The Gambia to leave Commonwealth

The Gambia has stated its intention to leave the Commonwealth, after declaring it a “neo-colonial institution”.

The Commonwealth is an intergovernmental organisation formed of 54 countries, largely made up of the UK and the former colonies of the British Empire and headed by Queen Elizabeth II. The Gambia, located in West Africa, joined the Commonwealth in 1965 after gaining its independence from Britain.

48 years later, it has announced its decision to withdraw from the Commonwealth, in a shock television broadcast on state television. The statement for the Gambian government read: “The government has withdrawn its membership of the British Commonwealth and decided that the Gambia will never be a member of any neo-colonial institution and will never be a party to any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 other reasons were provided for the decision.

The British Foreign Office has responded, saying that: “Decisions on Commonwealth membership are a matter for each member government. We would very much regret the Gambia or any other country, deciding to leave the Commonwealth.”

The Gambia remains a popular holiday destination for British tourists, at a political level, there is a longs-standing and complex, if not troubled history between The Gambia and its former colonialists. Tensions have run particularly high since The Gambia’s current president, Yahya Jammeh, took power in a coup in 1994. The British Foreign Office office released a report earlier this year, which focuses largely on The Gambia and its human rights record, reffering to cases of unlawful detentions, illegal closure of newspapers, and discrimination against minority groups, particularly homosexuals. President Jammeh is known to be openly critical of homosexuality, as recently as last week labelling it a threat to human existence during a speech at the United Nations. The Gambia was also criticised by Amnesty International last year after its shock decision to execute nine death row prisoners – including one woman – by firing squad without warning.

Whilst it is not unheard of for countries to leave the Commonwealth – indeed, Zimbabwe was the most recent to withdraw its membership in 2003 – The Gambia’s decision comes at a time when many Francophone African nations are expressing interest in joining. Such countries include the former French colony of Gabon, and Rwanda, which joined the organisation in 2009.

The next head of government meeting for the Commonwealth will be held  next month in Colomnbo, Sri Lanka.

Sources include BBC News, The Guardian

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