By Mafugi Ceesay
Abbé Emile Sambou, the vicar general of the Catholic Diocese of Banjul, yesterday told The Standard in an exclusive interview at his office at Westfield that Christians in The Gambia are being marginalised.
While admitting that the clarification by the director of press at State House on President Barrow’s initial comments on building 60 mosques has lessen their recent worries, he said Gambian Christians have come to the realisation that they must participate more proactively in politics if their individual and collective dues and interests are to be safeguarded.
Father Sambou said The Gambia has moved on from the dictatorial regime that declared the country an Islamic State and that Gambians fought tooth and nail and with God’s intervention that did not happen. “We were rejoicing and dancing thinking that we have been given a saviour who is going to lead us out of the darkness into the light and now we are hearing him [President Barrow] make pronouncements of promoting one religion over another. Thank God after his pronouncement his spokesperson came up to clarify the issues… The reason that some of us Christians felt offended was because it was a misplaced pronouncement, not because it is Barrow or the UDP. If you do the right thing at the wrong place, people are bound to react. It was a meet the people’s tour not a meet the Muslims’ tours.”
The vicar general said he does not believe there is an underhand scheme to transform The Gambia into an Islamic state or openly promote one religion over another but that people can hide “behind shadows” to do things clandestinely.
He said although Christians do not feel threatened in The Gambia, there are happenings and incidences that are prompting them to “wake up” now.
“We have taken the backseat for far too long. What has happened has happened. This is why we want to be recognised now. If you look at the National Assembly of this country there is no single Christian NAM. It is true that Christians did not contest because those that wanted to were not given the chance. They were told that they did not have enough support.”
“We probably might be low in numbers but we are not a minority in intelligence or influence. If the opportunity was given to the president to nominate Members to the National Assembly we had hope at least to have nominated one or two Christians but he didn’t. There is no single Christian permanent secretary in this government. If you look at the ambassadors in this country that were sent out for a mission, there used to be two, one has been deceased. So as of now there is one Christian ambassador. Go to government institutions and tell me how many directors or managers are Christians. Are we not citizens of this country? We are not second class citizens. I think we have been far too humble. I am not saying that we should now pick up arms and fight but we should now get up and participate in the politics of this country. Then and only then will we make a head way, otherwise I am afraid we will continue to occupy the back seat and that is not of help to our future,” he stated.
“We are marginalised. They are now talking of constituting a truth and reconciliation commission. There is nowhere in this world where you can constitute such a commission leaving the church behind. The church itself means reconciliation. So if you are reconciling people in a nation and leaving the church behind, you are only politicking. Reconciliation has to do with things that touch the heart and the mind and the church cannot be left behind. It is only in this country that you have a truth and reconciliation commission without the church being involved in it. It is sad.”
Vicar General Sambou said President Barrow’s leadership should be inclusive not exclusive. “He needs to apply participatory leader skills. Consult people. Involve people. The Gambia is not made of one tribe or religion. If people are envying this country for religious tolerance, we should promote it. He should be the first to promote it. Our rights are being trampled and nothing is coming out of it.”
Read The Standard on Monday for a full transcript of Vicar General Sambou’s full interview.