By Omar Bah
A recent statement by the European Union suggesting its commitment to protect gay rights in The Gambia has sparked controversy and even condemnations from Gambians, among them political leaders.
The EU has been concerned about the criminalisation of same-sex marriage in The Gambia.
But last year, the Gambia government categorically stated in its submission to the 34th session of the UN Human Rights Council Working Group that it has no plans to decriminalise same-sex marriage.
Reacting to the recent EU comments, the Gambia Moral Congress leader, Mai Ahmad Fatty said: “I am aware that respect for fundamental rights constitutes an essential element for EU-Gambia relations. However, our relationship with the EU is first and foremost a partnership. I believe this is an enduring equal partnership founded on respect for each other’s values, not the contrary. It means a mutual relationship in which The Gambia respects European values and Europe also respects Gambian values”.
“There is a clear legal distinction between ‘respect’ and ‘impose’. Mutual respect for each other’s values does not amount to imposing Europe’s values upon us. Where there is a convergence, we call it shared values, and where a divergence exists, we transpose mutual respect for those values, respecting our differences. This is how we understand our partnership with EU. The contrary may result to a ‘parting ship’. In this country, gay rights are not important issues. It will not be for a very long time and Europe must respect that. There are far too many important issues we need to cooperate together with our European friends, and for us, gay issues are certainly not one of them. Gambian society is not ready to raise this frivolous issue to any meaningful level.
“Just as we will not impose the human rights of a man to marry more than one wife as long as the women freely and willingly enter into such marital relationship in Europe, so must Europe not impose its marital precepts upon us. Just as Europe outlaws Muslim public call to prayer (adhan) using a P.A system while permitting industrial scale bells of the highest decibel to regularly emasculate its public space, effectively violating the human rights to freedom of worship of millions of its citizens or residents, so must The Gambia be respected for propagating its moral and political values”.
The former Interior Minister said it would be a mark of gross disrespect to “our sovereignty if the EU would continue to flaunt this matter here. It’s a non-starter, doomed to fail ab initio. We have laws that criminalised this abnormal behaviour and a GMC government will not hesitate to prosecute those found guilty of contravention”.
“In this country, the people of The Gambia define marriage between a man and a woman, and anything contrary to that is unacceptable. Many of us are human rights defenders, but our loyalty to our religious values far outweighs any other consideration. I will encourage our good friend the EU Ambassador, to immediately shelve this idea and nip it in the bud. I will go as far as to assert that minus the inflammatory rhetoric, the EU will find very little difference between the historical political attitude of our society and the current Gambian mindset on this sensitive matter,” he added.
The United Democratic Party spokesperson, Almamy Fanding Taal, said the assumption that cultural values and rights of the people are something that they need to import from the West is misconceived.
Taal said The Gambia doesn’t have the history of either prosecuting gays or having any issue affecting the rights of people to do their privacy “whatever it is that they want to do”.
“I think the EU is just trying to spread values that are completely alien to Gambian ways of doing things. If you look at our criminal code, it was enacted by a colonial parliament in 1933 and it is in that Act that they made homosexuality or what they call ‘sex against the order of nature’, an offense. Of course, our criminal justice system is based on jurisprudence of the United Kingdom who were a colonial master to many countries in Asia and Africa.
“It was only very recently that they abolished that law. So really, I think the EU, if at all they are going to be genuine partners of African countries, they should stop talking about this kind of cultural imperialism or imposition of their cultural values. It is not an issue in The Gambia. I don’t think there is any energy that is needed to be extended on talking about this thing. We have life-and-death issues in this country and if the EU wants to be a genuine partner and help us, I think that is where they should focus and not in these kinds of demands or some kind of conditions for assistance. I think it is very insulting to the sovereign rights of the people of The Gambia. It is demeaning to our cultural values. The EU and their representative should stop talking about these kinds of things. It is completely un-Gambian and quite frankly, as a political party, we think the EU should not try to impose their cultural outlooks on The Gambia.”
The leader of the Gambia Action Party, Musa Yali Batchilly said: “A GAP-led government shall never accept gays in this country. The Gambia is a sovereign nation and never shall we watch our dearest nation to vanquish into the chains of colonization again. We call on the government to remain committed to our religious beliefs and practices. GAP is committed to safeguarding the fundamental principles of democracy and human rights as it’s enshrined in our modus operandi. I think the EU ambassador should immediately apologise to the entire country and retract his statement”.
The GDC national youth president, Modou MC Cham said his party will never accept or promote gay rights in The Gambia.
“The issue of LGBTQ cannot and should not be entertained in The Gambia. Our culture and religious beliefs do not allow us to promote gay rights in any way,” he said.
The former ruling party’s deputy spokesperson, Dodou Jah said: “We will never condone LGBTQ in this country. We are people of faith, Muslims and Christians. We are people who believe in customs and tradition. No matter what democracy we want to bring in this country if we side-line religion, customs and tradition, it is not going work because people will not accept it.”