By TAMBA JEAN-MATTHEW and BABOUCARR CEESAY
Gambia’s President Yahya Jammeh, Photo Courtesy: Africa Review
Gambia’ President Yahya Jammeh has announced that he is contemplating replacing English with one of the local vernaculars as the official language of the country.
The major languages in the Gambia are Mandingo, Wolof and Jola, the latter being President Jammeh’s mother tongue.
“We are no longer subscribed to the dogma that English should imperatively be the administrative language inasmuch as we can read and write our own languages,” Jammeh was quoted by local media as saying.
He was speaking at the swearing in ceremony of dean of the country’s judges at the weekend.
Last year, President Jammeh withdrew the English-speaking country’s membership from the Commonwealth, describing it as a “relic of colonialism to which Gambia will no longer identify with.”
Since then, all efforts to cajole him into rescinding on the decision have failed.
In one of his several interviews, he said he was mainly against the British because throughout 400 years of colonisation, they only built one high school and “returned Gambia to us in the form of a snake (after) reducing its size from that of an elephant.”
In another diplomatic gesture, President Jammeh shortly announced the severing of ties with Gambia’s longtime partner, Taiwan, which was one of the leading donors of the tiny West African country.
He informed the Taiwanese government that he stood ready to reimburse any amount of money in the form of investment Taiwan had made in Gambia.
The Gambian authorities have not explained the reason behind the severance but it is widely assumed it is because of China’s rising profile in Africa. China regards Taiwan as a renegade province.
When the Arab Spring erupted, President Jammeh was quick to break diplomatic ties with his long-time mentor and comrade Muammar Gaddafi of Libya and announced the seizure of all Libyan investments in the country, to the utter surprise of his compatriots.
Though it is not clear which language Jammeh wants to replace the English with. It has been the plan of the Ministry of Education to introduce local languages in the school system.
Jola, his mother tongue, is now taught in some lower basic schools. The subject is called Kujamatay in its original dialect.
Jammeh recently authored two pamphlet-sized books entitled: A million Reasons to Leave the Commonwealth and How the Tragic Consequences of British Looting and Misrule in The Gambia Inspired the Founding of the United Nations and its Drive for Decolonisation in January 1943 and Beyond.
In his books he says British rule was characterised by massive looting, which he said prompted world leaders among them US President Franklin D. Roosevelt to criticize status quo in Bathurst (now Banjul) when he visited Gambia in 1943.
Since coming to power in 1994 through a coup d’état, President Jammeh has been very busy battling colonial legacies which he attacks as cause of his country’s retardation and that of Africa at large.
When he came to power he demolished the cemetery of white people in Banjul and built the Arch 22 there. He also changed the names of streets named after British and other Western people.
A recent and welcome change was the renaming of the Royal Victoria Teaching Hospital, Gambia’s main referral facility, to Edward Francis Small Teaching Hospital, named after a national hero and the father of Gambia’s modern politics.
Political analysts describe Jammeh’s style of attributing almost all ills to colonialists and the West as part of his efforts to divert the attention of his people from their prevailing predicaments, such as human rights abuse, poverty, misrule, disappearances of opponents and the stifling of freedom of expression.