culture”, and therefore for us the Commonwealth is not our religion, and it’s not a culture. We want to make sure that we remain true Gambians, independent of all institutions that have anything to do with colonialism.


Q | But why now, after all these years and right after your speech at the UN General Assembly, which received very negative media coverage?

I am surprised that people believe you have to have a problem with someone first before you decide to leave that person. I don’t think so. If I have a problem with somebody, I resolve the problem. But what I’m saying is that the Commonwealth is still a colonial institution and we have decided that we are not going to subscribe to that any more.

It’s not only the Commonwealth. I am saying we are not going to be part of any institution or organisation that has that legacy  [of colonialism] or that is a representation of the colonial era, because colonialism brought us nothing but poverty, backwardness, exploitation, and slavery.  

In fact, we cannot in today’s age, continue to be associated with a country that was responsible for slavery in the first place. And while the Jews have been compensated and other people are being compensated, nobody is doing that for Africans. We have not even received an apology from Great Britain, which orchestrated slavery in the first place, and then brought us colonialism. Colonialism and slavery go together.

Here, under colonialism, Gambians were never trained to be scientists or doctors, and I believe that there has not been any country in Africa where during the colonial era they trained indigenous people to become either doctors or scientists. Are we not human beings like anybody else?   

Q | Why do you reckon there is such a backlash against you, and by extension, the rule by African leaders by and large?  Why do you feel the West is still trying to hold back the advancement of Africa.

You are a journalist who has travelled the world. Now can you tell me one African country that is well developed today, that can be compared to Dubai or any Middle Eastern country, thanks to the West or their former colonial master? My view here is: If you follow others, you can never lead. We
Africans have been following others for a long time and still keep following, that’s why we are always backwards. It is high time we stopped following others to be on our own. That is my message for Africa.

Africa’s relationship with the West has seen Africa losing and the West gaining, and that will continue as long as we do not take a stand. But for me and The Gambia, we are no longer going to follow anybody else, but our religion, our culture, and our beliefs. We need to question and act on why Africa is the richest continent in terms of mineral resources, but the poorest in terms of the bank balance. Everyone knows the status quo and that the current relationship has not benefited any African country but the Europeans. Now who are the Europeans that they should always teach the Africans what to do? From colonialism to now, they think that they are the gods of Africa, and that they should continue to tell us what we should do. The Gambia is saying no to that. And because you are not dancing to their tune, they will call you a dictator.


Q | Following  your decision to leave the Commonwealth, should other African member-states be following suit?

I think it is in our best interest to follow only what benefits us. If you follow something that is keeping you backwards, I don’t think you are being intelligent or doing a good service for your people. Colonialism or neo-colonialism in any form should be kicked out of Africa, that is my belief because it is not bringing us anything but disgrace, humiliation, and insult.  

Q | But your critics, Mr President, will come back to say, why just the Commonwealth, which probably does not come with great economic benefits, while you are part of other international organisations that The Gambia relies on in terms of economic advancement. You surely do not see this as the beginning of The Gambia or Africa standing on its own feet without Western help of any kind?

Look. Let me not be misconstrued. What I said is very clear. We are against any institution of a neo-colonialist nature. The Gambia will not support any institution or be a member of any institution that is neo-colonialist. That doesn’t mean I’m anti any international organisations. Not at all. The reason why we have left the Commonwealth is because it is not only a neo-colonialist institution, it is also an institution that is not subject to elections. Indeed it is not subject to change any time soon and it is an institution where one person is the supreme life leader. What type of democracy is that? Do you understand?

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