Gambia’s Unjustified Withdrawal From the Commonwealth

By D. A. Jawo

While most ordinary Gambians were no doubt quite surprised by the decision of the government of President Yahya Jammeh to withdraw from the Commonwealth, describing it as a “neo-colonial institution” and that theGambia will never again “be a party to any institution that represents an extension of colonialism”, but those who may have been closely monitoring the trend of events in this country must have foreseen such a possibility. The next likely scenario is changing the country’s name.

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While I would tend to agree with President Jammeh that the Commonwealth is a colonial relic, but so are many other institutions, both in the Gambia and elsewhere around the world. Even the very Gambia as a country is a colonial legacy as there was never any country by such a name before the dawn of the 17th Century. Therefore, if there is any shred of justification for withdrawing from the Commonwealth simply because it is a “neo-colonial institution”, then we also need to change almost all our institutions, including parliament, the judiciary and even our educational system, and a lot of other things that we now take for granted.
It is quite clear to anyone who cares for the truth that the ambiguous reasons given for the withdrawal from the Commonwealth are completely devoid from the reality .The obvious truth is that the Commonwealth has certain basic norms such as the Harare Declaration, setting out the bloc’s core principles and values which member states are required to adhere to. But as President Jammeh would not compromise on anyone telling him how to treat Gambians, his only alternative is to withdraw from the Commonwealth.
It is of course quite obvious that the Gambia needs the Commonwealth more than it needs the Gambia. There is absolutely no doubt that if Gambians were given the choice in a referendum, the vast majority would have overwhelmingly voted against the decision to withdraw. Therefore, the simple truth is that the decision was quite arbitrary and it is certainly not in the interest of the vast majority of Gambians.
If the Gambia would decide to withdraw from the Commonwealth because it is a “neo-colonial institution”, then logic demands that we also withdraw from such institutions like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and other specialized agencies of the United Nations such as UNESCO.
It is also quite ironic that while President Jammeh would rant and insult the European Union, which comprises former colonial powers, he would still continue to crawl before them for their “chicken change” and projects.
While withdrawing from the Commonwealth may sound quite straightforward to some people, but it has some negative repercussions for Gambians in many respects. For instance, Gambian diplomatic missions in the UK and other Commonwealth countries as well as the British High Commission and other Commonwealth diplomatic missions accredited to the Gambia will no longer be referred as high commissions with special privileges, but embassies. This is because a high commission denotes special relationship which in the case of the Gambia, applies only to Commonwealth member states and Senegal. Therefore, with the Gambia’s withdrawal, such special relationship no longer exists with Commonwealth member states.
Other implications of the withdrawal include Gambians employed by the Commonwealth Secretariat losing their jobs and holders of Commonwealth scholarships and fellowships also losing them. At the same time, Gambians belonging to certain Commonwealth professional institutions like the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association (CBA), the Commonwealth Journalists Association (CJA), the Commonwealth Press Union (CPU), the Royal Commonwealth Society for the Blind and the Commonwealth Games, to name just a few, will also lose their membership of those bodies, with all the benefits and privilegs it goes with.
Also, all Commonwealth sponsorship of projects and programmes in the Gambia will cease, and it is ordinary Gambians who stand to lose.
Other privileges being enjoyed by Gambians as a result of our membership of the Commonwealth include travelling to most Commonwealth member countries without a visa, which will also definitely cease.
Therefore, as we can see from the above examples, it is ordinary Gambians that stand to suffer from the decision to withdraw from the Commonwealth, which definitely has neither moral nor political justification, but purely done at the whims and caprices of any individual, and for his own egoistic ends.

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