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‘Secular is utterly necessary in our constitution’

Madi Jobarteh is a Gambian rights activist
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Gambia’s independence day has been recognized on February 18. However, as part of his submission, Jobarteh argued that the day to be recognized as Gambia’s independence day should be April 24.

Madi Jobarteh is a Gambian human rights activist

A leading Gambian rights activist, Madi Jobarteh, has urged the Constitutional Review Commission to declare the country a secular state in the new draft constitution.

The CRC released its draft constitution about a month ago which described Gambia a sovereign republic. However, Christians and some Gambian activists said the constitution should declare the country a secular state.

The Gambia Supreme Islamic Council said on Monday that they will campaign against any constitution that declares the country a secular state.

“It is utterly necessary that the word ‘secular’ feature in this first section of the constitution to define the State as well as to safeguard against actions from a
president or any other person or authority that will undermine the secularity of the State hence threaten rights of citizens,” said Madi Jobarteh in his submission to the CRC on Tuesday.

Jobarteh argued that when former Pres. Yaya Jammeh declared the Gambia an ‘Islamic Republic’ in 2015 he was not necessarily violating the Constitution.

He said this was because while Section 100 (2)(b) of the 1997 Constitution prohibits the National Assembly from establishing a state religion, that Constitution did not bar any other
person or authority from establishing a state religion.

“For that matter it is necessary that at the top of the draft constitution it is established that the State is secular to bar any other person or authority from doing so,” he said.

“Secondly it is necessary to also provide a provision under the powers of the President that no person or authority shall establish a state religion.”

Jobarteh said Christians face a clear and direct danger when the country was unilaterally declared an ‘Islamic republic’ by Jammeh.

New Independence Day

Gambia’s independence day has been recognized on February 18. However, as part of his submission, Jobarteh argued that the day to be recognized as Gambia’s independence day should be April 24.

Jobarteh said Gambia was not independent on 18 February 1965 otherwise the Queen and her appointed representative, the Governor General would not have been key structures and decision makers in the governance of the country until 1970.

“The observance of February 18 as Independence Day is erroneous and counter to all the relevant facts of the history of the Gambia,” argued Jobarteh.

“From 1965 to 1970 the sovereignty of the Gambia resided in the British Monarch who was represented in the Gambia by a Governor General appointed by her. The Queen was the head of State of the Gambia until 1970 when DK Jawara became the first President and Head of State.”

Meanwhile, Jobarteh suggested for the country to also declare December 1 as Democracy Day. Gambians ended the 22-year tyrannical rule of former leader Yahya Jammeh on December 1, 2016.

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